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Acts of Wartime Kindness

by Mayfield UKonline Centre

Contributed by 
Mayfield UKonline Centre
People in story: 
Arthur Lunn
Location of story: 
Cove, Hampshire
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A2641619
Contributed on: 
17 May 2004

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Tracy Yates of Mayfield UKonline on behalf of Arthur Lunn and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

During the war there could never be what politicians now call a ‘feel good factor’ for so many sad and unhappy things were going on, not only in English towns and villages but all over the world.

But by bombing indiscriminately from London to Plymouth, Coventry to Leeds, Liverpool and Hull the enemy had created for the British people a ‘we’re all in this together' feeling that helped brighten the lives of young men and women when far from home and in strange places.

There were the good ladies of Doncaster who helped to make more bearable those long, tedious and usually cold train journeys as members of the three services were shuffled back and forth across the country. When all lines seemed to pass through Doncaster Station, as a laden train pulled in, be it day or night, the carriage doors were flung open and there lined on the platform were the good ladies of that North Country town carrying trays full of steaming hot tea in glass jam jars. Never was a ‘cuppa’ more welcome and appreciated. I’ve often wondered if they had some arrangement with the good old LNER to return the empties should a train pull out too soon.

Then there were those considerate people of Glasgow, who backed by a Scottish daily newspaper, maintained ‘Jock’s Box’ throughout the war, an appreciated act of kindness, placing an open box of cigarettes on every service’s canteen counter with an invitation to ‘help yourself’.

Another long remembered act of thoughtfulness from many found north of the border, was when I saw a pretty pair of Fair Isle gloves in a small shop in Tighnabruaich, which in spite of its big name was a small dot on the map of Scotland. My thoughts were of a nice present for my wife the next time I got home on leave. The shop lady should have asked for the clothing coupons, a fact not realised by someone who had all the essentials supplied for free by His Majesty’s Government, but was kind enough to say “That’s all right laddie, I’ll put the coupon in myself”.

A small, but long remembered incident, somewhere in the wilds of Wiltshire, was on a Sunday evening as a young soldier sat on the grassy roadside bank writing his ‘almost daily but at least three times a week’ letter to his wife back home in Cove. An elderly lady coming from church kindly suggested that her house farther along the lane might be more comfortable for letter writing. This proved to be a veritable mansion and I continued my letter at a big polished writing desk in the study. A little later a maid came in to say Mrs English (what an appropriate name) wanted to know if I would like tea and biscuits and would I help myself to any paper or stamps I needed.

Back up to Yorkshire again for a little episode early in the war that might well be entitled ‘The generosity of Idle people’. Our same young soldier had caught the last tram out of Bradford up the Keithley Road and was seated in front of a lady and gentleman who tapped him on the shoulder. They had noticed before that I got off at the same stop and asked if I would like a bite of supper before facing the walk back to billets at an empty school in nearby Greengates.

I’ve not the slightest idea now of their names, but will always remember their offer of a hot meal if passing their fish and chip shop on my way down the hill after their closing time. But one remark will persist, when they spoke proudly of their own two sons, also in the army, who they said had both married ‘Idle’ girls, for that is the name of this Yorkshire place of another act of wartime kindness.

During this time many similar acts of kindness were going on in Cove village. Some, just a borrowed cup of sugar, repaid as soon as able, always in the same sized cup, tapped down and levelled across the top with a piece of paper. This only goes to show how precious food was at the time. Many a village wedding dress was passed on, let out or taken in, but like new to each wartime bride.

There is a little story of kindness recalled here by one of the daughters of the Nicks family who lived in Cove Road opposite Moores Bakery. Being a family holding six ration books their mother was able to buy a reasonable sized joint of meat each week from Webbs the butchers by the Methodist Chapel. On this day she went next to the greengrocers, Mrs Stubbings in Bridge Road (now Mitchell and Partners, estate agents). This lady lived on her own above the shop and in conversation just happened to remark on how she longed for the day when she would again be able to buy a roasting joint, completely out of the question with only one ration book.

Mrs Nicks, a kindly but impulsive lady, persuaded Mrs Stubbings to take the joint in exchange for her one chop. The she wondered all the way home how to feed her family over the weekend. Fortunately the story has a happy ending. To the rescue comes Mrs ‘Fred’ Yeomans, living at the nearby builders yard, now Jewsons, who had received a gift of a large box of ‘off the ration’ fish and asked if Mrs Nicks would help out by accepting some. This was in the days before fridges. A very satisfactory ending for Sunday lunch and three happy ladies.

Finally, here in Cove the ending of the war saw what can only be described as corporate act of kindness. Many local couples, some with young families, were coming back to their home village, wanting a place to live but because of a lack of affordable rented accommodation, faced the prospect of continued sharing with the ‘in laws’. Within a few short months our local council came to the rescue by putting up 100 ‘prefabs’ on the open fields at the top of Cody Road. What a blessing these were to the new tenants, who could now enjoy their own good-sized living room and kitchen plus two bedrooms and the then luxury of a bathroom with hot and cold running water. No more tin bath by the kitchen fire, the norm in most Cove homes. Even in the 300 Rafborough homes the bath shared a kitchen with sink and gas stove.

A short two weeks after ‘de-mob’ saw my wife, I and baby son Peter installed in one of these new luxury pre-fab homes. Furnishing was the next problem, for like everything else it was rationed, purchased only by coupons or dockets. This meant a day’s outing to Guildford, making our choice from the limited range of ‘Utility’ kite marked furniture in Perrins store. It’s amazing how long this sturdy furniture lasted — some items might still be in daily use in homes to this day.

Some of these acts of kindness were by just one person, some by whole towns or cities. Here is one such combined act, a ‘thank you’ by hundreds of wives, mothers and daughters, of Canadian troops stationed in this area during the war.

Many of the big houses in Farnborough and Cove became billets for soldiers during the hostilities. One, Knellwood in Canterbury Road because of its spacious and palatial appearance, spent most of the war years as an Officers Mess for different units of the Canadian Army. After the war Knellwood as a residential home for the elderly, replaced the Cottage Hospital as the Farnborough and Cove Memorial to those lost in two wars. Proudly displayed on one of the beds was a large patchwork quilt. In each of its many squares was embroidered the name and address of a different Canadian family, their way of saying ‘Thank You’ for the hospitality shown by local folk to Canadian boys overseas.

Arthur Lunn is an author and local historian. He would be happy to hear from any of his old colleagues. His army serial number was 1578821. He can be contacted via the Mayfield UKonline Centre Personal Page.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Acts of Wartime Kindness

Posted on: 17 May 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Arthur

I had just commented on a later story that it was the best I had read for a long time, on civilian life in WW2, when I happened to read yours. Two excellent stories in the space of a few minutes! I too experienced many memorable acts of kindness. The feeling of "We are all in this together" admirably sums it up, and was widespread across occupied Europe too.

Peter

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