Cousin Ann Huntley’s war time recollections. 1939
My nana shopped for her meat at Cunningtons on theYardley Road. Tom the butcher looked after her well and she could always get plenty of black market butter. At my nana’s house everything was washed up and put away at two in the afternoon and nana would go to her bed to put her curlers in and have a rest. Aunty Lil would play patience, aunty Mu and my granddad would go to sleep. Peter the spaniel would lie on the rug by the fire and make bad smells. Muriel would fetch out the Zoflora and splash it about to hide the smell.
Nana would get up at aroundfour o’clockfor tea with her hair all brushed and her rouge and makeup on. Wearing a smart frock with a necklace and rings on her fingers, she would make a pot of tea. This was the only menial task she would perform, she had never cooked anything in her life and wouldn’t know how to. Tea would consist of very thin bread and butter spread with home-made jam or lemon curd, sometimes there would be very thin cucumber sandwiches and always a lovely home-made cake and jam tarts.
In the evenings, the family would sit around and listen to ‘Dick Barton, Special Agent’ on the radio. In the large garden grandpa grew lots of lovely flowers and lots of soft fruit. In the middle of the lawn he had a pear tree. Grandpa would take out his penknife from his pocket and slice up a juicy pear for Barbara and I (incidentally he also prized dandelions out of the lawn with the same penknife.)
In 1939 war was declared and we had moved toAldershaw Road. Daddy was a driver and was exempt from service. Mummy was expecting my brother John at the time and tension was very high. We lived near the Rover works at Acocks Green where the munitions were being made and this building was targeted night after night. The sirens would sound out and we would be lifted out of our beds and taken down to the bottom of the garden to take cover in a cold, damp air raid shelter which was constructed from sheets of corrugated iron and covered with earth. Inside were bench like seats. Mummy would carry a box with her containing all our birth certificates for safe keeping. When the ‘all clear’ siren sounded, daddy would go up to the house and make a cup of tea for us all and bring it back to the shelter. Sometimes when we went back to our beds, we would find pieces of shrapnel which had gone through the roof of our house on to our beds.
One night – the night of theCoventryraids, it was particularly horrendous and my mother was heavily pregnant. Daddy put us all in his motor and took us to Dorsington, near Stratford-upon-Avon to stay with our aunty Ag, Uncle Jim and cousins Valerie and Richard Hodges. On the journey and just before we arrived in the pitch black night, we drove through a flood. My mother panicked, she thought we had driven into the river and would meet a worse end than the one we had just left.
Brother John was born on December 31st that year. Later, we were evacuated to my other grandfather’s house at Long Marston where at five years of age, I attended the village school. At the little school all the pupils from five to fourteen were taught in one class room. There was a large, black coke stove in the room and a big girl called Megan taught me to knit. In the toilet, newspaper was cut into squares and hung on a piece of string – for loo paper.
My grandfather had a housekeeper called Suzie. She used to take the train toStratfordon a Friday to shop and would bring back fish and chips for the adults and fish cakes and chips for me and Barbara. My grandpa Davis kept hens and grew his own vegetables. Barbara and I would go out into the hedgerows and collect pigeon eggs to make cakes as everything was rationed because of the war.
We moved back toBirminghamwhen John was still small. At five minutes to eight every morning the siren would blow at the Rover works and that was our cue to leave home and commence the hour long walk to school. We ate sandwiches at lunchtime with the Trenfields, there were no school dinners in those days. The Trenfields would say we were rich and they were “poooooor.” Nana did not approve of the Trenfields, she was a bit of a snob and so we ended up being given a halfpenny each to cover the bus fare so we could go home for our dinners. Grandma would serve up a whole leg of mutton for dinner on a huge meat dish. Carrots and onions would be floating in the lovely gravy. Sometimes we would have rabbit stew with triangles of crisp toast to mop up the gravy. Each day we had a huge milk pudding and a fruit pie with custard.
Aunty Lily was a talented seamstress and would make lovely dresses for Barbara and me. We always had new clothes for Easter from nana and new brown sandals with white ankle socks which were the Easter tradition. I don’t remember being given Easter eggs.
During the war sweets were on ration coupons and we would have our sweets and chocolate shared out on a Sunday. I remember walking home from school one day and offering a friend called David Gallon a sweet from my bag of goodies. I had only two squares of Cadbury’s chocolate left and he broke one off and ate it. My heart sank for that chocolate, now we have too much of everything.
My lovely sister Jean arrived later but that, as they say, is another story.
Scribe’s note: Ann still has the box that her mother kept the birth certificates in during the war. My daughter Rebecca wears one of my grandmother’s rings, a little finger ring of gold with a tiny garnet in it and when I see it, I am reminded of my grandma who I never met. She died from breast cancer a few weeks before my birth but I have in my mind’s eye, an image of her as clear as day, pouring out the tea at Pinfold Farm.