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.
Nov 12/1944 138 Harrow Road Wallaton Park
My Dearest & Best x
Oh, what an awful day! I hope you had a good journey yesterday & will have a better one than last on your way home tonight. Its bitterly cold today & raining hard. Well. I haven’t filed in any of the cards I have but will leave you to take your choice of cards for myself & Gidd & Bert, also for mother, & the family & I will send to my own ones. Don’t bother about dolls, you boy- I’ve got a couple — Haby Dept had a delivery of a dozen ( a prize delivery they call it ) so I was just lucky in getting one —10/= but its got a china face; not too badly dressed as things go today, so that’s that- but honestly they have had some lovely toys in their few years as children…. Kids little picture books are a price too. By the way, I went to the best bookshop here yesterday for ‘The Wind in the Willows’ by Kenneth Graham; they told me it is out of issue, no further publications are promised, so our luck is out there, as you say, she is so advanced in her reading that a small girls book wouldn’t seem to fit her. Still it is possible there may be an odd copy somewhere about, so you could perhaps enquire at one or two of the big bookshops your way. Here is list of my collection- 3 fancy boxes, stationary ( not super, but still paper & envelopes in a fancy box, 5 writing pens- 2 this size paper & three the small popular size. Hairnets & Grips & I’ll see about some combs- but are there those nice black ones about that you used to get? I know combs are awfully scarce, anyway- some face powder- & by the way that Lexicon game would be appreciated by Russ & Ivy I reckons. What about some Brilliantine? Brycream you could pass to one of them. They look as if they will have to be wartime parcel of bits & pieces- but the value wont exactly be cheap.
I’ll send the pencil box to Val for her birthday- with some nice color crayons to fill it up. What about you sending a 2/6 Postal Order- to buy something it will cost you more & she will do well from us all. Wish the Blinkin’ coupons system wasn’t so megre- theres quite a lot I’d like to do!!! By the way I shouldn’t tell your chaps how often you get home now, otherwise the luck of the draw will not come your way; when have your passes to go through? Went to see ‘Song of Bernadette’ again yesterday- & enjoyed it- Ger?y was quite impressed too. In a letter from Gerald? Last week she asked me to pass on all my old gloves, they would still do her for cleaning the grate & coal carrying. She little knows the fuss I’ve got to make of my gloves these days, let alone pass ‘em on for stoves!! Them days are over aren’t they? Gosh talk about gloves, I came across a list which you had made out quite seven or eight years ago- & the geol..ding always had gloves & chocolates- Oh! Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a 2lb box of Lafontes now!!! Well, theres one thought- we appreciated them when we got them- what about the box I kept one year- until my birthday they would last that long now. Never mind dear the good times together again are not far distant we hope, & I hope hard times will never come back- we neeent work at all, & I still get paid for doing that sounds alright on paper- but in practice I bet they’ll be some shocks. Well, cheerio love, hope you had a nice weekend. Don’t leave that bedroom untidy will you? Cheerio for now xxx All my love & thoughts your own loving wife x Marie 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.
As written by my aunt Val Burroughs ( nee Toller ) March 2005.
During the war we didn't go away for holidays.
We used to walk from Oxford Road [Cambridge] to the 'Backs' - the backs of the collages, sometimes pushing our dolls' prams. We would enjoy the crocuses, daisies, lingcups etc. Occasionally when uncles were home on leave we would go as a family. When Uncle George was home, he and Auntie Marie would take us to the Botanical Gardens in Bateman Street.
My mother and my granny used to take us to the Folk Museum, one of our favorite places. We would admire the wax dolls in their dolls' prams especially. ( Enid Porter, the curator was a friend of my Auntie Marie in later years though, as far as I know ) We used to climb Castle Hill opposite the Folk Museum.
As written by my aunt Val Burroughs ( nee Toller ) March 2005.
When I was 4 years old I started at Richmond Road school [Cambridge]. The building was partly a school- partly a church, St Augustines. Sliding doors concealed the church part and the stacks of chairs. Miss Chandler was the dearly loved and respected Headmistress; Miss North was the Infant teacher. They ran the school between them, helped by a monitress, young teen-age girls and the lady cleaner, care-taker and general assistant Mrs Mansfield. When we arrived in the morning, Mrs Mansfield would help you hang up your coat; she always seemed to be avalible to wash hands or knees, to deal with grazes, fasten shoes and cheer you on with her cheerful smile or grin. She wore a cross-over apron and I think had a few missing teeth that was obvious when she grinned at you.
I remember her holding up the school pet rabbit, by its ears, unfortunately, as climax of a poem we recited at the concert, " There once was a rabbit, developed the habit of twitching its nose".
At Christmas one year each child was asked to take a toy to contribute to a collection that was set out on the 'stage' a small platform at one end of the infant room. Then one, by one, Miss Chandler sent us to go and choose a different toy to keep for ourselves. I was too shy to search for onr I really fancied, I grabbed the nearest item, a worn tennis ball and took it home. I remember my mother saying " You've got balls already, why didn't you choose something nice?"
On May Day, we would celebrate in Mrs Golding's garden which was at the corner of West Road on Huntingdon Road. A cripple girl in my class was the May Queen. We all wore pretty clothes and bonnets and danced around the Maypole, sang songs like " Oh dear little buttercup, sweet little buttercup, bloom round the throne of our queen." We carried flowers and decorated the throne.
Sometimes we would go to play in the hay in Miss Salters land at the corner bend in Storey's Way. Miss Chandler would lead us all in a crocodile down to Mrs Salters. I remember our parents taking us home after an event at Mrs Salters and, one boy messed his trousers on the walk back. a soldier dad in uniform helped him out by wiping his legs with long grass plucked from the road-side!
As written by my aunt Val Burroughs ( nee Toller ) March 2005.
Toys, Games and Occupations.
As my mother was into toys herself, she would be on the look out for any toy that she could obtain second-hand. She was delighted with a pedal-car she found in a second-hand shop in Bridge Street [Cambridge] and we would visit Shrives the toy shop near Christ's Lane and Eaden Lilly's basement toy shop. I remember going with my mother to an art shop in Trinity Street and buying watercolours in the four primary colours. Coloured pencils were restricted to those four colours. After the war I remember being just thrilled to have a wider range of colours. A girl in my class at Cambridge High School for Girls arrived at school with a packet of about a dozen coloured pencils and we all clamored around her asking where she'd obtained them. She told us a shop in Newmarket ( Woolworths I think ). Then Derwent pencils came out in Heffers and my friends and I used to go there each Saturday to choose another colour to add to our collection at 9 pence per pencil, which was quite expensive.
My mother used to take us to a shop at the corner of Bermuda Terrace to buy colouring books or magic painting books.
My uncles used to make me toys like dolls houses, monkeys or clown acrobats that swung between two sticks you had to squeeze; a balancing parrot.
We used to spend our time on the allotments- so many of my memories are of playing there and on the local Rec. in Richmond Road, where there were swings, a long rocking horse with a row of seats behind the horse's head and a really long swing with handles all along for several seated children- an older child would stand each end to keep the swing momentum going. Miss. Chandler used to take us onto the rec' sometimes towards the end of the school day. Then we would gather by a tree for the final afternoon prayer before being collected by our parents.
Mum went to Belfast for three weeks holiday to spend time with dad who was a Sergeant in the Army. When she came home she brought a baby doll for my sister and a white fur dog with lead weighted feet. My auntie used to knit dolls clothes for us.We decorated twigs with sealing wax-"blossom".
When my dad was due to come home on leave I remember drawing a picture of him in his uniform using the 'khaki' chalk.
When I'd been to the dentist in Newnham, mum took me to the toy shop there and brought me an orange pop-gun. The same shop sold us a toy sewing machine on another occasion. It did chain-stitch.
I remember tracing outline pictures from the newspaper using toilet paper as tracing paper as it was smooth, shiny and transparent.
Val Burroughs ( nee Toller )
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
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