Doodlebugs and Cuxton

When eventually the deferment period was at an end, for it was much more difficult now for firms to retain key workers, Joe had to join up. He had to go at first to the Infantry but because of his feet which were very bad at this time he applied for transfer and was posted to an anti-aircraft unit on the south coast. He was quite happy about this and found great relief from the marching which the Infantry did by the mile in order to keep the men fit for combat. It hadn’t succeeded in doing anything for Joe but make his feet worse than they already were. This job suited him, for he was to be taught to use the radar machines and to this end he took the army courses in mathematics and a simple course in electricity. It certainly helped in that it got him used to learning again. It was a desk job and suited his feet much better.


Army pals

He wrote to me every day and I wrote back but I must confess his letters were more interesting than mine, for my whole life was air raids and trying to keep up with two mischievous little boys. He was stationed in two or three nice places in England and by the time John could trot about easily he was stationed in Wales.

I shall never forget my visit to him there. I was tired of London and the bombing and the hardship of queuing for so little and making do. It seemed quite a chance to get away for a week. The daylight raids were very heavy at this time and a plan had been evolved to save workers spending most of their valuable production hours in the air raid shelters. This of course was the real object of the exercise as far as the Jerries were concerned. The plan was that trained spotters were on duty on the roofs of factories during a raid and when danger was imminent gave warning by a shrill blast on their whistles which sent everyone scurrying to shelter. This also applied to railway stations which had several spotters for the convenience of staff and passengers.

I set off from home early one morning feeling a little like a pack horse with three gas masks slung round my shoulders, wheeling my pushchair with the suitcases and John perched on top and Paul running along beside. We had not even reached the local railway station before the siren sounded but, as there was no sign of imminent danger I decided to press on. The train ran in and we were soon at Liverpool Street and I had to walk from there to the main line station so Paul went up on the suitcases along with John and I pushed as hard as I could.

We arrived at the main line station in plenty of time to get the train and we settled down to wait on the platform and were delighted that it drew in early. I tossed in the pushchair and the suitcases and was just about to push the children in after them when the spotters’ whistles started to blow.

What a fix to be in: The porters slammed the train doors shut and the train was shunted out of the station as quickly as possible. This practice was adhered to if possible in order to reduce casualties and damage should there be a direct hit. But all my luggage? Oh dear. I was literally left holding the baby, two in fact.

The planes were screaming overhead; whistles were blowing, machine guns were rattling so I took to my heels and ran to the nearest doorway and stood there quaking with fear and worry. At last the raid was over and things began to calm down; the train ran in again and a kindly porter helped me to find my belongings and I climbed aboard with them thoroughly exhausted.

Like all war time trains during the war, this one was packed to capacity and a few more for luck. The corridors were full of people and luggage. I had managed to bag two seats, one for me and one for the boys and I got glares from one or two ungenerous souls who probably wondered what I was doing with two babies in a train in London where raids were imminent.

I was thankful when we started off to the green hills of Wales. We had only gone a short way, a few miles only, when a thought struck me and I burst out laughing, for I had been thinking of the raid on the station, and how I had run into the doorway. It only struck me now where I had run to. It was into the refreshment buffet and I had stood for the whole of the danger period next to a plate glass window.

I looked round the crowded carriage and told them all what I was laughing at; they were charitable enough to see the funny side of it and all joined in the laugh, which broke the ice and for the rest of the journey everyone was very kind to both the boys and me.

It was a long and tiresome journey and there was not much room to stretch one’s legs and I was quite glad to change trains on the borders of Wales where Joe had arranged to meet us. We were so happy to meet again and as we travelled to the town in which he was stationed we were able to tell each other all the latest news.

Joe was delighted with John who was now able to run about and found great pleasure in talking solemnly to Paul who could now string together quite long sentences. We all got on famously; he had found me some very nice digs with a good woman who loved having the soldiers’ wives to stay, especially from London. She felt that she was doing her bit towards the war effort by making little families such as ours happy for a week at a time. It meant such a lot to be together for a week like this, and the weather was kind to us and we were able to get out into the country and all got to know one another again.

The only night I ever stayed up all night during the war was the night when the third Reich decided to launch an attack with their secret weapon which had been prepared for a great spearhead attack on our shores. We had been warned about this secret weapon often on the radio and in the press but we had been inclined to regard it in the light of fiction rather than fact and always inclined to pooh-pooh the idea of anything really harmful. It seemed too far-fetched altogether for reality. A great shock was in store for us.

The siren had sounded about eight thirty that night and I had gone to the shelter with all our requirements for the sojourn of the night: candles, bedding, matches, my book and the very necessary tottypot. Last of all I carried down two tousle-headed sleepy little boys, each snug and warm in his own feather sleeping bag.

They fell off to sleep again as soon as I had laid them on the bunks and I blew out the candle and opened up the door curtain to stand looking out at the silent gardens surrounding me. There did not seem to be another soul in the world; the moon was bright and I stood for a while wondering how Joe was and thinking perhaps that he was lonely too, and like me looking out into this strangely quiet night.

It was then that I saw the flame going very quickly across the sky. I watched carefully, not understanding what this flaming engine could be, although I knew it was some kind of aircraft. Suddenly the engine cut out and now there was no flame and I was shocked and bewildered when there was a terrific explosion not far away and the sound of falling debris. I could hear the wardens’ whistles blowing and now I could see another flame coming across the sky, a little while later that engine failed just as the first one had done; the flame went out and after a few moments another terrific explosion.

It was all very puzzling but I don’t think that I was very frightened at that stage. I closed the shelter curtain behind me and stood right out in the garden trying to discover what was going on. The thing that I could not understand was that there had been little or no gunfire.

After witnessing about five of the strange episodes, the gun barrage on the forest started and all the other gunnery sites for miles around took up the hint and belched forth everything in their power at this odd target that presented itself every quarter hour or so in the sky.

When the guns started I got down into the shelter and closed the curtains and lit the candle. One of the boys stirred and I knelt beside him and sang softly until he fell off to sleep again. I could not rest or read and I was far too restless to lay on my bunk until I had found out what was happening outside. I knew these flaming engines were still coming across the sky for although I could not see them they had a peculiar throb to the engine that was different to any of the other German planes and I knew that great destruction was being brought about by the constant explosions.

I knew that this must be yet another example of the German threat to bring us British to our knees. It went on until the early hours, and I sat on my bunk pondering the question, Should I evacuate with my babies or should I stay on here and try to keep a semblance of a home going?

Sometimes I would make up my mind to leave London and then I would run into somebody who had been evacuated, and because they got poor accommodation, or hard beds, crafty landlords, or even just because they couldn’t get fish and chips when they felt like a real supper that they could really enjoy, came home. One neighbour had returned because, “there was nothing else there, ducks, except fresh air”. Anyway, I now had two problems; what was going on outside tonight? and whether to go out of London or stay put.

The night wore on and eventually the all clear sounded and as the boys were still asleep, I went into the house to make myself a cup of tea. It was so good to sit there quietly and so thankful that we had come through another night unscathed. Soon there was a knock at the door. It was two of the wardens who, knowing that I slept in the shelter with my babies, would always come round after a raid to make sure that I was alright. I always left the back gate open for them and if they got no reply at the door they would come down the garden to the shelter and call me to see if all was well or if there was anything that I needed.

I boiled some more water and brewed up for them and for the two fire watchers who would be coming off duty at six o’clock after their two hours long watch. When they came it was only to stay long enough to drink the tea and eat some of the dry rusks of which I always kept a good supply for there were no biscuits about now. I made them with stale bread cut into fingers and dipped in egg thinned down with a drop of milk and then baked.

The four men were all tired but were going up the line to help with the casualties that had been reported. Our area had been lucky compared with other places who had been unlucky enough to have several of these flaming planes, as we called them, land on houses and churches, even a hospital was reported to have been hit.

Knowing the two little boys would soon be wide awake, I made orange juice for them and with some rusks made my way up the garden again. The morning was damp but showed promise of being a nice day. It always amazed me when I heard the birds singing the morning after a raid and often wondered if they had noticed the raid and the gunfire, but they always seemed as lively as before so I suppose they never knew what all the noise was about.

My guess was right and both boys were sitting up calling to each other and laughing and were both very pleased to see the juice and rusks. As they made short work of these, I began to fold up the bedding and open up the door curtain to get the shelter aired, for after a night spent down there it smelled very stuffy and there was the appalling smell of candle wax caused by our heating system. This consisted of two candles stood on saucers with a flower pot (the red earthenware kind) upturned on to the saucer. Surprisingly, this threw out sufficient light and a very good heat.

There was nothing on the early morning news about this strange type of plane that had kept our A.R.P. services alert all night. It merely said that there had been some enemy activity over our shores and that there had been some casualties.

It was late afternoon before we heard that this was indeed Hitler’s secret weapon and we wondered with misgiving how many of them he had in store for us. Pictures of an unexploded weapon which had fallen on Southern England during the first onslaught were in the press next morning along with the warning that the pilotless planes which was what they turned out to be, were safe all the while the engine was still running and the flames were still coming out of the tail, and that it was imperative to seek shelter immediately the engine cut out.

This all looked very simple when written in the paper, but it was impossible to get anything done at all in the next few weeks, for I found that I was listening for airplanes all the time, for often they were in our area without our local siren giving warning of their approach.

I carefully explained to Paul and John that they were to listen to the air planes and if they could see one but could not hear it making any noise they were to call me. They did try their best to do this and when any one of us saw an engine in the sky or heard it cut out we would hurry to the shelter or if we were too late for that, we would gather in the outside toilet. This had no window nowadays; it was covered with a piece of strong cardboard.

The toilet had three very strong walls and as it was the lean-to type, had little or no masonry to fall on us should there be a direct hit in the near vicinity. I always kept a story book in there and the boys could think of nothing nicer than this unusual practice of me sitting on the toilet seat with one of them on either side of me, reading fairy stories to them in the middle of the day.

Sometimes I would hear the engine stop and call to them in my sternest voice to start running to the shelter and they would set off and I would chase after them and gather them up in my arms when I ran out and caught them up. It always took me a few seconds to turn off the gas and try to make the fire as safe as possible.

I developed a technique in order to leave the fire safe, but yet still burning in order to have the house a bit warm to come into when the raid was over. We would go into the shelter and sing nursery rhymes at the top of our voices and I found it helped to hide my dreadful fear from the boys. We had some building blocks and a few other toys which were kept permanently in the shelter and we would stay down there until the all clear sounded.

It was no good; I could not fool myself any longer; Hitler had me worried. These wretched doodle bugs came so quickly and brought so much destruction in their wake that I did not feel justified any longer in staying in London.

I made up my mind to leave London and while my mind was made up I wrote to my uncle who kept a small tillage farm near the banks of the river Medway. I asked him whether he could put up with me and the two boys until the end of the war, which I felt must really be in its final stages by now.

He wrote back at once to say I could come whenever I liked. He was an established bachelor and had lived in the old house alone since the death of my grandfather in 1942 and I think he was very pleased to have some company. He always got on famously with children and my boys proved no exception.

We decided that his big front parlour was the best room for me to use as it was huge and completely unused for a long time before this, and being downstairs it was safer than taking the boys upstairs to bed. We soon got a fire going and quickly turned the parlour into a bedsitter for three.

On the face of it, it wasn’t a very healthy place to choose to evacuate myself to for the doodle bugs were being sent in over the Kent coast and although the Ack Ack boys were stationed on the coast, and shooting a very large percentage of them into the sea before they ever reached our shores, the ones that got through usually came in our direction.

The great thing for me was that I had company there and my uncle to talk to in the evening. There were lots of other relatives in and around the village and I was able to swap recipes with them, and learned how to make sponge cakes with dried egg and how to make whale meat taste like something else. I don’t think we ever made it taste any better, but it was different.

My uncle supplied all our vegetables and they were really lovely. He was also able to let me have plenty of eggs and in return I was able to keep him supplied with enough margarine for his needs for he always liked lots of bread with his meals and with the extra cheese which was allowed to farm workers we all managed very well. We had the occasional chicken or rabbit which he shot in the fields.

The civil defence people were very active workers in the village and they very soon decided that I needed a shelter, for the one in the garden which my grandfather had used was really just a shored-up hole in the ground, and not really safe to take my babies into. They all had a conference about it and it was arranged that a table type shelter would be erected in the parlour where we had set up home. It was huge, and was in fact six and a half feet in length and four feet wide, made of solid steel; the table top was riveted onto the legs and base. Underneath the table, about five inches from the ground, was a spring on which the bedding was arranged and the idea of this sturdy construction was that it would take the weight of a collapsed ceiling or building and thus enable one to crawl out safely.

We had an hilarious afternoon on the Saturday when the shelter was erected; the wardens and Uncle Wick were all working very hard and every now and again one of the boys would escape with a vital nut or bolt and have to be chased until it was retrieved. However, once it was altogether we all stood around and admired their handiwork and it said a great deal for the size of the room that the shelter did not look too out of place when I had arranged my very largest tablecloth on it. We all had tea together to celebrate the erection of my table shelter and we all sat round and chatted for the rest of the evening and some of the A.R.P. anecdotes were really funny.


Uncle Wick & Uncle Charlie

The shelter was prepared for a bad raid by putting an old feather mattress inside and I kept the candles and matches and first aid kit in there too, and it proved a safe hiding place for our tin of sweets.

The delivery vans from the towns used to bring groceries and meat and bread to the village but I found that it often suited me better to go into the town myself and although it was about three miles with three very steep hills to climb, I had lots of time and the boys were all the better for getting out of the village at times. I would take the pram and they could ride when they were tired. We spent our coupons and sometimes there were treats like oranges or bananas available on the children’s ration books.

One day when I got to the town I was told that one particular shop was selling ice cream and, in spite of it being early December, as the boys had never seen or even heard of ice cream, I decided to try to get some for them. However, when I got to the shop, the queue was so long that I didn’t attempt to wait that day but soon after that time that shop often had a placard up advertising the ice cream for sale and I would buy some on most trips to town.

The raids did not worry me a great deal and being in Kent we sometimes had the opportunity to watch a dog fight in the sky. We were rather stupid for we stood out in the open to watch these fights and often the guns of both the German and the British fighters were firing and the place would get spattered with machine gun bullets.

Invariably the Jerry would get shot down and the British pilot would put his plane into a Victory Roll. That is, to turn right over in the sky and when he landed, he would have one more stroke to paint on the side of his plane where the score of Kills was kept. One of the Doodlebugs landed just inside the village early one afternoon and I joined a host of other people from the nearby houses on a trek to see the wreckage. The most surprising thing about it was the size of it; the body was almost complete and we were amazed at the smallness of it for it seemed in direct ratio to the damage and misery these things could cause; luckily this particular one had landed in a field and although it had knocked down one of the huge electricity pylons which meant there was no electricity in the village for a long time, no other damage was done.

My uncle was a farmer, but he did not keep any animals except pigs, and a few chickens in the yard were the only other livestock; it was mostly arable land so we had all the fields to wander in and we spent many happy hours with picnics watching the harvest being gathered in that summer. We often struck lucky too in being given the odd rabbit or pheasant which made a delicious change to bully beef or vegetable stew with a couple of oxo cubes in it trying hard to take the place of stewing beef.

The boys caught butterflies and caterpillars and picked many a bunch of wild flowers that summer for I took them for long walks whenever the weather was fine and we would take our food with us and picnic.

Joe came home for a week’s leave at the end of the summer and it was just grand being together again. We treasured these odd times when we could spend a few days as a family again for in truth we did not know whether we would ever see each another again. He got on well with my uncle and my cousin Jimmy who ran the farm with Uncle Wick and we enjoyed the evenings chatting round the fire and tried to forget the war for a while. He would save all his tobacco ration for my uncle, who found it very difficult to eke out his ration of shag for the required period. All his sweet ration was religiously saved for the boys.

I missed him dreadfully when he returned to his unit but I led a fairly busy life these days and in the evening I was making my first rag rug, made by cutting up any old woollen clothing into short strips and threading them into a hearthrug sized sack. I also did a good bit of sewing and knitting. It was considered a crime to throw away the slightest bit of good material and hints on how to make new things out of worn out ones were a feature of every newspaper and magazine, and indeed it was so difficult for anyone to buy new things that even people like me, who before the war could hardly thread a needle, became skilled in the art of Make Do and Mend, which was one of the slogans chalked up everywhere to goad us on to win the war on the home front. I learned to accept gifts of small balls of wool left over from knitting large garments and I knitted them into little jerseys for the boys and because there were so many scraps, the finished garments looked like Joseph’s coat of many colours, but they were warm and serviceable, and had the greatest advantage of costing no more than the labour of knitting them.

When Joe had been gone back a couple of months I realized there was to be a third child born to us, and I began to hope for a daughter. It was strange that I did not feel that three children would be too much to cope with but was quite happy about it for I felt that the war could not possibly go on for much longer and that this baby would be born in a world without bombs and air raids.


With Paul, John, and Anne

The second front had started in June that year and the news was very often of great progress made by the allied armies. We listened religiously to the news programme each night and Uncle Wick and I would follow the progress of the troops with a series of little Union Jacks with pins for flagstaffs. Lots of people kept abreast of the war with the aid of our map and great discussions would rage as to the wisdom or otherwise of the commanders.

The first crossing of the Rhine that summer caused great excitement and the two boys invented a game called Crossing the Rhine which consisted of crossing the living room by a series of little jumps and if they fell it was counted that they had fallen into the water. It was a wonderful game and I feel sure that as long as they live they will always remember the river Rhine as the first river they had ever heard of.

There was one period when all news from the second front was being withheld for a party of very brave soldiers were trapped trying to capture a bridge at Arnhem and the silence about movement was to try and ensure that the enemy got no clue to their whereabouts from the radio. It was talked over anxiously each night in the big warm kitchen at Cuxton.

Christmas at Cuxton was a great feast and my two uncles had permission to kill one of their pigs. The amount of form filling that went on in a farm in these days was prodigious, and for the killing of a pig there were stacks of extra ones. Both men had to give up a whole half year’s supply of bacon coupons in order to get the right to arrange the killing. However, all the preliminary details were overcome and soon came the day when he was killed and brought in. I had cleared the kitchen of all furniture except the big whitewood table and I was very surprised when he completely covered the top of the table. The fire had been kept well stoked up since early morning as I had been warned that I must have plenty of boiling water ready at the vital moment. This was required to get the bristles off the skin and there was a ritual of using the exact quantity of boiling water and an equally exact quantity of cold water which had to be added at the right moment to be just right for the job. It took the men the best part of an hour to clean the carcass and then we cleaned up the kitchen ready for the next part of the operation, which was cutting the entire carcass in half, then each uncle had his own half pig to cut up to his own liking and into the joints he felt best suited his requirements.

We were up most of the night for as soon as the pans of hot water had been used the pan was put on the hot stove again ready for the making of the brawn. All the choicest bits of the head were used for sausage making and all the bits and scraps were thrown into the pots as they were discarded from the bits put aside for the sausages. Both the men knew exactly what seasoning was needed for the different mixtures, having performed this ceremony for years, and I just tried to obey orders implicitly, for although I had always heard the stories of the pig killing, I had never had the luck to be present before.

The thing that surprised me most was the terrific amount of meat afforded by one pig and the amount of offal was tremendous. Every big dish and vessel was in use. The huge liver and kidney had been meticulously divided and there was suet in great quantity. The intestine cases were turned inside out and washed and rewashed, and were then ready for the blood and other puddings which could be stored for later use.

The great joints were huge and were a sight to do one’s heart good after the great meat and offal shortage of the previous years. Everyone worked with a will and after many hours spent packing away the meat and making the sausages, we were ready to make the brawn. It was a messy business but it all smelt so wonderful that we worked like Trojans and soon every dish and bowl in the house was full of some kind of pork.

After Christmas was over and we had settled down to ordinary rations again after the lovely feeds we had from the pig killing, and pork sausages were something to dream about until next Christmas, I began to have very bad legs.

They were terribly painful and throbbed and ached so much that I scarcely knew how to bear the agony. The doctor came and to my surprise, diagnosed varicose veins as the cause of the trouble. I had always imagined that veins giving as much pain as I was suffering would be both large and protruding.

He advised to get measured for elastic stocking and kneecaps. They gave me great relief from the pain but were most uncomfortable to wear and I let out huge sighs of relief when I took them off.

The doctor was amazed when I told him that I had come to see him on the recommendation of my uncle, for he said he did not know my uncle as one of his patients but only as one of the darts players of the district, and he told me to question Uncle Wick about being one of his patients. Sure enough when I asked him he said that it was his doctor right enough but that he had never had cause to attend his surgery, but he was the doctor that he wanted sent for if ever he was ill and I promised to remember this.

I continued going to this doctor for my ante-natal examinations and it was through him that I got fixed up to go away for my baby to be born in Tunbridge Wells. Kent certainly had the most wonderful facilities for helping people in my position and it gradually became arranged that the boys would be admitted to a residential nursery to enable me to go away for a week or two for a rest before the arrival of the new baby.

In February, the boys contracted whooping cough and they whooped away by day and by night. The nights were dreadful for the room was not properly blacked out and I could only have the faintest glimmer in the oil lamp for illumination. I spent night after night going from one to the other soothing them after these terrible bouts of coughing and I got very tired and my legs protested more and more with so little rest.

The whoops died away gradually and both boys began to pick up slowly when an epidemic of measles hit the village. Paul being so low in resistance was one of the first to succumb. He was very ill and the doctor came often to see him, the rash had made his skin irritable and the only way I could help was to bathe his hot little body with vinegar and water which gave him some relief. He was always thirsty and I don’t know what I would have done without the government issue of orange for he would drink this well sweetened with sugar when he was unable to eat.

Paul had been ill for about a week but John was still in the best of spirits although still very thin from the long spell of whooping cough. He was very lively, in fact much too lively for me to cope with, and he kept me on the trot during all his waking hours.I undressed him that night and after he had been washed, I sat him in the armchair by the fire to drink his milk and the heat must have brought out the measles rash for by the time I got him to bed he was covered from the top of his head down to his very tiny small toe. He was not in the least ill, and in the next few days my greatest precautions were not able to keep him in bed. The little wretch spent every moment of the day trying to get out to see Uncle Wick. He escaped from the darkened room countless times and Uncle Wick would laugh both at John and at my concern, and give him titbits which only encouraged him; they were every bit as bad as each other. It was all very well at the time but in a few months it was apparent that although he had not been bodily ill with measles, it had taken a terrible toll, for his sight suffered and has been poor ever since.

Paul gradually regained his strength and we were all looking forward now to the end of hostilities and for the day when the men would be home for good.