At a very young age I was sent out 'in the country' supposedly away from
the bombs being dropped on London. My Father was a Major in the Army and
my Mother was involved in secret work for the war effort. The country retreat
was the home of a distant cousin of my mother and there were several other
children there. The first place that I was shown was the bomb shelter at
the bottom of the garden, but we never got to go down inside it. We all
walked to school each day clutching our empty, clean glass milk bottles.
One day I dropped mine, and it broke. It had been so impressed upon
us that we had to take these bottles back, that I picked up the jagged
pieces and took them with me. Needless to say there was blood dripping
all over the place by the time we reached school, and all these years
later there is a scar in the palm of my right hand to prove it!
The 'school' was one room with all ages together, but at
different tables, for each age group. We learnt to count on an abacus
with rows of little coloured beads. When the school closed we were each
given one to keep.I had mine for many years afterwards.
We all sat at several tables for our meals, and one particular memory
is of wondering if the little girl sitting next to me could hear the noise
of my toast being crunched in my mouth, as we were all told to eat quietly.
The most impressive memory I have is that of one morning being woken by
a terrible noise, and when I got out of bed to walk to the door had to
find may way through lumps of plaster on the floor, because the ceiling
had fallen in! The house next door had had a direct hit by a bomb. That
was the end of my 'retreat'. Back to London with my Mother I went.
My next school was a boarding one. Ascot Priory in Berkshire. There was
much bartering and exchange of clothing coupons among Uncles and Aunts
in order to get my uniform together. Also much traipsing from shop to
shop to get my panama hat. Not that they were scarce but my size was just
not available in the usual school stockists, John Lewis etc. Finally we
bought one in a Gentlemen's Outfitters and had it reblocked. What a big
At Ascot we had duck eggs and goats milk from the ones kept in the large
grounds. Everyone had the opportunity to learn to ride as there were horses
as well. Until we were old enough we had to be content with rides on a
donkey! We walked to the local cinema to see the Pathe newsreel of the
wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip. We were given to understand
that this was a treat indeed.
I seemed to spend a lot of time in the Sanatorium with chicken pox or
in a little room next to the Sister in charge, of our house, St. Christopher's,
Sister Florence,, who prayed over my bed every day, nursing me through
pneumonia, or having my wounded knees bandaged because of falling down
often. Everyone was afraid of Sister Florence, but one supposes because
I was such a weakling she favoured me a bit more than the others. I adored
Every year, in the Summer holidays, those who could not go home were taken
to a big house on Hayling Island. This was St. Margaret's Mead, donated
by a wealthy patron. A horse and trap and the donkey went with us. Some
of sat in the back of the horsebox and thought it enormous fun. We took
the donkey with us to the beach and let other children have rides on him.
We had to learn to swim and always keep together in our group.There was
a fair near the beach We were each given a portion of our pocket money
to go. We learnt a song called 'As I was going to Strawberry Fair'.
Back at school at Christmas we were all involved in a concert about 'Teddy
Bears Picnic'. Every Sunday we dressed in our blue frocks and white veils
and processed into Church.
At the end of the war I was all of six years old and my mother and I went
to Africa aboard the 'Arundel Castle'. We were very privileged to have
our own cabin because one of my Uncles worked for the shipping company.
Everyone else were still using the bunks that had been installed for the
troops when it had carried them to war.
Often in the following years my thoughts would go back to
those halcyon days at Ascot. Remembering the lovely trees and the huge
grounds where we were free to wander, was a panacea. On arrival in Africa
almost the first thing we did was send a 'food parcel' back home, just
like the ones we'd had sent by an Aunt who preceded us. Lots of dried
fruit mostly. Our first trip back was not until 1954 and people in Britain
still had rationing for sweets and other luxuries.