This time for ‘Meet The Regulars’, I chat to a well-travelled couple with tales of WW2, Max Miller and exotic holidays.
Names: George and Hilary Eley
Favourite food/drink at the cafe: (George) Fanta, (Hilary) tea and both enjoy a sandwich at lunch time (“we like all of them”).
How often do you come here?
Hilary: “When the weather’s good, probably two or three times a week, it just depends how (George) is feeling”.
Do you think the cafe has changed over time?
Hilary: “I’ve been coming here since I was a child, we knew David’s father. His father and I were round about the same age…It hasn’t changed a great deal, it’s lovely as it is, we love it, the visitors like it too”.
How did you two meet?
Hilary: “At Regent Dance Hall, where everyone met in those days…I was in the land army at the time and George had been in the war.”
What year did you meet?
Hilary: “Christmas 1949, and this week we’ve been married 62 years and we’re in our house which we bought in 1959 (near 7 Dials), which was sold as a 5 bedroom house. We paid £2850 for it”.
George: “It was a lot of money in those days”.
What were your professions?
George: “I was a teacher of Maths and P.E.”
George taught at a school in York Place, before being recruited for World War 2. After which he went back to teach at the same school, which we now know as Varndean.
George, what was your experience of the war?
George: “I was supposed to be in the airforce, but I couldn’t fly due to air-sickness, so I taught P.E and became a parachute jumping instructor – I was posted at Torquey for 2 years. I then ended up in Medmenham where we were called ‘spies of the sky’, and I was involved in the photographic interpretation of photographs of Europe taken from 30,000 ft.”
So you didn’t have to fight?
George: “No, I had a marvellous time.”
Hilary: “They were the best years of his life! You should have seen the menu of the Christmas dinner he had there, whilst we were all on rations.”
How about you, Hilary, what was your profession?
Hilary: “I was in the land army for 9 years from aged 18 and did dairy farming at the beginning. Then I met George when I was 19 and wanted to come back to live in Brighton, so had to do market gardening, which wasn’t so interesting. When we met at The Regent Dance Hall, he asked me what I did and I said diary farming, then when the dance finished he said “can I buy you a glass of milk?”
Hilary, your father’s sister was Kathleen Miller, Max Miller’s wife, did you ever meet him?
Hilary: “Oh yes! when we were children he used to come and see us”…we weren’t very well off and of course they were. They didn’t have a family, I think Kath lost a child…he used to come and see us if he was perhaps doing shows in Brighton…or we’d go and visit them at their home – auntie Kath had parrots.”
The Max Miller Appreciation society garden party is this weekend, do you enjoy the parties?
“Very much, one or two people pretend to be Max Miller, they don’t quite make it but then I knew the real thing! They’re great, we love them, of course the cakes are always famous.”
What do you two do for fun?
George: “We used to go camping all over Europe with our motorcycles.”
Hilary: “I used to have a motorcycle and sidecar for the children instead of a pram, I was probably the only lady in Brighton with a motorcycle in those days…when George retired we bought a VW camper-van and we had that for a long long time and went all over Europe.”
Hilary: “George was also a great water polo player.”
George: “I’ve played with some of the best players in the world – the Hungarians. I met them when they stayed here after the Olympics.”
Hilary: “And he swam in Germany before the war when he was a boy. He came home with medals with a Swastika on one side and the club badge and Union Flag on the other.”
You two seemed to be very well travelled!
Hilary: “Yes we’ve been to Australia, the barrier reef, Bermuda, Hawaii, Singapore, Hong Kong, Madrid, but those days are over now.”
George: “We miss those days.”
Hilary: “Yes of course we do, but we’ve had a good life.”
Words by Zoe Brownrigg