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 )
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.
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........
1983 - Arthur Cruden, Cambridge City Bowls Club.
Cambridge Community Archives
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