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.
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.
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 )
Written by my aunt Joan Punter ( nee Toller )whilst attending Miss Winnie Chandler's infant school, Richmond Road Cambridge. c.1940's
Do you remember a red roofed school
A handful of shell for your sums?
They gave you a Mickey Mouse gas mask
And a pack of American gum.
Do you recall when your dad was on leave,
Dancing around like Astair?
They dressed you up like Shirly Temple
With a big ribbon bow in your hair.
At night sleeping under the table
While bombers droned over your heads,
And granny said "Won't it be lovely,
when we can sleep safe in our beds",
One day they said " The War's over!"
Grannie sang of the Alley and 'Sal'.
When Vera sang 'White Cliffs of Dover'
And the bells rang 'for me and my gal'.
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.
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