- Contributed by
- Leicestershire Library Services - Coalville Library
- People in story:
- Olive Watts
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 23 March 2005
"This story was submitted to the People's War site by Lisa Butcher of Leicestershire Library Services on behalf of Olive Watts, and has been added to the site with he permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions."
Olive was fourteen when the war broke out. Her brother, James Arthur Bowler, had belonged to the RAF volunteer reserve, training at Desford, and was called up on the first day of the war. He was reported missing in November 1940. A week later the family moved to the Bull’s Head Pub. Her father worked at Whitwick colliery while her mother managed the pub. At first, the pub had one regular visitor in the week and four people at the weekend. Her mother encouraged greater trade by offering food, often cooking up gammon and eggs after the bar had closed. The pub had a ration of one bottle of whiskey per month, and beer to last three to four days.
The Bull’s Head was an ARP post (Air Raid Precaution), and other than checking black-outs they were not very busy, so they spent raid nights in the bar. Anyone in uniform was always offered a free meal. The local bus service (Brown’s Blue) also never charged people in uniform for a trip into Leicester.
Olive’s family kept pigs, and she remembers one night waking up and hearing them squealing. Someone was stealing them. Her father ran out and chased off the would-be thieves. Olive’s mother did not like the flour available on ration so she would swap a bag of coal for a bag of white flour. She would also swap two bottles of Guinness for a tin of salmon. A sailor brought back a banana one day and it hung in the bar for everyone to see as it was such a rare sight.
Olive left school at fourteen and although she had a job offer to work in an office, she went to work at Greenhill Farm. She worked long hours, twelve hours a day, six days a week and milking on Sundays. Her mother would often see her in the fields from the pub. After six months working at the farm, during the harvest she had still not returned home by 11 o’clock at night. Her uncle went to collect her and after this incident she was not allowed to return to work on the farm as she was exhausted.
Olive started working in Boots. She remembers taking stew in a jam jar to eat at work. One night cycling home in a black out with friends she ran into a pile of coal which had been left in the road. She also remembers stockings being very short and was embarrassed when she cycled along.
Olive’s sister, Betty Bowler volunteered to serve abroad. She went by boat first across the Atlantic in order to avoid the U-Boats and then onto Nairobi. The boat was bombed but luckily her sister was alright. She spent the whole war in Africa and went on to live there.
On VE day Olive was at Madam Thirlby’s Dancing Class in Marlborough Square. All the bells were ringing outside and then they went back inside to celebrate.
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