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- 06 January 2005
Taken while family listened to the announcement of war by Mr Chamberlain on 3.9.39
Memories of the War
My first memories are life in Sheffield in early wartime, when we lived with my grandparents in Totley. My father had joined up to be a Church of England chaplain in the RAF and was based in Cambridge. My first actual memory is eating an orange in the bath as being too inefficient at eating oranges to be allowed anywhere else! There is also a vague memory possibly in Rotherham before moving to Sheffield of having a nanny (actually an ‘au pair’ from Sweden I was told) feeding me while in a high chair (me not her). Apparently I was such a messy eater I had to have a rubber ‘bib’ covering not only myself but also the floor around with a slit for the high chair tray!
Significant that eating makes my first memories. Other ones are being told by my grandmother not to ‘gollop’ my food or I couldn’t have any seconds. If on rare occasions I left anything I was told to think about the poor children caught up in the war who hadn’t enough to eat. I just thought ‘they’re welcome to my tripe and onions’!
In Totley my brother Paddy and I used to wander around quite a bit (me presumably in his charge). We were told not to accept sweets from anyone as they might be a German spy. We did though I remember, accept coloured pill type sweets which you can still get (love heart type sweets slightly fizzy). She was a tall lady in a brown coat. She may well have been a German spy, tho I hope not! My grandmother said if Germans invaded and one knocked on the door to take over our house, she would throw pepper in his face and assault him with a flat iron. Both these items were kept in the hall cabinet drawer for such emergencies.
We did get an unexploded incendiary in our back garden but I don’t remember this. However, there is a photo of me making mudpies in the crater it made! I may attach this if I can find it!
My grandparents were fairly well off I think. We had at least 2 maids, a part-time gardener and their house was large in a smart part of Sheffield. I also remember discussions between my grandmother and mother’s friends about the ‘servant problem’!! Unemployment was bad at the time (apart from services & munitions), they were not well paid and were glad of any work available. They often also got board and lodging as well.
I remember seeing a huge balloon out of the front windows, on top of the hill opposite which was named ‘Lizzy Balloon’. I think I once went rather too near it because I remember soon developing a fear of very large objects (low flying aircraft for instance) above me.
Anyway we all moved to Cambridge to join my father and escape the blitz and lived in a series of lovely houses which usually belonged to rich old ladies whom we looked after in return for living there. At least 2 of them were ‘Ladies’. The first one was Lady Stanley. The house, Bentley Corner, fitted us all in including my grandparents, my aunt, uncle and 5 cousins. There was also a huge garden (5 acres) with a swing in the orchard. I cannot remember single wet or cold day there but clearly they occurred! I do remember snow with joy. I started school round the corner in a private kindergarten which took children up to 7 yrs old. The woman who owned the school was, I think, rather like Joyce Grenfell with glasses and we did lots of music and movement from the radio in her sitting room. I taught myself to read while suffering measles and chickenpox when I was 4, reading Aesop’s Fables. Memories of that school are longing to be 6 as then I could stay at school all day and a best friend, Jennifer, who was a bit older than me, reaching 6 earlier and able to stay at school, much to my annoyance. Mrs Richmond (owner of the school) was very strict about having a clean hankie every day, which I didn’t always manage and she showed me up in front of everyone when that happened.
My father had gone out to S Africa with the RAF in 1943 leaving my mother pregnant with my sister, Carol (tho I didn’t know it at the time). She was born on Feb 26th, 1944, in our latest house in Shaftesbury Road, Cambridge. Another big one, with a wealthy Egyptian family living in part of it. I remember being told by my mother’s live in nurse (during her pregnancy) that my mother had a headache and we must all go out for the afternoon. When we got back, lo and behold, the headache had turned into my sister! Big headache!
I was still at the same school and 6 when my father returned in early 1945 when my sister was almost a year old. She had become very close to my grandmother by that time (and also my grandfather died just before her birth) and my father was a bit put out as many fathers were by the effect of their absence on their children. This caused some problems between my grandmother and father as well as with him and my sister for a very long time.
We must have lived in the same house in Cambridge when I grew out of my little school and went to another by bus in Cherry Hinton and met my first boyfriend, Trevor Brown. There was another one who’s name I forget who wanted me to show me mine if he showed me his (on the top of the bus). I seem to remember seeing his but not showing him mine! I used to stay to lunch at this school and I remember particularly good salads the stuff for which was grown in the garden.
We then moved to a tall house on the Common when my sister was about 2 — a place called 7 North Terrace. From here I did my first and last bit of shoplifting while taking my sister in her pram into a stationery shop. I loved new paper, pencils etc. I got caught and was punished by my mother. But being caught was enough — never tried it again! While living next to the Common we went to all the fairs and circuses which happened there and spied from our high bedroom windows on all the courting couples (nearly all servicemen with girlfriends)! Very educational.
During the war period in Cambridge in general we had a marvellous time. Well, my brother and I did. We had enormous freedom to wander around. We made friends of all sorts of people. One of the best was a farmer/milkman who used to let us ride in his pony drawn milk cart. One day my mother, cycling home after an enormous shopping trip (large baskets full front and back — for the 10+ of us at home), saw two shoeless ragamuffins sitting on a cart and tut-tutted to herself about careless parents; getting closer she realized who it was!
We had such fun and freedom because of our mother. I know that and didn’t fully appreciate it until she died at a relatively early age, by which time we did not get on very well. For Christmases she would search out ads for 2nd hand toys in the paper and at least once queued all night outside a house advertising a doll’s house for sale. She made me a wonderful rag doll which my brother beheaded for some reason. My grandmother also played a big part in our happiness.
Another wonderful feature of life was trips to the Yorkshire Dales during at least 2 summers to stay at a farm (farmer someone my paternal grandfather knew in 1st World War) miles from anywhere (nearest largish town Ilkley 15 miles away). We were even more free to wander. There was no running hot water and we bathed in buckets outside. A particular memory was, after falling into a ‘puddle’ outside the cowbyre, being dowsed in cold water before being allowed inside. Fortunately it was a very warm day! I learned the difference between cows and bulls there and we went on wonderful picnics with my mother. My brother went to a little school in a village called Cosh. He walked there along the beck with the farmer’s son, both wearing traditional clogs (wonderful footwear). The farmer’s son also taught my brother, aged 6, to smoke Woodbines. (He never looked back and smoking badly affected his health later in life). My brother also learned to ride his pony bareback which stood him in good stead later in life, especially when joining a Guards regiment.
We also both learned to ‘tickle’ trout to catch them. I got quite good at it at the age of about 4 or 5. One of my favourite occupations was making mud pies with the lovely mud by the beck, and trying to sell them.
Another great memory was cadging chewing gum from the many American soldiers in the bases around Cambridge. We lived right opposite one and we used to spy on our Irish nanny and her American soldier boyfriend. All young women we knew seemed to go out with Americans. They had lots of money and goods we couldn’t get.
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