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Going "home"

by AnnieRJ

Contributed by 
AnnieRJ
People in story: 
Anne Curtis, Sheila Curtis, Percy Curtis, Alice Curtis
Location of story: 
Bristol/Jersey
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A3208637
Contributed on: 
01 November 2004

When my parents first said that we were "going home" I couldn't understand what they meant. "Home" to me was the house we lived in, the house in Ashton Drive, Long Ashton, Bristol, where I had been born in 1942. Where we had all crammed under the dining room table or in the cupboard under the stairs during the air raids. Living so close to Bristol Aircraft Corporation's factory, where my father, Percy, worked, the raids were frequent. According to my parents, my first word was not "Mummy" but "bombs". But now I couldn't understand why, when a plane went overhead, nobody hid any more. I used to ask "Is it one of ours?" and everybody would laugh.

VE Day celebrations had been and gone. They had covered me in a paste made of cocoa powder, dressed me in a grass skirt as a "Hoola Girl", and we had gone to a party at the local hall. Bored, I had gone out onto the steps and sat down by myself. A dog wandered up and started licking at my cocoa-covered leg, so I joined in, starting on my left arm. The grownups came out and hauled me back inside.

I remember being in a taxi (a new experience!) and all the neighbours coming out to wave goodbye. At Weymouth we boarded the "Antonia" and began the long, very rough crossing to Jersey. As one of the few passengers who wasn't actually seasick, I was told I was a "good sailor". Finally, we reached Jersey, "home".

My parents, Alice and Percy Curtis, together with my sister, Sheila, and my grandparents, had fled the Island two days before the German Invasion, escaping on a coal boat. They were only allowed one suitcase each, and had had to abandon their home and all their possessions. My father, who was English, had fought in the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War as an aircraft fitter with the British Expeditionary Force in France. Now we were returning "home".

We stayed with friends at Greve d'Azette, Aunty Grace and Uncle Wilfred Ahier, whilst my parents scrubbed and cleaned the house, my grandfather's house, Number 24 le Geyt Street, St. Helier. It was a Georgian house, three stories tall, furnished in the late Victorian period, and all the furnishings were pretty much intact, despite the fact that the German troops had been living there. It had electricity on the ground floor only, and no bathroom, just a toilet in the understairs area. At night I went up 4 flights of high stairs with just a night-light which threw terrifying moving shadows, and the mice scratched and scuttled in the wainscotting. The only heating was a gas fire in the dining room, and once a week I had a bath in a tin tub in front of it. On winter mornings we woke to find that the frost had made beautiful leafy patterns on the inside of the windows. I got dressed under warmth of the bedcovers because the air in the room was freezing.

Whenever we went out to the market for our food supplies, my mother would meet friends she hadn't seen since before the War, and chat endlessly, and my little legs grew so tired with waiting. All this conversation was going on above my head, and I used to look up and tug at her coat to beg her to move on. She used to tell her friends that I was her "war effort" and they'd all laugh. Most of all from those autumn and winter days I remember the smell of the dark, damp streets, as smoke from the coal fires mixed with the smell of wet leaves, and the joy of coming "home" to the little gas fire.

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