These letters belong to my aunt Joan Punter ( nee Toller ). These contain interesting home front information and political views of the war. They were written by my Great Aunt Marie to her husband George Cruden. ( both now deceased. )
In several of these letter Marie refers to George as Peter Precious- as she was a Catholic from Ireland and didn't want to introduce him to her family as George ( the English kings name ) she called him Peter.
Wednesday Nov 15/1944 [written from Nottingham]
My Dearest x
I forgot to mention yesterday not to worry about a wrist watch strap as I got one on Saturday at Boots for 1/9. Its another like the leather one you got me at Cambridge- so if this wears as well it will be OK- because it’s the cheapest I’ve seen, anyway. I had a letter from mother this morning- & she tells me Con is expecting again.. Well I hope the jag in your hand has healed up alright- I always remembered to ask, as soon as I had posted your letter!!! Barbara is not coming to Nottingham after all with Nicolas- so they are a bit disappointed about it. Isn’t the weather awful- nothing but rain- & now its so cold with it. Had a letter from the old boss yesterday- he seems to be Ok in health but seems to have trouble with an ill-fitting artificial limb. The paratroops are all clearing out from W.P. now, so expect theres something due. We hear the Hall is to be an Officers Convalescent place. Well darling, I don’t seem to have much to say- but hope you are OK & things are going will with you. All my love as always your Own loving wiff xxx Marie xxx
Monday ( whit ) May 21/1945 letter 3 [Cambridge]
My dearest & Best x
Have taken Cons letters to the hospital this am, & we’ve just had our dinner- was going to take the kids on the rec: but its turning with rain again- proper thunder showers- so thought I’d write a few lines. We had a nice time together last night. Plenty to drink & they all got merry; old Ivy is a scream when she has had a few- she kept us in fits- & on top of that she goes home in the middle of it all, comes back with a basin of what looked like beaten eggs- plus the egg beater, & made us all beat it up like juice & when we all wanted to know what it was in aid of, she told us it was egg flip! 4 eggs, gin, brandy & port- & my goodness — it was lovely!! Wish you could have some- Arthur made me laugh to kill myself!! His soppy grin & then he says- drunken rabble- take ‘em away- bring me dancing girls- then she started doing the can-can with the egg beater as castanets- I thought I should have collapsed! It was damn funny- but it bucked mother up no end- I’m going back tomorrow afternoon, as I have an appointment for my hair Wed: morning, so must get back. I wanted mum to come to the pictures but she didn’t feel up to it and said with this bronchitis she dare not go far- & as the sun has come out we’re off to the Rec! Cheerio my love, they’re waiting, Aunt Phobe has called & sends her love to you all my love, as always your Own loving wife Marie xxx
Leter21. April 26th 1945 138 Harrow Road Wollaton Park Nottingham
My dearest Precious, x,
I’m typing these few lines. I can’t seem to sandwich time in during the day to write to you, and I find this is quicker. I’m answering two letters in this one, one of them from you in the “blue envelope” and the other written on Salvation Army paper. It is only natural you’d lose track of what letters are about because of the long transit, yours taking four days to reach me, and I expect mine to you take about a couple of days- but getting my replies in their sequence, I think you’ll find I comment on most things you write about. Anyway, I’m answering the blue envelope one now first. I only get the chocolate once a month, so I can’t send you much in any case, and I send it in case you don’t get a change of diet much, or feel like a nibble when you are out for a stroll. I only like milk chocolate really like those Cadbury’s you used to give me, so my sending the plain chocolate is not really generosity is it? You would have liked the shawl I sent Con it was a nice one only a few pence short of 9/- - and she certainly seemed pleased with it. No I don’t think I’m paying a good bit of I.T, on the 212 pound a year, as it works out at about 6 pound on the year- but that is actually up to date, although I suppose I shall shortly be receiving a new Code Form, and hope the number wont be changed. Well. I put 10 pound in the P.O. just before Easter, and now saving for my holidays, which I shall make the last big splash for the year. Anyway, going down to Gidd will no involve a lot of extra spending, not in the drink line anyway, because they only indulge in one, and then only shandy or cyder- but of course with Ann being there now, it may have even altered that habit. D.V. I’ll try and get to Buckfast again, if the buses run there- the last time I was in Paignton, there were no long distant buses, but rumour has it there are many more cars to be put on the road- by more petrol becoming available.. Then I can keep a little spare cash handy for inclusion in the old tin box. By the way dear, while I guessed perfume would be expensive, I had no idea when I asked you to get some that it was so dear as it is- better cut that lark out anyway, as I reckon it left you pretty broke after that purchase. If you’ve got to pay tax, well, I guess it’s better to wait until you get home again, because after all they will surely allow you to come home with as much stuff as “ presents” I see that you are due for your 48hours in Paris from to-day, so hope you will have a nice trip, but don’t run into any more trouble with yanks and revolters and things, will you? No, in your reply to your letter of the 19th written in the S.Army- I’m glad you got the other cigarettes. I intend to send them all service rates duty free, but what with the Cooks lot not arriving, and possibly being stolen ( which they nearly were ) I sent you a big batch to start you off. Then mother got worried too in case you hadn’t any fags, so that was her contribution- sent you in the towel. You should be getting another 200 Churchmans in the course of the next week, and that will be the last lot I have ordered for you, so when you get them everything will be in order, and you will be set up for a little while in smokes. Don’t worry about soap- if you want some, tell me, and I’ll send you a tablet. The position as regards soap is this. There are four points allowed on the ration book for soap washing powders, etc. Mrs Wilde takes two for doing my washing, and I take the other two for soap, which is two for a big bar and/or 1 each for two smaller ones. With the soap you kindly collected for me when at Kettering, it put me “into fund” therefore I can easily spare you a bar each month from my current allowance. See?? So don’t forget to ask for it, love. By the way have you any use for soap flakes IF I can get hold of any for my ration? Will it help any, because I can soon find a tin to pack some into! I’m going to crochet myself some gloves in fine white string- I have seen some, and examined them, and am sure I could make a pair if I tried Don’t write to Rotherhams- love. Yes, it’s a fact that the German prisoners are getting the same food ration as our fighting men- I can’t think what the heck our authorities are about what with trying to feed Europe, our armies and navies, etc, this lot of islands seems to be a well of everything but there’s such an outcry about it that I think that are “thinking” about lowering it. Well for my part I’d swop my job any day at the present time for the lot of the prisoners in Wollaton Park- this lovely sunny weather, in beautiful surroundings, and no work to do but just laze around- its scandalous. We will be sending back to Germany a few thousands of full healthy men, while our own boys coming back are diseased and half starved- we’ve had the gloves on too long, and the terrible things which are coming to light in these Concentration camps beats even the wildest imagination- talk about Jules Verne in the 20th century it’s fantastic- the swine they are- they should have the life as a nation crushed out of them for centuries, and never be allowed to rise again after such fiendish treatment of those under them. I only hope they’ll get the gang of them, and shoot them without mercy- they should not be allowed a fair trial, but just a drumhead trail, and shoot summarily, I had a letter from mother yesterday. She says they all enjoyed themselves at Joan’s party, and also mentioned that Arthur was going home this weekend, and having another birthday party; I somehow thought that he wouldn't let that occasion pass without having another “do”, in spite of the fact that Vi’s birthday and his were to be celebrated jointly. Mother also mentioned that Mrs Bavister died a week aho to-day and was cremated at Huntingdon on Saturday. I expect she will be telling you in her letter. I’m sorry I didn’t go across to see the poor thing at Easter- although Mother mentioned that she didn’t think then she was long for this world. Well springcleaning is now finished, and of course everywhere looks spick and span- but Mrs Wilde got a letter from her sister yesterday saying that she could not say when she would come, as her husband was still to unwell to travel. Mrs Wilde said that she wasn’t going to be messed about, as if there was a chance of getting away while I was on holiday, she wanted to have a change. Well, seeing that she hasn’t had a holiday since we’ve been up here, I guess she needs it. So she’s written off to Worthing Town Hall to get some addresses where she is likely to stay. Well, don’t you think this incident is a bit of darned sauce on Guy’s part. When she went home , she had the last lot of her luggage sent home through the Firm by passenger train. Well, on the day she left Beale didn’t know the cost, so she said well, I would pay what was due and settle with me. Well, it came to five bob, so I paid up and looked big, and blow me she’s been gone a month, and never sent me the cash!!!!!!! I honestly didn’t think she’d serve me like that- whether I want it or not at once, it’s a matter of principle I think. Mrs Wilde had to write and ask herto return the street door key, which she did in a registered envelope, but never put my five bob in it too and got out of that debt!!! I should have thought her thrifty mind would have worked that out before hand, and so saved poundage on the P.O. WHEN she deigns to send it to me. I think it’s the best bit of sauce I’ve had for years- because if she was hard up, I wouldn’t think any more about it until she could manage to pay, but being the mean thing she is, it’s made me really downright wild. After the rain we’ve had it’s turned very cold but I hope that it will be warmer on Saturday when I am selling flags. Jerry sounds as though he’s “copping a packet” in Berlin jut now- what a hell of a place it must be- but serve them right, every inch of the way- the Russians will take their gloves off, and hold no brief and give them everything they’ve got, - but they are so sadistic they’ll die in the resistance of such an onslaught. Glad to say I’m feeling much better again now, that pain in my hip has gone away, and I’m sleeping better. I hope you continue to keep alright dear. Take care of yourself won’t you? Bill Cox has been in the house this week , paid for my lunch one day, and comes and sits besides me every other day he’s here. He hoped I didn’t mind, but he was on his own, and so… someone said we looked nice walking down together in Houndsgate, and the others in the office tell me they won’t split to you!!!!!! Well, my love , I think I’ve said all I can think about just now, so will get this posted to you, and hope you have a nice leave. Would be nice if I could hop over to see you wouldn’t it- or better still if you could hop over’ere! Never mind, heres looking forward to July. All my love and thoughts, dear, ever and always, your own loving, MARIE x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x.x.
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.
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 of Russ’es 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
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