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  Memoirs of Wartime Childhood in Verwood.
 
- by Mrs Pauline Web.
(she now lives in Royston Herts.)
 

 

When the war broke out I was seven. I can remember quite clearly being sent up the lane to the village store to buy sugar and everyone was talking about it. This is an account of how life was for me in those days though nothing very dramatic happened.

We lived in a large old house in a Dorset village - Verwood, down a lane with great puddles when it rained. At night with no lights we would go ‘splash’. There was no gas, electric or water, as the previous owner would not consent to it being brought down the lane. Oil lamps and a Range to cook with, candles to bed!

All water was drawn up from the well by the back door. In the summer, the butter and milk were lowered down in the bucket to keep cool and also a jelly to set, as there were no fridges.

The radio, called a wireless in those day’s, ran on a dry battery and an accumulator, like a glass brick full of acid. It had to be taken to the garage to be re-charged each week for 6d (2.5P).

We had a lovely big orchard with all the old English apples Russets Coddling, Cox’s etc. There was a long swing on the bough of one tree. There was a meadow beyond with lots of Blue Hydrangea bushed in the garden. We played in the old stables and cowsheds and we always had lots of cats & dog’s – my mother took in everyone’s strays.

One morning I was told to take the coal shovel and go to the back of the house where a cat had died and take it to the top of the garden until my mother had time to bury it. This great stiff cat wouldn’t stay on the small shovel; I was about 5 years old.

When we came in from school we were given a pack and sent to fill it with Dandelions for all the Rabbits we had, 40 at one time.

As we came out of the gate in the mornings, if we heard the school bell ringing we knew we had 10 minutes to get there, or a slap on the leg if we were late. We ran down the lane – checked the cows weren’t too near and climbed the gate and ran across the field – a bit marshy and full of purple orchids. Then up through the woods. In summer on the hot sandy path a slowworm would slither across under our feet.

One morning as my younger brother and I went up through the woods – we moved closer together as we saw the bushes moving. Then we saw the soldiers underneath them, using them as camouflage.

Of course Gas masks had to be taken everywhere. Little tots had Mickey Mouse ones and babies were put in respirators and the Mothers had to pump air in.

My elder sister and I were interviewed to go to Australia , but as a ship full of children went down, I was stopped.

We had evacuees from London and Southampton , and two land girls to stay.

Soldiers came to do manoeuvres in the Orchard. If the Air Raid siren went when we were in school (the small church school on the hill) we were all immediately dispersed (in case the school was bombed), some to nearby houses, some to the Vicarage Cellars, or old Lady Limpus’s house. She was very nearly deaf and held a large trumpet to her ear for us to shout down.

Some afternoons the teacher would take the whole class out to gather Blackberries for the WI (Women’s Institute) to make Jam or Rose Hips for syrup. If we collected a pack of acorns the farmer would buy them for his pigs. As the farmers had few labourers, with the men away at work, the whole class would pick up a field of turnips.

American soldiers drove through the village in convoys, often throwing out chewing gum to the children. The dark skinned soldiers were the first coloured people we had seen. At night the sky was full of searchlights – we were between Bournemouth and Southampton docks.

There was only one raid on the village, it happened one night, they were probably dropping bombs left over from the docks raid. My stepfather came in, in the early hours of the morning and I heard him telling my Mother where has had been. He was in the fire service. A family sheltering under their table and some Shrapnel had hit Max (a boy in my class) in the back and killed him.

At the funeral we children all dropped posies of flowers onto his coffin. For some nights after I lay firmly on my back; no piece of Shrapnel was going to hit me in my back!!

At about eleven years of age, when I saw the school doctor, I was rather round shouldered, and sent to see a specialist. It was in a draughty old hall, boys and girls standing around in only knickers. A horrid older woman doctor diagnosed a suspected curvature of the spine. A plaster cast cradle was made for me, which was put in my bed, and I had to be strapped in it each night. In the daytime I wore a canvas corset with straps around the armpits and legs to keep me upright. Two steel round bars in the back made my jumper stick out at the top of my shoulders. A boy at the desk behind me poked me in the back and asked if I were growing wings.

When the first free scholarships came out I passed to go to Parkstone Grammar. I was to be given free rail travel and a grant for a bicycle for the long ride to the station. The Doctor said this would be to tiring as I’d only been allowed to go to the school in the mornings, and be on my tummy in the afternoons. So a place was found for me at ‘Beaminster Boarding School’, but I would still have to rest and with no encouragement from my family, I decided not to go.

On a Saturday morning I often caught the little bus into Ringwood, our nearest town. I used to buy a cake for no coupons at the Bakers, probably made from leftover cakes! I used to be embarrassed going into the ironmongers to ask for a “nipple” for the Primus Stove and just prayed the handsome young man would not serve me! Then as there was no bus home until the evening, I had to walk the five miles home, a deserted road, with forestry on either side.

There was no Pop music then, my elder sister loved music and would save up for gramophone records. She would go to the newsagents to choose a new record’s and go into the sound proof cubicle to play them, then buy the one she liked.

A few years ago I returned to the village and went to find our old house. It was difficult, as all the meadows are now full of houses. At the side of our garden were four oak trees that my mother had listed so that they couldn’t be destroyed. When I found them, I found our old house. In what was the orchard, stood two stone bungalows.

Quietly standing there, I felt very insignificant and thinking there is no plaque here saying, this is where Pauline spent her childhood – and I called to mind the verse in Psalm 103, which says:-

As for man, his days are like the grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field –
the wind blows over it and it is gone
and it remembers it no more.

 

 
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