Tales from Cambridge part 2 written by my aunt Joan Punter (nee Toller)
Another big influence on us was home-grown vegetables and fruit. Everyone kept allotments the (dig for victory) and if everything else was on ration we could at least live on fresh produce, so many hours were spent with our cousin, Christine [Christine Cash, nee Broom, Bill Broom’s daughter] helping bring home potatoes, carrots, onions, green veg, whatever you could grow we did and everything tasted so much different to nowadays supermarket stuff. Strawberries, asparagus, runner beans and peas were nothing like nowadays tasteless objects. Uncle Bill also kept hens and pigs, so it was something like a farmyard up Histon Road there, through the passage in Windsor Road. Auntie Hilda [Hilda Broom – Bill’s wife, Christine’s mother] plodded up there everyday carrying two buckets of pig ‘swill’ that Gran had boiled up on the gas stove.
We were accustomed to watching hens having their necks wrung when they were ready for the pot. We helped pluck the feathers off them and I actually held them upside-down by their feet till they stopped fluttering (when they were dead they fluttered for a bit before they finally went still). Children accept these things as a normal part of life, but Uncle Bill used to laugh and say I was ‘bloodthirsty’. (perhaps that is why I’ve never been afraid of blood or gory sights in my work in the hospital!)
Val and I were quite different in temperament as young children. She was the quiet, thoughtful and studious one; whereas I was outgoing, noisy, assertive and a dare-devil. She smiled sweetly and spoke quietly – I tended to shout and ‘lark around’ a lot. When dad came home in 1945 he quickly sorted me out and I received the discipline he thought I needed – but I always had Gran and Bill on my side and I distinctively remember Bill’s voice saying “Come on my little old sugar plum, over the road with your granny and me.” I loved Uncle Bill, and I thought him handsome with his black wavy Brylcreamed hair and twinkling blue eyes; also a real softie. He would have tears in his eyes whenever something upset him (or through laughing) and Christine was his pride and joy. If he wouldn’t let anyone hurt one hair on my head, you can imagine what he was like with her.
Ivy and Russ were also a big influence on our lives when they lived with us after their marriage during the war. I could snuggle up with them in their bed any morning I liked, they played with me all the time, and I even ate off Russ’s plate, pinching his spouts.
When I think of those poor girls, single parents, living in an upstairs flat with babies, also toddlers having nowhere to run around in a garden, driving their mothers into depression I realise how lucky we were to be born when family was everything, stayed together to build a secure and loving home, and it was rare to see a woman struggling on her own without the father and relations nearby to ease the burden. They never gave up on parenthood, they learned the skills to make it work, and had confidence through it for their children’s sake. They didn’t have to learn it from TV or a book. It was commonsense; and a joy, not a burden. Kids were always happy.
When I was quite young my Gran acquainted me with the verse in the Bible that goes “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven”. It always stuck in my mind. Children were something, not only innocent, but almost sacred. If anyone harmed them physically or emotionally, they were in danger of hell fire!
When I was 11 I passed the scholarship (pre-11 plus exam) and had a choice of the Perse or the County Girls School, so I chose to go with Val to the newly built County Girls High School. It was an excellent school, brilliant teachers (called mistresses!) and I was in the top grade ‘A’ class. I have to admit that being with those brainy girls was demanding, and I struggled to keep up when I was 13-14, mostly because we had hours and hours of homework, and Bet and I had discovered boys, so spent a lot of evenings on Histon Road Rec and Jesus Green swimming pool. We both lliked the same boys so sometimes swapped! I looked a lot older than I was with massive boobs, and I wore uplift bras with tight sweaters, and a pair of real American tight jeans given to me by American friends when their dad was sent back by the U.S.A.F. to Minnesota!
Dad was always on my case to stop my fun and games with the boys, and when we moved to Netherhall way I was 14, and I was only allowed to go to St Paul’s Church to meet ‘good’ friends (not common ones from Akeman Street as mum used to say!) So I got quite religious going everywhere with Val, and Den Beales got fed up biking across town to see me. So I got a new boyfriend called Brian Stalley, a County [school] boy 2 years older than me. He was a decent boy, played cricket, studied hard at school; so unlike my naughty friends. I had new friends too like Sadie, who was homeless and lived in a hostel; I sang in St Pauls choir and helped in other organisations, taught in Sunday School, worked for the Sudan United Mission, and after getting my five O Levels I got a job in University of Cambridge Exams Syndicate up Mill Lane as an examinations clerk preparing question papers for Press. (near dad at the Cambridge University Press opposite).
It was about then, 16 years of age that I decided to do nursing training when I reached 18 with views to working in Africa with the S.U.M. Everything was arranged, my interview at Addenbrookes and I was accepted to start at 18. Everything went pear shaped when I met Mike (Michael Brown) at 17 and a half. He was 24, just back at U.C.L.E.S from his National Service in Malaya – fit, tanned, crew-cut hair, footballer, beer drinker, I fell in love! We got together at the University Ass. Club Xmas 1957, and everything went to the wall – Africa, Church, friends etc. Dad was in the R.A.M.C [Royal Army Medical Corps] with Frank Brown, so Mick was IN! However, I started my nursing training as planned and although I found it clashed horribly with any social life with Mick I stuck it out till the P.T.S. exam (which I passed very well) so kept going til six months was almost up, then I realised that marriage was out for a nurse (in those days you had to be Florence Nightingale) I talked to the Matron, who had no time for thoughts of boyfriends, marriage was forbidden, even engagements were kept secret. I was up in Hatton Ward sluice with the bedpan round while Mick lived it up on a Saturday night with his mates (and girls from work) so I gave in my notice. I knew I would go back into nursing one day, buut NOT NOW! They took me back in the Annexe as before, I got my sapphire and diamond engagement ring and looking back I was stupid because had I stuck it out, instead of romance I could have qualified, got married and still had Christopher [Chris Brown] in 1962! I changed, chameleon like, and in the fashions of the fifties wore pencil slim or very flared skirts, 4 and half inch stiletto heels, permed hair and smoked with a long cigarette holder. Every weekend Mick and I went dancing with our many friends, or up the Old Spring in Chesterton Road. Saturday afternoons were football or cricket as he played for the N.C.I., Central Old Boys, Cambridge University Press. I used to score for cricket and if it was a village match we had lovely teas laid out in the Church hall. This life went on for three years till I had Christopher at twenty three. I stopped smoking and drinking!
Written by Joan Punter (nee Toller) – my aunt – transcribed by Michelle Bullivant Dec 2010
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 milkman 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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