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Philippa Gould's War from 1939 to V.E. Day 1945 - Part I (continued in Part II - A6183092)

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Archive List > Outbreak of War 1939

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Philippa Gould
Location of story: 
Tiverton and Exeter, Devon and Frimley, Surrey
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
30 August 2005

This story has been written to the BBC People’s War site by CSV Storygatherer Coralie, on behalf of Philippa Gould. This story has been added to the site with her permission and Philippa fully understands the terms and conditions of the site.

I was married in April 1938, from my grandmother’s home, Tiverton Castle, Devon. We lived in a flat in the Red House, Topsham Road, Exeter, which we rented. It was a very nice flat with big Edwardian rooms. The day war was declared, September 3rd 1939, I was 3 months pregnant and my mother and father-in-law were staying with us. It was decided that as my husband, Nigel Campbell, was on the reserve of the Sherwood Foresters and would be called up, it would be a good idea to rent our flat furnished, through Topsham Barracks, and that I should move into Tiverton Castle, which had been my main home since 1917. It was all very upsetting, but to move had been the right decision. Nigel was called up to Nottingham on September 6th. I drove him from Tiverton to the station in Taunton, and settled into the Castle.

It was a beautiful old house and had been built in 1106 by William the Conqueror for one of his knights, Richard de Redvers. The part of the Castle in which we lived had been built around some of the old walls in 1680. The gardens went down to the River Exe. My father was a great fisherman and caught many trout and salmon in our waters. The gardens were exceptional and were opened to the public about twice a year for a Nursing Fellowship. Beyond the gardens there were 2 fields, one known as ‘Pigfield’ and the other as ‘the Orchard’. One of my aunts kept a large amount of hens and another aunt had goats in the fields, which were milked in the coach-house in the stable yard.

Before the war, my grandmother had a housekeeper, a cook, a kitchen maid, two parlour maids and two chambermaids. Very shortly after war broke out they all left for wartime work. There was also a boot boy who kept the stove for the central heating full of coke. A ton of coke a month was used! There was also a gardener who had a little cottage, known as the Lodge at the front gate. He lived there with his nice wife and their little boy. Alas, she had a tumour on the brain and died, and our gardener then joined the Forces. We had an old boy called Loosemore, who did the hard work in the garden, and all of us helped as well. We had to grow vast quantities of potatoes for the war effort.

Nigel’s part of the Sherwood Foresters was then stationed at Shildon, Co Durham. In November 1939 I went up by train to stay with Nigel. I spent a night at Paddington Station and while I was there, the first siren of the war was set off, a bit scaring, but it was a mistake!!!! Nigel was billeted with a dear old couple of sisters, who were very kind, but they cooked much too much food for me. I tried to tell them kindly, ‘not so much PLEASE’, but it didn’t work so we had to put quite a bit on our fire. There was a bathroom with a very old bath which was constantly being painted and the loo was at the bottom of the garden!

Nigel had a batman whose name was Ivor Jones; very Welsh and very nice. He used to bring us up early morning teas and tell us about the weather. I always remember his saying “Vairy slip today, Madam”!!! I think I was there for two weeks or so. One day we went by a very bumpy old bus to Darlington and to beyond, where an old aunt of Nigel’s lived with a friend. Aunt Fate was her name and after the war she moved down to a small flat in London and asked Nigel and I to go up to her and take any furniture which we could. We had just moved into a large flat and needed a lot of things, which included a grand piano! Very lucky!!

The second Christmas of the war three of our erstwhile maids, who were working in Tiverton, came back to serve Christmas dinner for us in the way they always had — so sweet of them. In the old days, at 7pm one of the maids rang the gong, which was the dressing gong, and up we went to change for dinner. My grandmother was now 89 and was helped by the 1st Parlour Maid. At 7.45pm one of the maids came into the drawing room and announced “Dinner is served, Madam” and we all followed after Granny into the dining room. When war broke out, the family at the Castle consisted of my grandmother, Mrs Wingfield, 4 spinster aunts, my mother and father, and eventually a dear old lady called Mrs Davies, the cousin of my old Nanna, who was bombed out of her house in London.

Early in March, when my baby was due any time, I was walking along the river with my Aunt Susie. We were collecting river sand that had been brought down by a recent flood, as this was just what my aunt needed in the potting shed. She was very clever at this part of gardening. We had a potting shed, as well as two large greenhouses. Aunt Susie was also in charge of all of the fruit trees in the garden and she made little muslin bags to hang over the pears to stop them being spoiled by insects. We also had a huge black fig tree sheltered by the potting shed. I simply loved figs as a child, so did my three sisters.

While walking by the river, I began to feel pains. It was Monday, March 18th. However, I went back to the Castle and packed a case, but decided that I wouldn’t have to go to the Nursing Home in Exeter until tomorrow, as there was a programme on the BBC at 7pm which I always looked forward to. However, this wasn’t to be! Things got a bit too much for me and my mother drove me into Exeter. My lovely baby daughter was born early on Tuesday morning, March 19th. I heard from my husband that he was on emergency leave and was going to his parents in Sheringham. This was very hurtful that he didn’t come to see me and baby Jane …… I had to stay in the Nursing Home for 3 weeks, which was the usual way of coping with maternity in those days.

The next thing I heard was that he was in Rosyth, and eventually we heard that there had been a raid to Norway and the Sherwood Foresters were involved. This was before Dunkirk. The next thing I heard was a telegram from the War Office to say that my husband was missing. Pretty devastating!! One of the other officer’s wives got in touch with me, and all of us had had the same telegram. It had been a complete disaster.

They had gone over from Scotland with three ships, two for the troops and one for ammunition etc. This one was sunk, so they arrived with NOTHING, not even shovels to make trenches! My husband and another officer had got some skis from friendly Norwegians, but my husband had never skied and didn’t get very far before he was captured. He spent the rest of the war in Oflags in Germany. Eventually, on May 7th, I received another telegram from the War Office, to say that he was a POW.

Nigel was only a 2nd Lieutenant and his pay was miniscule. Luckily for me, John Players, for whom my husband was working, made up his pay to what he had been receiving from them before the war. We wives were kept in touch by one of us officer’s wives (whose name I’m sorry to say I have forgotten)!! Eventually, we were given information as to what we should do as wives of POWs. We had special forms and we were allowed to send out chocolate, I think via the Red Cross. We received a letter a month from them. Nigel’s letters were very boring and he never sent me loving phrases, just “with love from” at the end. I needed more than this!!!

Again, through the Red Cross, we were able to send an occasional parcel. Nigel had said he was feeling the cold in his Oflag and I sent him two lovely Scottish blankets, which weighed very little, and also his backgammon board which he was asking for. He was a great bridge and backgammon player, which of course was a great help to him in captivity. Life for me was taken up with looking after the baby, as at this time we still had maids. I was breast-feeding, which was a joy!

However, very shortly came the horror of Dunkirk, and the tremendous bravery of all our little ships around the South coast going over to France to help rescue the British Expeditionary Force. It was wonderful what they did, whilst being bombed and shot at. Many never came home …. We had no TV in those days, but listed avidly to the news. The next thing that was of great interest to us, in May 1940, was that Winston Churchill became our PM. We weren’t quite certain about this at first, but not for long! He became a very great person for us. He was wonderful talking to us on ‘the wireless’, as the radio was called in those days.

The next thing to happen was that evacuees arrived because of the awful bombing of London. I took down our lovely big old pram from the attic, for their use, and then, heaven help us, we had a family of Mother, Aunt and 10 children from the East End. We did all we could to make them happy. They took over the maids’ bedrooms and found the kitchen nice and warm, but they didn’t stay very long; they didn’t like life not in the East End. I hope they weren’t hurt by the bombs but, of course, we never heard from them. I think they were completely illiterate!!

On May 23rd, Jane was christened in St Peter’s Church, Tiverton. This is next door, so to speak, to the Castle. All four grandparents were there, as well as Jane’s great grandmother and great aunts. She looked lovely in the family christening robes but, because of the war, we only had a family tea for her.

(Continued in Part II - Story A6183092)

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