- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Robert Harold, Richard Neal, Phylis Neal, Leo Neal, Joan Neal, Peggy Neal, Rita Neal, Gwendoline Neal, Maureen Neal
- Location of story:
- Boscombe and Bournemouth
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 30 August 2005
From the Baby of the Neal Family
I was the youngest of five children, born on 20th August 1937 in Gladstone Road, Boscombe. Our house was near St John’s Infants School. One day, from the front bedroom window, I saw a double-decker bus in the road, full of tired looking men. Everything was quiet. The front garden was small and I was noticed by a man who turned and looked at me. We stared at each other and I felt I should be quiet too, so I didn’t wave. They looked ‘different’. Mummy said they were “those poor French soldiers”. She went into the school with other kind people to take them some tea.
Daddy was a bus driver for the Bournemouth Corporation Transport and after the war was awarded some commendation for his work. When he was home and it was dark during air raids, he liked to stand at the front door watching the skies and when there was a huge glow far off he said it was Southampton being bombed. The cupboard under the stairs was the place to be but it was a squash even when I sat on Mother’s knee.
Daddy would sit at a funny old wireless and twiddle knobs which made awful sounds, saying this would jam the airwaves for the pilots of Hitler’s planes. We understood that his unusual ways at times could be something to do with the First World War when he was in France. The radio didn’t have ‘a face’ and was just a load of junk around a speaker. There were toy bricks and pegs to keep wires etc together and propped up. However, this wireless also had programmes and the voice of Mr Churchill. I always new we would win the war because of him. With the wind-up gramophone on legs and our wonderful records, the wireless gave us endless music, which we all seemed to need. Both my parents, Robert (Bobby) and Phyllis (Maggie to all), were talented, and Daddy entertained the troops in the First World War, at some time with Leslie Henson. With our Godfrey piano in the often cold front room, our blackout curtains in place, and with Mummy at the keys, we sang from a lovely pile of songs of all types, from Victorian ballads ‘onwards’, and of course war songs old and new. Daddy was brilliant at monologues, and would sometimes recite one for us. We would hear things which he performed in the “Glad Eye Concert Party” which provided entertainment in the town before the war. Mummy accompanied the singers then and sometimes had to bring her latest baby with her in a little cot to place beside the piano at shows, (“behind the curtains” she said).
The arrival of the Morrison Shelter was exciting as now I had a stage! Rita was my next sister ‘up’ and four years older than me. We liked to sing and dance. However, the noise we made as we danced on top was not welcomed by anyone. The huge shelter was under the window and a new brick wall outside made our living room a bit darker sometimes but I knew it had to be that way. The house was a semi-detached and our neighbours, the Dugdales, had to go outside to an Anderson shelter. We had to smile, hearing their voices at night, as it was a scramble.
In 1943 my eldest sister Joan was called up and joined the A.T.S. She was 21 years old two days before she left home. Joan was a shorthand/typist and her skills kept her very busy. We had a photo of her in uniform with her dark hair in a lovely big wave on top called a ‘bang’. She looked very smart and much happier than she really was, being very homesick. Leo, 22 at that time and our big brother, was married and serving in the R.A.S.C. as a driver. He sent us photographs of himself with his drum-kit, and the band he was playing with. When he was overseas I was fascinated to see a pyramid in the corner of his portrait but it wasn’t the background really. Then one day came a photo from Athens. Leo was playing a white grand piano, with a band. The pianist had been killed and Leo had taken his place.
When Joan came home for leave she went dancing with Peggy at the pavilion Ballroom, in Bournemouth Gardens. Peggy, 10 years older than me, and the ‘middle one’, was a very keen dancer. Bournemouth was full of servicemen and Americans in particular, and at the Pavilion there were never enough girls to go round. Joan and Peggy would describe the ‘rush’ to have them as partners and they could pick the one they wanted! Sometimes some GI’s came home to meet the family. Rita and I enjoyed this as they were so nice and handsome too, generously leaving us with their rations of little packets of sugar etc. A popular number at the time was the “Cow, Cow, Boogie” which for one of them was a favourite tune. The sheet music soon joined the pile. Peggy was good at the Jitterbug, practicing by holding onto the mantelpiece in between the quick turns and she’d pick out tunes on the piano. She filled huge scrapbooks of film stars’ portraits and film news, mostly cut out of the’Picturegoer’ which were lovely ad full of glamour. We were al cinemagoers and loved ‘the stars’, especially the musical ones, but most of all we had to see the newsreel. Pathe News or Gaumont British, the newsreel kept us all in the picture. The local Carlton Cinema in the main Christchurch Road was our cinema home, and many is the time we queued for the cheapest seats as there was never enough money for the best ones.
From my ration book, Mum let me give away most of my ‘sweets’ coupons to friends at school, who seemed to need them more than I did. She did wonders at feeding us on so little, and with different times for Father with his early and late turns and special duties. She also made sure that a fire was in the grate for us before we went to school. This often meant breaking up large lumps of coal out in the garden, first thing. She was very good at making 1 cwt last the week when she had some ‘good coal’. But then, one of her songs was “keep the home fires burning” which we liked to sing. She wasn’t always very well but in daily concerns and cares, Mum put herself last of all and was blessed with a lovely sense of humour, like her many sisters and brothers.
Our hot water was produced by boiling a kettle on a gas stove, and for weekly baths we had to carry buckets of hot water upstairs. I didn’t mind doing this as I took my turn in helping. It was all part of wartime and one day it would be better.
Living in Boscombe meant we had the beach and lots of parks to play in. our feeling of freedom seemed only shadowed by wartime necessities like barricades covered with barbed-wire along the seashore. On the Sunday morning of 23rd May 1943, Rita and I were playing with friends in Queens Park, and I decided to go home. I told Rita I was tired and walked home alone. The siren sounded and Mother was frantic, not knowing where the others were. We huddled together in the Morrison, and I did my best to comfort her, feeling that we’d all be quite all right. Rita returned having taken shelter in a corner shop near Boscombe Hospital after seeing the enemy planes go over. She had lots to tell us. Peggy who was on a bus passing the Metropole Hotel at the Lansdowne, saw a bomb dropping. Everyone on the bus dived under the seats. It was lunchtime on that Sunday, and the Metropole Bar was a popular place for airmen from Canada and other places. Two of our school-friends, sisters, whose names were Pamela and Wendy died that day in Boscombe and a memorial picture bearing a plaque to their memory was placed in the school hall, at a special service. The picture was of Captain Oates walking out into the blizzard — the tent in the background. I looked at it often and was puzzled after what had happened.
Not long after, Mum took me to see the ruined centre of Bournemouth and we were terribly sad that one of the bombed buildings included Beales. It was every ones favourite store.
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