- Contributed by
- MARY SENIOR
- People in story:
- Mary, Barbara & Bernard Griffiths
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 22 July 2004
At eleven the next morning which was the fateful Sunday, 3rd September 1939, a lovely warm, sunny and peaceful day. We were all in Mrs Elam's kitchen when the dreaded news was broadcast. Mr and Mrs Elam hushed us all so that they could listen.
I glanced from one to the other as the now famous words came over the wireless.
'Consequently, we are at war with Germany'.
I froze as if rooted to the spot. It was true after all, what our Betty had ranted and raved about. She hadn‘t panicked her way to the school last Friday morning, for no good reason. She was shrewd, she had them all sussed out, the politicians and the self satisfied newsreaders, they couldn’t kid her.
I looked up at Mr Elam's deathly white, shocked face and then to Mrs Elam who had paled and had tears running down her cheeks. She was busy beating Yorkshire pudding batter in a basin. The poor distraught woman, carried on with this task, whisking furiously, taking her rage out of the pudding batter when I noticed her tears were dripping into the mixture. Through all this turmoil, I vividly remember thinking,
'I'm glad I’m not having my Sunday dinner at this house'.
Aunt Lil burst in and it was evident that she was also in a terrible state. Remember, all these adults had witnessed the Great War of 1914 - 18 . The loss, mutilation and suffering that had entailed.
We children were ushered outside to play whilst the adults discussed this horrifying news. At last it suddenly dawned on me, this was not just a lovely, joyful weekend away from home, this was for real and we were at war.
'Oh, God, will we never see mam or our sisters and brothers again? Will they all be gassed, bombed and killed in Leeds?’
At least Barbara, Bernard and I were here, where the government had decided would be a safe haven. It was understood by the intelligentsia, that Leeds would be bombed and the planes would fly over Lincolnshire to do so. How wrong they were.
Aunt Lil put on a brave face and pulled herself together, she announced to me. ‘You, young lady are here for the duration.’
Levelheaded as she was, Aunt Lil began to reorganise her lifestyle. This atrocious situation called for drastic measures. She now, not only had her elderly father and frail old aunt to consider but also she had taken on the responsibility of an evacuee.
Her sister, Aunt Kath, who, along with her husband Lewis and their young son Derek, lived at Mareham-le-Fen, not too many miles away. They owned a thriving bakery business and drove over to Aunt Lil's each Sunday for lunch. Aunt Kath would bring with her all the week's takings and the paperwork. After lunch, these would be laid out on the dining table and she would tackle the accounts.
I looked forward to these visits. Aunt Kath and Uncle Lew were so lively, they would joke, tease and converse with us, making we children feel we were so important. Their son Derek, Barbara, Bernard and I would go out to play in the orchard, getting into all sorts of mischief. Derek loved coming to his Aunt Lil’s, I expect we three Leeds evacuees were exciting, strange and daring to him as he was an only one.
Aunt Kath would bring small packages and pop them into the pantry; these were always exciting when opened, such treats! I wished they lived nearer to Louth; I was really made to feel like one of the family, as I still do.
The first night of war, I remember going upstairs to bed with Aunt Lil reminding me to say my prayers. We all needed to pray desperately hard that night. Aunt Max crept in to wish me Goodnight and God bless popping a mint imperial into my mouth. I was desperately trying to get off to sleep but all the new, frightening and bewildering events were churning over in my head. I was to sit up quickly on hearing the siren wailing, warning of an imminent air raid. I knew this sound meant the enemy was approaching; it had been practiced in Leeds. Aunt Lil, as I recall, shouted for all of us to run downstairs quickly. This we did and grabbing our gas masks, we all crawled under the dining table, terrified.
We cowered there for about half an hour, expecting bombs and gas to fall, but just as suddenly as it had sounded the air raid warning, the siren wailed the all clear and with relief we each were handed a cup of tea by Aunt Lil before retiring back upstairs to try to sleep. Thank goodness this had only been a practice. It was the only air raid warning I was to hear whilst in Louth. I wasn’t there long enough to witness just what the town was to suffer before the war ended.
We started school on the Monday. I, along with my friends up the road went to St. James's Technical school, but I’m afraid not very much serious learning was achieved. At the onset of the war, what should have been lessons time was taken up by teachers having to tackle administration work. There were so many problems with the children and the people they were billeted upon. We did have one English lesson each week. We were instructed to write a postcard home, which the teacher had to censor. There were concerts, plays, dancing, needlework, art and handicrafts at first but formal lessons, such as the three 'R's, were very few and far between.
Unfortunately, Aunt Lil was not at all impressed with the clothes I had brought with me. In her wisdom, she decided to sort two of her dresses out. She unpicked these garments and after washing and pressing the pieces she handed them to a lady, two doors down. Mrs West expertly made up two dresses for me. These were washable and so more suitable for everyday wear. A lovely soft green and a rich tan woollen one. Aunt Lil also bought me a pale blue dress length and with a pattern, she had allowed me to choose. Mrs West made me a best dress for Sundays and special occasions. This creation had a nice round yolk and a belt. I felt as well dressed as Princess Elizabeth with my new wardrobe.
The petticoats, I had brought with me, were made from dad's old flannelette pyjamas and so were pronounced suitable and serviceable. I hated them, they still had the pyjama pocket on and a 'V' neck, and there was no getting away from the fact they had been made from a man's night attire. I was scared at the thought that I might have to undress somewhere and they would be on show, making me a laughing stock. Mrs Deakin's clothing issue had not run to underwear so mother had made me two petticoats from dad's old pyjamas. On the credit side of these was the fact that they were extremely warm and the large pocket came in very useful.
My black and white magpie shoes also had not found favour with Aunt Lil. Dad was despatched to the shed along with a bottle of black dye and so my striking black and white shoes were now a respectable all black and they polished beautifully.
Not once at Aunt Lil's did I get to wear my lovely maroon velvet dress. It was packed away, not having passed her approving eye. I was allocated a small cupboard downstairs to keep my school clothes in, changing into a pretty floral sprigged overall when returning home at four o’clock.
Barbara thrived, she was being doted upon and made a fuss of by all the Elam family. Mabel and her friend Peggy, took her with them all over Louth, she had a great time. Mr Elam owned an allotment just up the back lane. Mabel and her friend Peggy would practice the latest dances in his garden shed and have Barbara up there with them. Mr and Mrs Elam were caretakers at the local school and on an evening when they went to check the cleaners and lock up, Barbara would go with them.
We learned in later years that Mrs Elam and Aunt Lil would vie with each other to see which of us two evacuees would be best dressed. If Mrs Elam bought Barbara something, Aunt Lil would do the same for me and vice versa. At the time Barbara and I didn’t realise. I’m sure that Aunt Lil, not having married and with no children of her own, derived great pleasure by spoiling me and treating me as if I was her child. I know that she was delighted that my name was Mary because her second name was Mary too.
Mabel began courting one of the soldiers stationed at Louth, his name was Ken and he came from Newcastle upon Tyne. Everyone liked him; he was tall, fair and handsome, very smart and extremely quiet, just like Mabel. On his embarkation leave, Mabel and Ken married. Unfortunately and much to Mabel's heartbreak and everyone's distress, he was killed in action. Eventually, after the war, we were to hear that Mabel married Ken's brother and now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne.
From school we were taken on nature walks around the beautiful countryside. Most of the children had lived in Leeds all their lives and were not familiar with the open spaces of fields, trees and the river. Also some of the animals were frightening and intriguing to them. Louth, being a thriving market town, boasted a cattle market. We were taken there on more than one occasion to see all the animals and watch the farmers bidding for them. We also experienced farmyard smells for the first time. Taking our pads and pencils we sketched the animals. My drawings never did turn out quite true to life, my excuse being that the animals I had chosen to draw wouldn’t stand still long enough for me to get a likeness.
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