- Contributed by
- MARY SENIOR
- People in story:
- Mary, Barbara & Bernard Griffiths
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 22 July 2004
Christmas was fast approaching. At school we were rehearsing concert parties to entertain the people of Louth who had been so kind and generous, taking us into their hearts. To demonstrate our appreciation a musical show was written. Two male teachers, Mr Chiltern and Mr Foster, arranged and wrote the musical. It was so professional, I am certain they had missed their way by becoming teachers. The children performing and everyone involved found it apt, hilariously funny and extremely witty. Boys, who could sing, were given star parts and the extrovert ones had all of us helpless with laughter, at their jokes and capers, we were falling into the isles. It proved to be tremendously successful and so was repeated time and time again at all the venues in Louth and district. I’m sure that any of the evacuees who performed, will vividly remember all the tunes, the words and the actions, even after all these years.
Various organisations entertained us with social activities and each evening, we evacuees seemed to be invited out to some function or other. At these 'do's, I had the opportunity to wear my pretty blue dress and I felt extremely smart.
We had deep snow, which lay for weeks, enabling us to trudge to and from school in our wellies. One night, on returning home from school, the boy soprano and his friend from the musical, followed Louie and I home, asking us to be their girlfriends. I dare not for the life of me, allow Aunt Lil to know we were being followed so I went with Louie to Mrs ====='s tradesmen's entrance and stayed there until they became bored. It was a very long hour as the maid encouraged them by chatting and making them both two slices of bread and jam, so they hung around the garden.
After they had left and we felt that the coast was clear. I crept out to make my way home down the back lane. Mrs ====’s garden normally boasted a large beautiful lawn, which was always kept immaculately manicured by the gardener. The once virgin snow, covering the expanse of grass, had a message written in extremely large capitol letters. 'I LOVE MARY GRIFFITHS'.
Louie and I were utterly shocked and knew we couldn’t possibly allow Mrs ==== to see this, so we trampled and stamped all over the message to obliterate it. The garden then looked such a disgraceful mess, we were sure Louie would get into trouble. Mrs ===== must have been out at one of her meetings at the time and by the next morning a fresh downfall of snow covered the offending mess. I was very late home and timidly gave Aunt Lil a feeble excuse, which thankfully, she didn’t doubt.
Just before Christmas, Aunt Kath was extremely busy and so allowed her young son Derek, to come and stay at Aunt Lil's for a few days. We decided to try carol singing to earn some money for presents. Barbara and I, unfortunately are tone deaf, but we persuaded Bernard and Derek to sing loudly as they could at least hit some right notes. We were more than delighted at the generosity from the first two houses so we proceeded to sing all down the street. To our astonishment, we had earned quite an amount of money. After counting all the ha'pennies and pennies and dividing the spoils, it amounted to one shilling each. I suspect the householders must have felt sorry for us, (the poor little evacuee children); it certainly wasn’t our angelic rendering of Silent Night, Away in a Manger and Whilst Shepherds Watch, which made them donate so freely.
The following morning the four of us trudged down to Woolworth’s to spend our earnings. I bought Aunt Lil a bottle of Yardley's Lavender Toilet Water with my one shilling. Derek purchased a poker for his mother. Barbara decided to buy a gift for Mrs Elam and then stretched the money to include a present for Mabel. Bernard bought the toddler at Mrs XXXXX , a rattle. We felt really wealthy wondering around Woolworth’s with so much money to spend. I am sure the recipients didn’t derive as much pleasure as we had done shopping for the gifts.
I remember hiding the Lavender Water in my bedroom. The temptation proved too great for me, as each time I attended a party or concert, wearing my best blue dress, I would dab a few drops behind my ears and onto my wrists. When Christmas morning arrived, Aunt Lil was already familiar with the scent and the bottle was missing a good inch and a half of perfume and I can now hear here saying.
'So that is where the lovely aroma has been coming from'.
Aunt Lil seemed distressed, commenting to me the fact that we hadn’t received a parcel from Leeds. I was quite unperturbed by this remark, I wasn’t expecting any gifts from home. Never to my knowledge had mother been to town shopping for Christmas presents. She never had the luxurious privilege of extra money for gifts after buying in the food. We had always only received a stocking filled with nuts, sweets, apple, orange, new penny, colouring book, crayons or a cheap tin of paints.
Sometimes a magic paint book, where one just dipped the paintbrush in water, brush over the picture and different colours would show through. We girls might find a used cotton bobbin with four nails pinned in and a small ball of wool for cork work or a pair of short, bone knitting needles. There would be tiny paper, Japanese flowers, which had to be placed in a tumbler of water to see them unfold and grow into beautiful flowers, these always delighted me. I can’t remember exactly what the boys received apart from tiny packs of playing cards and twisted metal puzzles.
I'm sure our Bill derived far more pleasure making kites out of newspaper, thin slithers of cane and a reel of cotton. He was by far the best kite maker I ever knew. His kites always flew so high with a long trailing tail of twisted newspapers bows, swaying in the breeze.
I remember thinking to myself. Aunt Lil and Mrs Elam obviously didn’t know what it was like to be without the rent money for Monday morning. At these times, mother would make a pansion full of delicious, fizzy ginger beer early on Sunday morning. Word that Mrs Griffiths had brewed would get around the street and neighbours would knock upon our door for a two-penny or a penny bottle of this appetiser, which they drank with their Sunday dinners. If dad (unable to work) had been out walking he might arrive home with a bag full of young nettle leaves, so sometimes mam would make nettle beer. Mother was an expert at making all manner of drinks. Not once did the landlord knock upon our door and not get paid.
I can also, vividly remember that our coats were not considered suitable for winter in Miss Shaw’s eyes and we needed new ones. She wrote a letter to mother asking her to purchase coats for us. After a while, a parcel duly arrived with two green coats inside. These garments mother had obviously bought in the C & A sale; they were not of good quality. Mine was quite unsuitable as it would scarcely fit and was really a summer coat. Aunt Lil returned it to Leeds, demanding mother buy a navy blue reefer and stating the correct size. Eventually this reefer coat did arrive but I often wondered at what trouble and expense to mother.
Christmas dawned and still no mail from Yorkshire. Aunt Lil and Mrs Elam just couldn’t believe it. I had managed to stay awake until after Aunt Lil had placed my filled stocking at the foot of the bed. Quietly, I groped inside and retrieved a bar of chocolate, which proved too tempting and so I immediately devoured it. The small parcel at the heel of my stocking contained a pair of hand knitted gloves, beautifully made by Flo and then the inevitable orange, apple, nuts, new penny and sweets. Not unlike our filled stockings at home.
Aunt Kath and family duly arrived with fully laden boxes, baskets and presents for all. We certainly had a day to remember; I had never known a Christmas like this. Mrs Bourne gave me a beautiful manicure set. The tools rested on a delicately painted turquoise stand and the handles were of the same design. Truthfully, Mrs Bourne explained to me, she had been given this set by one of the schoolteachers but as she had neither the time nor inclination to take care of her nails, it was of no use to her. She re-wrapped it and presented it to me. I was delighted with this gift; I had never owned anything so pretty. I now wish I had carefully saved it over the years.
I imagine that Aunt Kath must have been responsible for most of the well-laden dinner table but it was Aunt Lil who had expertly cooked and prepared the delicious meal. Aunt Lil's fruit pies were always heavenly. Apple, Loganberry, Gooseberry and Raspberry pies, which melted in the mouth, the pastry always just a lovely golden brown. When I was older, I asked how she made such delicious fruit pies. She told me the secret was conceived by the fact that Uncle Lew and Derek would not touch butter, so she devised a way of making sure they each ate some of their ration, by spreading a generous layer of butter over the fruit before placing the top crust on. This way she knew they received their fair share of rations and vitamins. I often do this to this day.
In later years, whilst Derek and I were reminiscing, I told him that Aunt Lil had made sure that he and his dad ate their butter ration by placing it in their fruit pies. He laughed, thinking it a huge joke and said he thought it was very astute of her.
Later on Christmas day, Barbara and Bernard arrived for a delightful Christmas tea and games were organised. We were all amazed at the little gifts, games, knitting wool, jig saw puzzles and clothing. It was unbelievable to us. Derek, being an only one enjoyed having children in the house to play with. We didn’t know at the time, but he was shortly to have a baby brother named Allen.
A few days after Christmas we did receive a parcel from Leeds, much to our surprise and delight. (I have often wondered if Aunt Lil had secretly written to mother, expressing her dismay that we had not received anything from home.) This contained a compendium of games along with a few other toys, books and sweets. We found it rather difficult to decide who should keep the compendium, along with the other few toys, none of them were labelled. Mother did occasionally write us a letter giving all the latest news from home.
One of these epistles distressed me terribly. My friend, around the corner, who was epileptic and so had not been evacuated with us. This girl, Dorothy, had been left alone for a few minutes whilst her mother popped to the local shop. It seems the poor girl suffered a fit and had fallen unconscious, onto the fire and tragically lost her life. I tortured myself, imagining what her poor mother must be going through, she was already afraid of her bullying husband. If Dorothy ever had a fit whilst out playing, her mother would say to us, 'For God's sake, don't let her father know’ and she would give the child who had taken her home a sixpence. I was heartbroken and devastated, I couldn’t sleep properly for weeks. I was constantly imagining Dorothy with her big brown eyes and long dark curly hair tied back in ribbons, in flames.
Christmas had passed and we were not getting the expected air raids or gas attacks. The blackout was still to inconvenience us most. At Aunt Lil's we had not experienced any food shortages. I know she had been stocking up with various groceries like sugar, cereals, soap and anything else that could be safely stored. I suppose she knew exactly what we would be short of, having experienced the 1914 - 18 war. I also know Aunt Kath kept her informed and would arrive with things from the bakery she could spare.
We still enjoyed long walks with Betty Simpson on Saturday afternoons. My friend, Miriam Draycott and her sister Mary were billeted with Mr and Mrs Bates on St Mary's Road. I believe Mr and Mrs Bate’s sons were away at university or boarding school, so Miriam and Mary had the complete run of their nursery and all their toys. Miriam used their roller skates and I was also able to borrow a pair from a friend.
St Mary’s Road was very even and as there was hardly any traffic we used it as a roller-skating rink. Miriam became an expert and my skating eventually improved and was reasonably passable, I didn’t fall down as often. To begin with, I wasn’t as daring as Miriam but we really enjoyed many hours.
At school we were still being taught handicrafts as opposed to the more formal lessons. I had become quite good at knitting and so the headmistress, Miss Hepworth, asked me to knit three baby vests for a friend of hers who was pregnant. When I had completed them she then requested that I knit her a pair of bed-socks, producing a pattern and wool. Eventually, when I handed the finished articles to her, she called me into her office at 4 pm, thanked me profusely for knitting the garments so beautifully and handed me two pence.
On arriving home from school and explaining to Aunt Lil about the two pence, she was furious and said I had been taken advantage of. In fact, she was so annoyed, I was terrified she would go down to the school and give Miss Hepworth a piece of her mind. The three vests and also the adult bed-socks had taken me ages to complete. I could have been knitting garments for myself. Thankfully, she thought better of this in case it caused repercussions for me.
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