Our wonderful mother in her old age but still bursting with creativity !

Mother with Stephen and Nancy at about this time.

Mother's War Memories

This book kept us all sane throughout the Bristol Blitz

Monday morning ~ 12.15 ~ and having typed for the best part of an hour without SAVING I have lost the whole damned lot !     This, after warning Anthea only yesterday of the importance of saving text every couple of paragraphs !!!     I could bloody well scream and it's really cold this morning indeed I've already put the heating on ~ time to cut my losses and make lunch before starting again !!!

4.10pm : let's see if I can do any better now . . . 

Way back in 1992 I typed up a bundle of letters which Mother had written to her life-long friend Helen Lamb between 1935 and the 1980s ~ Aunt Helen's had not survived, but Mother's provide a wonderffully vivid and immediate picture of her life in Bristol, struggling to bring up her growing family, 3 boys and 4 girls eventuall.  Aunt Helen was childless but fully occupied with life in a Leeds vicarage and her husband's inner city parish.   And later when Philip was appointed Principal of St John's College, York, with their shared academic life.

Here are some snippets from her letters and from the explanatory notes she wrote later on the Bristol Blitz between November 1940 and February 1941, at which point she and the children evacuated to Devon, thugh the Bristol Blitz raged on.   {saved}

 In Mother's words . . . 

Bristol's first bad raid was in November 1940, one week after Coventry.   We had had small raids and frequent warnings before this, on and off since May.

Indeed in her letter to Aunt Helen of July 4th 1940 she says :

We are trying to get David and Joy sent to Canada or the USA.   They might have gone this time in the first batch but have CHICKEN POX which is rather annoying as now they cannot go for another 3 weeks at least . . . 

My Stars !   I've always vaguely known that there were plans to send us, my brother and me, to family in Vancouver or San Francisco, but reading this I suddenly realise how near we were to ggoing down with that ship load of children torpedoed by the Germans.  Saved by the chicken pox !!   {saved}

One morning an unannounced air raid broke out overhead and I suddenly remembered the baby in her pram in the garden.   With aeroplanes spitting fire at each other right over the house , I had to rush out and rescue Nancy.   I was terrified.   It was the first daylight raid   We were used to raids every night, all night, but now we had them all day too.   The bombing always seemed to start at the rush hours : tea-time, lunch-time , and even at breakfast

.   "We had two alarms before breakfast," she wrote to Aunt Helen in early December."This is the 4th raid today.   We are getting quite expert at picking up our food and going on with the meal in our refuge room.   Stephen's cot is in there permanently and we've made up beds for David and Joy on a sofa and a spare matress.   The kids think it all great fun, which is a mercy . . . "   {saved}

When the sirens went we sheltered in the cupboard under the stairs, which we had cleared out beforehand, that is David, Joy, Stephen and I, and Nancy in her cradle on the shelf where she could lie happily kicking the shelf above her !   We had an old-fashioned range, and once the Blitz had started I always kept kettles and pans of water on it.   With so much bombing the water, gas and electricity were all cut off almost immediately, and I was often the only house in the road which could produce a cup of tea.   For several days after a raid our only water supply was from the water carts that came round.   The Army put up field kitchens in the streets and cooked gallons of soup and huge stews, and people could take pans and get enough for their families.   {saved}

On January 24th 1941 in one particularly bad raid we went to the proper Anderson Shelter in a friend's garden.   They had moved to the country and told us we could use it.and it was awful.   These shelters were dug down below ground level and the rooves covered with turf for extra protection.  It had been very wet and the shelter was flooded as deep as the bottom bunk, and it was dreadfully cold.   We all packed onto the top bunks , David and Joy on one side, me and Stephen and Nancy in her cradle on the    {saved}other.   [see Mother's sketch]   {saved}

The raid thundered overhead and bombs were dropping all around us.   Daddy, on firefighting patrol, looked in about midnight and found us all shivering and crying with cold.   So he helped me get everyone back home where I I tucked the children up under the stairs.   I gave them each an aspirin, and thank goodness they eventually all went to sleep ~ warm at least !   We did not go to a garden shelter again.  Better to die in our beds we decided.   About 4 a.m when the all clear sounded I went out into the road to look for your father coming home and the lights of fires made it as bright as day.   Every raid I read the children the same story book till they fell asleep.   It was called "The Caravan Children"and someone in the family has it still.   {I do : The Caravan Children by Lucy W Bellhouse, illustrated by Barbara Moray Williams}   It didn't matter if the noise of a bomb drowned out some of the story, we all knew it by heart, and keeping my voice absolutely steady as I read helped me to control my fears as well.   {saved}

We had several raids which began at dusk ~ say 6pm ~ and went on till dawn.   When I could I put the children to sleep through the day, but I had to keep going of course ~ getting food in, seeing to the washing when the water came back on.   Your father had to try to get some sleep too as like all the rest of them he would be at work all day and out firefighting again at might.

There were increasing fears that the Germans would drop gas bombs, and that's why we went down to Lustleigh, you children and I, in February 1941.   I was billeted at the Rectory with Nancy (10 months) and Stephen (two-and-a-half)   David (8) and Joy (6) went to Mapstone, a farmhouse which had been comandeered by two teachers who were running it as a boarding school for refugees.   Soon all the pupils at Mapstone (25 of them) had measles, so I moved up there to help with Stephen who had measles too.   Nancy went to Mrs Gould's house.   She was an elderly invalid confined to her bed, and her evacuees were two Norland Nursery Nurses who were running a refuge there for babies.   Some of them had been orphaned by the War, others had been sent down to Devon for safety's sake.  {saved}

 Wednesday morning : Almost finished these memories of Mother's ~ probably too much for one blog but wonderfully immediate.

Besides teaching at Mapstone, and cooking and generally helping in the school, I lent a hand to Mr Amery the farmer who had moved out of the farmhouse for the duration and into one of his own farm cottages.   I learned to milk, by hand of course, and before breakfast helped him deliver cans of milk round the district on his float.   Mr Amery would drop me off at the end of a lane or a cart track, and with a milk can dangling from each finger I would run down here and up there leaving cans of milk at the houses scattered in the woods.

It was super ~ I felt quite ashamed of enjoying life so much with that awful war raging on.   Planes used to go over nearly every night.   From how long it was before they came back again on their way home we could work out where they had been this time with their load of bombs.    A quick return trip might mean the raid had been on Bristol or Cardiff : 2 hours and more and Liverpool was the target; longer still and it would have been Glasgow or Belfast.   They'd off-load the odd bomb sometimes on their way back to the Channel Coast ~ just for the hell of it.

One night we stood on the moor near Hunters Tor and saw the sky red with flames as 45 miles to the south Plymouth burned.

These notes were written by Mother in November 1992 ~ a month before her 87th birthday.   She had just invested in a laptop computer : "As I'm living in the compute, age" she wrote to me, " it's time I found out how to use one.   And I'm tired of sending things up to you to be typed."    WHAT A WOMAN, our dear old Mum !  {saved}










Much loved, rather battered and much scribbled in !!

Mum's sketch of the Anderson Shelter ~ flooded !!