Growing up in England
Snowy Day Rescue
When we were children, it was important for babies to get their fresh air and sunshine every day. To ensure that they got enough of both, on fine days mothers put babies into their prams for naptime and left them out in the garden.
My brother was born just before Christmas. One day, my mother put him into the garden and went indoors leaving sixteen month old Alison playing outside - Miriam watching baby Moses.
Suddenly, a lump of snow slid off the roof on top of the pram. Alison couldn’t talk but she rushed into the house and tugged at Mummy’s skirt, whining. Mummy followed her outside to see nothing of the baby but a tiny hand waving through the snow.
Growing Up After World War II
When I was about fourteen, my English teacher told us to write a poem, and I wrote one in blank verse, with the refrain:
During the war
My teacher was most impressed at how much I knew about it, but my parents spoke about it often. A decade on, it was still recent history for them.
They both grew up in Conscientious Objector families, so neither of them saw military service during the war. My father was a teacher, which was an essential service, so he was not called up and did not have to enlist. Conscientious Objectors in non-essential work were sent to necessary but non-miliatry work such as agriculture. With many young men at war and difficulty in importing food, farm laborers were vitally needed.
My father did part-time service as a fire watcher. The job of these civilians was to keep watch for fires caused by incendiary bombs. He told a story of a fire-watcher—I’m not sure if it was him or an acquaintance—who gave warning of a fire in the east, only to discover that he had given a false alarm. The dreaded glow in the sky was the sunrise.
When the siren went off warning of an air-raid, families would decamp to a designated air-raid shelter. This might be the basement of a large city building or, for those who had space, a specially erected building in the backyard or garden. Anderson shelters were made of corrugated iron and were long and narrow, suitable for sleeping in, if necessary. The house I grew up in had one at the end of the garden, under a rockery. It was snug against the high wall between us and the garden behind, and overhung with trees so it wouldn't have been obvious to anyone going into the garden for the first time. By the time I knew it, it was damp and musty and my father kept his garden tools there.
During World War I, mustard gas was used against British troops, and this time there were fears that these attacks would be carried out on civilians at home. Therefore, early in the war, everyone was issued with a gas mask, which they had to carry everywhere. There was still a repurposed canvas bag lying around our house when I was young, which had been a gas mask carrier.
What my parents mentioned most often, was rationing. Petrol, eggs, meat, sugar, milk and its products, tinned and dried fruit, all went through phases when they were unavailable or scarce. Every family was issued with ration books, and you could only buy these items if you had coupons for them. This meant, for example, you had to choose between making a cake, or having butter on your bread and sugar in your tea.
As protein sources were scarce, peanut butter was used as a substitute. As a result, we never had peanut butter in the house and to the end of her life, my mother never ate it.
Rationing continued into the fifties for some products, seven or eight years after the end of the war.
Clothing was also rationed, and the women’s skirts became tighter and shorter. By contrast, once rationing ended, skirts became long and full again. I remember standing at the top of the stairs, and watching my mother running down, her skirt billowing out around her. This was called “the New Look.”