Memorial tribute to Anita Graham, 16th July 1927 – 29th December 2022
Based on an interview with her grandson Samuel in 2001.
Anita Graham was born on the 16 July 1927 in the royal borough of Kensington. She was the oldest in her family except for her half brother Gerald. She had two younger brothers called Bernard and Cedric and a younger sister called Norma.
They lived in Tottenham in a little flat above a sweet and tobacconist’s shop, which was owned by her parents and was where they earned their living. Their names were Ada Falk and Mark Rebuck. They were an observant Jewish family and Anita was brought up at the High Cross Tottenham Hebrew congregation.
Anita recalled that her family was quite poor and their only forms of entertainment were a radio and a gramophone. Anita didn’t have any toys so when she was not helping in the shop or in the house she went to the library to read. When she was older she started to play tennis.
She went to a small Victorian primary school called Sperling Road School. She remembers her first day because she thought her brother Gerald had forgotten to pick her up and take her home, but in reality he was only slightly late.
She surprised all her family by getting a scholarship to go to a grammar school. Her parents sent her to the local all girls’ grammar school because they thought she would be less distracted from academic studies by boys and because they thought she would have a better education and because they thought she would get a better education. It was called Tottenham High School for girls. It was every good school; it had its own hockey pitch, swimming pool, tennis courts and garden. On the other side of the road was the boys’ grammar school. There were rumours that the two grammar schools were connected by underground passages, but this was never proved. She had only been at grammar school for a year when the World War II broke out.
Life in the War
She got evacuated; the school was marched round to all the various addresses of people who would accept evacuees. Eventually the four Jewish children were left, Anita (then aged 12), her sister (then aged 9.5), Anita’s friend and her younger brother. After a lot of searching for a family who would look after them Anita and he sister were taken in by a motherly lady called Mrs. Ketteridge, from 33 Radwinter Road, Saffron Waldon, in Essex, she lived in a council house.
There were lots of problems because Anita’s family was very religious and Anita and her sister wouldn’t eat non-kosher food. The first meal they had when they arrived was rabbit, which Mr. Ketteridge had caught and they wouldn’t eat it. They wouldn’t eat chicken either, or any other non-kosher food. They ended up spending months and months eating the same meal, which was, tin salmon, potatoes and a green vegetable.
Mrs. Ketteridge had two sons in their early twenties, who had not been called up to the army because they worked on a farm. Her husband worked on a different farm, he had his own patch where he kept pigs and grew vegetables. Norma liked feeding the pigs; Anita didn’t because she disliked the smell. Otherwise they did not help on the farm.
Unfortunately the pigs died, the farm collapsed and Mr. Ketteridge took to drink. He behaved so badly that Mrs Ketteridge decided it wouldn’t be safe for to keep Anita and her Norma so they were moved to another village, after being on this farm for only 8 months.
There was a farmer and his wife, his 6 children, Anita and Norma and to earn extra money they looked after and fed the children from next door, another 2 children. This meant that there were ten children altogether.
The farmer thought that a suitable breakfast to feed ten children could be made out of just 3 eggs scrambled together with water and milk. Soon Norma began to grow ill from malnutrition. After 5-6 months at this new farm they were taken back to London just in time for the blitz.
The blitz was when the Germans started bombing London. During the blitz there was no school for Anita to go to. At the time she thought it was wonderful, but later she realised it had interrupted her education. Although at the end of the blitz the school was reopened because there were a small number of girls living in the area by that time.
The air raids where terrible. Some times Anita and her family slept in a public air Raids shelter and sometimes in there Anderson shelter. (Anderson shelter is a small bomb shelter made of corrugated iron that can be built in a back yard.) Occasionally Anita had to sleep with the lady next door in her Morrison shelter because her neighbour got scared when her husband was out firefighting. A Morrison shelter was a metal cage which doubled up as a table and was kept in your house. Anita hated having to sleep in this cage with her neighbour
Amazingly she got used to the bombing and although she new that friends of her parents had got killed it became a way of life and she grew accustomed to it. She remembers walking to school in the morning picking her way over broken glass with the police standing around and fires burning.
One morning before she had left to go to school a doodlebug landed just behind her house. These were unmanned bombs employed by the Germans which flew over making a lot of noise. When the noise stopped the doodle bug fell to the ground. Their house was badly damaged by one of these. All the windows blew out and the ceilings came down. Luckily no-one was badly injured. The only person who was injured was Anita’s new baby brother who was only a few months old. He was covered in glass and debris. He was so shocked and frightened that they could not make him make a sound for about 24 hours. He would not cry or eat or laugh or respond. That was the nearest they were to real danger. They were very lucky.
Then Gerald turned 18 and went from school into the Army. He worked his way up in the army and when he was discharged he was an Acting Lieutenant Colonel which is a very high rank.
She was 16 1/2 when the War finished and there was a great sense of relief. Just to go out without black outs up and to see all the lights was a fantastic feeling for all of them after living the past 4 1/2 years in constant danger of being bombed.
Life After the War and a Job
After the War Anita was very a pretty girl and had lots of boy friends, some of whom had been in the Army. One of her boy friends had been captured by the Japanese. He had been made to build a railway, the Burma Railway, and had been emaciated and starved. Anita remembers one Yom Kippur he had invited her to a meal and she had said “No, its Yom Kippur and I cannot go out to eat”. Then he told her about being a prisoner of war of the Japanese and said that he would never go another day without food.
At this time Anita got to really like tennis and played quite well. She was also interested in the Jewish people and what would happen to the Jewish refugees. So at the age of 19 she got herself a job at the Jewish National Fund (JNF). She had dad a previous job which she didn’t like which was working for a film company.
She liked the JNF job because she thought she was doing something good and because she found it very interesting finding out what went on behind the scenes of the Zionist Movement. She worked very long hours and only had a day and a half off a week (Friday afternoon and Saturday). Eventually she was put in charge of the photographic library. This means that she used to be given photos and films from all over the world, sorting them and distributing them to whoever wanted them, all over the world. At the same time she also did reportings for a Jewish newspaper called the Middle East Review. The back pages were filled with local news from the JNF and Zionist federation, and Anita used to report various functions and meetings.
In 1948 Israel became a state. It was a wonderful time at the JNF and very exciting. After this Anita had a great desire to go to Israel and in 1950 she made the trip for 6 weeks. She found it incredible. She hitch hiked all over the country. There was one time when she was in a taxi and was shot at by some terrorist.
The Zionist Federation tried to persuade Anita to take a job in Israel and go back. She went to her parents and said she was going to live in Israel and her parents said no! Even at the age of 20 her parents words were final and she never went back to live in Israel.
Marriage and Children
Anita had a lot of chances to get married but she hadn’t. A short time before she went to Israel she had been urged by her family to get married and fall in love with a cousin called Sidney. Neither of them liked the other much, so to get out of it Sidney had arranged for his best friend to “accidentally” be at the place where Anita’s parents had arranged for them to meet. Anita liked David, Sidney’s best friend, because he made her laugh. David decided on the spot that they were going to get married, and they did.
His full name was David Goldman (later changed to Graham). They got married about 15 months later on 20th January 1952. Anita was 24 at the time. What Anita remembers most about the wedding was the ball. David was very bad at dancing. Anita and David had to open the ball and David started on the wrong foot so they both fell over onto each other. Anita hated being the centre of attention and felt very embarrassed all the time. It was a big wedding the way her parents wanted it. They got married but had nowhere to live. They had a friend called David Nunes. His aunt had a house in Mildmay Park and she decided to let them have a couple of rooms in which to start their married life. It was very uncomfortable, not a nice place to live and a very rough area. They lived there for about a year. Then they found a flat. It was in a beautiful place in an area called Snaresbrook in Epping Forest. Anita had been saving up so they had enough to pay the key money so they could rent the flat. It was a beautiful place with cows grazing near by, ponds in a wood, it was a beautiful area.
David had a job selling things. He started by selling dresses and then he sold household linens for example sheets and bedspreads. He was employed by the people who made the goods and sold them to some of the best shops in London. He was a very good sales person. He was quite well known and very popular.
In December 1958 their first child was born, a girl. They named her Claire. Anita left her job when Claire was born because in those days women didn’t normally work and have babies. In April 1960, they had another baby, this time a boy called Robin.
They only had 2 bedrooms in their flat and with 4 of them living there they decided that they needed to move. So they brought a house. Anita’s father had given Anita (and her siblings) an amount of money to by a house. Anita and David brought a nice 4 bedroom house.
Claire and Robin both went to good schools. When Robin was 5.5 years old they had another child, a boy, they called him Fabian. Anita remembers bringing him home from the hospital in the middle of the middle of the night, everyone woke up and came into her room and Claire and Robin were really excited.
Life was relatively uneventful for Anita at this period. Anita was staying at home looking after 3 children. Anita said that she found this the most boring time of her life.
Back to Work and Kids Leaving Home
The next main event in Anita’s life was when she went out to work again. She hadn’t been working for 18 years end she was petrified. This was in 1976 when Fabian was 11 and old enough and responsible enough to look after himself.
Anita had been after a few jobs but they didn’t want her because she was to old. She saw an advert in the Jewish Chronicle about a kosher meals on wheels service at the Stepney Settlement. She like this idea because she wanted a job where she helped people, not something in the commercial world.
She went to the interview and got the job immediately. She stayed at that job for 20 years. She did very well at this job. In the end she had taken over from the people who employed her, she had a fair sized department of her own, she was in charge of staff and met a lot of famous people. It was a fantastic job. Most of the time she was working for Trudi Sharma, mother of the historian Simon Scharma.
At this time too David and Anita did a lot of entertaining. David was the chef with a full cordon bleu repertoire and Anita would welcome the many guests of all ages. They also enjoyed holidays and visits to the theatre.
Claire left home in 1978 when she was 19, got a degree in medicine, went on to become an old age psychiatrist and went on to marry a rabbi. Robin left home the year after. He did a degree in physics, spent a few years working for IBM and has since worked as a playwright and a laughter therapist.
Fabian also left home at 19. He qualified as a jewelry maker but now works as an anthropologist in Taiwan and has become a specialist on traditional Chinese religions.
The only other really important moment in her life after she retired in 1996 was her divorce in the same year. She didn’t really want a divorce because she believed that once you start something you should finish it. Although she and David are getting back together again, and although they have no intention of getting married again, they spend every weekend in each other’s houses. (written in 2001)
After her divorce, Anita moved to a maisonette in Stanmore, and soon became a regular attender at Kol Chai Synagogue, Hatch End, where her son-in-law was the rabbi. She made many friends in the community.
It is more than ten years since Anita was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She found life increasingly frustrating as she could not remember the words she wanted to say. Later on, although physically strong, she needed carers at home to help her manage. She spent the last four years of her life at the nearby Whitchurch Lodge Care Home, where she was looked after in an exemplary manner. The staff would call her “Anita darling” and she would give a huge smile, even though by this time she had lost the power of speech. The care home writes: ‘Mrs Anita Graham was an absolute pleasure to care for during all her years at the Whitchurch Lodge and she will be missed by all. May she rest in ever lasting peace. Anita will remain in our hearts forever.’