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Schooling and Sardine Pie in Surrey

by BBC Learning Centre Gloucester

Contributed by 
BBC Learning Centre Gloucester
People in story: 
Margaret Bolt
Location of story: 
Ashtead, Surrey
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
17 March 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War site by the BBC Learning Centre on behalf of Margaret Bolt with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

I was 11 years old when the war started on 3rd September 1939. We lived in Ashtead, Surrey, about 20 miles south of London ... a rural area then.

Life continued more or less normally for about a year, except for having dim lights and blackout curtains, and having to turn the light out before opening the outside door. We had to carry a gas mask in a special soft bag which you wore over your shoulder.

Rationing must have crept up slowly, I was never aware of going hungry, although my mother never forgot crying because she was unable to buy anything for our dinner. My father (he was in the Home Guard, which was not unlike the Dads Army programme) never grew any vegetables, refusing to dig up his much-loved bedding plants.

When the air raids started about September 1940 we all four of us slept in the small cupboard under the stairs. Two single mattresses in a line just fitted in. My father slept by the door with an axe ready to dig us out if we were all buried!

The raids were very bad. We could tewll the German planes by the drone of the engine ... then the whistle of the bombs left us guessing which road had been hit. Anti-aircraft guns would attack the German bombers as they approached London.

We had our windows blown out and the front door blown open but were lucky to escape anything worse. The raids would start at dusk and the 'All Clear" was not sounded until after 8am next day. We would set out for school before the raids had finished although it was always quiet by then.

Our school, a convent, was hit by a landmine. No one was killed but a few nuns were injured. Cycling to school next day several people called to us "Your school got it last night" but we went on to find it a ruin. We were very upset. It wasn't long before nearby houses were taken over for our schooling. A new gymnasium was built but that, too, was blown up.

I had a blue ration book, being over five and under 16. This entitled the holder to oranges if and when available, which was rare. Of course bananas were never available. All food was rationed and usually had to be queued for. Two ounces of butter a week per person did not go far. Margarine, which had a strong, unpleasant taste was used instead but I preferred to eat the grey-looking bread dru, or with a thin layer of jam or golden syrup if we had it. I did not drink tea, coffee or milk, only water.

My mother produced some very odd dishes trying to use what was available. I do remember with nausea a sadine pie! My friend's father grew lots of fruit and vegetables ... rhubarb, runner beans, parskley and plums ... and would let us eat carrots straight out of the ground raw. We would also eat the raw carrots at school for 'break'.

Petrol was rationed so most people put their cars away. There was little traffic on the roads and all the signposts had been removed (in case we were invaded!).

Children made their own entertainment - there was no television. We spent the summer at the local swimming pool where all the young people met. We were never bored. There were Girl Guides and a church social club which put on shows in the winter. During the school summer holidays which lasted witht weeks we would go to a local farm and help with the harvesting. It was hard work "stooking" and we were very disappointed not to be paid at the end but given six new-laid eggs instead. My mother was delighted ... but I hated eggs! Sometimes we gathered rose hips which were turned into syrup rich in vitamin C.

Clothes were rationed which was hard as we grew older. Trousers were not then worn by girls. We longed for a pretty dress to wear to the local "hop". There were no charity shops or second-hand shops. Because stockings were rationed we painted our legs with gravy browning with a dark brown lline down the back - alright until it rained!

Choroclate was very short as were all sweets. Shops would keep it under the counter and deny having any unless they knew you and then they would only let you have a two-ounce bar, no choice. There were Buzz bars, Fry's Chocolate Cream bars and Caramello to name a few.

After the air raids subsided we had Doodle bugs - rocket type bombs self-propelled with a light in the back. When the light went out you knew it would drop. Somehow they were never as frightening.

Occasionally during the day a plane would come over and machine-gun people. We were warned to lie flat on the ground if caught outside when it happened ... I never was, thank goodness.

On VE Day everyone went mad! All the lights were put on in the house and we all went out and danced in the streets. Although everyone left their doors open no one was burgled.

Although this may sound a fraught childhood in fact I was very happy and took it all as fairly usual. Sixty five years later I still have the same friend I grew up with in Surrey.

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