Wednesday, 16 May 2007

MY STORY - Chapter 2 - The War Years and Beyond

18 months - 4 years - 3 years

The War Years

Having survived a very premature birth and a month in an incubator, at 3 months old I developed Whooping Cough and Pneumonia and apparently nearly died, but obviously I did not. The next child born, my brother, died and 2 further brothers subsequently developed Muscular Dystrophy and became invalids. A fourth healthy brother was born when I was 13 years old. It took me some years to realise and appreciate how blessed I was in surviving and I did grow up with a sense that I was meant to be alive.

The Liverpool Waterfront

I was born in Liverpool, a large industrial sea port in the North West of England and about 220 miles from London. The sea and ships have always held a fascination for me and there is a strong seafaring influence throughout the male side of my family. Great Grandfathers, Grandfather, Father and then my son and husband for a period of time.

The second world war broke out when I was 10 months old and continued until I was 6. Living in a major seaport meant that there was major bombing and devastation, but as a family we were very fortunate, nobody was killed. Obviously being so young there is only so much that I can remember, but the lasting impression was one of hearing the sirens as the planes came over and the all clear sirens as they left. I am sure that for the adults this was more than nerve racking, but for me it was just part of life. The unpleasant side was seeing whole streets flattened afterwards.

During the war we lived with my Grandparents and I still remember the brick and concrete air raid shelter in the back yard where we spent many hours with candles and blankets. Other times we sheltered under the stairs until the all clear sounded. My Grandfather was a fire Warden so I am sure it must have been a hair raising time for my Grandmother.

At some stage during this time the female members of the family were evacuated to Wales for a time. For me being young, I went with my Mother and Grandmother. My single Aunt who lived with us was part of the Women’s Auxiliary Service so she was away. Not as good for children of my husband Alan’s age as they were evacuated without their parents. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be 8 years old and sent away, far from home, to a strange house, strange people, in a strange countryside and a strange school. Obviously experiences varied depending on where one was sent. Alan was fortunate to have his older brother with him. For a time we had 3 French Sailors billeted at my Grandmother’s house and they would bring things over from France and teach us words in French.

Obviously there was much excitement and celebration when the war ended, but I have no memories of this, only the sights I see in the media to go by. What I do remember is seeing my first banana. Ships were used for war purposes so imports of foreign fruits did not exist. Being able to go into a shop and buy unlimited sweets (candies), provided one had the money, was another luxury. To see an end to tins of dried egg brought over from America was another treat. I remember this awful bright yellow looking powder mixed with water. I guess that at the time we were grateful for whatever we got.

It was quite some time after the war ended before ration books ceased. Clothes and food were rationed. Something like 2 rashers of bacon and 2 oz. of butter per week etc. Of course shopping was a very different experience to that of today. For instance a co-operative store with a different counter for each kind of commodity, so a trip there could involve six different queues. I remember being asked to stand in one queue while my Mother stood in another, and of course they were always close to home. I did not know anybody with a car in those days. I certainly remember my Aunt managing to get hold of a used parachute which she turned into silk underwear. Silk stockings came only via. the American Air force. Ladies drew a black pencil line down the back of their legs to make it look like they were wearing stockings.

A post war experience that I have never forgotten, was being taken down to the dockside when the ships brought home the prisoners of war. The emotion, the tears, the wave of excitement, the crowds, the noise and the whole world, or so it seemed, singing Land of Hope and Glory as the mass bands played. Unforgettable.

My 3 childhood homes. These photos were taken on a visit I made 2 years ago when I went back to Liverpool to visit my childhood haunts. (Sorry about the cars)

This was my Grandmother's house - bigger than it looks. Sitting Room, Dining Room, Living Room and Kitchen with a Wash House (laundry) and Lavatory in the Back Yard. Upstairs there were 4 bedrooms and a large bathroom and lavatory. We also had electricity.

My parents first house was in this street but the actual house no longer exists. This was what is called a two up/two down. Two rooms downstairs plus a kitchen and a lavatory in the back yard. Two bedrooms upstairs and no bathroom. We were bathed in the living room in a tin bath in front of the fire. Just gas mantles and candles, no electricity. The front door led straight into the front room and the stairs led up from the back room.

This was my parents second home where I lived until I was 16. This house had 3 bedrooms and no bathroom. We were fortunate. We had a cellar and it it we had a proper full sized bath. It was free standing with a cold tap. No hot water in the house. There was a large boiler in the cellar where the water was heated and ladled into the bath. When the plug hole was drained the water ran straight onto the tiled floor, down a gully and into a grid. The coal was also kept in the cellar, but in a different compartment. Downstairs there was a Sitting Room, Living Room and Kitchen. The lavatory was in the backyard. I remember when the gas mantles were taken out of this house and we had electricity installed. No more going upstairs to bed with candles.


Unknown said...

That was fun. I had never thought of the bananas being something you would not have due to war. I found that interesting. I love the pictures. And so much sadness for your folks as they lost their babies to disease. Times were so much harder before vaccines.

Susan said...

SO interesting. I'm so glad you are posting this. I often wondered what it was like for those living over there during the war. I use to work with a girl, a war bride from Vienna. Her family had been quite wealty and lost everything. Things meant absolutely nothing to her. She told me "When one day you have a lot and the next day you don't...things cease to mean anything to you".

Beach Girl said...

As you know, I LOVE history. Thank you for sharing a personal side to it. That is the kind of documentation not found in he history books and I apprecailte it so much. This post will go into my WWII file.

In regards to bananas.....the people here had never seen them before a ship ran aground in the 19th century and subsequently broke to pieces. The cargo washed ashore and it included that sight never beheld before~bananas!


Tina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tina said...

Hi Barbara,
I'm reading "Voices from the Home Front" by Felicity Gooddall and it describes what it was during the war and your post said just like in the book. I understand that they were hard times. And the feeling of "togetherness" that this country had was something really amazing.
Beautiful post. :)

P.S.: I have posted the same comment before but I needed to delete it because I had to make some corrections to my writting. Hope you don't mind. :)

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Yes, your life was meant to be! Thanks for sharing all this.

smilnsigh said...

Thank you so much for this entry. Since we are near in age, {my being 70 though} we both remember War years. But of course, your memories are much more horrific than mine, in the US.

I'm so happy you survived all your 'close calls,' and are here, so we could meet. :-)

I'd love to know more about things like... the house layouts. You mention Sitting Room and Living Room. Was the Sitting Room like what we called the "Parlor" I wonder? A room at the front of the house, which was often kept *nicer,* for special.

And sad to say, I remember the one in my growing up house, to have been the place where all the relatives were waked. {Where the coffin was, for viewing... as a funeral home is used today} I guess we had the largest one and my mother never said No to anyone.

I think I've already said Happy to meet you. But I say it again.


Lorrie said...

A fascinating story. I love history and love to hear the tales people tell from their own experiences.

smilnsigh said...

Thank you so much for trying to find the name of your rose, for me. Sorry to have sent you on a hunt. :-)


Diane @ A Watered Garden said...

Barbara, What a different childhood from mine...since you grew up during war times. Thanks for sharing your memories... and pictures. Diane

Diane @ A Watered Garden said...

P.S. Thank you for taking time to comment on my blog and sharing your daughter's blog address. Yes, we have experienced the "coming back" aspect as well. It's fun when they mature into adults and you can relate more on the friendship level. I wonder if you are having trouble with blogger on Friday with your "COMMENTS" icon like I was. Mine wasn't showing up and neither is yours. I had to "uncheck" the "ALLOW COMMENTS" box on that one post. When they realize there is a problem and fix it...I hope I don't lose the comments! Have a great weekend!

Jeanne said...

Love you sweet friend.
Congratulations on your award.

Anonymous said...

My mum is from Hounslow so she was evacuated with her brother to Cumberland, she lived there for 6 years and came home to a four and five year old brother and sister she had no idea existed.

My Dad had an Italian prisoner of war billeted with them, he made my Dad a pair of roller-skates.

Funny how normal you all turned out ha ha ha joking, considering what a lot you went through as children. These days such trauma would be grounds to do drugs or something worse. You come from a fantastic generation, you all make me very proud to be born in the UK.


Teresa said...

How difficult that all must have been for your parents. My heart is so heavy right now. But! God has had a plan for your life and, He intended you to live and to have a relationship with, Him. I am thankful for that.

I have read some on the that war, and I have watched Foyle's War, and Shell Seeker's. There is no way one can get real understanding of that time like you describe here. I wonder if you might consider doing a Memoir on that? I think someone would publish it. We so take for granted the provisions and priviledges we have today.

Rachel said...

Barbara, I've just started reading through your story - fascinating so far. I loved seeing the Liverpool photographs. I went to university there - the last house looks very similar to the houses that students now rent - in Allerton, on Smithdown Road, Aigburth and Kensington. I lived near Greenbank Park in Mossley Hill and off Allerton Road. Of course, they all have bathrooms now!