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Wartime Memories

by Gloscat Home Front

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
Gloscat Home Front
People in story: 
Barbara Howe
Location of story: 
Painswick, Gloucestershire
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
29 July 2005

One of my memories of the "Top School" was the Christmas before the war started - on the day that we broke up early in the afternoon one of the big boys would come into our classroom with a long hooked pole to light the gas lamp. He would use the hook to pull down the looped chain to let the hiss of gas into the lamp and, with a taper, "pop" in into light. And then the big screen which divided the two classrooms would be folded back making what seemed to us a vast room.

A Christmas tree was in one corner and a Post Box - that Post Box, how I feared it. We would be able to post cards to each other, and I always worried in case nobody liked me enough to put one in for me. We also had a School Play - 'The Spider and the Fly'. I was the Fly and had to go into the Web through a little flap cut into a cardboard cut-out of a web. We also put on a 'Christmas Carol' - I played Tiny Tim and a more miscast Tiny Tim you can never imagine - me, a plump bright-eyed red-cheeked little soul. I wonder if there are any records of those productions?

Mr Hadley was the Headmaster - a lovely man who died in the war. At the end of the war I seem to remember that we had a memorial service for him.

My Dad was one of the survivors when H.M.S. Courageous was torpedoed in September, 1939, the first big ship to be lost - almost half of the 1000 strong crew were lost, but my Dad survived. I shall never, never forget sitting in my desk in Mr. Hadley's class in the front row. The door to the corridor was open and I saw this disheveled figure, pale with dark rings round his eyes, wearing bad-fitting coat and trousers, and looking like my father -I couldn't take it in and suddenly, without a word, he came to my desk, clasped me to him and stumbled out of the room. I caught the look in Mr. Hadley's eyes and the class were all transfixed. Years later, I came to realise that when he was struggling in the sea water, covered in oil and waiting to be picked up (they were over an hour in the water) he must have thought of my mother, my brother and me. We must have kept him going. But I was so frightened that day seeing my father in so strange a way. He never spoke of his experiences and I never asked him about them either.
As we lived in Church Street my mother shopped at Burton's Stores on the corner where Mr Powell was the manager - I can still see him in my mind's eye - a rather over-weight jolly man with a shirt and tie and huge white apron, looking spruce and smart. The first thing I would hear from my attic bedroom window opposite, in Church Street, was the sound of
the brass weights being put on the scales to weigh out the cheese ration, and the bacon slicer 'zimming' away. We paid our bill monthly, and, like many people, kept a small notebook in which Mum would write her weekly order, and it would be totted up at the end of the month and promptly paid. Mr Powell could add up two columns of figures at a time and I thought that was brilliant.

During the war, Mr. and Mrs. Powell were very good to us. The air raid warning would go, we would don our dressing gowns, thick socks and fur boots and off we'd trot over to the Powell's house and sit under their stairs until the all-clear sounded. Mind you, on reflection we would probably have been safer in our own cottage.

My earliest memory of the Chemist's shop was of a place full of lovely smells - soap and make-up as well as medicines; of dear Joe Chamberlayne - he was always so kind and helpful.

But my most vivid memory of the chemist was on V. E. Day - the whole of Campden seemed to be in the streets that day - and at night, for the first time in five years, blackout boards and curtains were removed and the lights from houses and shops poured out in the street. The Chemist shop was a pure delight, with the beams shining through the large glass containers of coloured liquid which stood high on a shelf in the window red, yellow, blue - I stood absolutely transfixed!

On the top side behind the War Memorial the Post Office was run with great efficiency by Mr. Tucker, whose daughter, Jean, served behind the counter with Jean Hedges. I have a very poignant memory of the Post Office. During the war, it was possible to send parcels to serving members of the forces - knitted socks, gloves and maybe a small book, all tightly wrapped in brown paper and string. On this particular day a couple came into the post office - they must have been in their 70's with such a parcel wrapped and ready for the declaration sticker and to be weighed. They looked so happy and full of pride as they thought how proud their son would be to get the present. But, sadly, it was a couple of ounces overweight and Mr. Tucker had to firmly say that he could not accept it. The couples' faces turned to despair - they turned and obviously went home to undo all their careful packing and remove one of the items. I saw Mr. Tucker turn away and he too looked upset.

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