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- Olive Daniels
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- 15 March 2005
I lived in Leominster during the war. One night I awoke to a loud “cccruuuumpp” and a feeling of air pressure. I thought the bottom of the store cupboard over the stairs had given way. All the bottled damsons and gooseberries had fallen on to the stairs. Bottled with Camden tablets and sweetened with saccharine- I couldn’t bear the taste of them anyway. Then my brother- on leave from the Royal Navy where he was escorting the trans- Atlantic convoys- came running down the top stairs, and meeting my mother said “that’s bloody bombs.” I just went back to sleep. The next day we heard that 7 bombs had dropped on the outskirts of town about half a mile away. All day people were coming past our house to view the damage. I went too and found that five bombs had dropped quite close together in one field and two more just over the hedge. I was very disappointed in the paltry size of the craters, they were about the size of a small room. The only casualty was a dead cow which lay on its side with its four legs extended stiffly, mottled brown and white - it was not a true Herefordshire colouring.
We all filed past on the other side of the barn like a lying-in-state queue. We all had a good look then went out at the back of the barn. Years later I realised what rotten luck it was for my brother, who was doing a difficult job on a destroyer, to be on leave when this happened. I realise too that I was never afraid of all the soldiers who came and went at that time, I always knew that we would win the war and we would all be here at the end of it. I remember Baron’s Cross American Army hospital, this was well used and purpose built. Convoys of casualties usually arrived at night-time by train at first then by the “whining” American ambulances. The town was full of Americans sometimes in the day and always in the evenings. The coloured yanks lived in billets on the outskirts of town and they were allowed into town on alternate nights. Coloured soldiers one night and white ones the next. They seemed very popular with the girls and were loaded with gum, chocolate and nylons. Our small school choir visited the town billets one evening, with the choirmaster Mr Jenkins, to sing carols to the troops. We went to the hospital at Baron’s Cross and sang first in a small room which must have been the radio room; there was a central microphone and the singing was relayed around the wards and canteen. Then we went around some of the wards and sang at the doors. One ward was almost in darkness and we could see the central line of enclosed stoves with chimneys; they glowed red hot in the darkness. We could see the first few beds with a nurse beside each patient but beyond that we could see nothing. I realised that they must have been badly injured and felt almost too choked to sing, as I do now even at the memory. At the end we were taken to the canteen and given American hot chocolate and cookies. These were delicious after the usual cocoa and plain biscuits.
We had German P.O.W.s in the town in Westbury Street where Kwik-Save now stands. I don’t remember seeing them outside except when they were being marched somewhere. They wore battledress uniform but not khaki. The Italian P.O.W.s lived in a camp at Berrington just outside of Leominster. They were seldom seen in town. Calling in at a café somewhere near Middleton-on-the-Hill several years ago, I asked the lady in charge about the Italian P.O.W.s. She told me that occasionally one of them who had been repatriated would come back to see the area. She added that somewhere nearby in a wooded place you can see the name and number of a P.O.W, still visible cut into the bark of a tree. At the junction of Broad Street and New Street was a clothing exchange staffed by the W.R.V.S. They took in outgrown clothing which had to be newly washed, pressed and repaired if necessary. Points were awarded according to size and condition of the garment and recorded on a card. You could choose anything to take in exchange that had the same number of points or have the points credited if there was nothing you needed currently in stock. No money was involved; I think this was a brilliant system.
Hampton Court, near Dinmore Hill, Leominster side on the left-was taken over as a place for wounded servicemen to recover. The more mobile ones could come into town, but as they were still service personnel they wore a uniform called “hospital blues”. The jacket and trousers were really blue, almost royal blue. The shirt was white and the tie bright red, so you couldn’t miss them. They travelled by public transport and it was always said that they were never asked to pay the fare or for cinema tickets. I don’t know if this was true but I hope it was. I am not quite sure of the spelling but the Monnoux School for boys from just outside London took over the friends meeting house in South Street, but I don’t know where they lived. They were here for sometime and among them were John Dankworth a musician married to Cleo Laine and Douglas Insole who captained the England cricket team. I remember the flat tops of pillar boxes were painted yellow, if these turned green it meant that gas bombs had been dropped and gas masks were needed. They never did.
We ate different things during the war. We would pick elderberries and dry them slowly in the oven, they served as currants in cakes, not very tasty. My mother made loads of jam mostly damson, rhubarb and ginger was really nice. My favourite was shop bought strawberry and raspberry - very rarely bought. When I said I liked it better my mother said that it was made from turnips and coloured with cochineal. When I pointed out that it had pips I was told there was a factory making wooden pips out of sawdust! But I still liked the jam. I also loved eating fried egg powder.
When V. E. day came at last we had a street party and later a trip to Dudley Zoo. The first time I had been to a zoo. I was fascinated by the animals but couldn’t understand why it was so close to houses. If I lived that close I would never feel safe. I went to sleep that night pitying the people who could hear lions and tigers roaring and elephants trumpeting in the night. I was happy to listen to the river flowing, the owl hooting, the trains passing and the cart horse in the paddock snorting and pawing the ground.
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