EAMS: Early Memories

Monday, October 31, 2005

CERNE ABBAS 1940-1945. (6)

Meanwhile, the invasion of France continued: my mother could hear the bombardment as far away as Cerne. In his letter of June 18th 1944, my father wrote:
"These new pilotless planes gave me a sleepless night on Thursday, which was my night on duty. The "alert" went at 11.30 and we did not get the "all clear" until 9.30 the next morning - the longest raid since the winter of 1940-41. Nothing seemed to be happening in the middle of London, and we only heard the gun-fire at long intervals, but still being on duty I had to be awake all the time. I think they are going to be more of a nuisance than anything else. Indeed, it does not seem that they can be an effective weapon of war."

In Cerne the previous Friday night:
"We heard a great crash just before we went to bed and found that an American lorry had backed into the windows of the paper shop" [now the Post Office]. "It not only broke the glass but the wood-work as well. The sound of the glass being swept up reminded me of the morning after an air-raid."

Until recently the replacement window still had different sized panes of glass and glazing bars from those on the right hand side of the door: the window was not fully restored until after it had again been smashed, this time during a night-time raid when the Post Office safe was thrown through it. This happened just as Cerne was about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of V.E. Day.

By August, 80% of the flying bombs which came over were being destroyed, but on September 8th the first rockets reached London. My father never talked to me about his part in the War and life in London at that time. When I was little he used to entertain me by imitating the sound of a doodlebug, but that was all.

Transport at that time cannot have been easy, but my father continued travelling all over the country by train in order to appear in court in such towns as Nottingham, Sheffield, Cambridge and Watford. And of course there was the weekly commute between London and Cerne. He described his journeys from Cerne to catch the train back to London from Dorchester in a letter to his father in November 1944:
"I have no difficulty about getting a car in Cerne and I always have one if it is wet, cold or dark. When I do ride [his bicycle] I always have a waterproof cape, leggings and sou'wester in the bag at the back in case it comes to rain on the way. When the weather is decent I enjoy the ride but do not set out if it is not fine. During the school term there is a bus which leaves Cerne at 8.30 and I travel on that very often and have a car to meet me on Friday."

Because of his poor eyesight he never learnt to drive a car, and neither did my mother.

My personal memories of that time are mostly trouble-free. I remember falling into the stream which runs down Abbey Street from the duck pond, and meeting Minkey Patterson, who lived opposite, as I climbed out. She told me that my mother was looking for me along the mill-stream path, so I must have escaped from her watchful eye and run on ahead, while she feared that an accident had befallen me. I remember too, being pushed along by the mill-stream in my push chair one afternoon and seeing a horse and rider on the opposite bank.

Celandines used to grow in profusion on the bank just inside the gate to the burial ground when the path up to Belvoir was line with yew trees (felled in the 1960's when they became diseased). I have lots of early memories of flowers: primroses in the hedgerows, as there still are, and nasturtiums and "Chinese Lanterns" in the Pitchmarket garden.

One event which is not mentioned in any of the letters to my grandfather is the "privy" I made out of a hat box in my bedroom, and used! I was fascinated by the outside privy at Kay and Nurses' cottage and wanted one of my own!

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Friday, October 28, 2005

CERNE ABBAS 1940-1945. (5)

By now, there was a "coastal ban" in force. It stretched for more than ten miles inland, and included the whole of the Rural District of Dorchester, in which Cerne was. Once you were lawfully within the area you could move about freely - so from Cerne you could go to Dorchester or Weymouth, but could not if you wanted to have any visitors from outside the area. You could not go to Bournemouth for instance, because it was in another area.

It was now the end of March 1944, the weather was warmer, and we had lunch in the garden one weekend and tea under the Giant.

Despite her dislike of the wartime years in Cerne, there must surely have been times when my mother appreciated the advantages of life in the country at that time. Coal was scarce, and one had to have a licence to obtain it - but wood seems to have been readily available. Full cream milk too, from Lord Digby's herd of cows, was delivered to the village by Lord and Lady Digby themselves. I remember watching Miss Kendall (Kay) skimming the cream off milk which had been left to settle in a wide shallow dish, in the traditional manner.

Unlike most of my later London school friends, I was no stranger to rich cream - but they used to turn up their noses at the small amount of thin stuff which passed as cream, which topped the tiny bottles of school milk that we were supposed to drink during our mid-morning break.

My parents grew their own vegetables, as everyone was supposed to do - not potatoes, as they did not have enough room, but most other things including fruit.

Surprisingly, scabies was reported to have broken out in some parts of Dorset in 1944.

On to April and Easter. My father reported that we had
"...started the day without an egg in the house, and by bed-time we had been given no fewer than seventeen by three different people. As you can imagine, we celebrated Easter with boiled eggs for breakfast!"

He had also noticed a great improvement in the quality of bread during the last few days, and there were quite a lot of oranges about.

My grandfather Squibb sent me some chocolate and a book for Easter with which I was very pleased, and thought Easter was almost as nice as Christmas. My father told him that I was well and very happy, and he was glad that I was spending my first few years in such healthy surroundings. He could not believe that I would like it when I had to spend part of my time in London.

It was now five years since my parents had decided to take the Pitchmarket. They had spent that Easter in an hotel in Wyke Regis, which had later been requisitioned at the outbreak of war. He remembered that the weather that weekend in 1939 had been beautiful the whole time.

Early May, and the apple trees were in bloom in the garden. They still had a few of the previous year's crop left, but the next weekend's heavy frost and a hailstorm knocked off a lot of the blossom, and there were fears for the strawberry crop too, which was in full flower. There were the first of the home-grown radishes for tea, and I watched the aircraft flying over the house.

My father was always afraid that I might inherit his poor eyesight, so he was delighted that I could see the tow-ropes on the gliders (which I called "ciders") and could also read the letters on low-flying aeroplanes. The year before I had been calling planes "cuckoos" and had seemed a bit scared of them, running indoors when I saw one - but now I was taking a great interest in them and included airmen, along with soldiers and sailors, in my bed-time prayers. It must have been about this time that I remember being greatly taken by the photograph of a pilot in a magazine, which I used to gaze at with great devotion!

Weymouth and Portland were among the major loading ports for the invasion of Normandy, and from 6th June 1944 to 7th May 1945, over 500,000 troops and over 144,000 vehicles embarked across the Channel from these harbours. For weeks before sailing, the troops were encamped in the Dorset countryside, waiting to be shipped across to France. According to my father, one of the chief objects of the coastal ban was to prevent women following the troops!

Certainly the ban seems to have made travelling by train between Waterloo and Weymouth much easier, for my father had no difficulty in finding a seat. This was in sharp contrast to a journey he had made between Cambridge and Liverpool Street that June, which he described as being one of the most uncomfortable he had ever had. He had been lucky even to get onto the train, as a good many people had been left behind, but he just managed to squeeze into the corridor. The journey to Cambridge had been rather a waste of time anyway: his case had been due to come before the magistrates that day, a Saturday too, but the defendant had paid up that morning.

Meanwhile my poor mother was going through the ordeal of gradually having all her teeth extracted. Her troubles had started in the January with the abcess, and her gums had now become very septic. By 1st June all her bottom teeth had been removed and a denture fitted.

My father had a mid-week appeal at Salisbury Quarter Sessions, and as she had never been to Salisbury, he took her with him, hoping a little change beforehand would help her with the ordeal of having the remaining teeth out on her return. They stayed at the White Hart Hotel, which was noisy with all the U.S. Army traffic passing by, but my mother seems to have enjoyed her visit, despite the early heraldic glass in the Cathedral having been moved to safety and some of the early tombs also being covered over. They went there and back by the Wilts and Dorset bus, and I was left in the care of Kay.

More teeth were extracted on their return, and the last not until June 18th. The last extraction had caused the poison from her septic gums to spread, and the entire trauma left her feeling very ill. The dentist told her she should feel a lot better after three months!

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

CERNE ABBAS 1940-1945. (4)

It is useful to be able to jog my memory by reading the weekly letters which my father wrote to his father in Chester during 1944. In his letter of January 10th, he described a visit we made to Weymouth for me to play on the beach. There were invasion exercises going on, and he and my mother watched some amphibious tanks sailing between the beach and a large barge which stood a little way out to sea. However I was much more interested in building sandcastles.

Later in the month, arrangements were being made for me to have my photograph taken at Cummings Studio in St Thomas Street, Weymouth. My mother was making me a dress to wear for the photograph, which I remember well: it was rust red Viyella with a lace collar.

January was also the start of her teeth problems, which were to continue for many months. She had painful abcesses, and two of her bottom teeth were taken out. To add to all their difficulties and disruptions there was a power cut one weekend, and they had to cook breakfast on the sitting-room fire.

February brought gales, the planting of shallots in the garden, and my parents' eighth wedding anniversary. Cerne had a delivery of oranges, to my great delight.

Back in London, my father was having a noisy time fire watching. All of the windows at the Oxford and Cambridge Club, where he was now living, were blown out in a raid one night. Nobody was hurt by flying glass, he had not yet gone to bed, and ended up sleeping at the United University Club. The London Library was damaged the same night. He spent the next week at the Norfolk Court Hotel in Hampstead, which he found very cold, and they were getting short of fuel for the fires in Chambers too. The following week he moved to the Hampstead Towers Hotel, which he said was an improvement.

At home in Cerne, my mother and I had bad colds in spite of anti-flu/cold injections, and the telephones had been cut off, though not the village call box. My mother had another seven teeth out and was feeling shattered, so it could not have improved matters when I found a cake she had baked and proceeded to "ice" it with salt and pepper. When rebuked, I offered to make amends by singing a song!

Fuel problems continued in Chambers, where after a day without any fires they managed to get a very small delivery. In Cerne, there had been a delivery of wood from a man in Sydling St. Nicholas, just before they ran out. It was very cold and had tried to snow.

Next week's news was more cheerful. It was by now the second week in March, and the photo session in Weymouth had taken place. There was such a shortage of photographic material that they could only use one plate, so there would only be three prints: one for us, and one each for the two lots of grandparents.

Our one was always on my father's desk for the rest of his life. It shows me sitting at a table wearing the dress my mother had made for me, and holding my little wicker basket full of shells which I had collected from the beach that day. The sandy part of the beach was closed, so we had to make do with the pebbly end.

EAMS: 3 years 5 months old. Click to enlarge.

Meanwhile my father had been to see his Cousin Flo, who lived in Radipole, to talk to her about her Will. She gave him a small dog-whip made from a deer's leg to give to me. I treasured both the whip and my little basket for many years, but the whip disappeared when we moved back to Cerne from Belfield in 1955, only reappearing in 1990 in the woodshed when my second husband Joe and I were turning it out. By then damp had just about destroyed it, and I regretfully had to throw it away. But I do still have a green Mad Hatter mug with a lithophane of a girl feeding her two kittens in the base, which Grandpa Squibb had given me, mentioned in the same letter of 13th March.

My mother made a small drawing of me, amongst several of hers which still exist, and which I remember her doing. To keep me still, I sat on my father's lap by the big fireplace in the sitting room while he read me a story, probably a Winnie The Pooh one. He enjoyed reading Pooh stories, and A.A. Milne poems from When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. Amongst his favourites were The Knight Whose Armour Didn't Squeak and The King's Breakfast. I was growing fast too, my father said, and now took size 10 shoes, which he thought was very large for my age.

There were more fuel shortages, and it was now necessary to obtain a permit for further supplies. Mr Pickett, the head clerk, had got a permit to buy a ton of coal for Chambers - but now that he had the permit, he was unable to get the coal. To his great relief, my father was now back at the Oxford and Cambridge Club.

I was aware there was a war on, but took it all for granted as I had never known life to be any different. On fine sunny afternoons, I used to see the planes flying overhead on their way to France while I played in the Pitchmarket garden.

A German plane came down over Sydling and Mr England, the village baker, went to arrest the airmen. One of them was said to have come quietly - but the other, whose parachute had been caught in a tree, put up some resistance. My mother told me that they had both been marched through Cerne Abbas and were booed at by the crowd of villagers who had come to watch. My mother felt ashamed by such behaviour.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

CERNE ABBAS 1940-1945. (3)

Landing, The Pitchmarket, 1940's.

Tom, our big black tabby cat, had been adopted by my mother when she was living in Betty Surtees House in Newcastle, and working as a librarian at Durham University before she was married. Tom had come from the Newcastle docks, and remained semi-wild and fiercely independent.

After I was born and we had come to live at the Pitchmarket, he took umbrage and decided to move next door to The Old House, where there were other cats for company. There he stayed for some time, passing through our garden in a disdainful manner, refusing to have anything to do with any of us. Then one day he decided to return, as suddenly as he had left.

But he and I did not get on together. He would scratch me - and I, so I was told, used to hit him on the head with the coal shovel. On one occasion when Kay (who helped my mother after Pam had left to get married) was skinning a rabbit, I came in carrying the unfortunate cat: "Peel Tom", I said.

It might have been round about the same time that I remarked, while watching Nurse (the District Nurse who shared a cottage with Kay) who was also skinning a rabbit: "His running days are over, I think." (October 1944)

Unfortunately my relationship with poor Tom became so bad that my mother told my father that either I or the cat had to go. Rather reluctantly, my father decided it would have to be the cat. I can see him now, leaving the house in the morning on his way to the vet in Dorchester with Tom in his cat basket for the last time. I used to use the basket after that for my doll's clothes.

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Friday, October 21, 2005

CERNE ABBAS 1940-1945. (2)

My early memories have stayed clear in my mind, and remain like vivid snapshots.

The earliest of these is of one sunny summer afternoon, sitting in my high-chair by the french window in the room next to the kitchen at the Pitchmarket. My high-chair, which was made of a light coloured wood, had legs which hinged half way down so that they could be folded in half - so making the seat at floor level, with the panel at the base of the chair upturned to form a large tray in front of me, with two rows of coloured wooden beads down each side, and plenty of room for my toys.

As I sat there, diagonally facing and to the right of the window, with the afternoon sunshine pouring through, I can very clearly remember thinking that this was much better than the chair's usual upright position, wondering why it had not been thought of before, and hoping it would happen again!

I can just about remember sitting up in my pram - a lovely shiny black affair - and can certainly remember seeing it stored away in what was then a lumber room over the passageway between the Pitchmarket and Abbey Cottage. I wanted to climb back into it, but it was too high to do so.

The passageway was a shared access between the two houses to their gardens at the rear. Abbey Cottage was owned by a Mr Beresford, who was my parents' landlord. The relationship seems to have been an acrimonious one, starting with some sort of dispute to do with drains in October 1939, continuing in February 1940 with an argument over the key of the passageway, with further threatening correspondence in February 1942. It must have been a relief to all concerned when in October 1944 Abbey Cottage was sold privately to a retired tea-planter from Assam with a young wife and son, aged two, with whom I used to play. I can just remember him - I think he had red hair.

My best friend at the time was Penelope Fry. She and her mother lived at 6 Abbey Street. I'm not sure if her mother was a widow, or if her husband was away in the Services, but later I was told that she had a reputation for consorting with the American soldiers. I wrote a little story for Penelope on her fourth birthday about a farmer and his ducklings, which I also illustrated.

Many years later, when she was a student nurse at the Westminster hospital, she became a lodger of an old school friend of mine, Rachel MacOwen, through whom she returned the little book to me - but we never met again after I left Cerne in 1945.

My bedroom at the Pitchmarket was at the back of the house overlooking the garden, and my parents had the one in the front. On one occasion, a foot of their four-poster bed came through the ceiling of the floor below. There was a gate at the top of the stairs to prevent me falling down them when I was learning to walk. I can just remember being in my drop-sided cot in a small narrow room next to my parents' bedroom. I was moved to a proper bed in the bedroom in July 1944.

Whenever I was a bit poorly, or generally just out of sorts, my mother would resort to dosing me with a horrible-tasting cure-all in which she showed great faith: Steadman's Powders. Each dose, which came in its own individually folded piece of white paper, would be mixed with water and given to me to drink.

There was a small red booklet containing advice on the treatment of all possible ailments from Croup to Whooping-Cough, most of which, it stated, could be successfully treated by a timely dose of Steadman's Powders - although for the more serious illnesses, such as Diphtheria, it was recommended that one should "call a doctor immediately", in heavy type. The booklet also contained photographs of healthy happy children, with letters from their equally happy looking mothers who were so pleased with the miraculous results of using these foul-tasting powders.

I hated and dreaded having to take them.

On one occasion, I was sitting up in bed when a glass containing that night's dose was handed to me. As soon as my mother had left the room I spat it out, all over the wall. There was no way of disguising what I had done. Another dose was prepared, and my mother stood over me while I swallowed it.

I have much fonder memories of the garden where I used to play. My parents grew vegetables throughout the War, strawberries and raspberries too, and there were several apple trees; but my mother, always a keen gardener, grew lots of flowers as well. I had my own small wheelbarrow, which got lost in the move to Belfield later on.

I can remember sitting on my mother's knee while she taught me to read, and how excited I felt when one day I suddenly discovered I could read on my own.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

CERNE ABBAS 1940-1945. (1)

A newspaper cutting, probably from The Times, slipped inside the pages of my "Baby Book", records that:
"On 17th October 1940, at the Imperial Nursing Home, Harrogate, to Bessie and George Drewry Squibb of Cerne Abbas, Dorset and 8 East Heath Road, Hampstead NW3, a daughter."
The book records that I was born at midnight and the doctors in attendance were "Currie and Warham" and the nurse "A.G.U. Crosthwaith". It had been a long and difficult birth - labour had lasted sixty hours. This was against all expectations, but my mother was thirty four, and the stress of wartime life may have been a contributing factor. I was a big baby too, weighing 8lbs at birth, having "rosy cheeks, thick brown hair and very dark blue eyes and quite a temper".

I was born in Harrogate because my mother's parents were living there at the time and the Blitz was causing havoc in London. My father's Chambers were at 5 Crown Office Row, which had probably been damaged when a bomb had fallen on Crown Office Row on 25th September 1940. Another bomb fell on the day of my birth, putting Chambers out of action completely, and his barrister's wig, still in its metal box but squashed flat, was rescued from the ruins: when the box was prised open, the wig sprang back into its original shape. A press photograph, taken before and after the box's opening, survives. Crown Office Row was entirely demolished and rebuilt in the 1950's.

However I was not to remain in Harrogate for long. On December 7th 1940, I travelled with my parents, by taxi, from there to the Pitchmarket Cerne Abbas, a journey of three hundred miles. They were to be ready to depart by 6 o'clock on the Saturday morning as there was to be no overnight stop. They took a cooked chicken with them and arranged for vegetables to be delivered on their arrival. They stopped for lunch at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford, where my parents took it in turns to go in for lunch, the other remaining with me in the taxi.

My mother had found living with her parents and her sister very trying. She wrote to my father:
"Quite definitely another week is not to be considered chez mon pere. I feel no less ill and have collywobbles."
I did not sleep much between 2 and 4am, which she thought might be "sympathetic nerves". She goes on to write:
"Dr C's (Currie's) letter is reassuring. I'm treated now as a neurotic, and one not responsible for herself!"

Before the War, my parents rented the Pitchmarket as a weekend/holiday home, but shortly after the outbreak of hostilities in 1939, at my father's insistence and my mother's fury, they vacated their flat in Hampstead and moved to Cerne. My father moved into digs at 4 Rosslyn Hill, at the lower end of Hampstead High Street during the week, coming down to the Pitchmarket for weekends and the legal vacations.

Left on her own, unused to life in a small village, with only Tom, her cat, for company when she longed to be back in London with my father doing her "bit" towards the War effort, my mother felt miserable and abandoned. Her first week there in 1939, she wrote to her friend Vi Actland:
"Do write and tell me all the happenings. When I think of the little uniform, tin hat, and all the FUN, I feel utterly frustrated. You are having a full and glorious new life. I am in a little backwater, tied up by a rope like a boat, by a careful and terribly clever husband. God bless him anyway in London, and God keep him and you and all I love."
Her letters to my father, written then and through 1940, however, are always loving and resolutely cheerful. She describes Tom's devotion to her, her new maid, the fourteen year old Pam, and someone called "Mickey", who seems to have helped her keep house for some time. In one letter, not long after leaving East Heath Road, Hampstead, she is concerned that my father, still living in the empty flat, might be sleeping in a damp bed.

My father had applied for membership of the Army Officers' Emergency Reserve in April 1938 and had been accepted in September of that year. However a medical examination in January 1940 had resulted in him being passed only Grade 111 due to his defective eyesight, and this precluded him from membership of the A.O.E.R. Worse was to follow. A further medical examination took place in August that year when he was again passed as Grade 111 and declared unfit to become an officer. It was proposed that he should become a Private in the Pay Corps, with no prospect of promotion.

Apart from anything else, this would have been a financial disaster. As a highly successful barrister in a specialist practice, his income was around £1,500 a year, and a Private's pay would have been a pittance in comparison, not sufficient to pay his commitment of £6.10.0. in rent alone on the Hampstead flat, the lease of which he was unable to get rid of until February 1942. Then there was the Pitchmarket rent, a wife, and soon to be child, to support.

But more worryingly, not only for him but also for the other members of his Chambers, also serving in the Armed Forces, there was the future of the Practice at stake. He was by then the only one left to carry on, apart from the Head of Chambers, Mr Montgomery, who was past the call-up age. Had he gone, Chambers would have had to close, their goodwill, which had taken years to build up, would have vanished and they would have had to start again with nothing at the end of the War.

After much correspondence, his appeal against call-up seems to have been successful, and in October 1941 he enrolled in the Civil Defence for "prevention of fire" duties, which he continued to carry out throughout the Blitz.

We had arrived in Cerne after the long taxi ride from Harrogate on December 7th 1940. On December 19th I was baptised at St Mary's Church by the vicar, John Ray. My godmothers were Elizabeth Lillian Bower and my aunt, Florence May Whittaker. My godfather, Brian Hamilton Bird, was a close friend of my parents from the Oxford days whom we always called "Birdie". After the ceremony, a party was held across the road at The Old House, which at that time was a guest house.

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Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
                                      But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.

T.S. Eliot, "Burnt Norton".

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