An Account of Growing Up in the Second World War
Up until the age of nine years, childhood had been simple. Having been born in Arthingworth and returning to East Farndon with my father, mother and older brother (they had lived here previously), I just remember playing with village friends, and from the age of five years going to the village school, where Miss McDowell taught. Some time later, when Mrs March came to live in the village, she helped out when there were more children; such as those from the ‘Cottage Home’, where there were a lot of boys being cared for. There was one classroom and we all went home at dinner time and returned in the afternoon.
When the war broke out, we didn’t realise what it would mean. We were introduced to gas masks, Mickey Mouse ones for younger children (my younger brother had one) and a carry-cot shaped one for babies. My sister was a baby and being put inside one with just a small ‘window’ where her face was, was frightening. She screamed while my father pumped air into it. The air raid siren would bring a chill of fear to us, and if we had been woken during the night and had to get up and go downstairs, we were able to go to school half an hour later next morning. Black blinds were put up at the windows and torches, cycle lamps, etc., had to be half covered up. The Air Raid Wardens would walk the village and tap on the windows if a chink of light was showing.
The aerodrome was built at Foxton and we would hear the roar of engines at night and back in the morning. The Home Guard would meet and practise their drill and marching. When the cities were bombed, we had some evacuees from London. One family lived in the old Rectory and others with families in the village. It must have been terrible for them to leave their homes and everything behind; at the time we didn’t realise what it meant to them. Air raid shelters were built in the gardens of the larger houses in the village, but we had to put up with the cupboard under the stairs.
Marjorie, her brother and grandmother in front of her grandparents' house
My mother’s parents lived at the top of the village. We were about half way down, in a two-bedroomed house. The lavatory was across the garden. We had oil lamps on the table and some ‘Kelly lamps’ upstairs. There was no water laid on and we had to fetch all our water from the village spring for drinking, cooking, etc. We fetched pails of water for older people and generally received a penny for our trouble. During a drought my brother and I used to take a small bath and fill it at the spring to put in the water barrels for mother to do the washing. We had an open fire grate, with everything being cooked on it and in the oven at the side. Irons for ironing the clothes were heated on a rack in front of the fire. On Friday nights the large galvanised bath was brought in, water being being heated in the old boiler in the corner of the kitchen with a fire underneath it. This boiler was also used on washing days. Being the only girl (apart from the baby), I was lucky enough to have the first bath!
My father grew lots of vegetables as we had quite a big garden. I remember he made me a swing. We spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house opposite the school. My father was a painter and decorator and cycled everywhere. My mother used to go out cleaning and took in washing, so we had dinner at Granny Allen’s most weekdays. I wasn’t aware of rationing very much. We always had plenty of vegetables and mother used to bake for us. The milk was delivered to the doors by pony and cart, in churns and then measured out in a jug. One baker came to the village with a horse and cart.
Spending a lot of time at Granny’s, we were often over at the church, which she and Grandad looked after for over forty years. He was sexton and she cleaned the church. They carried loads of coke in for the two stoves that heated the church at that time.
I remember three shops in the village. One is now ‘Hillside’ and was kept by a Mr Mayes. Then there was the Post Office and shop kept by Mrs Nichols (now ‘The Old Post Office’) and one in ‘Ivy House’, kept by a rather eccentric lady called Mrs Dancer. She used to sell everything and had small bells stitched to her long skirts which tinkled when she moved about.
The May Day celebrations were kept going by various ladies making a hooped garland, which we collected flowers for. They were tied on it in small bunches. We had a May Queen and we all had wreaths of flowers on our heads. The boys would carry the garland and we went round the village singing May songs.
We went to Sunday School at the church, but some families walked to Harborough to the chapels. Our lives revolved round the village and we would only go into Harborough when we were older. We went to Clipston School when we were eleven years old and stayed till we were fourteen, going by bus.
The prisoner of war camp was built at the bottom of the road; and when we used to cycle to work, first the Italians then the Germans used to shout at us as we pedalled fast to get by. Although we didn’t have any bombs dropped near us, there was an odd one in the area and we could hear the banging of distant bombing, especially the time that Coventry was bombed so badly. The Americans were stationed in various areas and two planes crashed into each other while they were flying close together. And it was said that a plane landed in Marston Lake but the pilot parachuted out. I think it was an English plane but can’t be sure. Men and women from the village joined the forces and we saw them home on leave, in their uniforms.
Marjorie Houlston (nee Read)