- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Mrs Holton and her family
- Location of story:
- Ewell, Surrey
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 12 November 2005
Mrs. P.C. Holton has agreed that this story can be added to this BBC website.
I was born 1913 at 9 Caen Wood in Ashtead, one of four to a Scottish mother from north of Aberdeen. My most vivid memory of WW1 was seeing ex-servicemen coming back without limbs. I felt very sad as they had given their all for their country and had to resort to begging and many had an organ grinder with a monkey. I remember a Mr. Rance who was a tall, handsome young man with three children, but he had lost both arms. I recently heard he had had a good job and had been fitted with two artificial arms. On one occasion whilst playing in the street — there were no cars then - a huge Zeppelin came over and we were made to hide until it had gone.
My father volunteered and joined the Royal Engineers and ended up a Company Sergeant Major. He was a lovely man but a strict disciplinarian. He served in Ypres, France, Salonica, Constantinople and the Dardanelles, but came back with a back full of shrapnel. After the war, my father went to Luton to train ex-servicemen in the art of plastering and did work in banks, big houses in Ashtead and Leatherhead. Sadly, he died in 1924 of pneumonia at the age of 48. Although there was little employment, we always had food and always wore leather soled shoes.
At the tender age of 17, I met my future husband, George, the eldest of five. We met once a week at either Croydon or Ashtead and married in 1937 when I was 24. George was employed as a salesman for Nuttalls, High Street, Ewell, Surrey, taking orders. When war was declared, I was expecting twins, having a son of 1 year. On September 3rd, a siren sounded and I can clearly recall seeing an Air Raid Warden wearing a tin hat riding a bike cycling along the High Street telling everyone to take cover. There was absolutely no-one to be seen!
My brother who was four years younger than me volunteered and was sent to France driving a heavy petrol lorry. He was one of the last to come back from the Dunkerque beaches. On his return home, he became a despatch rider in Bristol. When he was 23, he was sent with Despatches in the middle of the night, but died in tragic circumstances. He crashed into the back of a lorry which, presumably because of the blackout, was showing no lights, and he died instantaneously. He died on active service and was given a full military funeral
In 1940, George was called up and posted to Brighton, coming home once for a couple of hours. That was the very last time I saw him. He had been posted with the Royal Artillery on 25 pound guns in the desert and was in Tobruk when it was under siege along with the Australian, 51st Field Regiment. He was sent on leave, possibly to Cairo, but on the 22nd January, 1942, the whole gun crew were killed. He was 32 years old with a wife and three small children.
Half way up the High Street in Ewell, was Hodges — a furniture shop. When the flying bombs came over, on two occasions they had their plate glass windows blown out and for the rest of the war, they were all boarded up. We used to live at No. 39, which was also my sister’s shop. I can remember Mr. Chuter Ede wearing his old cloth cap paying us a visit in the shop. Every Christmas he used to take my three children up, by car, to Olympia to visit the circus. When they got older, they still went up to London to meet him where he would take them behind the scenes at the Houses of Parliament.
I wouldn’t allow my children to be evacuated, but I was sent to Paignton in Devon for a ‘long’ holiday. I don’t know who my benefactor was, but I had a good idea. Life became quite bleak so we returned home.
On another occasion whilst taking the children out for a walk, a nice looking black soldier was walking towards us. I quietly told my children not to say anything and after we passed him, my son John who was then four said, “What colour would he spit?”
On the 27th October, 1984, I went to El Alamein for a particular ceremony but because I was unwell, was unable to attend. In the evening, however, feeling much better, I was taken to the monument on which my husband’s name was found right at the top. He had no grave. What upset me greatly were the numerous graves in which lay young 17 and 18 year old boys who had died for their country. Upon my return and because of the kindness of the couple who had taken me to the cemetery, I wrote the following poem and sent it to them. They sent it to the British War Grave Commission who asked permission to show it to grieving relatives.
I am now 92 years of age. I was widowed very young and had to bring up three children. My children have been my inspiration who have never given me any problems. We are a close-knit family and my life has been full and rich with memories, sad and happy. I love my garden which I still tend and I have always thought that I was looked after by ‘someone.’
“With sorrow, bent, and tear dimmed eyes, I could only see sand on sand and clear blue skies.
On looking again, through the pain,
I saw the hundreds of headstones standing there.
Rows and rows under the sunsets glare.
But they lie in Peace in that quiet place, cared for with love and gentle grace.
No blade of grass, no English trees,
But beds of heather, rustled by the breeze.
How they must have longed for England — green.
And those they loved, but no more seen.
Do they lie forgotten in a foreign land where sun beats down on acrid sand?
I’m sure the Spirit, soaring free returns once more and lives with me.
27th October, 1986.
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