July 19, 2020|

Margaret Gwynn – A Schoolgirl’s Memories

My first memories are as a child living at No.7 Star Cottages, the two-up two-down middle cottage of three next to the Star Inn (now Greens). It did have electricity. It had no sink, no running water and no inside toilet or bathroom of any kind. That facility was up the garden where a wood fired copper heated all the water for Friday night baths and Monday morning washing. All our tipping out water such as washing up water was piped down a gulley alongside where you walked, and finished up in the River Meon. The rent was 9/11 per week.

When Mayles Close was being built, they were looking for lodgings for the builders. (It appears that the building company took their builders around with them in those days). So, my mother took in two lodgers who paid £1 each, full board and lodging, washing and everything. That trebled her income as my father earned 29/11 a week without overtime. By the time I we went to school we had moved into one of these new houses in Mayles Close where we had an electric geyser for hot water and a toilet which was just outside but you only had to go outside the back door.

After the bombing in Southampton, we were asked to take in evacuees. A family of about eight arrived in the road, the eldest about fourteen and the youngest a ten-month-old baby. My mother was given the eldest daughter and the baby. The possessions for the whole family came in two paper carriers, so my mother literally went round the village collecting clothes for them which could be altered to fit. Everyone did the same – we all helped out. They used to go to school. We used to go mornings one week and afternoons the next. We had an awful job to get them washed – they had never seen a bath! They had been deloused but after a week or two we all started scratching. That was the end! In those days if you had lice in your head, you were just the lowest of the low. My mother just went berserk and the family went back. They had hated the country anyway. They didn’t like being kept in, and in particular the older girl wanted to go out in the evenings even though there were no street lights or anything and she didn’t know the area.

After that, my mother took in expectant mothers. These were rating’ wives who would then go to Beverley (which had been made into a maternity home) to have their babies. When their time came she would take them up Mayles Lane, over the road and across the footpath, all the way up to Beverley, and they would be stopping every few minutes when the pains got a bit strong. This often happened in the middle of the night! She did that for years.

With the approach of D-Day there were army vehicles parked all along the A32. The troops were mostly Canadians and some of them were married or had girlfriends. Once again, my mother came to the rescue and she allowed them to come with their wives and stay at our house. She slept on the settee downstairs with my father, and gave them two bedrooms upstairs while my brother and I were shoved into one room. That was the last time many of those girls saw their sweethearts and it was a very emotional time. Quite suddenly they disappeared and the sky was filled with aircraft, many trailing gliders. Soon we were to experience ‘doodlebugs’ (V-1 flying bomb). We heard their distinct drone and suddenly the engine would cut off and we all dived under the table or our desks and waited for the explosion.

My father worked for a local farmer- Mr. Stubbs. It was a very exhausting time for him. He often got up at 4.30am to milk the cows by hand and then was harvesting until 11.00pm. He got a driving licence to drive a tractor. As kids we were allowed to take empty hay carts back to the fields to pick up hay and we were paid to help stook corn and get potatoes. We kept chickens in our garden and were allowed go round the fields and glean. When out of sight of Mr. Stubbs we used to nip off the tops of the growing corn for the chickens. During the war my father was a member of the Home Guard – training had to be fitted in with farm life and guard duty at least one night a week.

At Wickham school where The Glebe is now, the headmistress was Miss Warren. She took the senior class of about thirty five to forty children. We all went to school with our gas masks round our shoulders and we had regular gas mask practise. We had no shelter at Wickham school but had to get under our desks when there was an air raid.

Summer holidays were spent at home. I learnt to swim in the River Meon and we could ride our bicycles safely in the lanes. We took picnics to Knowle Copse and climbed trees. The episodes of the detective series Paul Temple and Dick Barton were on the wireless and eagerly awaited. I belonged to the Brownies and Girl Guides, sang in the church choir and was a member of the Girls’ Friendly Society’. They were happy days. Summer was summer and winters were usually very cold. Sometimes we could skate (in my case slide) on Rookesbury pond. No-one had much money – at sixteen I had 2/6 a week pocket money.

Rationing continued until at least 1952. I was nursing and we had 2oz of sugar and 2oz of butter which we collected every Monday. Every so many weeks we were given our ration cards to bring home so that our parents could feed us over Saturday and Sunday.

Margaret Gwynn (née Gale)

This short article is taken from a longer interview with Margaret Gwynn made in 2005 by Barrie Marson to commemorate the end of the Second World War, recently transcribed by Margaret Edgworth. The full transcription is held in the Wickham History archives.

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