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 )
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........
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