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Muriel Wells

Hi Everyone,

The following holidays were the two that I recall from the prewar period. I can't remember any others of that time, but there were some day trips, which usually substituted for holidays for most of us.

I have only very vague impressions of a holiday with my Auntie Florrie and her 'cousin' Winnie, (both Lucas's and teachers), at Bournmouth, around 1934, when I was about three years old. I can remember the rows of chalets along the seafront, and the impression of deep yellow sand, lots of dark trees before we reached our destination, and it being constantly hot and sunny! Did I dream the sunshine bit?

I remember the next holiday very well. It was in 1939, when I was 8 years old. War clouds were looming and the future was looking bleak, so Auntie Florrie, who organised the "Dymchurch" schools' trip, involving several schools, during Whit week, decided to take me along too. The highlight of the week was always the day trip crossing the Channel, from Folkestone to Boulogne. She reasoned that it might be my last chance for a long time.

So we embarked on the special train from Coventry to New Romney, which circuited London and had to wait for other trains, as we wended our way amidst a maze of rails and rattled over the points. This was a wonderful journey for me as I relished the majestic arrival of the engine, importantly hissing to a halt. Then the rhythm as we swiftly travelled along "diddledy-dee diddle-de-dah", interrupted by passing over points, "diddledy- diddledy-diddledy ------- to resume its diddledy-dee diddledy-dah, again! A wonderful song to a youngster, listening to it. No, the journey was never boring.

And then we had a lovely surprise at New Romney as we walked across to another 'station'. Puffing importantly was a very small train! We were to complete our journey by The Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Light Railway. It runs along the coast where the marshy terrain will not support the weight of a full sized engine and carriages. This was exciting, and we arrived at St. Mary's Bay Holiday Camp all too soon.

The Camp was a huge complex which had belonged to the Airforce in the first World War. Later, groups of underprivileged boys from the East End of London, were accommodated here for holidays. The Duke of York, (later to become King George V1), was actively involved in this scheme and was often there taking part in their activities.

Later it was opened up to other groups, such as schools, and my Aunt took parties there for over 20 years.

I was a good child, otherwise I wouldn't have been taken along, as I was at least three years younger than the rest. The vastness of the diningrooms and kitchens --- as everything was on a large scale, was intimidating. Sleeping in a dormitory was strange and on the first night the whispering and giggling continued hour after hour, keeping me awake. Poor little Muriel just longed to go to sleep! Then Auntie swooped in and carried me off to share her bed in her room at the end of the dormitory ------ I suspect to the relief of all concerned!

Florrie Lucas, newly appointed headmistress of Ravensdale Junior Mixed Primary School, Wyken, Coventry, 1946

Florrie Lucas - my aunt

The camp was alongside the Romney Marshes and walks along the lanes were interesting ----- the little old church, at St Mary's in the Marsh not at all like those I knew, and impressively large woolly sheep --- my first encounter with Romneys (but NOT my last!). We only had to cross the main road and walk down a path to the seawall and reach the sea.

One day a teacher had a few hours off to visit her old school, near Hastings, and took me with her. We went to a lovely old convent in shady tree filled grounds. The air of quiet and calm was impressive, as we walked around and then partook of afternoon tea. It was my first sight of nuns --- and what an sight they were, with their long robes and high winged headdresses.

We walked along to Dymchurch village some days and could shop for gifts to take home. I was very proud of the condiment set I chose for my mother. It was a pottery donkey drawing a cart laden with salt and pepper barrels. I was so pleased with my purchase that I forgot to wait for the others and set off for the camp. Along came Miss Lucas, and paused to chat to the girls, as they shopped. But where was Muriel? My absence caused some alarm, and there was relief when I was eventually found, marching for 'home' on my sturdy little legs!

There was a coach trip to Dover castle and I was suitably awed by the massive fortifications and the dark, dank, chill of the dungeons.

Another day we travelled on the little railway to Hythe, with its lovely olde worlde shops. The Military canal, adjacent, reminded us of Hythe's strategic defensive position in the Napoleonic Wars. The marshes were also a hotbed of Smuggling --- and it was easy to imagine sinister goings-on with the marsh mists rising to blanket the countryside. Oh so much history, but so interesting presented that it was absorbed unknowingly.

Going the opposite way we travelled, also by train, to Dungeness lighthouse. The sea is building the coast hereabouts and everywhere was pebbles, very difficult to walk over. The old light was marooned some distance inland and this was the new light. It was very high and our legs ached by the time we reached the lantern where everything was explained to us. We looked down to see small buildings and a toy train! Decades after, a newer light and a power station have been built hereabouts.

Then the highlight of the week, the trip to France! We sat out on deck during the crossing, so the Channel must have been in a kind mood. I remember sitting outside, in a pavement cafe in Boulogne, walking up through the trees to the ramparts, and visiting the war graves ---- row upon row, and tended beautifully.

A favourite memory is of seeing the faint winking of the light at Cap Gris Nez as dusk descended during our evening rambles along the beach.

I think that this holiday remained vivid for me because of the 'snaps' which Auntie took with her Brownie camera. She mounted them in an album so that I could leaf through its pages often.

I know that I was a very fortunate little girl to have been given these experiences --------- just in time! For war began about three months later.

Written by Muriel Wells