Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Victory in spite of all terror

I got an email from my mother and she included these memories, all of which I'd heard in dribs and drabs, but this is the first time I've seen some of them written down.  She's referring to her experiences during the Blitz in Sutton (Surrey), and it always fascinates and moves me.  I'll press for details on that and try to get her to write a bit on her eventual evacuation to the Lake Country.  Apparently this was late in the Blitz, and her details confirm this as the V-1 (Doodlebug) bombing began in June '44.  Also note that she's referring to some postwar details as well, as her father was away for most of the War in North Africa and Italy.

I lived through a war and everything it entailed. The house I was raised in had no running hot water. No bathroom. Outside toilet complete with Jeremy the spider (if you saw him then it was ok to go in if you kept your eye on him. If he was not in sight then where was he?) No electricity for years only gas lights etc... No heating except a coal fire (if we had any coal). Then coke that we had to queue up for for hours that we carried in an old pram (baby carriage to Americans).

No TV of course only a radio that transmitted the news on the war efforts. We had an Anderson shelter [I think she's referring to a Morrison shelter] in the front room that when the sirens went off and the searchlights began we had to run for, not forgetting our gas masks. Listening to the doodlebugs was nerve-racking. Also the blackout curtains that had to be put up at the windows.

As we did not have a bath room we had a bath tub in the scullery (kitchen) that had a big board over it, which had to be removed before one could take a bath. We had that bath once a week and we all bathed in the same water. 5 of us. Before we were older we used a tin tub in front of the fireplace (the one that did not put out any heat). That fireplace was the sole heat we had in the house. The kitchen (family room) was so small only mum and dad had a small chair. The only other furniture was a table with six small hard chairs around it so if we children wanted to sit on a chair we had to climb over all the chairs to get to our seat. Or we sat on the floor. Which was stony cold as we had thin rugs not wall to wall carpet.

Everything was on ration. We kids would stand for hours in a queue waiting to buy with our coupon a loaf of bread (not sliced). We would buy a half-pound of broken biscuits. Us children would have hand me down clothes even underwear. Our socks were darned so much it was all darn and no socks. We wore cardboard in our shoes because of the holes in the shoes. This was in winter with snow and ice. I could go on and on. So you see life has not always been good for me and my sisters. But strangely enough we were happy but very cold.

I should write my memoirs.



  1. That's a moving story, Daurade. I'd love to hear more.

    5 sisters & no boys if I got that right?

    I'm surprised that homes in Surrey didn't have hot water, electricity, basements/cellars, or indoor bathrooms in the 40s! Your mom, like my grandma, must remember the first time she saw a lightbulb?

    Also--no basement, but coal heat?

    I lived in a cabin for a few months w/ no basement & only a woodstove for heat, & man I'll tell you what, when it snowed, it got *cold* in there, couldn't get a fire to go all night so you'd heat the place up to fall asleep only to wake up shivering...though the mice didn't seem to mind, and I was in my 20s, so I really didn't either, but were that now & I had a gaggle of kids? Christ.

    Was Surrey actually bombed, or was it generally Germans flying overhead to bomb London?

    Can't imagine what it was like for your mom's parents, raising kids with Nazi bombers & rationed food & cold not stopped & no son to shovel coal & dad might go to war & mum and kids might pack up north...

  2. Already hit submit but wanted to say sorry if I were sexist in assume girls/women didn't normally shovel coal. But there might have been some extra burden felt by a father with no sons in that time and in that situation?

  3. Four sisters in total....when she refers to five people she means her, two sisters and her parents. Her third sister is quite a bit younger so she wasn't born at the time. I think she's referring to the period just after the war, because her father was away for most of it...something like five years.

    Yes, it's hard to believe the 19th-century set-up of their house...I guess the war accelerated in a way the much infrastructure destroyed it was rebuilt with more up to date technology.

    Sutton, though technically Surrey, is quite far north in the county, a part of London's urban sprawl basically. Being a poor neighborhood it was where they'd built a gasworks, so not only was it incidentally bombed, Sutton had a big fat target painted on it. My mom recalls seeing her mother blown across their living room from a blast, seeing fireballs and walls of fire going down their street. Harrowing shit.

    As for the basement, I think they must have had a bin outside....from what I gather the fireplace could only hold a few small lumps of coal anyway. Not very effective!

    Where was the cabin you lived in? Minnesota? Gawd! I spent the night in a cabin during the blizzard of 92 (or was it 93?) I remember the shivering!

    Not sure of how her father felt about all this. Like you, I can't imagine.

  4. Yellow Stone's where my cabin was. Quite different from your mother's experience, of course, in that this was my choice. Plus I'd lived previously lived differently.

  5. Gid, I don't remember any of that at all. When was this?

    Also, I've got a more harrowing war tale in the works, but I've got to interview my mother-in-law first. This involves Argentina's "Dirty War". It will be a difficult and painful thing to write about....


Thanks for taking the time to comment!

Need to add an image? Use this code: [ximg]IMAGE-URL-HERE[x/img]. You will need to remove the the boldface x's from the code to make it work.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.