Wednesday, 17 January 2007

The Family story – part 10 – the War

My mother, Jane, and her father had moved to a village near Weymouth. Jane was disappointed to find that her new school was not a patch on the previous one. However, home life was much happier. Her father, proud and angry, had left his wife with virtually everything he owned and money was tight, although he owned his bungalow and a car, so he can't have been too badly off. Perhaps he had inherited money when his mother had died. I don't know, this was one amongst many questions I never thought to ask my mother.

He gave housekeeping money to Jane and she kept house. I don't know if she did all the housework or if they had a daily; she never mentioned one. Grandad lived in the bungalow for the rest of his life. It isn't there now; there was a large garden and the house has been pulled down and new houses built - this is in the Coombe (hope I've spelt it right, it's a long time since I wrote it down) Valley in beautiful scenery.

My grandfather was not an easy man to live with - he had left his wife with everything impulsively and rather regretted it, and he had had much unhappiness and disappointment in his life. However, I think it was a happy time. They regularly went to the cinema and belonged to a rambling club. They were both musical - Grandad, at that time, had an oboe, which he later sold in exchange for a clarinet; a Boosey & Hawkes Regent, dating from the early 1950s (he bought it second-hand), which I still play*. Jane played the piano, which she loved. She was self-taught - she always rather resented the fact that her father had refused to pay for lessons - and her most treasured possession was her grandmother's grand piano. They used to hold musical evenings with friends who brought their violin, flute or other instruments.

A year or so later, the War broke out. It seems odd that Weymouth, on the South Coast of England, was used as a refuge, but London children were sent there for safety from the Blitz. It was decided that the local children should go to school in the mornings and the London ones in the afternoon. Books had to be left at school for the others to use. The Headmistress was obsessed with drill and held practices several times a week, when an alarm would ring and all the children had to run out to the air-raid shelter. Jane was receiving no useful education at all, and left school in the summer of 1940, when she was 16.

She went to a secretarial school in Weymouth near the harbour. By this time, there were regular sorties by German war planes and they were intercepted by the British planes. These 'dogfights', as they were called, took place in sight of the school and the girls excitedly ran up on to the flat roof to get the best view. The Principal of the school, a rather dainty, prissy man whose name I have forgotten, hurried up after them, wringing his hands. If they were lucky, a German plane was shot down, the pilots ejected into the water and were rescued and arrested. The girls ran back downstairs again and outside in time to see them being walked dejectedly along the road to the police station. They had always lost their boots and trooped along in socks. This fun came to an abrupt end one day when it was a British plane that was shot down in flames and there were no survivors. The girls never watched the dogfights again. They were also upset when a German plane came down in a field a couple of miles away and was not found until a week later, when it was too late to rescue the pilots who had survived but were trapped.

After she had gained her secretarial qualifications, Jane went to work as Almoner's Assistant at Weymouth Hospital. She enjoyed this job as she loved to meet people. She greeted everyone as they came for their appointments and took records of their health insurance. This was, of course, before the days of the National Health Service, but she said that it worked well and no one (in this hospital) went untreated. They used to pay a penny, or a few pence, a week, depending on their circumstances and this qualified them for full treatment. She prided herself on remembering each person's name and ailment and asked after their family - she contrasted this with my father's treatment ten years later when he had a broken arm. He visited the hospital weekly for a couple of months, and on the last visit the receptionist, who had seen him each time, snapped "Name?" just as abruptly as she had on the first.

The only fly in that particular ointment was that, although she was entitled to a free lunch, she found herself unable to eat it and had to take a packed lunch. She could not take the gruesome conversation of the nurses who chatted about their day's work.

She also discovered that her father, as her share of the expenses, expected her to buy all food, cleaning materials and other household essentials. He paid the bills, but she had no money to spend on herself. She had one weekday dress for each season and bought two removable white collars, so that she could wash one each evening and iron it the next, washing the dress each week.

Once she reached 18, she knew that, sooner or later, she would be called up to one of the services. She did not want this at all. For one thing, she did not want to wear a uniform, for another, she did not want to be sent who knows where, and she was also shyly disconcerted by the notion of the required medical examination. So she decided to volunteer to join the Land Army.

* Some years ago I took it to be tuned to an old man who was pleased to see it. "I must have tuned this before it left the factory," he said. "I worked for Boosey & Hawkes in the 50s and I tuned all the clarinets."

8 comments:

Dandelion said...

You are a great story-teller, z. Can't wait for the next installment.

Z said...

Thanks, d. It's so long since I wrote the last that everyone but me will have lost track.

Wendz said...

No - haven't lost track. That was lovely. You could probably write an absorbing story and sell it.

Z said...

Thanks, Wendz. No ambitions in that direction - maybe I'm one of the few bloggers who doesn't want a book deal.

The Boy said...

Yup, will be very interested in the next installment. Like the bit about the clarinet.

Imperatrix said...

Great story. Now I'll have to tramp around in your archives and find the earlier installments!

PI said...

Great post Z.I remember lady almoners but can't recall when they disappeared - all part of the rot setting in.
Did you manage to get ali this info whilst your mother was still alive?
Maybe one day mine will be glad of my blog.

Z said...

My mother was so pleased when I decided to learn the clarinet, at the age of 38. She said it would have made Grandad happy to know it too.

Hello Imperatrix and thanks - I haven't put things into categories as you see, but at least I've made this easy to look up!

I think the almoner vanished when the NHS started, Pat. Yes, these are all my mother's tales, which I'm putting into chronological order, more or less. My daughter reads this blog, so it's for her, really. My sister does too, when she has time, so if I make any mistakes she can correct me.