- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Betty Bridges
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 25 July 2005
Sunday morning broadcast by Mr Neville Chamberlain, “We are at war”. I was eleven in 1939 — we missed Church and went down the neighbours’ Anderson garden air raid shelter, to sandbags and provisions, having grabbed one or two precious possessions. It was soon all over.
Began school, travelling by train, which stopped when a cow crossed the line! Gas masks in cardboard boxes or fancy cases, slung over the shoulder where the satchel went too. Just ordinary — there were others for babies, police and services — some got tin hats too!
This announcement in time heralded years of shortages: coupons, rationing of bread, sweets, clothes, meat, sugar, fats. Fuel and cigarettes were both in short supply.
Troop trains with wounded soldiers going through the stations. Double summer time was introduced to help the farmers. Identity cards travelled with us. The front garden railings went for making munitions.
We sang ‘Run Rabbit Run’, ‘Quarter Master’s Stores’, ‘There’ll be Bluebirds Over’, as folk waiting on the Dunkirk beach were shouting to mates already on board a boat, “Tell Hilda to wait for me!”.
It was off with Grannie’s basket to beg some offal or suet for dumplings or a pud. Years of make do and mend — and darning black stockings!
There were times of celebration too, wearing red white and blue, dancing and street parties.
Concern when Jersey was occupied!
We kept a few back yard hens, and feeding stuff was difficult, but fresh eggs seemed a luxury after dried, reconstituted egg, eggless cake jazzed up with ginger and some of Lord Woolton’s suggestions on the Home Front! We were encouraged to grow our own vegetables. Peas, new carrots and potatoes with some bacon pieces off ration as the Butcher kept an open eye for regular customers. Sometimes the answer to “What’s for tea?” was “It’s a hundred to one!” — a hundred pieces of potato to one of meat, but the aroma and taste of onions and a rich gravy made it very palatable. Some war time jam was said to be made from swede with pips added!
We had two unrelated labelled evacuees, a boy and a girl. The boy’s Mum moved next door, tired of the London blitz, when his Dad joined the army. When his Dad came home on leave, junior was told to come and see us and not to go home for twenty minutes!
My Dad was sent on a secret mission, resident police. He never talked about it but we knew it was a very responsible job.
I began children’s nursing in the Home Counties. Most were evacuated from London to a big old house with quite a long drive, lined with horse chestnut trees. They shined orange in the sunlight as local boys eagerly reaped the conker harvest.
The children were in spinal carriages pushed by the nurses, long wicker pram like things; hobbling or racing on crutches; in callipers, walking plasters and all sorts of contraptions enabling them to be mobile. Some had tuberculous joints, Down’s syndrome, infantile paralysis and a variety of diseases of bones and joints. Pasteurisation of milk wasn’t essential. Olive oil was replaced by arachis oil. Penicillin was given by injection.
The children were in hospital from seven weeks to seven years and were ‘ours’ until they were sixteen — such a change of surroundings!
The food was plain but good, important to their well being. There was plenty of concentrated orange juice and some extra milk, plus dried milk. The staff had a weekly allowance of butter and sugar to carry about. Some forgot their containers at meal times and have never reverted to sweetening drinks again.
We had dormitory pyjama parties, when we’d attack a whole loaf brought from home. We worked hard and for long hours. We got board and lodging, but we weren’t in it for the money.
Sweet rationing. They were put in a tin and given out after lunch, but visitors were rather unwise and loaded the children with food and confectionery they had saved, whereas the little tuberculous ones were inclined to vomit. We saved most of the fruit for salads at tea time. Visitors mainly came at weekends due to the distance, but sadly for some there were no visitors.
They made their own entertainment: scouts, barbecues, playing doctors and nurses, keeping pets and getting on remarkably well.
School was held inside or, when it was quiet, beds were pushed outside, children often reading with a mirror affixed to the back of the bed. Those with polio needed to be kept warm, but the others were out in all weathers.
An older boy was telling a terrified little Londoner after a bomb had dropped on a nearby car factory, “You know, it was Guy Fawke’s Day yesterday — well, someone’s a day late letting them off!”
A local chap used to run in the country lanes with a rear light on his back.
One Sunday morning a bonny girl arrived, having just gained entrance to Grammar School, but was dealt a devastating blow, to her and her parents, when infantile paralysis left her unable to move, apart from her tongue. Life was now flat in an iron lung.
Folk visited with coupons they’d saved and some pretty material from town replaced the white flannel nighties. They were pretty day gowns which merited make up! She was still practicing frog breathing — tongue in and out for longer periods out of the iron lung until we could cope without too much panic. In it she went to school and painted with a brush between her teeth.
Double Summer Time made a difference returning and reporting back after a day off, when the drive might have been lonely and dark. The night cries during sleep from some of the children were harrowing. It may have been the tuberculosis, but some of them had been through so much. They had never heard owls hoot — another night duty accompaniment.
Christmas preparations were often started in September, but to give the children a wonderful time and Father Christmas to get it just right wasn’t easy, whereas on a children’s ward it’s better if he does!
Went to general training with a tear in one eye and a sparkle in the other - my parents affording consent for London. Later, during orthopaedics, I was evacuated to Nissen huts with the other London Hospital staff. Porters were in short supply, especially for the occasional death at night. I carried a body with a pal, who began to laugh hysterically in the bright moonlight as the corpse sagged - we did make it to the mortuary!
Grandad had a Sunday suit made from some bombed out material. It was water marked and slightly scorched so measurements were necessarily generous, but it was couponless, and his local made Harris tweed warm Sunday wear long outlasted him!
Folk with American contacts had nylon stockings, some had been colouring their legs, and panels of white parachute silk and nylon made long lasting lingerie and nightwear. A Candaian visitor, over to nurse, brought a tin of Spam - super!
My grand children call it history now!
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