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15 October 2014
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Betty Bennett Chepstow Memories

by Chepstow Drill Hall

Contributed by 
Chepstow Drill Hall
People in story: 
Betty Bennett
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
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Contributed on: 
14 May 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War site by volunteer from The Chepstow Society on behalf of Betty Bennett and has been added to the site with her permission. Betty Bennett fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

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Milking was done by machine and so was the bottling at High Beech. The hours were long from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. with mealbreaks as a rule but it wasn’t heavy back-breaking muscle- tiring work as some land girls experienced. I’ve talked to my cousin Lynnus about his experiences with land girls in the Vale of Glamorgan. He worked on his farm with his father - joint tenants, but during harvest time took a threshing machine around the farms in his area working for the “War Ag” (War Agricultural Committee) as he called it. He had 4 land girls working with him (not necessarily the same ones each morning). They were billeted in purpose-built barracks off Peterston Super Ely Road near Sycamore Cross (now turned into cow sheds near Bonvilston), very bare accommodation and were delivered by van each morning to the point of work, bringing meagre sandwiches for lunch. A lot of these girls had never done any hard muscular work and they had to wield a pike or shift sacks of grain all day. One land girl showed Lynnus the blisters on her hands the second day on site and told him what her father threatened to do to him if they ever met, as if it was L’s fault. In fact L said when he saw girls flagging he would take the pike for 10 minutes and give the girls something easier to do. The girls would find a way of telling him when they were menstruating and he would help them by giving them lighter work. Many of the farms were not kind to the land girls. One farmer wouldn’t let the girls use the farmhouse lavatory. They would tell L they had to look for a secluded spot and he would make sure none of the men working with them moved from the machine. This was because early on he found one of the workmen wandering off after the girls. On the farm where they weren’t allowed to use the lavatory one of the landgirls found a “stolen” nest of eggs. She told L and he said “do what you like with them”..They were hidden in the hedge up the road and the landgirls took 2 dozen eggs back to their billet to supplement their meagre diet (at one stage one egg a fortnight was the ration and goodness knows how long that had been about). I was lucky in being able to take a couple back each week. Mother used to put eggs down in Isinglass, a preservative solution, in large crocks when eggs were plentiful. They didn’t have the flavour of fresh eggs but were very useful for cooking. And of course there were dried eggs use ful for cooking - some good cooks claimed they could make a decent omelette with dried egg.

Very few farmers’ wives gave the landgirls any sort of refreshment at lunchtime but Rhoswen, L’s wife, had them in for a good cooked lunch when the threshing machine was at New House Farm (and the girls remembered this for years afterwards). Well they killed and cured pigs each year (the allowance was two). Only two were in sight, hams and bacon sides hanging from hooks, because the rest were hidden above reeds over the rafters in the farm barn. L still has a Xmas card and news from one of those landgirls, Doris, now living in Weston Super Mare.

What about conditions? Well there were coupons for food - books of stamps with the dates and the items specified so that we were able to buy so much meat and butter and tea and sugar and eggs, etc a week or a fortnight or a month, and the coupon was given up with the money on purchase. It was 2/6 worth of meat for much of the time but off ration sometimes there were meally sausages and offal products. Tins of Spam were a standby. I had several cutlets of salmon from “under the counter” from my butcher - a few times I saw salmon wrapped in sacking being taken from the boot of a car into the back premises of Tuck’s butcher’s shop which was next door to the George Hotel. In the food ration books there were spare points that could be used for the rarer products - so many for a tin of Spam, so many for a tin of fruit (these rarely found on the shelves). For a short time even bread was rationed. As you would expect, fish was rarely in the shops, also apples were our only fruit.

Then there were clothes ration books as well.

War-time conditions. We soon got used to coupons - the thing was everyone was in the same boat. There were clothing coupons - but farmers had extra coupons for “industrial clothing” - overalls, etc and these could be used for normal clothing in some shops. Of course there were food coupons. There was a monthly allowance. 2/6 worth of meat per week, I think it was 2oz of butter at one stage, so many eggs a month, so much sugar, and cheese and bacon, and extra points that could be used for cereals, dried fruit, flour, tinned fruit (very scarce), jams and marmalade, all of which were short and frequently not available. There were Women’s Institute prizes for “the best eggless sponge” etc., recipes for jam with less sugar. I was lucky in having a few slices of bacon and an occasional egg from home when I returned to Chepstow after the weekend. Farmers were allowed to kill two pigs a year but some killed more and hid the extra hams and sides of bacon. Fresh fruit, apart from apples, were unavailable. We bought and stored apples for as long as we could - by Spring they became quite wrinkled and soft but were better than none. There was the occasional chunk of salmon from the Wye (usually poached) if you knew the right people and our butcher sometimes had it. Meally sausages and offal (off points) was shared out among customers. For a short period bread was rationed. Allotments were popular.

Potatoes and other veg were adequate in Chepstow. Flower gardens were dug up to plant veg. A common slogan was “Dig for Victory”. Another common slogan “don’t you know there’s a war on”.

Coal was shared to regular customers by the coalman. I remember Mrs Richards (landlady at Ashbourne House, Bridge Street) directing the coalman to leave 1 cwt coal to one corner of her back premises for me, another elsewhere for Margaret Williams (first floor front), another for the family first floor back and fourth lot for herself.

Petrol for private use was tightly rationed and for most of the war only available for authorized journeys. Philip and I cycled a lot outside his permitted range. One summer we put the bikes in the guards van and took the train to Kingham station in the Cotswolds where we pushed the bikes most of the way up to the Talbot Hotel in Stow on the Wold. Our luggage was delivered by van from the station. That’s where I bought the two little stirling posy vases - 10/- each (50p). We cycled out in all directions from Stow. Philip would hang on to the back of a lorry to get back up the hill. I couldn’t.

Make do and mend was in operation. A dress got worn under the sleeves. These were cut off and it became a pinafore dress etc. We darned socks and stockings, patched trousers, and cut up old clothes to make smaller items. Everyone had knitting on the go - jumpers . Wool was on points, and sweaters and men’s socks. Old woollens were undone, the wool washed and reknitted.

When I started in Larkfield lady teachers were expected to wear hats and stockings to school. Trousers were unheard of. Miss Smith was a stickler for standards. Eventually when coupons got short, in summer we would draw dark lines down the back of our legs with eyebrow pencil to imitate stockings and use suntan lotion to darken the legs.

Little pleasures became more significant. Outings were few and more precious. The wireless kept us in touch with what was going on. ITMA (It’s that man again) was a very popular comedy programme (ginger cats still remind me of it).

I joined the Chepstow Young Farmers’ Club where Philip was a member. Another cousin of his, Johnny Price, who later farmed near Itton, was chairman at the time. Johnny had been a pupil at Larkfield School earlier in the 30’s and did very well academically. I remember Miss Smith (Senior Mistress) saying she was very disappointed she failed to persuade him to go on to university after H.S.C. But Johnny always wanted to be a farmer and he excelled at that as well. Others in our crowd were Jim Pruit (still farming), Derek Dawson the manager of the Co-op Dairies and his wife and several more I remember but can’t recall their names. I went to all their dances (with Philip), several of their evening meetings if free and interested in the programme. I was in their quiz team and went to other clubs to compete. Chepstow Young Farmers’ Club had been established for several years before my time there, and was one of the earliest in South Wales. It was a big asset for the farming youngsters to have some means to meet and extend their interests.

The ‘BLACKOUT’ came into force immediately after war was declared. It meant adding light-proof curtains all around the house. Cheap dark material was available to make up and use under normal curtains. I had wooden shutters in my Ashbourne House sitting room. Any chink of light and there would be a knock at the door by the policeman patrolling the streets. I had P’s car to drive home to Hendre for the wekend on a number of occasions - this was to get me back early on a Sunday when buses were uncertain. Shades were added to car lamps. In rain and misty conditions it could be very difficult to see the road - no white lines and cats eyes. Signposts were taken down for obvious reasons. Philip taught me to drive. Frequently, on the quiet roads, I started by steering, leaning over from the passenger seat while he did the foot controls. Eventually I got a learner’s licence and was allowed to sit in the driver’s seat. He was an excellent patient instructor.

When I started in Larkfield married women were not appointed and if I had married I would have had to resign, but within a year, with male teachers being called up, married women were in great demand and we had a few on our staff. When I married Les in 1948 I stayed in my post until pregnant and there were two other married ladies on the staff at that time.

I suppose my near disaster on the road comes under war-time conditions. During his last couple of years Dad was failing. He died in 1945. He was tired most of the time and would drop off to sleep any time he sat in a chair. To help out, whenever possible, David or I would deliver the milk on a Sunday morning after Dad had milked and put churns on the milk cart with Bonny in the shafts. David was with me this particular morning so it must have been early on and before he was allowed to go on his own. We delivered through the village and along Druidstone Road a hundred yards and then down the Began Hill. When we were half-way down the hill a loaded waggon drawn by a heavy horse went out of control near the top of the hill. It was coming down quite fast with the lad alongside unable to slow it down. The horse was stepping out with its front legs but the back legs were sliding along the road. We couldn’t get to the bottom of the hill before it so I drew the milk cart close into the side expecting the waggon to collide with it. But no, that knowledgeable horse pulled to the far side of the road and very cleverly he managed to squeeze through the narrow gap still racing with his front legs and skidding with the hind legs. A memory I’ll never forget.

Air Raid Warnings. Those first few air raid warnings at night in September-October 39 in Hardwicke Avenue, were quite frightening. Mr & Mrs Toms and I were out of bed in dressing gowns, down the stairs and under the table in double quick time. Mr Toms (a dear man) couldn’t stop breaking wind, pop pop pop, so there was that to contend with as well. Quite soon we didn’t leave our beds except when I reported to the police station for a couple of months. The effect remains with me as I screw up inside when I hear fire engine and ambulance warnings to this day.

Blackout. Of course there was blackout restrictions on trains and buses as well as houses on roads and in vehicles. Trains were very crowded too, it was difficult to see empty seats. One just opened the door and asked and frequently sat on someone’s lap by mistake. Trains were late, one missed connections. I was late for my Cardiff and London college friend Sally Davies’ wedding when she married George Tyler in Birmingham because my train from Chepstow (early in 1940) missed the connection in Gloucester. I was supposed to be bridesmaid but arrived and took over after the ceremony. Trains had “ladies Only” compartments. You never see those now. Blinds were drawn as well, after dark. Many carriages didn’t have corridors which was alright on short journeys, e.g. Chepstow to Cardiff. On longer journeys even when there were corridors they could be so crowded with servicemen sitting on their duffel bags and civilians sitting on their cases it was difficult to get past to toilets at the end of the carriages.

Seeing my surgeon’s home address (Tutshill) when he sent me his bill reminded me of war-time licensing laws. Monmouthshire had “dry” Sundays whereas Gloucestershire opened on Sundays. There was a trek of both servicemen and civilians over Chepstow bridge on Sunday evenings. Frequently I returned to Chepstow on a Sunday afternoon to spend the evening with Philip (or Bob). The two pubs in Tutshill were The Cross Inn and The Star. When petrol was available Philip and I used to spend our Sunday evenings at the Beachley Ferry Hotel meeting the same crowd there each week. The table tennis room was very popular. Summer evenings Bob and I would walk from Ashbourne House, over the bridge, and up the steep slope opposite which was the old road rather than taking the longer curving road which went around the hill. There would be much saluting as soldiers walked this route a lot.

I wonder if the wild lilies of the valley still grow in the woods on the west side between St. Arvans and Tintern. And did widening the road between the Race Course and St. Arvans destroy the wild cyclamen on the east side. ( I dug a clump of wild cyclamen from the bank where the garage is now). And does the harvest moon shine as brightly through the round window in Tintern Abbey.

When Italian POW’s came to the farm it was noted that silver spoons had to be kept from them. Olwen and her cousins all had silver rings from spoons that went missing (I have a few spitfire pins made from sixpences by soldiers stationed in Chepstow I met at the Piercefield pub). They used silver florins (old coinage two shilling piece) the same way.

Soldiers were stationed at that camp and coming up to “D” Day for several weeks they were stationed in all the woods around during the day, keeping out of sight, and returned to the camps to sleep after dark. The woods were littered with baked bean tins and bully beef tins after the troops were marched off to Barry station in the middle of the night just before “D” Day. During their spell there one day L and landgirls were picking up stones in the field next to Ludden Wood and several American soldiers in camouflage came out of the wood and disturbed the workers. L invited them up to the farmhouse and they spent one afternoon writing letters home in the sitting room. Later in the week they turned up at the farm in the evening in full uniform and they were senior officers. In a short time again one of the company arranged to meet L at the Three Horsehsoes the following night. The most senior officer later took L aside and said “keep it to yourself but he won’t be here tomorrow we are due off during the night”.

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