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- People in story:
- Alan Newey, Pamela Gowan, Edna Griffiths, Wilf Grainger, Freddiy Flavell
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- 18 August 2005
The joy at returning to live in our own home, with all its sense of security and privacy, was beyond all bounds. We were all absolutely over-joyed and I remember rushing around the house with brother and sistrs, bubbling with happiness. We were back to our own home, the lovely big garden and the gate which let into the fields — fields known as the Meadow, The Plain, The Pit Banks, Dando’s and The Ranky Bank, where we had, and would still spend hours of happy, carefree play, totally unaffected by the war which raged throughout the world. Even a railway line at the bottom of the garden and the regular rumbling of heavy goods and passenger trains was a welcome renewed addition to our lives. It really was a joyous time!
About this time I remember some cousins of a friend, Pamela Gowan, who lived in Dimmocks Avenue, being evacuated from Kent to live at her house. One boy, Charlie, was of my age and we soon built up a friendship which was to last until the war was over and returned to Kent. By some marvellous coincidence, I was to meet up again with Charlie, many years later, on the other side of the world — I will recount this meeting later on in my story.
In my last year at the Junior School I was appointed School Prefect — a great honour. One duty I had to perform, as a 10/11 year old, was that every Monday I took all monies collected at the school, i.e. dinner and National Savings money etc, to the Post Office. I therefore had to walk the length of Church Road on my own, with what was then a considerable amount of cash — imagine the outcry it would create today with the fear of attack from muggers and perverts, and the dangers of busy traffic! I looked forward to this duty because after checking the money and stamping the paying in book the Postmistresss, Edna Griffiths would turn to me and say, ‘Which two sweets would you like today, Alan?’ I could then choose any two sweets from the rows of jars on the shelves — not an easy task at any time, remember when sweets were rationed. I was very lucky.
Talking of sweet rationing, reminds me that indeed, sweets were rationed from the outbreak of the war and the allowance I think was two ounces per person per week. Mum used to buy four ounces at a time and I can see her now counting them out on the table in four equal piles — we children had to be treated alike. Strangely enough, sweet rationing continued long after the war was over — until 1954 — but everyone’s teeth were better for it.
Of course we had no television at that time and although the wireless was vitally important in obtaining news on ‘all fronts’. It could not be classed as entertainment for children. We therefore looked forward to our weekly Saturday afternoon visit to the matinee performance at the Clifton Cinema, Coseley. For the cost of threepence or sixpence, depending on whether you went downstairs, or upstairs in the best seats, we watched an episode of the current serial — often Flash Gordan and his Trip to Mars! — a cowboy film and a small cartoon film. On the way home, if we had money left, we called in the cake shop and bought a bread roll or a cheap cake. Exciting stuff! Two other older type cinemas were also available to us, being near to home, and now and again I was able to attend a performance. One, The Bruce in Newhall Street, Tipton, catered for the ‘roughs’ of the Tibbington Estate, but for the price of 2d on a Saturday afternoon, one could have a seat on the bench on the front row — and an orange thrown in! ‘Old Peckers’ in Ivy House Lane, Coseley was also not too far away, and this too was cheap entertainment, providing one didn’t attend when it rained, because then the noise of the rain on the tin roof drowned out the sound track of the film. Sadly, all of these old cinemas have long since been pulled down.
Throughout the war, and especially as I grew older, I regularly accompanied Mum on her Saturday morning shopping trip to Bilston town and market — ‘the cheapest in the country’. Usually we travelled on the train from Princes End Station, which was about 200 yards from our house. I would stand in the queue at Heath’s, the greengrocer’s behind Mum with my own bag and money. If you bought so many pounds of potatoes you were entitled to say, two oranges. Mum was served first, then I, and in this way we got a double supply of precious fruit. We often then crossed the road the walked up to Heath’s other greengrocer’s shop where we repeated the process. I used to enjoy going into Woolworths to see the countless number of shop girls selling delicious loose biscuits from cardboard boxes, which stood on long counters. (I loved biscuits but Mum could seldom afford to buy them). Food, of course was rarely pre-packed at that time and commodities like sugar, cheese, tea, soap, dried fruit — when available, dried and split peas, lentils, and so on were sold loose. We always made a visit to one particular second-hand clothes stall on the open market. ‘They sell clothes here from posh homes’, said Mum — where she was always able to pick up a bargain for one or other of us, which she would carefully mend, wash and iron and make like new. I enjoyed our trips to Bilston.
Our weekly grocery however, we always purchased from Beattie Turner’s, a little shop in Bloomfield Road. Beattie was a lovely person and kept her shop full of everybody’s needs, spick and span. I fetched the grocery so many times with or without Mum, that I became a proficient shopper, even up to ordering without a grocery list.
Of course, the essential items on a shopping list were rationed, so you were limited in what could be bought, and the grocer or butcher had to mark your ration book with indelible pencil to show you had taken your weekly ration. Clothes were also strictly rationed and when you made a purchase, the appropriate number of clothing coupons were cut from your ration card by the shopkeeper — indeed there was a strong black market for clothes coupons and they could be easily sold, particularly to young, fashion conscious ladies, for a really good price.
From those early days my parents kept fowl throughout the war years and indeed, much longer. They surrendered their egg ration and were given a ration card allowing them to purchase fowl food instead. Our egg supply was now ‘home grown’. We bought our fowl food from Wilf Grainger who kept the most tiny shop in the centre of Roseville, from whence he dispensed enormous quantities of mash and corn to many poultry keepers over a wide area. It was one of my many errands to cycle to Wilf’s to fetch the fowl food.
My primary school was essentially a church school of course, so running along parallel to my schooling was my interest at church, which initially revolved around my membership of the choir. My mother ‘entered’ me at the first opportunity at around the age of six, and I was a steadfast and exceptionally well attended member — Mum never allowed me to miss a practice or service even if friends or relatives visited us. Having said that, in retrospect, I really was keen to attend, in that I enjoyed singing. Sadly the quality of my voice never matched my enthusiasm, but still I was a trier. Choir practice was on Wednesday and Friday evenings, 7.30 — 9.00 p.m. and I can clearly remember having to attend on freezing winter evenings, when because of the blackout it would be pitch black and I would be mortally scared of the walk to church — no-one would be about and the silence was terrifyingly eerie. I would walk in the middle of the road, run past the big entry at the top of the road, race past the shelter and trees on the waste land on the hill in Pemberton Road and positively fly through the church yard.
The Choirmaster was Mr Freddy Flavell who was a charming and gentle man — he needed to be — he had a lot to contend with us mischievous boys!
In retrospect, and in spite of the fact that possibly the most ferocious war in history was being fought in Europe, without doubt these were some of the happiest years of my life. This was undoubtedly due to the fact that we four children were well fed, clothed and loved, and encouraged to attend all church and school functions. Air raids, rationing, lack of money were all forgotten in a world where we still felt secure in our own environment and did not have to worry about ‘keeping up with the Jones’s, fashion, expensive pastimes, television, computers and so on. Life was simple, uncomplicated and consequently happy. What crime there was passed us by the child molesting, muggings, rape and murder were only met with in ‘The News of the World’.
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Sarah Evans of the BBC Radio Shropshire CSV Action Desk on behalf of Alan Newey and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
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