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- Location of story:
- Swansea SW Wales
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- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 23 March 2004
Another Friday night in Swansea, my mother and I went down the hill on the little red bus to a dance in the centre of town. Away from a miserable home life and escape from the war.
As we entered the band played, 'Scatterbrain.'
Couples danced, war temporarily forgotten. Then the wail of an air raid warning sounded, vying with the music, the siren winning.
"Come on now, ladies and gentlemen, down to the basement. Take care on the steps." The Master of Ceremonies took command and shepherded us down the stairs.
He put a protective arm around my shoulder, "No need to worry now, is there, cariad? You'll be all right down by there. Here's your Mam. She'll look after you."
We settled down with the rise and rise of Welsh voices breaking the silence. Laughter broke out as the MC cracked a joke.
Someone shouted "Hush, here they come."
The drone of the Luftwaffe planes approaching silenced everyone. A dull thud in the distance, followed by several more, each coming closer. I held my mother's hand.
CRUNCH! The room shook. Plaster from walls and ceiling rained down on our heads. It burnt our eyes and clogged our nostrils and mouths with its chalkiness. We held our breath, waiting. The enemy aircraft distanced themselves from the centre of town and eventually the All Clear sounded its uninterrupted note.
Climbing the litter strewn staircase our senses were assailed by the smell of burning.
On reaching ground level we brushed the chalk from our clothes. Turning for home we realised how close to death we had been. The store which had been next to our building was gone, sheered off at the adjoining wall. Nothing left but glowing debris.
Our nightmare walk home up Mount Pleasant hill was anything but pleasant. We met an elderly woman coming down.
"There's awful it is on top of the hill." Her thin hand clutched my mother's coat "Bombed terrible, it is.
Hope your house is still there, love." She walked on, muttering to herself.
Our relief was great as we entered our road and we could see our little house, still standing. We had escaped damage but many homes in the area had been destroyed with their occupants.
Life continued, spasmodic raids taking place day and night, though nothing as bad as the three night blitz.
I left school at fourteen. Unsuccessfully I tried to get a job but it was decided that my mother, aged about forty, would be of more use in a munitions factory, 'doing her bit' for the war effort.
I stayed home and looked after the family. Rationing took its toll but as a naturally careful girl I became adept at making the tiny allowances of provisions stretch.
Miniscule amounts of butter, mixed with a piece of margarine, a pinch of salt and a dash of milk became reasonably edible. I managed each week until the next visit to the grocer's. I was proud of my ingenuity, mixing dried egg, water and a sprinkling of dried herbs to make an omlette. Certainly not cordon bleu but in those days of shortages it was better than nothing-- just.
I would stand in line, clutching our three ration books, at the corner shop. Surrounded by chattering housevives I was the only youngster there. We'd excitedly wait until we got to the counter, pass over our books, together with our shopping bags, and wait. If we were lucky we'd be given something from under the counter. What joy if it was a tin of pork!
As a particularly shy child I gained confidence being in charge of the household. I became a dab hand, listening to the older customers, hoping to hear something that might be to my advantage at the butchers. "Got any liver, Mr Williams?"
"Not today, love."
"Any hearts?" I smiled sweetly as I had seen the other women do. Couldn't get into trouble for asking, could I?" "Or kidneys, Mr Williams?"
He shook his head, "Sorry, lovely girl. Can't get the offal, none to be 'ad." I wondered why Welsh animals didn't have insides.
Smiling around his customers he said, "Don't you know there's a war on?"
He winked at Mrs Ellis conspiritorally. I said nothing more but I had seen the look he gave her as he slipped a packet into her hand.
When I told my mother she said, "Well, what do you expect. She's his fancy piece." As if that explained it.
Queues were normal. Anytime we saw a line of people, we joined the end until the word came down that, "We're queueing for fags, love. Not worth you stopping. Nearly sold out, they are."
Never mind, we would have to wander around hoping to find another queue to join. If we were lucky we might see stockings, but you needed a lot of luck. We had heard tell that they were to be had, but the stories turned out to be rumours. So it meant painting our legs with gravy browning and my friend and I carefully drawing a line down each 'stocking' for each other and hoping it didn't rain! Oh, the joys of war.
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