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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