The war was not always about bombing, but embraced shortages and the ingenuity which it engendered in the populace. This account includes such memories of my own, and some that my mother, Doris Parritt, neé Lucas, told me.
Safely at Grandma's early on the morning after the November 1940 Blitz, after making our way with difficulty from our own badly damaged home, we cut the mud from the soles of our shoes and took stock. All services were off, and I don't remember how we were fed that day. By nightfall we were all at Great-Aunt Alice's house in Bulkington, a large village about 5 miles outside the north-eastern perimeter of Coventry.
Great-Aunt Alice lived in a cottage in Chequer Street. It was larger than its neighbours, having a small front room, opening directly off the street and a big kitchen dominated by a huge table and warmed by a coal range. She had a detached scullery/washouse/coalshed and at the end of the garden was the dreaded privvy. Most traffic was to the back door which was reached from the street via an alley, with her smaller neighbouring cottages being on one side of it and their scullery/washhouses on the other. The back gate was heavy and swung to close and I'd fallen foul of it with a badly pinched thumb, before this!
What intrigued me was that the stairs were hidden away in what looked like a cupboard. They were steep and had a bend --- care was needed to negotiate them, and bedroom furniture had been hoisted in through an upstairs window. It was a case of putting "a quart into a pint pot", when Mum, Dad, we three children, Auntie Florrie and Gran all descended upon our Bulkington relatives. I think that there must have been three bedrooms, but how everyone fitted in, along with Alice and Reuben I can't imagine!
Dad had, of course, to report to work, and took a country route, avoiding the city, on his trusty steed--his bicycle. Going this way he was able to reach Ryton-on-Dunsmore unimpeded by the blocked and shattered streets. Auntie was required to report to her school. That left Mum to see what she could rescue from our uninhabitable home.
Reuben, a cousin by marriage, volunteered to help her. They walked to Silverton Road to find barriers in place and no through traffic allowed as our house and the last in the row were in danger of being toppled by any vibration. She was told that it wasn't safe to enter the house --- but all her worldly goods were in there and no way was she leaving them there! They had a small hand-cart and patiently day by day they laboured, carefully removing what they could and taking it to Webster Street. One of Grandma's elderly neighbours, vacated her home and with the landlord's approval we were to move into it. There was some furniture that seemed to "hold up the walls" and Mum decided to "leave well alone".The final item was the upright piano --- and it was heavy. Mum approached a man who had a horse and cart for hire, but she found that his rates were exorbitant. So this little lady, all of 5ft 1½inches, and weighing a little over 7 stone, and Reuben a stocky 53 year old somehow manhandled the piano onto the little handcart. They started on their journey, with frequent stops for rest. Suddenly Mum spied the horse and cart; it was broken down, disabled by a broken wheel! "Come on Reuben", she said, "don't let him see that we're done in!" So they trundled their burdon manfully past until they rounded a corner and could collapse for another much needed rest. Triumphantly they got the piano installed in its new home.
Having started each day with the long walk from Bulkington, they faced the same, in reverse at the end of each day, when they were very tired. Mum confessed to not breathing easily until they were well past the electricity cooling towers at Hawkesbury. They were such a conspicuous landmark and the air-raid warning usually sounded as they were passing it.Luckily they weren't targeted just then.
We returned to our new home in Coventry, a two up and two down, with an attached kitchen/scullery and an outside lavatory and coalhouse. No bathroom! In the succeeding months we were often bursting at the seams when homeless friends or relatives needed shelter for the night.
It was whilst we lived here that we had a second blitz in early April, 1941.The first incendiary bomb to fall in the street neatly severed the hose of the stirrup pump, in our front garden, thus putting it out of action. We, with our various comforts clutched in our arms walked quickly along the streets to a communal shelter. I remember that it was like daylight as the Daimler factory about a mile away, "as the crow flies" was well ablaze. Dad thought that he'd better get his parents who only lived the other side of the marshalling yards, from this inferno.They would be sheltering under the stairs, as so many folk did. He fetched them and they joined us in the shelter.
Once again it was a very long and frightening night. Then near dawn we were asked to be very still and quiet as an unexploded bomb had fallen just across the road from the shelter entrance. As soon as it was light enough we were cautiously evacuated and crept down the street away from this hazard.
Frightening though that was we then had a veritable "baptism of fire" as the weaving factory at the end of the road was on fire and tongues of flame licked well across the road at intervals. I remember that it was very hot as we went by!!! We were led away from this and through another factory, to regain a little road that led homewards. Going up Webster Street we passed the factory where Mum had once worked, it too, was in flames.
I can't remember if it was on the same occasion, but when Dad escorted his parents home, everything seemed in order, until one of the neighbours came in and said, "Len, will you come and look at the hole in my copper?" It was a built-in brick copper, heated by a fire, and was in the scullery. Dad took one look at it and said, "OUT". An unexploded bomb was lodged there --- so the neighbourhood was cleared until the bomb could be defused and removed.
Later we were invited to use a shelter belonging to one of the textile factories nearby. This was preferable as it was deeper and stronger. The other had been an "earth one" and I hate to think what would have happened to us if that 500lb bomb had exploded!
Shelters always had a cold dank underground feeling, and we needed to be warmly clad and take along extra blankets and some pillows and cushions. We set off for the shelter as soon as the siren sounded but quite often the raiders were well overhead before we reached safety The distinctive throb of the German unsynchronised engines are a sound that I will never forget.
To while away the hours we knitted, even us children, usually something simple like peggy squares, as the lighting was dim. A thermos or two of hot tea and some biscuits were very welcome during the night. The shelters I was in never had "sing alongs", but everyone chatted in a quiet and friendly fashion. When the bombers were overhead conversation stopped as we listened to the whine of the descending bomb and conjectured how near it was going to land! Sometimes it was very near and the ground shook and reverberated with the impact and explosion.
Luckily the intensity of the bombing got less as that year and the next progressed.Everyone tried to "carry on as usual", whilst things were bad, but it was a relief when it was possible to have an undisturbed night's sleep.
Life had its lighter moments, too. When at Wheatley Street School we marched in a long crocodile to South Street School for our school dinners; a hot meal cooked in the big kitchens. Large canisters were delivered out to schools some distance away. It was our misfortune that Miss Clews took a close interest in the proceedings. On the days that she came with us, she stalked up and down the long tables, seeing that we ate everything on our plates! Now I can't swallow gristly meat, and I wasn't the only one. If she spotted that you had some untouched you were made to eat it --- with, of course, the expected results!!! We hid any gristle in our handkerchiefs if we could transfer it in time. But it was as well not to need it for a sneeze! The other teachers never bothered with this ruling when the headmistress was absent. "While the cat's away, the mice do play!" I realise that food shortages meant that there was little to choose from, but I am not fond of stewed prunes and semolina to this day.
Instead of the exciting items made in Home Economics today, we had a very limited and usually unadventurous curriculum, --- again, dictated by circumstances. At Wheatly Street we made our Cookery aprons and caps from unbleached calico, faced with binding of the same material as the school blouse.The next year we made a winceyette nightdress to a magyar pattern. For this we had to surrender some of our clothing coupons. But at this school we also knitted seaboot stockings for the war effort, and our mothers turned the heels, if they could. If not it fell to the lot of the poor unfortunate class teacher!
I remember how aghast we were when we were instructed to take 1/2 an Oxo cube to school as we were going to drink our nutritious potato water! There was nearly a full scale revolt --- but to our surprise found that it was pleasant.
Our teacher did inject a bit of glamour into our cookery and we made a Christmas cake; very utilitarian by present day standards, but a luxury in those times. Then we made soya bean "marzipan" and were shown how to make fruits to decorate our cake.I decorated other cakes that year, for various relatives, and enjoyed doing it. I still do so from time to time, although not using the soya base. Amongst my treasures I have a tattered copy of the Ministry of Food leaflet which includes this recipe.
4oz. Soya Flour
2 small teaspoonsful Almond or Rataffia Essence
2 tablespoonsful water
Memories of the War inevitably bring to mind the family gatherings, with us chatting amicably as we took it in turns to shake the Horlicks jar containing the cream collected from the top of the milk. When it became a VERY small pat of butter, we added a little salt and shaped it. It then joined the other butter and margarine, as in our house it was softened and thoroughly mixed together.
Another memory is of "banana" sandwiches, with the filling made from cooked mashed parsnip and banana essence. If you hadn't tasted the real thing for years this was very nice. With so little choice and stringent rationing people became very inventive. Corned beef and "Spam" were presented in many ways. Our city lost its food stocks, and after the blitz had to borrow from other cities, to be able to honour the rations. So we got our strict rations,only.
Mum gave up our small egg ration, (one per week in summer and per fortnight in winter), to get wheat and we kept ½ dozen fowls. A friend gave me two rabbits and we reared them and their broods on porridge oats mixed with tea leaves and all the greens we could grow or collect. A friendly butcher killed them for us, as we were a bit too squeamish to kill our little friends --- but they were a welcome addition to the table. Mum, being green-fingered, had a marvellous vegetable garden and also an allotment in the Baptist Church grounds. At that time every little bit of ground was cultivated, and flower beds became smaller and smaller.
We were very lucky that the rationing of foodstuffs was fair and well organised, in W.W.2. My mother told us of the shortages and queues for everything in"her" war, W.W.1. She was not in good health but as her father was in the army, her mother making munitions,and her sister at school, it fell to her lot to do the shopping and queue for available foods. One day the buzz went around that there was butter to be had and she joined the enormous queue, and after a long wait, fainted. She was taken into the shop, revived and was given her butter, and went home. People in her section of the line missed out, so it was her lucky day.
And finally I wryly reflect that whilst the bombs failed to obliterate the dominant landmarks of the Hawkesbury cooling towers, the Foleshill gasometers and the Courtaulds chimney, progress has! Something has been lost; I loved them!!!