- Contributed by
- St Barnabas Library
- People in story:
- Gloria Kelly
- Location of story:
- Leicester, London and Kent
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 17 November 2004
I was born in February 1939, seven months before the war broke out. To begin with, I lived in West Ham, London where my father was a merchant seaman (he later became a stevedore). Our house was on Varley Road.
When war broke out we were in and out of shelters and finally — after one particularly bad bombing — our house was flattened. My parents were reluctant to leave their beloved home, so they made their way down to Kent — taking all 9 of us (their children) with them. We used to do hop picking down there. Later, we returned and spent around six weeks on holiday down there.
There were big tin huts with straw. We slept on bales of straw. The orchards stretched for miles and we used to play in them while my parents picked the hops. I remember a chap used to come round to count the bushels... you got paid by the bushel.
We had to walk a quarter of a mile to the shops with the rations books. My sisters and I used to take the pram and fill up with the groceries for the week. I felt smashing to run wild. My elder sister was in charge and we used to dordle it and come back for sunset. Things felt safer then, so you could walk by yourselves. When we got home, my mum used to cook using a great big black pot on a stake.
At night, everyone used to cook around their huts and when all the fires were lit. It was beautiful. Everyone used to sing when the camp fires were lit. But we still had to go to bed early.
We had a job to get off to sleep. The beds were higher than most — so someone had to lift you up.
We hung it out in Kent for as long as we could but it became clear to my mother that she needed to move the family on to get a stable home. The authorities wanted to split us up — but my mother was insistent. By that stage, two of my brothers had already been called up and my father decided to stay behind to sort out the house that we had in London.
The rest of us travelled up to Leicester, where we spent the first night in Cobden Street. The following day, we had to sit on the steps of a church where we were due to be split up. But my mother managed to work it so that we were all living close by on the same street. I was with my mum... but I remember my brother went to live a couple of houses down with a local policeman. While my mother was staying in Cobden Street, she found out about a house in Sparkenhoe Street, behind the city’s station. She had a job to get it, but she managed to move us in. It was 10 and 6 a week, which my mother considered to be good value. While she was moving us in, my dad turned up. He was over the moon that we could all live together.
My mum heard that if she went to the YMCA up London Road, they would help her out with furnishing the house. As she was travelling to the YMCA, she bumped into a woman called Mrs Price. My mother bent down to pick up the lady’s handkerchief. Mrs Price — seeing that my mother was heavily pregnant — insisted that my mother shouldn’t take a step closer to the shop, telling her to return home and leave the matter with her.
The following day, the biggest furniture van you could imagine pulled up outside our new house. There were four double beds, with brass knobs, a big settee (which was posh because it had no back on it), carved chairs and tables, pots and pans and even a grandfather clock. My memories of the furniture are vivid. I used to hide in the grandfather clock because I was small. We used to screw the tops off the beds and put chewing gum in the top. Three of us used to sleep in each of them. I was the youngest in my bed — my two sisters were two and four years older than me. It seemed normal at the time.
My dad got a job making handkerchiefs but it was short lived. We didn’t stay in the centre of Leicester long. Before long, my mother was due to have another baby. In those days you had to book a midwife but — as we were new to the area — my mother didn’t know anyone. A neighbour put her on to a nice midwife. When the baby was born (who we nicked named a woolly-back because he was born in Leicester) she was confined to the house.
The baby was 7 days old when all hell broke loose. All of a sudden, the windows shattered by the Nazis who were retreating after bombing Coventry. My father picked a pram from across the road, rolled my mum in a blanket and put both her and the baby in the pram. He carried my in his coat and we just walked. In those days, Leicester was full of trees. My dads aim was to get to the country because he thought the city was being bombed. He came to Blackbird Road and could have gone either way. The trees were more dense heading towards Anstey and we just walked aimlessly that way. After a time, we came through a tiny village (which WAS Anstey). The people there were amazed to see a man walking through the village, with his wife in a pram with a newborn baby and children trailing behind. They soon rallied round and put us in the congregational chapel. We were made very welcome — eventually lying down to sleep on mattresses.
The following day, a young man came to see my mother and sat on her bed. He told her how he’d heard of her plight and told her she was welcome to use his holiday home, which was in James’ Street, Anstey. My mother was delighted — especially as it meant we would all be able to stay together. I don’t really know how long it was that we were there — but it was quite a while — and we still hadn’t paid any rent. Then one day a chap came to the door who we didn’t know and explained that the man who had given us the house was a pilot and he’d been killed in action. The man asked how much we could afford to pay him to rent the house. It was probably about 5 shillings. The man, Mr Willet, became a close friend. In later life, I bought my house from him. He was a good man. We lived on James’ Street for the rest of the war.
While we were in the bungalow, we had Americans come to Anstey in jeeps. They were stationed on the gorse — a stones throw from the village. My older sisters used to court them. I remember taking a ride in the jeep. I used to show off, because they let me sit in the front. We went all round the village. I remember we used to walk up to the gorse and shout “Have you got any candy Andy?” They used to throw us sweets over the fence — if we were cheeky enough! Mostly though, they were very gentlemanly.
I remember the rag and bone man. He used to walk alongside the horse and cart shouting “any old rags”. At that time, there weren’t many left offs. My dad used to mend all our shoes. I used to get goldfishes off him, which would drive my mother mad! She wanted me to by a cup and saucer off him but I’d always come back with something that I wanted!
There was another woman, who used to have a horse with a wagon. She’d come round late at night selling bread. I can remember the sirens going off. All us children used to jump under the tables.
I remember my first day at school. My mother took me to the infants school in Anstey. When you went inside there was this big wooden rocking-horse. To get you used to being in classes, you were allowed a ride. The headmistress, Miss Pollard, looked like a man. I was amazed (and a bit frightened) to see a woman with a beard and a mostouche). We used to drink caster oil mixed with orange juice. The orange juice was there to help see it down. I had plenty of friends, because they all wanted to come to the bungalow.
It was a colourful childhood. We never went hungery. Although we never had presents, I was happy.
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