My Mother lived through two World Wars and used to tell me what it was like to live through the hardships of war.
My Mother's Wartime Memories
My Mother lived through two world wars. Although, as she was only five years old when the First World War ended, it had little effect on her everyday life, since her father was too old to fight.
She remembered a large house nearby called "The Ley" being used as a hospital for wounded soldiers and seeing them sitting on the wall in their blue hospital uniforms. The Ley was finally demolished in 1961, being replaced first by ICI offices and now by a housing estate. It is still remembered by a plaque in Chester cathedral.
She also remembered her mother being alarmed when a Zeppelin was spotted overhead.
When the war ended, there were celebrations and all the schoolchildren were given an enamel badge depicting a dove. They came in different colours and my Mother was disappointed to get a white one as she'd hoped for either a blue or red dove. However, she kept the badge all her life.
Every year on Armistice Day, the children were made to write in their school exercise books "On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Nineteen Eighteen. Ring Bells, Ring!"
The disabled soldiers were treated badly by the Government and left with no means of support. It was a common sight to see one legged former soldiers on crutches begging in the streets or singing hymns in exchange for a few coppers.
My Mother's Uncle Jack survived the trenches in France, but was left suffering from rheumatism as a result. He found a marble statue of the Virgin and child as the only intact object in a bombed out house in France and placed it in his rucksack. It survived the war with him; with no worse damage than baby Jesus's head falling off, which was soon mended with a dab of glue.
The Second World War came as a shock to most ordinary people. My grandfather had a wireless and listened to the news every day. My Mother remembers him dressed in his hat and coat, ready to set out for his twice weekly trip to the cinema, standing by the wireless and listening to Neville Chamberlain announcing "Peace in our time" when he returned from Germany with the Munich Agreement. My Grandfather was delighted at the news, switched off the radio, and went to see a film. Within months, he was dead from a sudden stroke. It comforted my Mother that he died believing war had been averted.
My Mother met a young man, who was to become my father a few months before my Grandfather died. They became engaged before he was enlisted into the Army. He was sent to Dunkirk and captured, which resulted in him spending the remainder of the war in a German Prisoner of War Camp. Initially, he was listed as "Missing in Action" and my Mother went to visit his mother, and found her vigorously black- leading the grate. She asked her why she was using such force for what in those days, was routine household task. She replied, "I've just been talking to my neighbour and she told me I'd never see my son again! I'll show her she's wrong!"
Within a few weeks, my mother and her fiancé were able to exchange letters and continued to do so over the next five years. The Red Cross ensured the mail got through, although it was heavily censored by both sides. Codes were devised such as "Uncle Sam" to refer to the Americans and "Uncle Joe" for the Soviet Union.
Mid Cheshire, where my Mother lived with her mother and sister was considered unsafe for evacuees, as it was believed that the Chemical Works would be a major target, though the fears were mercifully unfounded.
Manchester and Liverpool were bombed frequently and many lives were lost, especially when a department store in Liverpool was hit. It is said many of the bodies were never recovered and lie somewhere in the foundations when the store was rebuilt.
The only bomb that landed in Mid Cheshire was one that fell in an empty field in the village of Weaverham, leaving a large crater. My mother and many others walked for miles to see it.
When the Air Raids first started, everyone was terrified. A neighbour offered my mother and her family the use of her Anderson Shelter, but as it was usually flooded and occupied by frogs, the offer was declined.
My grandmother purchased a supposedly bomb proof steel table , which everyone was supposed to crawl under when an Air Raid was on, but instead, the family trooped down to the cellar. My Grandmother, who suffered from arthritis, would sit on a chair at the top of the steps, clutching a box containing the family papers, while her daughters sat in the lower part of the cellar.
Eventually after many sleepless nights, my Mother declared she was going to bed, air raids, or no air raids. It was Christmas Eve, and one of the heaviest raids occurred, but my Mother slept through it and woke refreshed.
A blackout was vigorously enforced by the Air Raid Wardens and every house had to have special blinds made of black material. A local farmer, who was a Conscientious Objector was suspected of being an enemy spy as he was careless about letting chinks of light show through his windows.
Everyone dreaded moonlit nights and listened anxiously for the sound of approaching enemy aircraft.
My Mother became accustomed to going out in the blackout to visit either her fiancé's mother or a friend, both of whom lived about half a mile away. The only light allowed was a torch covered in blue paper to dim the light. She never felt threatened in any way and only once got lost.
Many foods and other items such as clothing were rationed. People had to make do with very small quantities of items like tea, sugar, eggs, meat, cheese, butter, margarine, and chocolate. Children grew up without having seen bananas or oranges, which became rare luxuries. Many people grew their own vegetables and Government posters urged, "Dig for Victory." Most people managed quite well, unless they were partial to certain dishes, like a friend of my Mother's who used up all her cheese ration each week making Cauliflower Cheese.
If you knew the butcher or greengrocer, you might find some extras like sausages or tomatoes slipped in your shopping when you unpacked it.
My Mother told me of powdered eggs which tasted dreadful and was only fit for making cakes with, and Spam, tinned meat which came from America.
My Mother wasn't required to do war work, as her mother was in frail health and needed constant attention. There were also two soldiers billeted with her family, her cousin Ted and his friend, Bob both of whom managed to escape from Guernsey, when the Germans invaded. My Mother enjoyed their company when they were on leave and the family had more to eat as soldiers qualified for double rations.
My Mother always brought me up to like the Americans, as their entry into the war made a positive impact and boosted morale in Britain tremendously.
There was an American camp in the area and many local girls succumbed to the charm of the young men from across the Atlantic, who seemed to have an endless supply of sweets and most importantly nylon stockings, which had been impossible to obtain, leaving most girls with no other option than to paint fake seams on their legs!
Temptation proved too much for some girls, long separated from their husbands or boyfriends and many babies of mixed parentage were born, the vast majority of whom were adopted and the scandal hushed up. My mother told me of one street, rather unflatteringly nicknamed "Yanks corner" as five girls, who lived within a few doors of each other had borne children to the American soldiers.
Once, when taking her dog for a walk, my Mother was shocked to come across a medical kit issued by the American army for soldiers to use if they'd had intimate relations with a diseased woman. Such matters were never talked of openly.
As usually happens in wartime, the birth rate was high. My Mother knew of a couple, who had a baby for the sole reason of allowing the mother to avoid factory work. The story had a tragic ending, for although the little girl was loved, she was killed in a traffic accident at an early age.
My Mother and the local midwife, Nurse Walters, were great friends and went on holiday together to Wales during the war. They spent the holiday going for walks, and one day intended to return to their boarding house by walking along the beach, only to find their way barred by the Army as a landmine had been found on the beach. They had to walk back the long way, only to find the landlady had cooked fish and chips for their supper, which was a rare treat, but it was spoiled as they were two hours late back.
Nurse Walters lived at the Ley, opposite to my Mother's house and one lunchtime came rushing across. My Aunt was just finishing her lunch and preparing to return to work, while my Mother was swilling the back yard.
Nurse Walters explained she needed help, as a young mother to be, Mrs Hickson, who was eight months pregnant had gone into labour early, due to the excitement of her husband returning home on an unexpected leave from the Navy. After greeting his wife, he’d gone straight to the local Public House. Things were going badly as Mrs Hickson was bleeding heavily and both her life and that of her unborn child were in danger. Mrs Hickson's twin sisters were sitting in her kitchen crying and refusing to do anything. Being wartime, doctors and ambulances were hard to come by.
Nurse Walters asked my Aunt to help, but she refused, saying she was needed at work. That only left my Mother, who was very apprehensive, but willing to do her best, so she went to Mrs Hickson's with Nurse Walters, who stopped en route to pick up some ice from the local butcher, much to my Mother's bewilderment.
My mother was led past Mrs Hickson's weeping sisters in the kitchen and upstairs to the bedroom, where, Mrs Hickson was bleeding heavily and screaming. Nurse Walters told my mother to place the ice on Mrs Hickson's stomach and press it down as hard as she could. This soon stopped the bleeding and the baby was born soon after, a little girl, though my Mother was unsure of the gender, until Nurse Walters told her, as she'd never seen a new born infant before. Both Mrs Hickson and the baby thrived, due to Nurse Walter's expertise. My mother never forgot the experience and was always pleased she played a part in saving two lives.
The War was by no means all gloom and high drama and my Mother had happy memories of Social Evenings at the Church, attending services, where the Prisoners of War were prayed for. People helped each other and a general sense of camaraderie prevailed.
When hostilities ended, there were a large number of German prisoners still held in a camp nearby. The rules were relaxed, while arrangements to repatriate them were being made and they were allowed to mix with local people. My Mother's close friend, Winnie, fell in love with one of them, and my Mother invited them both to tea and found him a delightful young man. Unfortunately Winnie's health was too frail for her to marry so her sweetheart returned home to Germany alone.
Ted and his friend, Bob also returned to Guernsey and about two years later when my Mother was married, she received a letter from Bob, asking for the return of a box, which he'd left with her, and enclosing some money for the postage costs.
My Mother took it to the Post office only to be told it was too heavy and to send it by Rail instead. She and my father then carried it with great difficulty to the station, a mile away. The Railway official refused to accept the parcel without knowing what it contained, so my Mother and Father had to carry it home again and open it.
At first glance, it contained very smelly old socks, but underneath was a variety of tools, which my Mother concluded must have been stolen from the Army. She divided them into several small parcels and took them to the Post Office. She never heard from Bob again.
I used to ask my Mother however has she survived the hardships of war, but she assured me that she had more happy times than sad ones and believed despite all the dangers people were happier then than they are today.