- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Heather Bell, Ethel Bell, Gwen Skeet, Eddie Skeet
- Location of story:
- Hindon, Wiltshire
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 03 June 2004
To get us away from the bombing attacks which were coming more and more frequently around Croydon, our home, my mother and her sister, Auntie Gwen, took my cousin Eddie and I down to the depths of the country - Hindon in Wiltshire. Both my father and my uncle had volunteered when the war started and were serving overseas, and it was as much to give them peace of mind about our safety that the "girls" decided to take flight. We were so lulcky to be able to go, but I'm not sure that my cousin and I - we were about 9 years old - really knew what an incredible time we were to have.
Although we were "townies" there was a deep love of the countryside in the whole family, who had originally come from farming stock, and we took to the country life like ducks to water. We stayed with two different village families. One headed by a rosy-faced, robust and kindly farm worker, and his cheerful and equally robust wife. The other, where my mother and I stayed, were a much quieter couple, very religious, who wore their Sunday best on Sunday, and the head of the house was a sedate gentleman who used to wear bicycle clips with his "office" suit as he cycled to the farm where he "kept the books". I can still see him sitting in his chair in the dining room - never the parlour - where he every Sunday would shake and shake in a big bottle the toppings from the milk, which had been kept all week to make butter. And such butter it was! I had never tasted anything like it - thick and creamy with a slightly sour flavour.
My cousin wnt to the village schoiol, which he loved, but I was sent work from my school to do at home, and I hated it. My mother was not a very patient teacher, and I remember being in tears because I didn't know my 8 times table. The best assignments were nature study, when I could go out and rummage in the hederows and draw pictures of the things I found.
But the real memories come from the wonderful scrumping trips we went on in the woods and fields. While Eddie and I played "armies" and shot at each other with branches in the woods, my mother and Gwen would gather chestnuts and apples and pears to send home as food parcels to the family. We used to picnic by torchlight. We spent afternoons picking wild strawberries and raspberries and wildflowers, which were carefully packeted up and sent home to cheer everyone up. I can remember standing in the dark in an orchard keeping guard with Eddie, while Gwen stood on my mothers back to shake the lovely Cox's Orange Pippins hanging there - just for us! We used to find the long thin strips of silver in the fields while we were mushrooming. They were supposed to be anti-radar strips dropped from the air, but we used to collect them and make decorations for Christmas out of them. Nothing was sacred. Mr. Merryfield, Gwen's cheerful landlord, told her one day not to wear a bright red blouse the next time she went scrumping cucumbers from the field! She went as red as her blouse!
We walked for miles, singing, and all the times keeping our evyes open for free pickings from the hedgerows and woods. There was one wonderful sunny day when we decided to take a picnic down to the lake on the Morrison estate. When we had eaten our sandwiches, made from great chunks of fresh bread from the baker - one thing there was plenty of - bread wasn't rationed until the war was over. Eddie and I had paddled and were looking for something else to do. I can't remember who thought of it, but it was probably me as I had no fear of the little creatures then - we gathered up as many grasshoppers as we could find, putting them into the empty sandwich bags, crept up behind my mother and Gwen and emptied the bags all over them. What a magnificent panic! Strangely enough no chastisement when it all settleld down - just helpless laughter.
Once a week we would take the little bus into Tisbury to look at the shops, and then walk home. I can remember looking up at the sky and wondering how many more trees we would have to pass before we got home. How tired I was.
And all the time the preparatikons for the final invasion went on around us. There was a huge American camp situated near the
village, and the roads were full of army vehicles and tanks buzzing everywhere. We got used to seeing the Ducks - the lalnd vehicles which go into the water - practising their assault landings in the big lake. Overhead the sky was full of gliders. Whether they were on their way to France or rehearsing for the landings I can't remember, but I do remeber the silence that overcame our mothers as they watched them fly overhead. To us, ask children, it all became part of the scene and we accepted it as the way things were. In the long summer evenings we used to walk down to the village pub, which seemed to be full of American voices, and my mother and Gwen would merrily pop inside for a cider, which Eddie and I felt very grown up when we were allowed a peppermint cordial each - outside of course!
I don't know what my mother and aunt felt about it all. I know they did a lot of laughing and chatting, but underneath they must have missed being with the family, and their hearts must always have been heavy with the thoughts of our fathers, praying that they would come through it.
We were so lucky to have had such an experience. When we hear stories of sadness and desperation, we hardly suffered. But we were only there for a few months. The "girls" couldn't take being away from the family for so long and so they brought us home - just in time to catch the Doodlebugs and the V2 rockets!
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