- Contributed by
- The Stratford upon Avon Society
- People in story:
- Sam Gee
- Location of story:
- Stratford area
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 16 July 2005
37 - Sam Gee was five and a half when the War started:
“I remember very little about the war itself; what I do remember is the immediate aftermath and looking at it retrospectively now. My dad was in the war, he was on minesweepers which were trawlers, and he was on minesweepers. He had a very rough war and he hardly ever mentioned it, and when he came home my mother had got used to the idea of being independent, she was a land girl even though she was pregnant, although I don’t think you had to go if you were pregnant, and she was digging sprouts and stuff on the fields at the back of Loxley Road, probably about 1944; pregnant with my sister not with me. And they never really re-adjusted, you know although they stayed together for another 15 years, they never really got it together again, we always said it was the war and apparently an awful lot of people …, that happened to an awful lot of people.
I am old enough to remember going to the railway station in Stratford, I can have only have been about 4 or 5, and seeing all the women saying goodbye to the men, virtually sure that they weren’t going to come back, and you know the men went and had a rough time of it …, and of course when they came back … And my dad, he was a terrific dad, he almost over-compensated, he took me round the theatre, and round the gasworks where he’d got a …, round Shakespeare’s Birthplace, the Herald Printing Press, all this sort of stuff and he taught me to row a boat and all this sort of business, you know he made up for lost time; and I don’t suppose he thought he’d ever get home sometimes.
The actual bits of the war I remember tend to be the latter bits when …, you see only about 4 bombs fell on Stratford altogether, one actually right in front of this house and all the front doors had leaded light things in, in those days, quite a lot of them all had cracks in and they’ve only just gone most of them, you know they have taken them out and put these plastic doors, cracked all the windows and they kept ‘em cracked, it think it was a memento when this bomb went off in the field opposite this house, I don’t remember.
What I do remember is seeing bomb craters in fields and there was, I think it was a Bofors gun up Loxley Road, and that used to …, that was still there after the war. The other thing I remember which is rather odd, it must have been the great raids into Germany with huge numbers of aircraft in 1944/45, and you could hear these things droning overhead, but I always thought it was one little lonely aeroplane looking for his way home; being a boy I didn’t realize there was 20 or 30 or whatever on a deadly mission. And of course the other thing we got was gliders from Wellesbourne, we saw a lot of those and the barrage balloons, one came along half inflated one day frightening us all to death. And the other thing that frightened my parents to death, was the …, and I can’t remember what they call it now but it was a thing that baffled radar, and it was silver strips -
Window! And apparently they experimented with this from Wellesbourne or a local airfield, and we were all out playing on a nice day like this, and these things started coming out. Of course the parents were horrified because they had got these anti-personnel things that kids would pick up and poison them or kill them, and we were all hustled inside very quickly by rather panicking mummies, only mummies’ daddies weren’t there, and we were all hustled inside and kept away from windows and all sorts of things, when these strips came down, and they were all like snow in Loxley Road, too.
I went to Sunday school along here, and Manor Road didn’t exist at all, it was just a nettle field and I can’t actually remember the playing fields, but I suspect it was a sprout field, and because there was no fence. This house we are in now, my next door neighbour told me this years ago, we’ve got a garage built on, the semi-detached one the other side hasn’t because apparently there was some edict in the middle of the night in 1939 when this house was built, that if you were going to build a garage you couldn’t, if you had already started it you could complete it, and that’s why we have got a garage and next doors hasn’t, and they opened this road up in about 1948, and it was opened up a bit further because there was a huge flood in 1947 and down Banbury Road end was a little thicket, and they opened this road up instead of Tiddington Road; I mean it was blasting away throughout, always remember an old Midland Red bus blundering through the huge great potholes outside, it was all just brick ends and cinders and stuff that people had put down: the road was unadopted I should imagine up to 1947.
At the end of the war we had a big party at the Rugby Club for the kids, end of the war street-like party, this was on the Rugby Club pitch. If the war ended in May, I should imagine it would be June 1945 something like that and I had never been in a race before, let alone a sack race or a 3 legged race or a potato race, and we were in sacks (you wouldn’t do it today - health and safety), put these little kids in sacks up to there and had to run and see who run you see, and I was first on this because I was up to the idea of jumping, but I didn’t know I had to go through the ribbon, so I just stopped there like an onion, everybody else went past me!
Then of course the farming was done, I think to save petrol, still with horses; there was cart horses pulling binding machines around in Knights Lane and places like that, and a big excitement every year was when the threshing machine came with the steam gadget, steam traction engine and that was a big deal, I remember going up to have a look at that thing.
And the Loxley Road there was no traffic on it, well there was a few Blake’s lorries taking the milk out, and the only thing that came up Loxley Road (this is quite bizarre I mean when you look at it today), was the bread van, a daily delivery of milk, and your groceries could get delivered as well and what was the other, the laundry man, Warwick Laundry with wicker baskets and anybody who has seen Dad’s Army knows Private Jones’s butchers van, well the Warwick Laundry was exactly like that, beautiful wagon, and of course a great thing for us kids was to have a ride in these things, and they were quite happy to let you go and sit in the …, you know …, deliver some bottles of milk for them and bits of stuff like that, and we had a ride in these things, and of course it was a fun thing, and the other thing we had of course, and this is a sign of the times as well, the entire Loxley Road rubbish was collected on one horse and one cart, and a great big cart horse; we were allowed to sit up on that, I mean a five year old, it seemed like ten/twenty feet in the air to me and we sat up on that thing, and of course there was pig swill, anything that could be edible was fed to pigs and we were told not to put glass in which was quite understandable, and of course in the summer it stank this thing! Of course nobody threw anything away so there was only one bin for about twenty houses, you can imagine, orange peel and stuff like that, marmalade of course was made by your mother. My mother made a lovely dress out of the kitchen curtains! Well they did in those days, had a sewing machine and I remember she had it for years, knocked this dress together, this summer dress; I don’t think she’d have gone to the fancy dress ball at the town hall in it, but …
Just before VE day, a midge before VE day, probably about a week before, my mother …, we had a clothes prop ‘cos there was no washing machines, you had to put the washing out in the garden, and there was not enough coal to make a fire with that was going to dry clothes, you know it was half a dozen lumps, and we had this big long clothes prop, rather a nice one actually, and she whitewashed this thing, and she got some 6” nails and she nailed this thing to the gatepost with this red ensign on it (I have still got it, still got it up in my attic today), which my old man, my dad had probably filched off Cape Melville which he had been on at the time, anyhow the upshot of this was that (somebody else reminded me of this actually), I think all the little kids were just left in the houses, this parental business went right out of the window, they had just gone through the war for God’s sake you know, and I can remember coming them in, probably slightly tipsy actually and opening the windows and saying listen to that, and I could hear a whole lot of cheering. I didn’t know exactly where it was and what it was all about and where it was coming from, it was because the war’s ended! Another thing about it, I am a great admirer of the German race, but I was confused being a little boy with germs and Germans, I thought they were the same thing!
By the end of the war nobody was particularly worried about any Germans coming out of the sky in parachutes or anything, but, this must have been 1946 they were laying a pipeline across the tram bridge in Stratford which is a footbridge, and they had to dig up a small trench and put this pipe into it, and it was done apparently by Italian prisoners of war, I mean you can check this out afterwards, and of course to me they were just a foreign soldier. The Yanks were foreign soldiers and they had chewing gum and sweets were on ration and we had one square of chocolate a day actually, that’s how my mother used to ration it out, and these guys would give you chewing gum, which I think is horrible stuff frankly but it was a free sweet and that was good enough for me, so I went and asked these chaps digging this hole up on the Tramway Bridge have you got any gum chum? Squeaky little voice then! And of course the guard with his big gun …, and one of these guys his instructions were don’t forget that one of the things that they could pick up a child and use it as a shield and run away - an unlikely event in 1946! I mean this chap I remember with his gun, he picked me up by the scruff of the neck and he didn’t half give me a telling off for talking to these Italian prisoners of war, trying to get a bit of gum off them, because he thought they were going to run off with me and hide away somewhere.
And another thing, a lot of people went to live out in the country, there were all sorts of funny little huts around the place, ex army huts, and I know a couple called Tripey, they had come from somewhere and they lived in a little army hut somewhere down Pimlico Lane, I remember being frightened of them, really harmless you know but they were alright, but they were alright, because they were different. We were told that gypsies would take you away and silly things like that.
And people kept pigs and chickens, that’s another thing that happened, it’s completely disappeared now, Leesons at the top of …, they had a proper built pigsty with pigs in it, and it had a lovely sweet, piggy sort of smell I can remember it now, (I shouldn’t think it’s got a pig in it) and they had goats as well. And my grandfather who had a load of chickens and a cockerel obviously, you know people got their own eggs, and there was this Dig for Britain thing; a lot of gardens were laid up to sprouts and veg and stuff like that, and we had a thing called “the plot” up Loxley Road near to where we lived, and I can remember quite …, it must have been after the war, I can remember during the war as well, you dug this thing and nobody sort of nicked anything, nobody came and stole the sprouts or turnips or whatever they were in there you know, and of course when we moved away from Stratford for a while in 1947/48, when we came back there was a house built on it, there are houses there now obviously.”
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