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.
Boxing Day [ Cambridge ]
My Own Dearest & Best x
Well, here we are — another Xmas passed & we have had a most happy day but one & all were sorry that you were not with us- & of course theres no need to add what I felt & for you to say what you felt- but the fact was that we all had our drinks at 1.30 sharp- in the middle of cutting up the turkey & we one & all drank to you first & we hope that you were able to get a quite minute to do the same with us. We had plenty of drink & the turkey was just lovely. 15lbs. & the plum pudding mum was delighted with the rum you sent. Thanks were so for your Xmas card darling, it was lovely. By the way we had a large size egg flip & guzzled the lot in 2 sittings you boy.
Con [ Georges sister ] had her Xmas tree & it was larger that she has had other years, but the trouble was to get stuff to put on it anyway we didn’t do so bad. Your number was 6 & mine 10. I got a little old parcel tied up with a bootlace, no bigger than a finger nail- & caused some shrieks by its very size anyway, I opened it & what? A blinkin’ penny & two back studs!! Well I couldn’t resist seeing what you had & found three toffees & 2 cigs. Bill [ George’s brother] got a beautiful pink cushion cover, Ivy a brooch, Con some stocking mending silk, others got some bars of chocolate. Con had some candles on the tree & we outed the light & lit it up & Val [ Con’s daughter ] gave us the prizes she was terribly thrilled with that while we all sat round eyes & mouths wide open in anticipation we then played Newmarket & Brown Anchor& Con won 10/- after 2 hrs play. Then we had some music & my heavens what a row!! We just took it out of the piano me- but old Ivy & Russ had a few drinks & were a proper couple of coons- I laughed ( with the rest of course )- till I felt really sappy but you’d have laughed “fit to kill” if you’d have heard ‘em anyway, we turned in at 2o/c am. I got that song called “Yours” so we have had our bobsworth out of that already. Well, darling x have just had a Guiness & wished you everything of the best & only wishing with all my heart you were with us. X Have you been busy helping the other blokes to drinks? Did you have a party after all? Its bitterly cold today but we are warm & comfortable & my word thanks to mother, you wouldn’t think there was a war on. But theres simply no drink to be brought. Well sweetheart, its now dinnertime, good old roast beef of old England & horseradish! Lovely! Well cheerio sweetheart this is just to let you see I’m thinking of you in spite of all this pleasure & noise. Russel [George’s brother] is not going back until Sunday, so if you get this in time you will know he is not about until then. I shall D.V. be going back on that 5.15…. Russel didn’t get in until 9.30 when he left you, so you see how late trains are. Well, cheerio sweetheart all love xxxx love & always xxx Marie xxx
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. )Also letters from Georges mother Ada Broom, who lived in Cambridge.
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.
95 Oxford Road
August 1st 1945
My dear George,
Thanks for letter glad to hear you are keeping well, & trust something will soon turn up for you either a nice shop or a nice house... Bill [ brother ]said he has not heard any more about that house at Harston , there, that big shop for sale & to let the corner of Glouster Street that said to be a cycle shop and another the corner of Parkers Piece that said to be another house. no doubt there will be lots soon as there are a lot of people going away. Glad you have got yourself a watch for you will get over that, sorry I am not able to send you a cheque to help you on a bit, it is very nice when a fellow & parent are well off though to give help now and again in stead of the other half about. Well dear Marie will be here after Friday or Saturaday & it will be rather nice if you turned up to.
your loving mother
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.
These letters belong to my aunt Joan Punter ( nee Toller ). They contain interesting home front information and political views of the war. They were written by my Great Aunt Marie Cruden( deceased ) to her husband George Cruden( also deceased ).
Marie refers to George as Peter Precious in many of these letters, this was because she was a Catholic ( originally from Ireland ) and when they first got together she didn't want to introduce him to her family as George because that was the Kings name! Some of these letters are written from London and from Nottingham where she lived at one point and also from Cambridge where they finally settled.
138 Harrow Road
Wollaton Park. Nottingham.
Wednesday. the 16th.
My dearest Peter Precious,
Had a splendid journey back, and got to N. at 7.45. But talk about "no travelling at Easter" gosh there were crowds of people even after the holiday actually finished, as Tuesday was. Still, there was no waiting for trains. Stepped from one train to the other on the other side of the platform, without rushing over bridges, etc to trains at the other side of the stations. Getting quite a hardened traveller these days, and getting to know the ropes a bit. In fact I'm almost a Cook's Tour Agent by the questions I get asked. Sometimes I fall flat and have to say I dont know.
There have been high jinks by Jerry- especially on the Thursday I left. They dropped four H.E's about a quarter of a mile from the back of the house. Several people killed, and many houses demolished. I reckon- with others, that they are after the new Rolls-Royce place they are putting up in Wollaton so fancy we are in for a warm time from now on. Especially as they have the big searchlight unit in the Estate grounds. However...... Mrs Wilde was all alone all the holiday, and strange to relate, she didn't even get out of bed. But when the bombs went off she said all of the doors banged open, and the house shook so much that she felt she had to go downstairs- gosh I bet she wished more than ever that we were there.
Lumme, how my back and shoulders- not to mention me feet- ache---- I'll give the lot of you "dig for victory" I feel as though I've dug up all the blokes allotments instead of a couple of spades full. However, as long as those carrots come up, I'll feel that I've helped Bill in his national effort. Phew, and the work that's piled itself up on my behalf!!!!!
RWB returned to-day, hoped I had a nice holiday, etc, and was pleased when I told him that you only just got Home (?) He did not add "you need not have returned" and seeing that I'm already here, its just as well.
Have you taken the snaps to be developed yet? It's a nice day, so hope you have finished the film. Wonder if you were able to get a snap of the baby. I say what about the dreadful raid on Northern Ireland last night. Really, it is a terrible business.
Don't forget to give Arthur's mother five bob before you go away tommorow. It would then save the poundage on a postal order for a week.
By the way, those shoes which I ordered came during the holiday. They are an awfully nice shoe for 16/9, but my stars, size 4 & half it would not fit anyone with a size 2!!!!! So therefore I must send them back, although I don't like making returns.
Well, love, it was such a lovely thing to see you again and of course to see you looking so much better. Take care of yourself, and don't work too hard. I will get those socks finished and sent off as quickly as I can. Hope someboby doesn't take them as a packet of toffee and sticks to them. You will be in a mess, them won't you. Good job the better weather is coming on now, it will give you a chance to get quite right again. It's hateful to leave you, you know. I like to be about and just watch your every bloomin move like a cat watches a mouse- and then I'm satisfied that you are doing what is good for you- not wandering round without a pullover or a hat during the cold windy weather, etc, you know all about it dont you, you've heard of me before. What happened about the old clothes?.
Well darling, ther's still something to get on with for the present, so I must away to the land of my fathers, and get down to it.
Cheerio sweetheart. thank mother for the good time she gave us together, its a pity we have to turn her out of her bed, and tell her I will write her a letter a little later on, but you can pass the news of the safe arrival, etc, now you are there.
All the very best of love, and all my thoughts, sweetheart and you know that I think of no one else but you always and at all times. Peter Precious.
As written by my aunt Val Burroughs ( nee Toller ) March 2005.
Food and Clothing
My uncle Bill had allotments where he kept pigs and poultry ( chickens and turkeys ). We therefore had veg and eggs. Chickens was a treat. Sometimes Uncle Bill would kill a hen that had stopped laying and it was cooked in a saucepan as a "broiler".
We brought rationed fish from the MacFisheries and rationed meat from Roses the butcher in Petty Cury [Cambridge].
At Richmond Road School, I was one of the children who was selected to recive cod liver oil of malt, administered daily by the spoonful to each child as we queued. A crateful of sm bottles of milk stood warming in the hearth in Miss Chandlers classroom.
At the end of the war we relished the idea of fruits we hadn't had before, like bananas. At our Victory party in Richmond Road we were given ice-cream for the first time, although a neighbour who worked in a hotel did used to bring home small bars of yellow 'ice cream'.
A neighbour, Mrs Kidman, used to spend some of her sweet coupons on me and would give me turkish delight. At the end of the war, the first influx of sweets included 'wrapped soft-centered fruit sweets from Poland-an inch and a half long with pictures of fruits on the paper wrappers.
At Easter my mother would make me an Easter egg. She would melt chocolate and pour it into two bakelite egg cups. I remember sitting by the radio, watching these set, placed in front of the radio. They would be stuck together when set.
We would go to the clinic at the Methodist Church on Castle Street where we recived concentrated orange juice that you would mix with water.
Clothing rationing, combined with low income meant that families were glad of second hand and refashioned garments and bedding. We were thrilled when the Red Cross gave my sister and me a cardigan each because our father was a solider, ( my mother recived a bedspread ). Our wardrobes were never full like they are now. Our blankets had to do for several years and would be passed from one generation to the next. Some of them were thin with no fluff left and often bore the utility mark. Overcoats would be piled on top of bedding to add extra warmth.
Coal was rationed. We would awake to frosty fern patterns on the inside of the bedroom windows. When I was confined to the front bedroom for weeks with Scarlet Fever, I remember Miss Chandler bringing some of my class-mates to wave to me from the other side of the road. Mrs Fletcher, the milkmans wife, gave me some jelly- an unobtainable treat!
All scraps of food like vegtable peelings were collected in the pigswill bins that were found at intervals along the kerb-side, ours was next to the telegraph pole outside 112 Oxford Road. As Uncle Bill kept his own pigs and chickens, scraps also went to them. I remember the smell of potato peelings boiling on the gas cooker and then they would be mashed into chicken food that looked and smelled like bran. My auntie would carry it to the allotments each afternoon in buckets.
A well provided water and I warned to stay away from it. Horses and carts delivered milk, vegtables etc. The milk came in bottles with cardboard tops. If you pressed out the centre you had a ring on which to wind wool to make a pom-pom to decorate clothes or to play with. I remember watching the greengrocers horse eating from its nose-bag outside our house and then tossing its head to reach the remains at the bottom of the bag.
Val Burroughs ( nee Toller )
As written by my aunt Val Burroughs, March 2005.
Living with the horrors of war
Very early on in the war my father nearly lost his life. He was running across the battlefield with German planes overhead. Apparantly he could see a pilot shaking his fist. He dropped his mouth-organ and his prayer book, but, prayed "Lord, let me get home to my wife and children." He did.
I remember my mother and auntie watching the distant sky to the south of my back bedroom window. My auntie was crying as she dreaded the bombs were hitting Linton ( her home village ) as the sky was lit up in that direction. During night-time air raids the wardens would tell my mother to get inside my granny's house as she would look out of the front door to look out for planes. During day time raids, I remember my gran and mum heaping furniture as a shelter over me e.g. the settee tipped back to reach the piano with me underneath. At night we sometimes slept under the " shelter table" a heavy duty metal table in the living room, with caged sides. Sometimes we would shelter in the cuboard under the stairs where my toys were kept, I don't recall being frightened.
One day my mother was taking us out for a walk, pushing the pram along Madingly Road, when a truck driver asked her the way to the American cemetery, he told us he had a "load of guys on board."
One of my friends, who lived at the back of our house, in Richmond Road, Eileen, lost her father when he became ill with beriberi through deficiencies in his diet out in a foreign country where he was in active service.
Uncle Bill was in the fire service, so was in the front line when it came to dealing withbombing raids. Once, when driving fast he was convicted of speeding! Even fire engines had restrictions put upon them.
Of course, it was damaging to family life to have husbands and fathers away for six years. We hardly knew our fathers when they came back. I remember my mother cleaning and polishing the house and making herself look pretty when my father was coming home on leave. Then when his leave came to an end, there was always the sadness of parting. I would stand at the door with my nanna, my fathers mother, and watch mum and dad walk up Oxford Road. We never knew if he would return, of course. The telegraph boy, on his motorbike, was an unwelcome visitor to our road. He might be delivering a telegram of congratulation or good wishes, on the other hand, he might be on a sinister errand with the news that a loved one had died in active service.
I remember the day men arrived to remove our house railings from the front garden. I watched them at their devastating work of taking every bit of iron to build tanks or amunition. Those railings were never replaced.
Val Burroughs ( 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 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
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........
About Michelle's Archives
This is a blog page for the archives in Michelle's own collection. It includes many of Michelle's personal family archives, tales and scrapbook items to all kinds of general archive items mainly from around Cambridge and East Anglia but some even more further afield. Search for items or subjects of interest under the categories below, by date or keyword, name or place etc. Any problems finding something or if you've any questions or comments please do get in touch by using the 'Contact' page on this website.