Early Years

An interview with Alf and Joan was recorded October 1997 by their Daughter Penny, and Granddaughter Sheila. They spent several hours talking of their earliest memories and the cassette tapes were distributed to grandchildren to enjoy their voices for many years to come. These tapes have been digitised and can be found here. Much of the information has been taken from these recordings and written about on this website. Whilst information has been verified as much as possible, it has been noted by older family members of the family that Alf and Joan’s recall of dates and events had become a little blurred. However, considering Alf was 81 years old at the time and Joan would have been 79 years, it would be forgiven and quite understandable for their memories to become jaded over the years!

Alf Leggatt - Born 1916 Leytonstone

As Alf said himself when his life’s story began, he was very young. He was born in 1916 in Leytonstone on 28th October 1916  to Alfred (an entrepreneur) and Rose, and had a younger brother George. In his early years, the family moved to Leigh on Sea. His special memories included his father’s chauffeur driven Daimler and living in the very posh bungalow that had taken three years to build. Both he and George were sent to a small public school in Lyndesfarn. According to Alf this was so that his parents could play golf as often as possible. There was not much home life and in the summer months but Alf and George had the compensation of spending their holidays with their grandparents who lived less grandly on Canvey Island. It was here that Alf and Geoge both learned to shrimp, cockle and catch fish.

At school his brother was very good at sports but he was not. Alf flourished academically and enjoyed school (particularly maths and science), matriculating at 16. Then his life changed. His entrepreneur father became bankrupt, his parents divorced and he and his brother had to leave his public school and live with his mother in Leigh on Sea. Jobs were very difficult to find in 1932. He tried many avenues including attending College to learn book-keeping and typing.

Alf Leggatt with his younger Brother George Circa 1920s

Growing up in Leigh on Sea

Rose with her son's Alf (right) and George (left)

Eventually a fisherman who had taken Alf fishing at the weekends offered him a job and he became a mate on a shrimper for 3 years. Towards the end of this period Alf and his brother took the lease of the fried fish shop that had come up in Leigh old town. Both Alf and George worked all hours to get the business going. The hallmark of its success being the excellence of its fresh fish which Alf used to pick up every morning on his converted motorbike from Billingsgate Market. When they did make some spare time they would spend it sailing the channel in and around Dunkirk. 

Alf (Left) starting his Naval Career

Alf (left) with his Father and Brother George (right)

Alf lived on his boat in Leigh old town and continued shrimping for a couple of years until he bought his first fishing boat that he converted for Trawling. It was soon after this time that World War II broke out. Alf recalls when a government official visited his fish and chip shop to inform him that oil was going to be rationed. Alf felt fortunate that he had just taken delivery of several months of stock of oil.  When the official saw this stock, he allocated a  large quota thinking that this was his regular consumption. Turning out to be a great asset, which kept the shop in good business all through the war years.

Meanwhile... Joan Martin - Born 1918

Joan Martin was born 28th May 1918 somewhere in Portsmouth near a park, as she recalls. Her father was a Naval man who started his career at the early age of 9 years. He was the youngest cadet on the training ship Arethusa to gain a commission as an Officer.  He was later presented with a Sword from King Edward. When World War I  broke out, he was sent on loan to the Australian Navy and served on the HMS Sidney when he fought the famous German warship the Emden. Upon his return, he took early retirement at the the family moved to Gorran Haven in Cornwall to buy a pub called the Barley Sheaf. Joan was 4 years old then and had an older half sister Nora and sister Kathleen. 5 years later, they moved to Shaldon in Devon where Joan went to School. They lived in a house right next to the school, which can still be seen today.  Joan remembers her Mother would everyday, throw her lunch out of the bedroom window into the playground.  Joan and her family left the West Country and moved to Shearing in Essex when she was 7.  At the age 14,  she  left school and moved to Southend.  Joan started Secretarial  College to  learn shorthand typing.  Once completed, she found herself a job working  for Echo, a company who made television sets. 

Joan's Mother and Father - Lieutenant Commander A Moule-Martin (Royal Navy)
Joan Martin aged 3 entered for the Miss Watneys (What Knees) Brewery Competition

Starting life in Portsmouth and then moving to Cornwall. Joan was born into a Naval Family.

When Alf met Joan ...

It was in Alf and George’s Fish and Chip shop that Joan would visit with her large black dog, a Great Dane named…. Alf remembers the dog “gobbling up” all the cold three-penny bits of fish that he wanted to get rid of. Joan would help with the washing up and clearing tables. Their relationship developed and love bloomed. In 1940 they married. Unfortunately, they hadn’t been married long when World War II broke out. It was at this time Alf was involved with the Dunkirk Evacuation with his fishing boat the Reliance. Later, Alf was assigned as a ships cook on the Conqueror when he was told that he was good enough to become an Officer and sent up to Lowestoft to train as a Cadet. He had further training period in Portsmouth and once commissioned, sent for Officers training to Brighton. Alf’s first job as an Officer was up in Scotland, Fort William, trained to use a Motor Gun Boat (MLs). Most nights he was fighting E Boats and became  part of the famous St Nazaire raid. Following this Alf was sent for a “rest” to Ardishaig in Scotland. For the remaining war years, he became a Commander of an ML (Motor Launch) Boat and learned how to sweep for mines. Joan joined Alf to live in Scotland with their first child Barry. When she became pregnant with Jill, she returned briefly  to Croxley Green to give birth.  Jill was christened back in Scotland on the boat that Alf worked on.  They continued to enjoy their lives in Scotland, working around the locks and making lifelong friendships with the Munroe Family.

Alf and Joan started going out with each other when Alf owned his Fish and Chip Shop and began fishing for himself. They later married July 4th 1940 just at the start of the Second World War. Their Wedding was at Croxley Green in Essex

An interview with Alf and Joan was recorded October 1997 by their Daughter Penny, and Granddaughter Sheila. They spent several hours talking of their earliest memories and the cassette tapes were distributed to grandchildren to enjoy their voices for many years to come. These tapes have been digitised and can be found here. Much of the information has been taken from these recordings and written about on this website. Whilst information has been verified as much as possible, it has been noted by older family members of the family that Alf and Joan’s recall of dates and events had become a little blurred. However, considering Alf was 81 years old at the time and Joan would have been 79 years, it would be forgiven and quite understandable for their memories to become jaded over the years!

Alf Leggatt ... remarkable man during his war years

  • Took part in Dunkirk Evacuation with his “small ship” at the start of the war. He new this water well, having made the journey several times during peace time. He help save the lives of many British Troops.
  • Took part in the St Nazaire Raid, carrying surgeons aboard his boat. Alf tells the story of when his boat broke down, which actually saved his life. Hear about it here
  • Commander of ML’s used in mine sweeping throughout the war
  • First boat to enter the Hook of Holland  after the war giving freedom to all the citizens. 
Jill's Christening on board the boat in Scotland . Alf and Joan with Barry

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