- Contributed by
- CSV Solent
- People in story:
- Sheelagh Nolan
- Location of story:
- Breacon, Wales
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 27 September 2005
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Catherine Blandford and has been added to the website on behalf of Sheelagh Nolan with her permission and she fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
“Don’t cry”, hissed my sister, and then, as she felt me tremble repeated firmly, “You are not to cry.” We were standing on the station platform and something was dangling from my neck uncomfortably — a brown identity label. My brother was ill in hospital, my mother was with him and we were being sent away. I was three years old.
A horrible lady picked us up from the station in Breacon, Wales. She took us to a farm where we were rushed by geese as big as I was and a barking dog. I was terrified. Can’t stand geese to this day and I’m still nervous of dogs.
Mrs J would lock me in the dark cupboard under the stairs if she thought I hadn’t been good. She would tell me my mother wouldn’t come for me if I wasn’t good. Everything I did wasn’t good but I don’t think now I was any different from any other child. I was just little. She was always threatening, “If you wet yourself the rats’ll get you!” The toilet was outside in the yard. Sometimes it was difficult deciding which was worse — the rats or the unknown dangers of the dank, dark loo outside whose wall bounded the cemetery beyond.
Later I was sent to school. It was a convent and all the nuns’ breath smelt horrible. My mother did come, bringing my blind brother with her and she took a cottage nearby. One day we were walking over an enormous bridge (actually it’s tiny — I went back not so long ago and everything was so much smaller than I remember) and a jeep full of GIs passed us. We explained to my brother what it was and the GIs saw he was blind so they threw their chewing gum out of the window for him to have.
My mother lost two brothers and her own mother during the war. It made her even more terrified of things than she had been before. Our cottage was remote. One night there was a terrible banging at the door. Terrified we all huddled together and my mother sang hymns to ward off the danger. Turned out to be mountain sheep butting their heads against the door. If there was lightning my mother would cover the mirrors with cloths and the cutlery the same, then hide under the table and sing hymns. Whenever there was trouble or danger my mother’s only response was to sing something religious.
I remember at school one day a German plane crashed nearby. All the children cheered but the nuns told us off and made us say a prayer.
The first time I ever saw or tasted jelly was at the street party on VE day. It was green. When you’d been used to marrow marmalade and other such desperate food green jelly was a feast. I remember VE day — it was wonderful, bright and sunny. And for me it signalled the end of our life in Wales.
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