Cosy Corners in Depression and War
Autobiography of Joan Hughes
The story of one person's nests

THE WAR YEARS

War - 1939 to 1942

A SCHOOL YEAR STARTING IN SEPTEMBER 1939

It was September 1st 1939. My parents had ordered a taxi. I don't think we had ever used one before. My father seemed to have money in his pockets, and I could hardly believe it, because by the end of most weeks, he was usually broke. It was Friday and he was not at work, which was decidedly queer.

"You've got to go away because there will be a war soon",

I was told.

"But, they've been saying that for a long time. Why is any worse, now?"

"Because Poland has been invaded."

However, I could not understand why we were not taking the Circle Line to Liverpool Street, as we usually did, when I was being taken to the main line steam trains at Liverpool Street, ready for the journey to Manningtree, the nearest station for my grandmother's house at Lawford. This was the wrong time to be visiting Nana. I should have stayed with her for the whole month of August, but this year I had missed most of this. I had stayed for one hasty week at the beginning of August, and then returned to London to prepare for going to a Girls' Grammar School. However, my mother heard that this school was being evacuated to somewhere in the country quite far away, and she did not want me to go, but preferred me to stay with relations.

The taxi almost reached Liverpool Street; then the driver said he could go no further. There were barriers. My father produced a few pound notes, gave them to him, and mysteriously we passed through.

"What a waste of money",

I was thinking because I had very few clothes, and my mother was often so short of money, that a visit to a cinema just at the bottom of our road was a rare treat.

"We have to get you on a train somehow, because there's a war coming,"

said my father. So I was put on the train and my parents returned to West Kensington.

I was met at the other end by some relative, I don't remember who, and taken to the house Gordona, where Nana lived. The next thing I remember was the solemnity of listening to Mr Chamberlain's speech on the wireless, declaring that war had begun at 11 am on Sunday, September 3rd. That phrase of Mr Chamberlain's "No such undertaking has been received" echoes down the years, when referring to asking Hitler politely to withdraw his troops from Poland.

Of course Mr Churchill's speeches were more memorable; but during the time he was making them, I was probably staying with my great-aunt, who had no wireless set. I gained my knowledge of the progress of the war by reading the front page of Aunt Kate's newspaper.

When I heard Chamberlain's speech, I had been with Nana only two days, and my only possessions were a few clothes, and a gas-mask in a square box with a plastic carrying case. I had no toys and no books. There had not been time or room in our cases to bring them from London.

Nana could not have me staying with her for long. I went to stay with Aunt Kate, her sister who was 10 years younger, just sixty. She lived with her husband Uncle Ted, and her disabled youngest sister Annie, at 37 Council Houses in Colchester Road, a long road which terminated at a crossing in Long Road, where Gordona was situated. My great-aunt's house was opposite a secondary modern school. This was the term used for schools taking pupils who had not passed exams for Grammar or Technical-Central Schools. I had to attend here, though I was told by the teachers that I was not officially regarded as a member of the school. This disconcerted me. I was placed in a double desk with Margaret Newell, another lonely "Scholarship" girl. We were isolated from the rest of the class, and given a few arithmetic problems to work out, while the rest of the class was taught elementary arithmetic.

I believe I stayed a year with my great-aunt. Two news events in particular stood out while I was there, as depressing. The first was the fact that Russia had signed a pact with Hitler's Germany. The second was the fall of France. I read the newspapers closely that day, and wondered how we would survive. My reference book says officially this took place on June 25th 1940. During the war, I attached a lot of importance to official dates, rather than how things were going in general. But there had been no air raids to speak of. The battle of Britain had been won by our side.

Aunt Annie, Kate's sister, had an injured hip which prevented her from walking more than a few steps. Kate took her out in a wheel-chair as often as she could manage it. I helped with this, by pushing the chair, to give Aunt Kate a rest. Annie started each day, after breakfast, by washing out the canary's cage. This was an elaborate process, at which I learnt to assist. Four removable glass inserts in the side of the cage, two seed trays, the base of the cage, all had to be separately washed, dried and replaced. A major occupation, when walking with Aunt Kate and Aunt Annie was looking for plantains and groundsel, both growing wild in road side verges. This was additional food for Dixie, the canary.

When indoors, as long as there was daylight, Annie spent the rest of her day in making needle-cases, pin-cushions, lavender bags; "old-world" useful items for gifts to friends, but principally to raise money for the Church at "Bring-and-Buy" sales.

Sometimes we played cards, chiefly Whist; Aunt Kate and Nana sometimes went to adult Whist Drives. There was another game called Pelmanism, at which I usually won. This involved picking pairs of cards from an upturned pack, spread out over the table, and depended on memory.

On walks down Long Road, which had no houses on one side, we picked blackberries in September. There was a hedge and a ditch. Aunt Kate and I used Annie's walking stick to reach the higher branches. Blackberries were usually eaten in pies or as stewed fruit not made into jam.

The autumn hedges were a delight to the eye, full of purple sloes (too bitter for us, with our limited wartime sugar ration) , red hips and haws, as well as blackberries. Hips and haws were not palatable for eating; the people who urged us to make "Rose-hip Jelly" forgot that we were short of sugar. I was warned against the bright red "Lords and Ladies", growing in the ditches. (Arum maculatum, also known as Cuckoo Pint). They were deadly poisonous. They shone brightly through the searing bracken. Stinging -nettles were everywhere, but also the soothing dock-leaf. Many times children playing would be stung; a friend would bring dock-leaf to press over the sore place.

At school I found I was backward at Domestic Science lessons. The first lesson was "washing white wood". I was astonished at being made to use a scrubbing brush on long tables. The girls were made to wear caps and aprons, like housemaids while thus occupied. Aunt Kate kindly made the apron, with elaborate straps and loops crossing over at the back. My feeble needlework skills were just sufficient for me to make the cap.

I envied the boys; having done the weeding in London and at Gordona, I longed to learn the more creative aspects of gardening. When cooking, I was a slow worker; therefore got cold corners in the communal oven. My bread was a failure. Mending and ironing were included in the lessons. I took a man's sock with an enormous hole in the heel to school, because I was not clued up, like the other girls, who provided themselves with items containing minute holes! Cleaning irons heated on an old black-leaded stove, heated by coals, was arduous. By 1938 my mother had acquired an electric iron, which I had used, under supervision. I had never used flat-irons. Even when Mother had used them, she had never had to clean them with scouring powder. Everything at the school seemed so dismal.

The girls were slow to include me in playtime games, because I was a stranger from London. Eventually they taught me a game, which depended on the letters in one's full name. Every time someone called out a letter, the competitors moved one step if they had this letter in their, name, two steps if the letter occurred twice. A girl with the name Diana Helene Arthey usually won the game, because she had three "E's and three A's in her name, the letters which the caller used most often.

In cookery, my one success was a batch of rock-buns. The reason for this was that I had accidentally tipped twice the allowed amount of currants into the mixture, which made the buns particularly tasty. The teacher did not notice. Aunt Kate enjoyed them when I brought them home.

In the afternoons, Aunt Kate had two hours rest, when I had to be quiet, which meant not speaking and trying not to make a sound. The house seemed filled with a deathly stillness. I had not been able to get any books to read. Therefore I was bored.

During holiday afternoons, if it was fine, I sometimes asked a girl from the "Backward" class who lived nearby to play with me outside, and taught her the elaborate ball game I had learnt in London. But I missed my London school-friends, and my cousins. Leonard had been evacuated from London to a farm in Devon. My cousin John was at school in Ipswich; he only visited Lawford in school holidays, usually at Christmas and in August.

In that winter of 1939, I found out that the countryside was not so appealing when the trees were bare, and the wind whistled round the houses. I missed the comics, the "Girl's Crystal" and books from the children's library which I had read in London. Aunt Kate had no children's books and those she had looked forbidding. In elaborate bindings meant to kept on a bookshelf rather than read. Unlike my mother who was an avid reader she did not appear to read anything except the "Daily Mirror" and the prayer-book in church.

I read the "Daily Mirror" my Aunt's paper from cover to cover. I enjoyed "Live Letters" edited by the "Old Codgers". Then I went to my grandmother's house and read the Daily Express, all the cartoons and Beachcomber first. I was puzzled when Beachcomber continually mentioned "Dr. Strabismus (Whom God preserve) of Utrecht, always using this full title. Why should God preserve this Doctor in preference to anyone else, I thought? In the end, I realised that it was meant to be funny, and just laughed. In this paper, I noticed that someone was always writing preposterous articles about "Keeping the Empire".

In the winter evenings I played dominoes with Aunt Kate and Uncle Ted, by the light of an oil-lamp. Gas-light was available, as in Nana's house; but Aunt Kate never used it, because Annie declared that it hurt her eyes. Even the oil-lamp on the centre table had a piece of paper pinned to it with one of Kate's hair-grips. This was to prevent much light from reaching Aunt Annie, where she lay on her couch in the corner of the room in the evenings.

I was pleased to sit in the spot where I could get most light from the oil-lamp while playing dominoes. When Uncle Ted was absent, we played Whist, Happy Families or Beggar my Neighbour, or Pelmanism, including Aunt Annie in these games. These games and our country walks were the high spots of our day. Most of the time, I was very bored, especially at school, even though I was very fond of my Great-Aunts and Uncle, who seemed to be delighted to have me living with them in that first, quiet year of the war.

In the summer of 1940, I took the end of year examinations, and not surprisingly, came first in the girls' section. I say, not surprisingly, because apart from myself and Margaret Newell, the girls had been entirely selected from those who had failed entry examinations elsewhere. Margaret Newell had disappeared midway through the year. Occasionally there was a late developer who was transferred to grammar, technical or art school at the age of 12 or 13. Derek Page was one of these. He came first in the boys' section that year and was transferred to technical school in the nearest town, Colchester. He was a friendly boy. Years later, I recognised him, when visiting Manningtree. He was 60 then and still doing well.

In this secondary modern school, there was more rigid grading than I had met elsewhere. Boys and girls in the same class were graded separately even if the exams were the same. We were made to sit along tables, each seating eight, in the order in which we had been graded in the termly examination. Girls sat on the left of the room; boys on the right. Social mixing was discouraged. In this coeducational school, I spoke to boys as rarely as in a single-sex school. Besides sports, playtimes and many practical subjects were segregated.

Nevertheless, the girls did take elementary science in a mixed class. Distilling coal-dust in a test-tube with a bunsen burner was the sort of science we did. "Be careful to light the gas at the end of the tube as soon as possible," shouted the master. "It's poisonous." Equipment was rudimentary in such schools. No chemicals or books were provided for science, which was why we often fell back on nature study, providing our own materials. I searched keenly for a twig from a silver birch tree, when on walks with Aunt Kate, when we had been asked to obtain specimens from eight different trees.

I also remember being kept in after school because "I could not do arithmetic". This was nonsense. The reality was that I was totally bored with long multiplication sums and suchlike exercises, and after a time, could not be bothered to work on any more of them. I kept asking to "learn something new". "But you don't really belong to this school and you are not on the official register, so you can't," I was told.

A LONDON INTERLUDE in 1940

Summer holidays came and my mother visited. She decided to take me back to London in mid-August 1940. "There have been no air raids. It's nice and quiet," she told me. "You might as well be at home and go to the West London Grammar School."

On August 15th 1940, 12 high explosive bombs fell in Harrow. (Ref: Living through the blitz by Tom Harrison). It must have been the first sizable raid on a London district; the noise would have been heard throughout West London. I know this because my mother said that I had arrived back in London in time for the first raid.

[My mother said that I had arrived back in London in time for the first raid.] I don't remember hearing much news on radio about this; the details were probably minimised to avoid helping the enemy. We did read about what was happening in Europe, and North Africa in newspapers. Throughout the war little sketch maps showed us the progress of the opposing armies.

I was given advice about what to do by my father in the event of an air-raid, while I was out in the street. "Don't go into one of those brick surface shelters", he said. "They're useless. "Come straight home and get into the Anderson Shelter. The Anderson shelter will save you from any bombs except a direct hit by high explosive bombs. Of course nothing saves people from a direct hit. Direct hits are unlikely. They are looking for factories, not people's houses."

Among people left in May Street, it was commonly thought that bombs would fall elsewhere, not here. People still seemed to think there were some kind of rules about war; that the enemy were aiming for military targets. These were early days. But of course there was always a danger of bombs falling on our street "by accident".

"Sometimes they just get rid of their bombs and drop them anywhere if they've missed the real target", Dad said. "However it's only High Explosive that will kill you. Incendiary bombs are not dangerous because the fire-watchers will put them out". My father was not always with us at nights and was probably out fire-watching.

For a few days there were no more raids, and life seemed almost normal. We had plenty to eat. Rationing had not yet reached its severest point. My parents had got me into a Grammar School and the first day in September 1940 I started here. This West London Grammar School was for the rump of children who had not gone to board in the country.

I can only remember the French lessons because they terrified me. I had not previously learned French, unlike many girls who had from an early age attended fee-paying preparatory schools. This French was entirely oral. The mistress was herself a French lady, like the "Mademoiselle" I had read about in school stories. These school stories were set in a fantastic world. Fantastic, at least, as far as I was concerned. I read them eagerly, but in my mind I pronounced "Mademoiselle" as "Maid"- "Moy"- "Sell". In school stories the Mademoiselle was usually an unsympathetic character. No-one except people like me who read about far more than they talked about would have invented such a mispronunciation. So when the lesson was entirely in French with no English being used in the lesson, I felt all at sea.

Our Mademoiselle was only using babyish language at the level of the "cat is on the mat", - i.e. 'le chat est sur le mat!', but it was beyond my comprehension. She would march up to the door, open it and say "Ferme la porte". Frantically, I wondered whether that meant "Shut the door" or "Open the door". When she pointed to me for an answer I froze into silence, and looked enviously at the girls who knew what to say. Unfortunately, I had had no preparation, and I had no books!

The lessons were usually interrupted by a trip down to the school air-raid shelter. All warnings were heeded. At home, we took no notice of day-time warnings. I began to think it was no use going to this school, because we spent most of our time in the air-raid shelter doing nothing, even though I never heard any bombs falling or any untoward noises during these "raid alerts".

Life at home would have been more comfortable than it had once been, had it not been for the air raids. We occupied the upstairs flat, and the rooms downstairs were let to another family, Mr and Mrs Wiltshire, who had one son, a boy who was about 5 years old, when I met him in 1940.

Upstairs, Mother had an all-electric kitchen, and no longer had to cook or clean for lodgers. The electric iron, kettle and stove were a delight to her, and she pronounced them "much cleaner than gas". She could relax a little, and one day made "cheese straws". For us, it was an exotic delicacy, but unfortunately, Dad and I declared we did not like them. So Mum said, "They were very hard to make, and took a long time. I won't make them again." And she never did. The cakes, half seed and half fruit continued until she could get the seeds no longer. Many other items disappeared from the shops for the duration. Bananas were no longer imported, except for a very rare shipment, which was kept for children under seven.

Most meals were rushed. At the grammar school, I no longer had time to come home at mid-day and took sandwiches; and we had to rush the evening meal in case there was an alert. But rationing was not yet too severe. Dad and I still enjoyed a big cooked breakfast on Sunday mornings. Dad stayed in bed, but I got up, in order to listen to a children's programme, run by a commercial station. It was called the Cococubs and promoted Bournville cocoa. The main feature was a secret code. The rivals, which Leonard supported, were the "Ovaltinies" with a more complicated code. I could not join this as my mother did not buy Ovaltine, though when I listened to the programme, I thought it more exciting than the Cocoa programme, so managed to take a sneaky look at Leonard's code-book, and I was soon translating from both codes. But at eleven years old, I was beginning to lose interest in this and in comics, preferring school stories in the Girls' Crystal. But such publications were drying up. Newspapers had also shrunk in size.

[7.9.1940] For a few nights after the the first raid, all was quiet, even though the siren usually sounded and we went into the Anderson. Then came the terrible night of September 7th. My father was at home this night. Besides our family, Mrs Wiltshire brought her son to share with us, so the Anderson was crowded. The little camp-bed in one corner was claimed by the little boy. I sat uncomfortably in a canvas chair, furthest inside. A wooden bench had to suffice for my mother, Mrs Wiltshire and my father, who remained nearest the entrance. There were constant sounds like explosions; this was mostly gun-fire, but the sounds were so loud that I could not believe that no bombs had fallen nearby.

When I emerged in the morning there was an unnatural red light in the sky. It was a cloudy morning, and this, I knew, was nothing to do with sun-rise. "So I said, "What are all the lights in the sky?" "Turn round. Don't look. Look the other way," said my mother. "But what is it?" I persisted. "Its the London Docks on fire", said my father. "Its a long way away." It was a long way away, for me. I had never been near London Docks. Except for a trip to the County Hall, home of the London County Council, I had not visited the River Thames at all. I have looked up a reference book to confirm that this happened on September 7th. 1940. Otherwise I have relied on my memory alone. That morning, though tired, I went to school as usual. From that day forward, the siren sounded every evening, we spent every night in the Anderson shelter, and every night we heard the sounds of the air-raids, not knowing whether any damage had been done near us until morning, and miraculously, it seemed as our part of London was escaping.

The Wiltshire family often joined us in the shelter at night, except for the husband, who I don't remember seeing. But sometimes the Wiltshires stayed indoors. My mother and I never did. One night I rebelled. "There haven't been any bombs lately," I said. "I'm just going to sleep, and I'm tired. Please let me stay in bed. Nothing will happen". But my mother was relentless, and conscientious about Air Raid Precautions. Always we took our gas-masks in their plastic boxes into the shelter with us. A friend with a young baby showed me the large gas-mask meant for babies. The baby had to placed completely inside it. "I don't know how I would manage it," she said. We preferred not to try on our gas-masks. Once or twice at school we were made to practice wearing them for sixty seconds or so. Though we heard so many sounds during air raid alerts and rarely went to sleep during the night, there was no damage in our street, May Street, or in nearby West London streets.

Joseph, Jessie and Ruth, still lived two doors away, and the retired couple, Mrs and Mr Castle still lived next door. There had been an addition to the largest family in our street, a baby called Faith, who soon stood next to Ruth. And I remarked "How Ruth has grown". I had not seen her for a year. "Remember to have faith," my religious friend Lois urged me. But I missed Fay Nicholls, and other friends from the primary school. None of these appeared to have stayed in West London.

My mother and I took more notice of the siren when it sounded at dusk, or an hour or two later in the evening. Usually I went to bed between 8.30 and 9 pm, and my parents followed at 10 pm. My father had to rise at 6 am for work, which was the reason for these early bed-times. Normally I got up at 7.30 am, after my father had departed for work. But after September 7th 1940, the siren sounded every evening, often after I had been in bed for an hour but was not yet asleep. My mother never once let me stay in bed. With my cardigan and winter coat over my nightdress, I spent every night without fail in the Anderson shelter. I am not sure why my mother let me go to bed indoors at all; she thought perhaps an hour's rest was better than none at all, or perhaps she wanted me out of the way, while she made preparations for the night and following morning. Sometimes my father was at home with us; but often he was out with the fire-watchers, or Home Guard, "Dad's Army" as they called it.

[Dad joins the army and we go to Gordona]

One night Dad was with us in the shelter though the Wiltshires were absent. He was shaking and nervous, and saying a few prayers aloud. "Why are you so afraid?" I asked. "Mum and I are not afraid." We had given up showing any signs of fear and accepted loud bangs going on all night, and hardly any sleep as normal. I think that I was too tired to care, and retained some kind of faith that bombs were not meant for our street. However illogical this was, I was too tired to think further than this. I also thought that adults should be more courageous than children, that was why I was so concerned about my father's shaking with terror. "Oh shut up, shut up," Dad said and swore a little. "Don't swear Jack. I don't like you swearing," said Mum.

Next day I did not go to school. I had told Mum how I spent most of the day in the school shelter, even when it was quiet, because it was a school rule to go to the shelter whenever the alert sounded and not to emerge until the all clear. Most people didn't do this. They waited until they could hear some sound of gun-fire or bombs, at least where daytime alerts were concerned. That dreary day we spent most of the time indoors, drinking tea. Dad went out for a walk. He did not go to work. Until then he had continued working for Harrod's but work was probably running down. People living in the suburbs during the "phony war" had continued having their houses decorated, but now, it was just a case of finishing old contracts. Soon there would be no work; the younger men had all gone into the army.

When Dad came back, he told us that a house half way between our house and St. Andrew's Church had been hit. It was empty. No-one had been killed. The occupants had gone away earlier in the year. Mr and Mrs Castle, the retired couple next door had a few slates missing from their roof. Otherwise there was little damage and our house remained unscathed. "You'll have to go", He told my mother. "pack the bags". He had that habit of ordering my mother what to do. She did not like it, but on this occasion she agreed with him without demur. "I'm going to volunteer for the Army," Dad said "It's no use staying here."

That day we packed a few things, pots and pans and clothes - no books, games or toys, except for the game of "Monopoly", the newest game. "It will cheer us to play with this," said Mum. "They had a new game in the shops "Totopoly". It was about horse-racing," Dad said. "Well we can't afford that", said Mum. We caught the train easily. There was no longer any panic rush out of London, because those who had firmly decided to leave, had left earlier. We went to stay with Nana at Gordona for a few days, while my mother looked for separate accommodation in the village, with space for my father to stay when he came on leave.

Dad stayed a few days in London, and came down to Gordona with 8 rolls of expensive wallpaper, and about a dozen oil-paintings and watercolours. These had mostly been painted by Uncle Len, Aunt Violet's deceased husband. At that time Aunt Violet had gone into hospital and her flat was vacant. Therefore Dad was concerned to save these pictures from bombing or loss. He also brought an old manual typewriter one of his customers had given him. My grandmother let him store these things in her empty garage. This garage had never contained a car, only unused junk. He did not bring any valuables from our house, and we heard that the Wiltshire family had taken over the whole house including all our furniture shortly after we left.

Dad said good-bye. The upper age limit for conscription of men into the Armed Services was 41 and my father was then 43. His first applications as a volunteer were rejected. So he stayed for a few months longer in London doing what work Harrod's made available to him. He no longer went out for social drinking in the evenings, and my mother said he was sending us enough money to pay the rent at Branksmere for the time being. He applied to the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers but was turned down. He was very disappointed about this, because this was his favourite regiment, giving opportunities for the trades which interested him. But after we had been in Manningtree for a few months we heard was that he was doing his army training and was stationed somewhere near Chilwell, near Nottingham. He had been accepted for the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.

Mum said what a pity it was to lose her all-electric kitchen, but nothing much could be done. The Wiltshires did not seem to mind staying on in London. Sometimes I wondered whether we should have done the same, especially as shortly after we arrived in Lawford, three land mines were dropped nearby, damaging but not destroying the Edme factory, which produced malt. It is still there in 1992, producing bottles of Edme malt, a small, select trade. When these land mines dropped without any air raid alert, I was in bed. I woke up and asked Mum "Was that a door banging?". She laughed about it later on. That was the only record I have of free fall high explosives dropping near Manningtree. Later on there were a few V1 rockets. Compared with London the place was very quiet and we felt no need to worry about being killed in air-raids. More mundane worries continued.

BRANKSMERE

When Mum and I arrived in Lawford, Nana was pleased to see us - but, mutually, it was agreed that it would be best if we found separate accommodation quite soon. Mum and I wanted to be on our own, and my grandmother had to keep rooms vacant in case relations wished to stay. Something I did not know was that the house belonged to Uncle Geoff, mother's eldest brother.

Uncle Geoff visited very rarely, but in the past often sent his children to stay. Billy, his eldest son had been staying there on and off during 1940. And Uncle Bob, mother's youngest brother was now a permanent resident at Gordona, so there was little room. Uncle Bob continued to work assiduously in the garden. When indoors he spoke very little. He had no children, and his wife was constantly ill, and declared that she could not bear the strain of married life. She retired to live with her parents This was enough to make Bob morose. My father, when visiting Lawford, liked to be sociable and would take Uncle Bill, mother's middle brother, and Uncle Fred, Aunt Kath's husband to the public house in the evenings for beer and a chat. Once Uncle Fred and my father came home drunk at Christmastime when the house was brimming full. Fred went to sleep in the chair, but the drink always made my father voluble, and he would babble on some boring remarks about the gauge of the Russian railways being different to those in Europe. Until people said "Shut up about the Russian railways".

Bob did not drink. My father visited him once at his place of work, and warned him about lead poisoning. It appeared that Bob was uncaring about safety precautions while at his printing works. My father while he was a house-painter always washed his hands before eating his sandwiches and never licked his paint-brush. He had seen workmates using lead paints develop a thin blue line in their lips. Such workmen died young, and it was usually the case that they had licked their brushes to give them a point when doing fine work.

Though Uncle Bob was eventually promoted from compositor to proof-reader, he probably had a measure of lead poisoning caused by his work practices. In later years he became blind and had some mental dementia. Fortunately, not before he had a successful second marriage after Edna died, and a son, Robert, now living in Australia.

Soon after we arrived in Lawford, my mother was offered a small semi-detached cottage to rent, called No; 2 Branksmere, situated in Colchester Road near Aunt Kate's council house, and not far from the secondary modern school. For me, back at this school in late October 1940, life was bleak. I was placed bottom of the class in the second year, as I had not taken last year's end-of-term examination.

Secondary modern schools were streamed in those days, and though sitting in a place given to those at the bottom of the class, at least I was in the top stream. The girls recognised me from the previous year and some of them were friendly and I got on well in the playground.

However, I came home one day to tell my mother that I had got a terrible illness. The girls at school had told me that everyone got very ill when they became thirteen. I had just had my thirteenth birthday in February 1941. "Nonsense," I had answered the girls at school. "I feel very well. I'm sure I won't get ill. It won't happen to me". So when signs of this "illness" came just 2 weeks after my 13th birthday, I was terrified and thought that I might die. The thought of death often crossed my mind, but it was usually irrationally connected with actuality. I had not been frightened of being killed by a bomb in London. But I was frightened of getting lockjaw, when playing in the fields with other children. The country children had told me that a cut between thumb and first finger caused lockjaw. Consequently, I had been frightened by a tiny scratch I had obtained there. Much bigger cuts and grazes in other places were ignored. We had not been told that lockjaw or tetanus was caused by bacteria, and that all deep cuts were dangerous, especially if contaminated with earth from fields in which cows or horses grazed. Instead of plain speaking "old wives tales" were passed around.

Aunt Maud the young neighbour and friend of my grandmother was no help in this respect. She said she had nearly died from lockjaw when very young. Apparently her large protruding teeth had saved her, leaving a gap for her to take drinks. But she let us think that it was caused by cuts between thumb and finger! No good medical information which ordinary people could understand was available from radio or popular magazines. "The Radio Doctor" had started giving advice in short talks, but this was not available until just after the war. The rules which prevented doctors giving advice to a general audience in public were very strict; in those days this was considered to be advertising.

To get back to the "illness" which started when I was 13, I was relieved when my mother told me that this was not an illness but the start of monthly periods. I was growing up. My mother told me to refer to my periods in public as being "unwell". So I started to say "I am unwell today" if necessary, but usually did not talk about it. Girls, when having periods usually asked to be excused from P.T. and Games; but I never made any excuses; just moved more sluggishly.

It was while I was living at No: 2 Branksmere Cottages that my father thought that I should have some religious instruction. I was twelve years old and did not take kindly to it. At that time he had not yet been accepted for the army but was still working in London, but stayed for the week-end at Branksmere whenever he could. The war had awakened in him an enthusiasm for attending Mass, and he took me to the church at Brantham. There were no buses on Sunday, and the church was three miles away. The walk took us approximately one hour. By that time I had got used to fairly long country walks, but this walk along the roads was less interesting than most and I arrived at the church tired.

The Mass was entirely in Latin, for these were the days long before the 2nd Vatican Council, when the congregation took little part in the Mass; reading silently an English translation from their Missals.

I did not have a Missal, neither did my father, but at least he had had religious instruction as a boy, and knew what the service was about. To me it was entirely incomprehensible, and I told him how bored I had been by it. It was far more boring than going with Nana to the Church of England, where there were often interesting diversions like the Harvest Festival.

"You are supposed to be a Roman Catholic," he said.

I said, "I did not know anything about it".

The next thing that happened was that my father arranged for me to take a series of lessons from the Roman Catholic Catechism on Saturday afternoons with Mrs Christian, an appropriately named local woman. He went back to London; and I started the instructions. To begin with the lessons were fairly interesting. I had a copy of the Adult Catechism given to me by my father and I started learning a few questions and answers from this.

The first of the questions being, "Why did God make you", and the answer being "God made me to know him to love him and to serve him in this world and to be happy with him for ever in the next," was something I could agree with"

However Mrs Christian produced a booklet called "Catechism answers for 5 to 7 year olds" and I had to take this home and learn questions and answers from it.

It was the fact that it was labelled for 7 seven years olds, and I was at the time 12 years old that turned me against it. "I don't want to learn babyish stuff," I thought. I was very sensitive about this.

By this time I had formed some ideas about God for myself. I had always thought of God being very much present in the works of creation, like the fruits of the fields and the wild creatures. This I had absorbed from my grandmother, with her words "Fruits of the Earth," as she said while lying ill in bed one day, and being brought a peach. I had also liked very much the framed text of the beatitudes. Though i felt very guilty about it, I told my mother that I did not want to attend the religious instruction and I also did not want to travel in the car with Justine, who I was told "Had made her first communion, though she is three years younger than you". I was feeling too nervous and somewhat humiliated by these strange people. My father was not there to go to church with me, and in London I had never seen him go, and my mother was not a Catholic.

"Oh, don't make her go, Jack", she said to my father, " if she does not want to". "Have you learnt anything?" he said. "Who is the head of Catholic Church" he asked "The Pope, "I answered. "That's where you are wrong," he said. "Well it seems like the right answer", said my mother "Why is it wrong?" "No the correct answer is "Jesus Christ is the Head of the Catholic Church", he said. We checked this up in the Catechism "Oh!" said my mother."I suppose that's right. Still, I think there's too much bowing and scraping in the Catholic Church"

It was agreed that I would not have to continue religious instruction at the present time. My parents were also trying to consider my general education; as I was learning very little at the secondary modern school, and were making enquiries at the Girls' High School in Colchester to try to arrange a transfer. But first, Christmas intervened. It was an easy walk from Branksmere to Nana's house where we spent Christmas. It was my second Christmas with the extended family. Christmas 1940 seemed better and glossier than Christmas 1939.

Aunt Kate and Annie, my parents and I were the daytime visitors. My grandmother and Uncle Bob were the residents. Aunt Edna, Bob's wife, and Aunt Betty with John were the guests. I spent most of the Christmas holidays walking the country lanes with John, looking for holly from the hedgerows or just playing. We also had a Christmas tree. There was a copse of fir trees nearby. John climbed one of these trees and cut off the top, which was how we got our tree. Back at Gordona we planted it in a pot covered with Christmas wrapping paper and filled with earth.

We spent hours making small presents to hang on the tree, as well as covering it with silver foil and coloured balls. We attached small candles to the branches. This may sound dangerous but John and I were very careful to keep the tops of the candles well away from the paper. We bought two pounds of boiled sweets and divided these between a dozen small bags which I had made from scraps of material on Aunt May's sewing machine. My mother had taught me to use this machine which was stored at Gordona and I found it much more fun than hand sewing, though I was still unable to to thread the machine's needle.

Nana had a large boxful of old Christmas cards. There must have been at least 200. The back room was kept as the "best room" and the front room used for meals. We used the best room for the Christmas tree, and decorated it extensively. There was a picture-rail running all round the room about eighteen inches from the ceiling. With the help of a step-ladder John and I arranged all the Christmas cards on the ledge formed by the picture-rail. Then we put up the Christmas decorations which had been carefully saved from one year to the next. These were not like the the paper chains I used in London, but were commercially made, long chains of different patterns, and a few paper bells, normally folded flat for storage, but now opened up to display their full glory.

John and I were ambitious, and tried to add to the decorations by making our own with coloured paper, cut to the same shape as the commercial ones. But our patience soon ran out with the work of carefully glueing one cut-out piece to the next. After two hours work had only produced one chain about eighteen inches long, we gave up and concentrated on learning our poetry for the Christmas afternoon family entertainment. At this time the children put on an entertainment for the grown-ups. I had a birthday book containing 365 verses from Tennyson's poetry, so I chose to learn a verse beginning "Ring out wild bells to the wild sky." John learnt the second verse in the same poem. Thinking back, I suspect that people were bored with this, but everyone clapped and listened politely.

Afterwards we played charades, John and I usually enlisting the help of one adult. We made up three scenes to illustrate a three- syllable word. The audience had to guess the word, with the help of a fourth scene containing the whole word. The words had to be carefully chosen so that they could be broken down. For example "Mantelpiece", and we had, in the last scene to avoid giving guilty emphasis to the word.

When everyone was tired of this we handed out the presents from the tree. Not many people cared to eat the boiled sweets on top of Christmas dinner, but they admired our handiwork on the wrappings.

After this the main presents were drawn out of a sack, which John and I had prepared beforehand, with John wearing a home-made, amateurish-looking "Father Christmas" outfit. Everyone was supposed to give a present to everyone else, and the sack had been filled gradually during the week before Christmas.

I had worked hard on my presents, making home-made sponge bags for most people. These were properly lined with plastic given to me by Freddie or "Uncle Fred" as I called him, who worked at the plastics factory and obtained many offcuts. They were machine stitched with Aunt May's machine. I cannot imagine either children or adults putting in so much work for Christmas in these days of almost universal television ownership. We did not even resort to a board game or a card-game on Christmas Day itself, though these may have been played on Boxing Day.

There was a flourishing amateur dramatic society in the local village, of which Aunt Maud was a member. John was also very interested in amateur dramatics, so though I was without much practice, I was encouraged by these people.

Aunt Maud was not invited on Christmas Day - our house was already very full with family - but she was a frequent visitor to tea. Likewise I often called at her house where I became acquainted with Freddie her husband, the hard-working British Plastics factory worker.

My grandmother did the cooking with help from my mother. We had a very large chicken, never a turkey. In these days all chickens were "free-range" and they were considered a real treat not for consumption except at festival time. The chicken was garnished with bacon, sausages, and served with Brussels sprouts, roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Aunt Kate followed the tradition of serving Yorkshire pudding separately, but my mother had never done this. Everything was on one huge plate.

This was followed by Christmas pudding. A small amount of brandy was pored over this and ignited. It burnt with a blue flame which died in an instant. It was fun, and we thought it made the pudding taste even better. Beer had been used in the mixture, so this was a real alcoholic pudding. I had helped to stir these puddings three weeks beforehand. After Christmas I went back to the secondary modern school, but my mother had been to the grammar school, and they had agreed to accept me for the Easter term, starting in April 1941, provided I had lessons in French and mathematics, to cover some of the lost ground.

I went to French lessons with Doreen, about 18 years old and still in the sixth form of the Colchester girls' grammar school. Soon I was learning lists of verbs in present and past tenses and composing simple sentences in French. Previously I had thought foreign languages were mysterious and very difficult, and that learning foreign languages was what made grammar schools different to ordinary schools. I made rapid progress in my French lessons, and after three months felt that I was well prepared for the grammar school, though I had not been taught to speak very much French. The written language was considered the most important.

The mathematics was also interesting, and I became very fond of Rachel, the invalid young woman who taught me. She spent all her time in bed in the downstairs front room in the large house next to Lawford Place, a hall used for village meetings. Rachel was the daughter of the headmaster of the Manningtree secondary modern school.

I was told later by Miss King, the headmistress of the Colchester grammar school that these girls were very good to teach me; she said they would do anything to help their old school. Certainly I found them very friendly and attractive. Privately I had nicknames for them. Doreen I named "Frizzy Hair". She had naturally curly hair like my mother's.

Rachel was named "Protractors in the Bed". Before I went to her for lessons, I already knew how to use a protractor to measure an angle, but she gave me further lessons in geometrical drawing. The geometrical drawing instruments she provided for me to use were always getting lost in her bed. She would dive beneath the sheets to retrieve them. She was very lively and intelligent, so I was very sorry indeed that she had to lead this secluded life, but I did not know the nature of her illness. She also taught me elementary algebra, such as the use of x and y in equations and some simple geometry theorems.

Neither of these young women asked for any payment from us. My mother could not have afforded it, and the school probably had no spare funds for such payments, so this was entirely voluntary work on the part of these women.

They both liked me and were pleased to see that I made such rapid progress. At that time I had almost lost all interest in education, and became rather afraid that I should have to leave school at fourteen and wondered what I should do then. Aunt Kate had remarked that I was not practical, and she wondered how I was going to earn my living. I was disappointed when she said that; it seemed that she did not notice the things that I could do and was made to do, such as gardening, shopping and cleaning all my grandmother's brass ornaments, as well as the knives and forks. Additionally, when my father went into the army, he gave me the button stick and Brasso when he came on leave and made me clean his brass buttons. Surely, I thought, these things were practical.

Aunt Kate meant that I had made no progress in sewing and very little in cooking. Throughout my life I have never made any progress in sewing and it has never worried me, as it not an essential skill in the modern world. With cooking, I remedied this matter as soon as I had to live in rooms on my own.

But for the time being it was far more important for me to concentrate on school work, as I had learnt very little academically for nearly three years, and I was now thirteen, a peak time in most people's education. I had to make up for lost time. At the end of that term I came top in the examination and Derek Page came top in the Boys Department. He was transferred to technical school in Colchester, and I started attending the Girls' High School in Colchester, so I did not see so many of the local children during term-time.

I liked the house we were living in, Branksmere. There was plenty of room and we had access to a garden.. We stayed there five months.

"Can't manage the rent any longer" said Mum.

Dad was no longer working in London, but was now doing army training in the North of England, and he started as a private.

"How are we managing now?" I asked.

"There is an official army allowance. It is small, but at least it is regular", sighed my mother. "I know exactly what I am going to get each week".

In addition my mother had applied for my scholarship grant, an allowance of three pounds per term meant to be spent on school uniform. This had just come through and it meant a visit to Colchester. Unfortunately we had to go the official suppliers' of school uniform, and their prices were high. For summer we bought the official school blazer complete with a large badge with a motto in French, "Dieu et mon droit". I did not like large and conspicuous badges, but had to get used to it. We also had to wear hats, both in summer and winter with a smaller edition of the badge on the hat- band. For summer we bought a Panama hat, the official wear.

Material in the school colours was supplied for making summer dresses. My mother could afford only enough material for one dress for this coming summer. I wore this for a complete week and each week-end, while I was in old clothes, she washed it. Unfortunately the first few girls I met at the new school noticed this and unkindly said, "Are both your dresses of the same pattern , Joan". I did not answer but was very sensitive about such remarks.

The first summer term in these new surroundings was the worst. I felt something like a foreigner. I was from London, had not much money, and knew that I was "different" from the average grammar school girl. As a soldier's daughter I was granted free bus fares and free school meals. On the bus this was not noticed, but in the school refectory, someone called out "Will girls with free meal tickets stand in this line here", so everyone knew who we were. The others with free tickets were mainly Colchester town girls, No-one who took the country bus to Manningtree had a free meal ticket, and it was these girls who noticed me in school, as they had previously seen me on the school bus. It was a mortifying system. I did well in school work, but very badly in social life; the girls were not friendly and did not treat me as an equal as they had done in the London primary school. So I missed all my old friends very badly.

We had to move into one room. We found a large front room in Long Road, not far from my grandmother's house and next door to Cookson's the grocer from whom we obtained our week's rations. A married couple sublet this room to us. They were young and had one small child. For the next six months my mother and I were settled down, and we did not see anything of my father, who was stationed in the North of England.

ONE ROOM

I had just started Colchester County High School for Girls when we moved away from Branksmere Cottages to one room in the house called "Heart's Delight". It was not our Heart's Delight but we made it do. Being cooped up in one room did not worry me very much because I spent most of my day in Colchester, catching the 8.30 am bus in the morning and not returning until 5 o'clock in the evening.

This gave my mother enough time to take a job. At first she did casual work in the fields, starting in June with pea-picking, going on to strawberry picking, then finally blackcurrants. Sometimes she picked up potatoes. This was harder work and not so popular. At the end of the soft fruit season, she went on to apple picking. She found that she could take regular work at the apple farm, paid at an hourly rate in the autumn. The money was not so good as that earned in the currant fields where a good worker could earn ś1 per day.

Children were given permission to stay away from school for two weeks in July to work in the currant fields, after school exams were over. I did this in 1941 and earned ten shillings one day. I had never had so much money in my pocket before. When I returned to school, I was able to go to the chip shop and buy twopenn'th of chips while waiting for the evening bus home. Many of the girls bought chips. Officially we were not allowed to eat in the street or to take our hats off. Both these rules were ignored, once out of sight of the school. However, I saved most of my currant-picking money.

My mother went on working at the apple farm until Christmas. This was indoor work, grading the apples according to size and condition, and packing them in boxes ready for the shops. My mother enjoyed this work and the company of the other workers. She had not worked outside the home before, not ever having any opportunity. By the end of the year she had saved ś100 in her post office bank account. I also had a post office bank account, in which was deposited the money for my school clothes. I was receiving a grant from "London County Council" on condition that I went back to London at the end of the war. My mother gladly signed and agreed to this condition. However, we knew that we could not predict what we would do after the war.

These were dark days according the news reports, for neither the USSR or the USA had yet entered the war against Hitler. "We will win the war, because we have right on our side " I thought. At the High School the rules about gas-masks were strict. We had to carry them every day. I had quite neglected to do this while at the Secondary Modern School in Manningtree, where nobody seemed to bother. "They won't use gas, now" They would have done it before now if they were going to," people said. However in the garage where John and I played we found some leaflets, warning us about the smells of the different poison gases. "If you smell pear-drops and do nothing about it you'll be dead in a few minutes", the leaflet said, putting the wind up John and myself. For a few days we walked about imagining we could smell pear-drops. My gas-mask was contained in a brown plastic case with a shoulder-strap. Every day I also carried a smart blue attach‚ case, containing school books. It was marked with my name, and was my last pre-war Christmas present from Aunt May.

One of the first people I met at the High School was the Lower Fourth Form Teacher, Miss Nossen. She was German. Immediately in my mind I excepted her from the Germans who lived in Germany, who wanted to drop bombs on us. She no longer is a real German, I thought. She must have lived here all her life. I had never met any Jews and did not think whether she might be Jewish. In any case, I had no knowledge that the Nazis hated Jews. All I knew was that they hated Czechs and Poles and now they hated us. If not, why did they want to invade, and drop bombs on us? Thinking and forming answers was simple for a thirteen year old. We had no access to any complicated information. These were the days before TV, and when we turned on the wireless, it was for short periods only that we listened intently to the censored wartime news. Our culture did not include portable radios and listening casually and obtaining snippets of opinion and specialised information in the way that people do to-day.

But I was surprised to meet Miss Nossen, the German. German was taught in the school as well as French and Latin. But in the Lower Fourth, the first year for those who had passed the "eleven-plus", we did French only. French was also taught by Miss Nossen. But there formed in my mind because of this German association, that there was another aspect to Germany somewhere, besides the unpleasant one we were now experiencing. It was the germ of an idea that Germans were not all "Nazis", because some Germans lived here, and like Miss Nossen, were not interned but lived amongst us, and carried on their normal work, and regarded England as their country. Shortly afterwards I was to meet Miss Kahn who taught science., and I wondered "Was she also German?". She was an awkward person, absolutely no good on the sports field, when she took part in the Staff against Pupils end of term rounders match, so I empathised with her. We were both outsiders in the school and both no good on the sports field.

She seemed much more of an outsider than Miss Nossen, though she had no trace of a foreign accent. She was almost certainly Jewish, but I had not heard of Jews. I knew something about left-wing politics. I had heard of Lenin though not of Karl Marx. How odd, a person brought up in the sixties must think this was? But I had not heard about Nazis being against the Jews. It was not until after the war that I heard about this. In the meantime most of the girls laughed at Miss Kahn when she taught science, which made me cross, because my cousin John had encouraged me to take an interest in this subject. It came easily to me whose favourite subject was mathematics. But when I went into Miss Kahn's classroom, there was no equipment. We spent most of our time taking down notes from the blackboard and did few experiments. The one thing we managed to do was to grow a large blue crystal of "copper sulphate". So at the end of the term when we were asked if we would like to drop science and take up German which was the alternative subject, I put up my hands with the rest. Fortunately my preference was ignored, because all the girls who did well in examinations were arbitrarily assigned to take science. The second stream did German; and the third and fourth stream did science. At this stage we had no freedom of choice. I was quite glad about this in later years, because, as I had had only three months education in the High School, I had no idea of the relative importance of these two subjects. Today I would not feel happy about young people exclusively studying languages, or exclusively studying science. But it was wrong to exclude second stream from science. They also did French, and one foreign language was quite enough for us to cope with. Most of us had never travelled abroad.

I never felt very comfortable in class during that first term. I was thirteen years old and taller than all the others who were eleven or twelve years of age. I tried to hide behind them because I did not want to look conspicuous and developed a crouch. This was noticed by the physical education teacher who said I needed special exercises. So when other children were having their mid-morning break, I had to attend a private instruction from the gym teacher. There were special bending and stretching exercises and I was made to hang from the rib-stalls which lined the main hall, also used as gymnasium. All of this I hated, especially as I was given a set of exercises to do every night before going to bed, to be supervised by my mother. When John came to stay I told him about these exercises and talked through the wall at him while I was doing them. He used to lie in bed in the front bedroom while I was in the back room at Gordona, during school holidays, when I stayed at the my grandmother's big house to give my mother a little space in the one room she occupied, and to allow my father to come home for 48 hours' leave. I believe once a year he got a week at home, and this was probably in the summer. My father's work as storeman and medical orderly in Chilwell was important, but he could be spared for a week. When I told the other girls, rather proudly that my father was in the army they did not have a very high opinion of this, to my surprise. I learned that most of their fathers were at home, in "essential occupations" and were not eligible for call-up, or were over-age and unlike my father did not volunteer. They were all well-established in Colchester or the surrounding community, unlike the few of us who had arrived from London. Essex was not an official evacuation area, so I only met about two other girls from London during my career at the Colchester High School.

My other recollections of the school included running round the playground with children much younger than myself, but not being very interested in their boisterous play, and admiring the magnificent peonies in a bed guarded by a wire fence, which was the province of our gardener. In wartime we had to dig for victory, but that did not stop us from growing flowers .

In my first term starting April 1941, I had to do half an hour's homework every evening. I had never done homework before, except for one short burst of holiday work, when long, long ago in London , I had prepared for the "eleven-plus"., and I used to worry about getting it all done, as it usually took longer than the official half-hour. I was glad when at the end of the term, I found that I had done very well in the examinations, so that I was promoted from a middle-of- the- road class to the top stream class for the following year.

During the summer holidays John arrived to stay with grandmother and I forgot all about school for the month of August. There was still some fruit picking to be done including some very late black currants and John went with my mother and myself for one week's work in the fields. We enjoyed this work in the hot sunshine. We forgot to eat any currants and soon learnt the correct technique for stripping the bushes clean from my mother. " Pick one branch at a time and move on gradually to the next. That is the way to fill the basket," she said. I used a small green camp-stool to sit on beneath the bush as I worked.

John had arrived on his bike, and this summer he taught me to ride it. In spite of the fact, that I always wore skirts (jeans or slacks were neither in fashion or obtainable for girls because of clothes shortages) I put my legs over his boy's bike, and in time-honoured fashion, rode along with John's hand on the back of the saddle. I careered about wildly in the middle of the road; this was not dangerous as the only traffic I was likely to meet was the horse-drawn milk-cart, along this road which connected my grandmother's house and my great-aunt's house. For several days I practised, until at the end of the week, John told me I was able to ride the bike, because he had no longer been holding on. It was still a day or two before I became really confident and steady; then I decided to ride to my Aunt Kate's house. When Aunt Kate saw me she said "you should have a bike of your own". Next door to Aunt Kate lived Mrs Chapman and her daughter Beryl. Beryl had decided to get a new bike, so Aunt Kate asked if they would sell the old one. She offered it to me for ś3. At the end of August, my father had completed 8 weeks physical training as initiation into the Army and arrived home on 48 hours leave. He agreed to buy the bike, which was very old, but could be made serviceable if repaired. He examined the bike and listed the missing parts; three spokes for the wheels, two new inner tubes, a bell for the handle-bars and told me to go to the cycle shop in Manningtree and buy them. I had no difficulty in obtaining these spare parts, for in those days everybody believed in "Make do and mend", and my father kindly fitted them on and my bike was as good as new. This gave me immense pleasure. I was able to visit Aunt Kate as often as I liked, and she was always pleased to see me. I also rode round the country lanes near the Apple Farm .

But most of the time John and I liked to walk. We liked to scramble over the fields and climb straw stacks. There was no straw burning. The straw was gathered into stacks, and the stubble dug in. Some fields contained horses which were still much in use for drawing carts. I was always afraid of fields containing cows, in case there might be a bull with them, however much I was re-assured that this was not the case., and would not walk through these fields. But I considered those fields containing sheep or horses as safe. One day I was blackberrying on my own in a field containing three horses, quite oblivious to everything that was happening around me. When I turned round, I found that the three horses had walked over to see what I was doing and had surrounded me. I did not know what to do. As I had a basket full of blackberries, I decided to feed them to the horses, so that they would be friendly towards me. I was quite frightened, but the horses took the blackberries, and I walked away from them quite peacefully, but disappointed that I had very few blackberries left in my basket to carry home.

Sometimes John and I were content to lay down for a time amidst the long grass which concealed us completely and watch the antics of insects. Never before had I examined ant-hills so closely, delighting to disturb them and watch the ants scurrying about, or simply to lie on my back and listen to the buzz of the grass-hoppers; these insects making a constant clicking sound amidst the long grass warmed by the heat of the summer sunshine. We spent long hours like this, or when not so exhausted would search for new varieties of wild flowers, or catch the white cabbage butterflies, kill then and put them in a jar. There was a rumour that someone would pay us for a jar of dead cabbage-whites (or for the tails of three dead grey squirrels) but we never found out where to go. I don't think John or I would have liked to kill the squirrels, though in those Essex fields, we never saw any.

Back at school for the Autumn term, I was still in the building called "Greyfriars", but was now in the Upper Fourth. The classes I passed through in the four and half years I attended were labelled Lower and Upper Fourth, and Lower, Middle and Upper Fifth. Forms One, Two , Lower Third and Upper Third formed the Preparatory School attended by fee- paying juniors, which was located in part of the Greyfriars building, so that at break-times, the playground was filled with many younger children. I was not very keen on playing with these younger ones, but I had formed a friendship with Irene Kekwick, who had been a fee-paying pupil and liked to associate with these younger ones. Irene seemed to like me and gave me little presents, but I got tired of this very soon, and left her behind in a different class. I was placed in Upper Four D. The Upper Fourth was divided into A, B, C, and D. We soon discovered that everyone who had done very well in last year's examinations was placed in Upper 4 D. The lettering was designed to prevent us thinking too much of ourselves. Upper 4 A was filled with the second best . The poorest achievers were placed in Upper 4 C.

I was one year older than nearly everyone else in Upper 4 D, and was not allowed to catch up the year, in spite of the fact that I often came top in many subjects at examination time. There was another girl who was a year older than the rest and did exceedingly well. Unfortunately her parents decided to withdraw her from school at the age of 14. This happened to various pupils throughout the school. Either the girls were not interested in school or their parents felt unable to enable them to stay on to complete the course until School Certificate at 16, because they lacked money, and the girls had to go to work, often in low-paid jobs like hairdressing or as shop assistants. In spite of the fact that I was one of the less-well off, my parents were very anxious for me to complete the course.

The first term in the Upper 4 d was very pleasant. The form mistress was called Miss Heriot, a French name but she did not appear to be French. She was sixty years of age, and quite chatty. She did not tease me as Miss Nossen, the very large German lady had done. She also taught maths. I did well in maths and was popular with her, and achieved a good end-of term result. At Christmas 1941 I thought I had settled down well, and prepared to enjoy another Christmas at Gordona.

1941 had been a worrying year. There were serious fears that we might lose the war. I remember my father saying early on that if Russia and America both came into the war on our side, we would win. He thought that eventually this would happen. He had a good grasp of current affairs and afterwards told me that the had attended interesting lectures while in the army. But I took little notice of his words and said to people occasionally, "What will happen if we lose the war and the Germans come and take over?" This was the unthinkable to all adults and I was told firmly that it would not happen as we had right on our side. But I kept thinking about it and worrying. But in 1941 Hitler marched into the Soviet Union and suddenly the Russians were on our side. We had always known that the Americans were helping us without declaring war by sending supplies but before Christmas 1941 Pearl Harbour occurred and the Americans were also in the war on our side. All this meant that we knew the tide was turning and Christmas 1941 was more cheerful than Christmas 1940. It was probably the best Christmas family gathering I had ever experienced, as my grandmother was still vigorous and in good health, so that she did most of the Christmas cooking and entertained as many relations as could be packed into her house. Some relations would visit for a few days over the Christmas period, coming in relays to keep all the vacant beds full.

For Christmas we had a very large chicken, or possibly two chickens. Turkeys were almost unknown as far as ordinary families were concerned, though some people had a goose or a duck. Meat was rationed; however chickens in the country districts were excluded from the ration, being obtained from local suppliers. They usually arrived with their feathers on, and had to be plucked. The insides also had to be removed. Country women of my grandmother's generation did not turn a hair on being confronted with such work, which would faze me. I was never involved, and I don't think my mother could deal with taking the inside from a chicken. We had become town dwellers and had never kept up with country ways; in time my father learnt how to get a good vegetable crop from the garden, and I was also involved with this, but cleaning up chickens fresh from the free range of those days was beyond us, and we never learnt how to make bread. My grandmother did not make her own bread at this time, but many of the younger neighbours did so. Gradually women gave this up as they obtained "war work" replacing men as Land Army girls or working in munitions factories. It was fortunate for my mother that she found a fairly light, pleasant, clean job at the apple orchards.

The Christmas decorations stored for two or three years were taken out of their boxes by John and myself, and we busied ourselves in a similar way to the preceding Christmas. Time went all too quickly. This year Uncle Bill came to visit. He was a laboratory technician in charge of the "animal house" at a well-known drug manufacturers and knew something about science. When I said that I never ate salt, he remarked that extra sodium chloride with meals was quite unnecessary, and I was pleased to have his backing, as my fussy father was always trying to get me to take salt with meals. I was so glad to chat with people like Uncle Bill, who I did not see often. Likewise with Aunt Betty and Uncle Fred. One night I shared a bed with Aunt Betty in grandmother's house and most of the night I spent coughing. "What should I do to get rid of this cough?" I asked. "You would do better if you opened the window." she replied. I did not believe her, but we opened the window, and I was pleased that with the cool air flowing in, my cough disappeared. Since then I have kept the window open at night in my bedroom, even in winter; giving this up only when satisfied that the ventilation was adequate without the window being open a crack.

Aunt Betty was a Christian Scientist. She like my mother had been brought up in the Church of England, but had been helped by a Christian Scientist lady when her life had been going badly, and subsequently adopted this faith. My cousin John was brought up as a Christian Scientist and in time became a reader in his Church, of which he remained a devoted member. Unlike my friends in London from the keen Evangelical Protestant background he did not discuss religion with me, or at least not very often. But we were amateur philosophers and took a delight in talking about such questions as "What is infinity?" to which we never found an answer. But we could talk on this subject for some hours at bedtime. Somehow it was not a subject for daytime discussion. But we talked through the wall of our respective rooms and did not stop until we heard the adults coming to bed. In the daytime we were more practical and talked about our Christmas preparations or the gardening we often helped with at Gordona.

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Copyright Joan Hughes 1993-1997. Published with permission.