Banburyshire Family History

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Muriel Wells

During the first part of the 1940s, seaside holidays were limited to areas well away from coastal defensive positions. So in the summer of 1943 our destination was Rhyl. Our family party, consisted of Grandma Lucas and her sister Great-Aunt Alice, my mother, Auntie Florrie and "us three kids". At first glance not a very inspiring assemblage of people!

We stayed in a boarding house well back from the front and catered for our own meals. At boarding houses you were expected to stay out all day and only return at the end of the afternoon. I seem to remember some pow-wows amongst our elders as regards to shopping and what we were to cook for tea. Unlike peacetime the town wasn't awash with opportunities to grab some instant food. There were the good old fish and chip shops, but you can't subsist merely on those. Hence the earnest discussions and examination of the stores brought with us, and what could be obtained locally.

Which leads to the nub of my story! With the grown-ups' attention diverted from us, we had a little more freedom than we would have had otherwise. How we found out about them I've no idea, but we came to like sulphur tablets. Sweets being such a treat, with us rationed to 1 lb. per month, we latched on to these rather pleasant tasting 'sweets', and returned again and again to the chemist shop to buy them.

They had to be eaten surreptitiously, of course, but as their VERY purgative nature became apparent we were eventually found out! Two very chastened girls learnt their lesson; they didn't need any other punishment! Fortunately we hadn't involved my 5 year old brother, or we might have fared worse!

The highlight of that week was the news that the Italians had surrendered. We had enjoyed some paddles and playing on the sand, explored the surrounding countryside too --- and The Great Orme springs to mind. But for all that Rhyl remains a cold grey place in my memory, with an acreage of flat sands at low tide and the usual facade of hotels along the promenade.

A holiday remarkable only for our encounter with sulphur tablets and the excitingly positive upturn in the progress of the war.

Other wartime holiday experiences were camping with the 2nd Coventry Company of the Girls' Life Brigade. We didn't go under canvas but instead stayed in halls. Elsie, one of our young officers came from Harvington, a few miles from Evesham. We 'camped' in that village hall several times and enjoyed country life.

We slept on the floor on palliases filled with straw, arranged around the periphery of the room. Few of us had sleeping bags, so we slept in a huddle of sheets and blankets. I shared blankets with my friend one night, and all was well until I awoke, shivering with cold. Where were all my blankets? The room was in stygian darkness but I groped around and found some, and ignoring the muffled protests rolled well clear! Then curled up and went back to sleep. In the morning the officers were amused to find one lone body curled up in the very middle of the hall. I must've rolled clear rather too enthusiastically!

We all loved to walk some distance away to a ford which I think was on the infant River Avon. It fascinated us to be able to wade across the river, via the concrete bed. We splashed and played there as it wasn't a swimming spot and the depth increased in a drop off each side.

Walks were a feature of these camps, either escorted or when allowed to roam free. On one camp we were walking back to Harvington when a lorry load of American servicemen passed us. Suddenly out came a shower of oranges! ORANGES? We scarcely knew what they looked like, or the taste of them, as the few supplies that did get through from overseas were reserved for under fives and expectant mothers. At the time we were walking up a long gentle hill, and those oranges 'took off', rolling right to the bottom of it. We enthusiastically followed. Did we eat them? No --- the precepts of sharing were well ingrained in us, and we took them back to camp to be shared out between us all. What an unexpected treat!

Another activity we looked forward to was a day in the plum orchards. Evesham was famous for its plums, and Elsie's parents grew them commercially. On the appointed day we went there and began picking the plums. We were allowed to eat as many as we wished but were asked not to choose the perfect ones, but those with a blemish. They tasted just as good! At lunchtime we picnicked in this delightful setting. Our reward, apart from the fun we had, was a 6lb. bag of plums each on the day our coach arrived to take us home. My favourites were the huge lucious Victoria plums --- people ask, "What were they?" as they sample much smaller and inferior ones nowadays. They were --- just --- superb!

With the end of the war we were able to camp at Preston, which is between Paignton and Torquay, in Devon. The minister of our Baptist Church had recently transferred there and we 'camped' in his church hall. Surplus war supplies meant that camp stretchers had been purchased for us to sleep on --- such luxury! Again we were arranged around the walls, with the long trestle dining tables in the middle. Each morning we had our duties and they included sweeping the floor. All bedding had to be neatly arranged --- not to barrackroom specifications, but it had to be tidily folded. We were a novelty in this largely affluent retirement area and to our amazement the press descended and arranged 'camping' pictures and they featured in the local newspaper.

We enjoyed Preston with its seafront and the lovely Devon hinterland. Expeditions to places like Cockington forge figured in our walks. Paignton was lively and we went in some evenings; escorted of course. But our favourite ploy was to head for a milkbar to order a Knickerbocker Glory! With austerity still much in evidence the concoction thus labelled seemed exotic. Into a tall vee shaped glass was piled layers of fruit, jelly and icecream and then topped with REAL cream and a cherry. Mmmm!!!

Our holiday wasn't complete without a coach trip to the moor and we picnicked and explored in the vicinity of Dartmeet, with it's pretty river and impressive scenery.

They were simple holidays, without frills, but plenty of congenial companionship. Discipline was there but was never apparent as we all knew each other so well, so were led by a very loose rein! I look back on all these times with pleasure, and enjoyed the re-telling of them. I hope you do too.

Written by Muriel Wells