This is my aunts story ( Joan Punter, nee Toller )- as she wrote it- March 2005.
I was born in 1940 so war was a normal state of affairs for me and my sister. The family ( grannie, aunts, uncles and cousin ) all lived in Oxford Road Cambridge. My father was away fighting the war in France, in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Uncle Bill was in the Fire Service and Uncle George was in the R.A.F. so men in uniform was normal. Uncle Russ and Uncle Arthur worked away some of the time in munitions, so ours was a world of women.
We grew our own veg and salad, kept the allotment going to help Bill, with chickens and pigs to feed. We made our own clothes often and baked cakes and pies.
Nights were spent sleeping under the air-raid metal ) table, surrounded by wire mesh on a red cross blanket. We had an Anderson shelter in the garden, which was cosy but cold and damp. e also went in the cubord under the stairs when the siren went, and took it in turns to sit on the gas meter! Luckily for us the bombers which came over Cambridge usually headed up north to bomb our factories which made munitions, but I remember the sickening siren sound, followed by bombs exploding. My daddy was driving these baddies away, and he later told us how he came back from Dunkirk with bombs dropping all around and near their boat. He kept saying " Please God get me home to my wife and children."
I was five when it ended, and all I remember then was red, white and blue everywhere, street parties, and best of all a new baby brother! ( Sadly I had friends whose daddy never came home as ours did.)
Joan ( nee Toller )
As written by my grandmother Connie Toller ( nee Broom ), March - April 2005
Mrs C B Toller.
When war was declaired in 1939, my husband was in the Terratorials. He joined the R.A.M.C. by choice. I had one daughter, one year and ten months old [ Valerie Toller ]and was expecting my second child in April 1940. When the first siren went I grabbed my little girl and sat in a cuboard. We heard a plane overhead and didnt know what to expect. We wondered if we were safe at night. Later on we were given a table shelter for the dining room which was very strong.
When my second daughter [Joan Toller] was born in April my brother and his new wife came to live with me as they had just got married. If the sirens sounded I had 2 children to keep look after and it was frightening each time.
My mother lived across the road [Oxford Road, Cambridge] and she had a big dug out shelter in the garden and we used to go over there sometimes while Mr. Legge across the road yelled " Hurry up". We sat in this dug out watching the ear-wigs walking about until the "All Clear" sounded.
My husband didnt see his second daughter for at least three months, when he had a short leave. It was dreadful to wave to him when he went back. I felt devastated each time.
One night a plane came over our house making a loud noise and it crashed behind our house onto the recreation ground [Richmond Road] knocking down some small cottages. Some people were killed.
My four brothers were all away. My eldest brother [George Cruden] was in the Air Force, another in the Fire Service [Bill Broom] and 2 others [Russ Broom and Arthur Cruden] away working in special work, one in Peterbourgh and one in another town.
Food was scarce of course and we spent the coupons in our ration books, then we kept our eyes open on shops to see if anybody came out with some bananas or sweets, then we would try our luck.
My eldest brother who was in the Air Force working with some Americans was coming to mothers on leave so an American gave him a bottle of vintage port (or sherry) to give to his mother. My brother got a lift on a lorry to the station. When he sat down he relized he had left his precious bottle on the lorry. He rang the police station to see if the man decided to hand it in. He had kindly done so and the police put the bottle on a train to Cambridge and informed my brother of the time he could meet the train. All worked out well and my brother made for home with the gift for mum. She opened the door just in time to see the bottle fall from my brothers hands and smashed on the doorstep running away under his feet. I didnt ask him if he smelt it or dipped his finger in for a taste.
My husband was in France and worked in the General Hospital and was a Staff Sergeant. I went to Belfast when he was there for a time. My mother looked after my 2 daughters. I stayed with 2 lovely people and watched my husband on the route marches etc. taking charge and I was proud of him.
I had a lovely baby boy in 1945, my husband sent me a telegram to say "Nice work darling".
When my husband was on the boat [Dunkirk] crossing for home the bombs were dropping and sometimes very close. He said he kept praying "Please God let me get home to my wife and children". We were all very thankful.
He was an excellent soldier, devoted to duty and did well as he also did in everything at home and at work. Sadley he died in his sixties from Cancer. When he was dying he thought of us all and hoped I would be alright. I faced the future and am now 89 years old.
When he came home on leave one day he was carrying a big blue teddy bear for the children. He saved any chocolate and brought it home. He wrote to me nearly every day he was away during the war and we had made a sort of hidden code so I would always know where he was. I would start my letters in different words and ways, as he did, so I always knew where he was.
He told me about the time a few of the men were hidding as a plane was dropping bombs, it kept coming down low and they was on a corn field or similar. A man with real red ginger hair kept bobbing up to see where the plane was and on of the soldiers said " Get your so and so head down, they can see you."
One day someone bought a cat in the hospital as it had been hit on the road. My husband stitched its wounds after a whiff of something. It got on well and was the units pet.
When my husband came home it was wonderful. We decorated the house and put banners up etc. I had another daughter later. I've got a wonderful family and over 30 grandchildren and great grandchildren.
My husband lost a nephew and his best friend in the Air Force.
It was a welcome sight when Woolworths had sweets on the counter again. I remember buying a load of sweets which looked like different fruits and coloured. They were lovely.
After the war a dance was planned to take place in a hall nearby for all the local soldiers. They were presented with valuable fountain pens and anyone could go. So we made my dear mum look nice and I curled her hair and put a glittering chiffon on her. We hadn't been in the hall long when an elderly gentleman took my mother on the dance floor, I've never forgotton it.
P.S. My husband recived several medals.
P.S. My children went to the street party in Richmond Road, We have a photo somewhere in the family.
Toller Family Tree notes by Joan Punter [nee Toller] (my aunt – transcribed by Michelle Bullivant Dec 2010)
John (1727-1807) probably born at Everton, grew up and married Elizabeth. They moved to Upper Caldecote around 1759, to Temesford in 1779, died and was buried in Temesford in 1807.
James (1762- 1826) born in Upper Caldecote, married Mary Swanell in 1786, took over the farm at U.C., moved to Kings Ripton in 1788, and farmed Rectory Fram. Moved to Sailhill, farmed Old Rowney 1803-26, and was buried there.
John (1791-1872) born at Kings Ripton, married Anna Maria Swanell in 1811, farmed Recotory Farm for his father , until 1813, moved to Sapley (Sapley Park Farm) in 1831, farmed at Fenstanton in 1851 at Tollers Farm in Hemingford Grey, at Anstey Hall Farm in Trumpington in 1842, also Moor Barns farm in Madingley, later bought s…Farm at Streatley, also land at Dunstable.
In 1871 John came back to Anstey Hall, and is buried in Trumpington Church. He seems to have been the most successful and rich farmer.
Frederick Swanell – born in 1813 at Sapley Park Farm – farmed his fathers land at Fenstanton in 1840. He married the ‘house-keeper’, Betsy Brown, an Irish woman, in 1852. They farmed at Hemingford Grey until the lease expired, when his father refused to sign it so that he lost his livelihood. Cut off by his father he worked as a bailiff in Hardwick until 1860. Then moved to Cambridge (67, Newmarket Road) where 5 of their seven children died in overcrowded, unsanitary housing, so different to the healthy life in the country they were used to. Frederick died of TB in 1874. Betsy moved to Harston and married Josiah Pestell, who ran a bootmakers shop.
Richard 1864-1937, born in Newmarket Road, and moved with his mother to Harston at 10 years old. He came back to Cambridge (1892) where he met his second wife, Florence Clifton, married and lived at 29 Perowne Street, Mill Road. He died there in 1936. He spent his later life as a painter and decorator.
Alexander Edmund (Ed, Eddie) 1915-1987 born at Perowne Street, his only sibling, sister Peggy , died of pheumonia aged 5. Eddie worked at Cambridge University Press in Trumpington Street from the age of 15. He married Constance Beatric Broom in 1934, they had four children and he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps 1939-45, fought in France, retired at 65. They lived at 110 Oxford Road until 1954, when they moved to 59 Netherhall Way. Eddie died of cancer of pancreas aged 69.
Elsie Joan born 1940, during World War II at Oxford Road. Attended Richmond Road Infants School, then Park Street Primary School. Went to Cambs High School for Girls in 1951, left in 1956 and went to work at University of Cambridge Exams Syndicate, Mill Lane (opposite C.U.P., where her father worked). Joan married Michael Euyene Brown in 1959, and lived at 10 Church Street Chesterton. She had Christopher david, then moved to 116 Fishers Lane Cherry Hinton, where she had Jacqueline Susan. They moved to 57 Glebe Road, and she had Andrew Paul. In 1976 they moved to 15 Shaftesbury Road near the University Press buildings. After the break-up of her marriage Joan married Richard Douglas Punter and they lived at 7 Drayton Road [Cherry Hinton] where she had Mia Jane in 1979 and Eleanor Claire in 1983.
Written by Joan Punter (nee Toller) – my aunt – transcribed by Michelle Bullivant Dec 2010
When I was born on 16th April 1940 my father, Eddie, was away in the War. He came home on leave from time to time but I didn’t really have time to get to know him and I apparently got really cross if he and mum danced to the radio together, or kissed and cuddled. We had Russ and Ivy [Russ Broom & his wife – Joan’s uncle, my great uncle] living with us at 100, Oxford Road, so Val [Joan’s sister, my aunt] and I had a lot of attention, games played with them, books read to us and plenty of fun in spite of hours spent under the metal air-raid table, in the cupboard under the stairs (taking turns to sit on the gas meter of all places), and under the piano across the road at No.95.
No.95 [Oxford Road] was of great importance in our childhood. Gran, [Ada Broom, formerly Cruden, nee Hatchman, my great grandmother] was there, cooking wonderful old fashioned meals, cakes and pies as did all of her generation. She had also been a kitchen maid, then cook, in service in London as a young woman. It was there she had met her first husband, Cruden. They had George, Arthur and Elsie, then when her husband died of pneumonia in his 30’s, she had to come back to Cambridge where she had support from her mother and sisters, especially Laura and Phoebe.
Things were tough and she was very poor. Finally her milkman [Arthur Broom], giving her extra milk and butter for the children, courted her and they married. They had William Hardwick (Bill Broom) in Hardwick Street, then Russell in Russell Street, followed by my mother [my granny] Constance Beatrice. Ada was never one to live a quite life, and she always worked when she could fit it in with her children. I think what caused the most upheaval in the marriage was where she worked at the Globe [pub], Hills Road and started socialising, leaving Arthur minding the children (remember they were not his, and the other three were still very young).
There is a true story, told to us by Ada’s sister, Ethel, that one evening when she called at the house, Ada was late coming back from the pub. When she eventually turned up my grandfather said “See, she told me one hour, and it has been three”. With that Ada hit him over the head with a bottle of beer! My grandmother was all heart. She would give her last shilling to a tramp in the street and she loved her children and grandchildren with a deep and protective love; but she had a temper that sometimes frightened people to death. She had had a very hard life and had no time for anyone who was lazy or useless. The stormy marriage ended when our mother [my granny] was 3, so she never had a father figure after that, apart from older brothers of course. The one blessing, I think, that all of my mother’s family had was closeness and support for one another. Ada was always outspoken, even critical, to everyone, though, our mother had to make sure the house was clean when Gran popped over as she might say “What’s that stink in here? You will get the fever!” if something smelly had been left in the kitchen. She had suffered Typhoid Fever and Rheumatic Fever when a young woman so she was very health conscious.
Mum remembers, when they lived up Russell Street, if any of them had an accident, Gran would say “Quick, up the “orspidal”, as fast as your legs will carry you!” As Addenbrookes was in Trumpington Street then, it wasn’t far to run. Gran had worked for Turner the magistrate (who officiated at her divorce from ‘Broomy’ as they affectionately labelled him) so on the break up of her marriage Mr. Turner kindly housed them at no.95 Oxford Road “for as long as she lived”! (On her death the house was bought (very reduced in price) by Bill.)
So at last, when I was five and starting Richmond Road Infants School, the war ended and my father came home a hero, with his medals and stick with the silver knob on top. We used to play with gas masks on our faces, pretending we were Mickey Mouse, now that they had no use for gas attacks.
I don’t want to just record facts and dates in this essay but I would prefer to write a piece with the portrayal of the memories and atmosphere about this time. I sometimes drive down Oxford Road, Windsor and Richmond Roads. I immediately feel the security of the happy years of my childhood. Our house at 110 [Oxford Road] , called ‘Fredaville’, was a usual bay-windowed one, with the ‘front room’ kept tidy and the best furniture in it. We sat there in the sunshine and never messed it up. Our play area was the ‘back room’. It had no bright sunlight streaming in the windows; old chairs, brown worn lino on the floor, and a big old radio by the window in a cupboard. This was our only means of keeping in touch with news, music and comedy and I remember the feeling of dread shown by the grown-ups listening for news on how the war was going. We could be taken over, (with the rest of the world) by the evil dictator, Hitler, our fathers killed , our houses bombed and all of us blown to pieces.
However the spirit of our people was always victorious; our father, with his men, would destroy the Nazis forever and we would be safe. Mum was terrified, though, of the planes going over nightly, and the doodlebugs droning over, then exploding. She would drag us shaking, in the stairs cupboard, pitch-black everywhere of course in the black-out, or over to 95 [Oxford Road], making us a fortress under furniture while Gran made cups of tea. You would think Val and I would grow up afraid to leave the house, but it seems to have done us no harm in the long run, for we are both outgoing and confident mothers; so perhaps all our fears were finally put to rest with the jubilation of victory celebrations and seeing our menfolk return, marching proudly and in step along the streets of Cambridge, Union Jacks flying like mad from every house. We seemed to always have a little flag to wave in those happy days. Daddy put away his big kit-bag for good, with his khaki uniform and sergeants badges; Uncle George [Cruden] would no longer be seen in the air force blue uniform, nor Uncle Bill in his firemans one.
Everyone was now in ‘civvy street’ and Bill was a grocer again, George was in Mackintosh’s shop in town and our daddy went off every morning on his bike to the Cambridge University Press as a clerk.
We now had a baby brother, David, to add to the excitement too, so mummy was always happy and busy, the frequent visits across to Gran’s were now peaceful and jolly, laughter, singing and drinking by the adults at weekends, when Charlie from the Dolamore’s Role on his three-wheeled cycle, puffing and blowing up Castle Hill to bring bottles of booze and lemonade clinking in the enormous metal basket on the front, poor man!
We became good friends with Edgar Fletcher, the milman and his daughter. She always seemed to have interesting pets. He had glass tanks in the garden containing butterflies, I think, also snakes. His daughter told us to come over and see her new baby golden bears. They were actually hamsters, but we had never seen any before, nobody had.
Part 2 to follow........
1930 to 1940 - Connie & Ed Toller, George & Marie Cruden, Ada Hatchman, Violet & Arthur Cruden, Oxford Road, Cambridge
1930 to 1940 - Connie & Ed Toller, George & Marie Cruden, Ada Hatchman, Violet & Arthur Cruden, Oxford Road, Cambridge.
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