Working Lives

Memories of boarding school life in London (1930s-1940s)

Location: London

Jean’s story gives us an insight into life in a girls’ boarding school in the 1930s and 1940s. It tells of fellowship and loneliness, spartan conditions and an ill-fated attempt to run away! Thanks to the contributor’s family for allowing us to use her manuscript.

The first thing I remember about going away to boarding school is sitting next to my mother on the train. We were alone in the carriage and I sat as close to her as I could get. I was seven then and not old enough to question why I had to go away. My brother had been attending the school for two years, and I just grew up knowing that as soon as I was old enough I would have to leave home also. I didn’t feel like talking that day. I felt cold and lonely and wanted to be like all of the other children I had known who went to the local schools and were home each night – but they had fathers, and that made all the difference. Our father was seriously hurt in his car one dreadful morning and only lived for three days after the accident, so this inevitably altered our whole way of life.

My mother told me years afterwards that I hardly spoke one word on the train between Norwich and London. I just sat very quietly, but always managed a smile when she looked at me, because I knew that she was not any happier than I.

The train ride was over all too soon and I remember walking the short distance from the station to the school and all too soon we were walking through the giant iron gates and down a long long driveway. The school was built of dark red brick and appeared to me to stretch out in all directions. It was large enough to accommodate about 250 – 300 boys and girls (entirely separated from each other of course) … and perhaps that same number of teachers, housekeeping staff, maids, gardeners etc: I didn’t notice the beautifully tended lawns and gardens or the hockey fields and football fields, only just as much as I could see in front of me as I walked along with my head down.

We climbed up an enormous flight of big white stone steps and stepped through the solid looking green doors. I remember other little girls standing there with grown-ups … little white faces, some already crying, sensing that they would soon be parted from all the security and warmth that they had taken for granted and thought would always surround them. I held ever so tightly to my Mother’s hand and suddenly a woman, who seemed to me to be the largest woman I had ever seen, entered the room and introduced herself to us as ‘Matron’. Looking intently at each one of us she said something about taking care of us and taking the place of our mothers, which was quite incomprehensible to me. How could this strange woman in her starched navy and white uniform, with her frizzy white hair, ever take the place of my mother? I felt a little spark of rebellion right there and then and caught the eye of another little girl and knew instinctively that she had made up her mind, as I had, that this would never happen. I expect that Matron, after many years of greeting new children on admissions day, had a very good idea of what thoughts were going through our minds – but her face registered no emotion at all, she might as well have been counting socks on wash day for all we could tell.

The time had come – we were told to say our good-byes, and quickly because there was a lot to do. I often hear people saying that childhood is the happiest time of your life, or that children don’t feel things – they are too young … how wrong they are and how lucky they were if they never experienced any seemingly heartrending catastrophes. I remember hugging and kissing – through the tears that I felt would never stop. My mother, as always, being very brave, telling me how quickly fourteen weeks would pass, and that it would soon be Christmas time again. Nothing helped of course and soon I watched her walking – alone – back up the driveway and out through the iron gates. Oh, how I grew to hate those gates. I never entered the school grounds without standing outside the gates and taking a deep breath before I found the courage to pass between them.

My impression of the inside of the school was first of all how big everything seemed. The rooms and hallways were enormous, the ceiling sooo high. Everything appeared to be made of stone, brick or concrete. I saw pipes painted silver, running all around every wall about four feet up from the ground. These of course were very hot to the touch and strange sounds came from them constantly – little pings and knocks and every now and then a nerve wracking hiss. We got used to hearing the pipes twenty-four hours a day, the same way people get accustomed to the sounds of traffic or the pounding of the waves when you live close to the sea. It became quite common to see the walls of the room lined with girls warming cold hands on the pipes after a late afternoon hockey game or a long cold walk. Perhaps this is why so many of us suffered from constantly painful and itchy chilblains – a complaint that you never hear mentioned today, but which we thought was a natural part of winter time and growing up.

The first thing we had to do after our mothers had gone was to change into our school uniforms. I realize now that our clothing was of exceptionally good quality, well made and functional (up to a point) but to my eyes I had never seen such things. First of all came white flannel combinations, which when new were white and soft but later after many washings in strong soap became as scratchy as a hair shirt. These were stepped into, had short sleeves, buttons down the front and a ‘concealed’ opening at the back. On top of these was a ‘liberty bodice’ made from the same material. The bodice was sleeveless, came just below the waist, buttoned down the front with four long suspenders to hold up our stockings. Onto this bodice were also fastened our ‘knicker linings’. You buttoned the front first on each side and then buttoned the back flap. Over these went thick navy blue knickers – with elastic around each leg which was never quite the right size. The elastic was either so loose your knicker legs hung nearly down to your knees or so tight that you had to pull them down to the thinner part of your thigh to make them bearable. Next we put on quite pretty yellow and white striped blouses, which look very nice under a navy blue pleated tunic. To cover this all up and to keep clean we wore a blue cotton pinafore which was easily laundered. Last but not least, apart from our black shoes, lace-ups as they were called, comes the article of clothing which were the trial of my life. Black stockings. Your days could be pleasant or not depending upon your stockings. Some girls always seemed to get nice new long ones, and that word LONG is the magic word. Mine were never LONG. They ended about four inches above my knee. As I have a rather long back, my suspenders were suspended to the limit. I was fine while bending over to fasten them up, but imagine the pull on my shoulders when I stood up. In my constant struggle to close the gap between my stockings and my knickers I would inevitably pull large holes in my stockings. These would have to be mended on Mondays and Thursdays by an older student known as my ‘school mother’, and of course my stockings would get shorter and shorter and my misery more acute as the term progressed. (More about school mothers later.)

I still chuckle years later, when I remember Isobel … a little girl from Scotland who spent a very uncomfortable first week of school. She appeared to move about by a sort of short stepped waddle, which of course fascinated the rest of us, and we whispered to each other ‘she must be a cripple’. Her problem was solved one night when she was undressing in the dormitory. To keep our stockings in pairs at laundry time, we joined them together by means of loops which were sewn to the toe of each stocking. Nobody told Isobel that you undid these before wearing them….

Our really lovely blazers and panama hats, and black umbrellas completed our uniforms – with coats and mackintoshes and tammies for the winter months.

I soon discovered that I was to be known as 139 from now on – my second name. A little number tag was sewn on all of my clothes, and when we went to bed that night – little white beds all in a line, on three sides of a dormitory, and a row down the middle – I knew my bed by the white metal number plate 139 attached to the metal frame.

I remember kneeling down beside the bed – as instructed by the prefect – and trying to say my prayers. This was too hard for me to do, for the first time, alone, so far from home. I tried to choke out ‘God bless Mummie, my little sister, brother and Grandad’ but just could not say the words, it was too unbearable. I could only jump into bed, pull the covers over my head and cry myself to sleep. The fourteen weeks of term stretching out ahead of me seemed like an eternity.

‘UP YOU PEOPLE GET, PLEASE’ – were the first words that I heard the next morning. All of the lights were turned on and I dragged my eyes open and saw a wiry little red haired woman in a white uniform charging around the dormitory. In her had she carried a note book and a bottle of thermometers – one of which she jammed in my mouth, while a claw-like hand felt for the pulse in my wrist. This was a precautionary practice carried out for the first two weeks of each new term, and was soon taken as a matter of course by all the little newcomers.

After temps and pulses were taken we were told to put on our dressing gowns and slippers, line up by the door and follow the prefect. This we did, wondering what was to be our next experience.

At the end of the hall-way we could see another lady in white, sitting behind a table covered with some very large bottles. These bottles appeared to be filled with white chalk which had settled to the bottom, leaving a clear watery substance on top. One by one we had to step up to the table to receive a little cup filled with this dreadful substance, which we soon found out was known as ‘white mixture’. The most foul-tasting concoction anyone has ever had to partake of, especially first thing in the morning. My whole body gagged. We were completely revolted, as only children can be. The white powder had to be licked off the lips, teeth and gums; this we were told would be given to us twice a week for the rest of our school lives. The rumour that went around school was that this mixture was given to the British troops in France during World War I. If this was so, life in the trenches must have been even worse that we had imagined, because hands were shooting up in every classroom all through ‘white mixture’ day – no questions asked as to where we were going when we were given permission to leave the room, and hurried down the hall.

It came to pass that after a few weeks of this, we found a solution to this ordeal. Older girls had two ways of coping; you held your white mixture in your mouth all the way back to the dormitory bathroom and deposited the revolting stuff into the sink, and after rinsing your mouth you were home free. Or … you took your hot water bottle with you and transferred the mixture from mouth to bottle as soon as the coast was clear.

After dressing we assembled in the ‘common room’ and marched down another long stone floored hallway to the strains of a march played on the piano by one of the ‘big girls’. This short march brought us to the dining-room. The biggest dining-room I had ever seen. Such a large room filled with long tables and benches with a servicing table in the middle of the room. Twelve girls at each table with a prefect at the head.

We stood at attention until the teacher blew her whistle … then we sang our grace, ‘For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us try thankful. Amen’. Then the whistle blew again and this was a signal to sit down. No word was allowed to be spoken while our breakfast was being served. This was done by girls in pink uniforms, who did not look any older than some of the students. Most of these girls came from around Newcastle-on-Tyne, in the north of England, and lived at school under the ever watchful eye of matron.

We were served a pale pink liquid which was a very weak variety of cocoa. This was alternated at dinner time and tea time by some equally weak liquid called tea. We soon found out that whatever we were served MUST be eaten. This meant every lump, stalk, unchewable piece of fat or gristle. Tears got us nowhere and were abandoned after the first week or two. There are so many things that I shall never forget about the dining-room and meal times. Porridge was nice unless you were unfortunate enough to be the recipient of part of the oats that had not been mixed properly – a sort of wet looking lump sitting in the middle of your plate, which, when timorously attacked with a spoon fell apart to reveal raw oatmeal. This wasn’t too bad when mixed round and round with milk, and I liked brown sugar so after it was well swirled around in the milk and sugar it was quite edible.

The meal we all really dreaded was dinner. I am sure that when the food was delivered to the school kitchen it was perfectly good, but what happened to it from there until it hit our plates I can’t imagine.

Never have mashed potatoes had so many hard lumps and big black ‘eyes’. Have you ever had to ‘enjoy’ a rolled herring which when unrolled was not cooked … not quite steamed through? Nobody before or since has ever used such greens, we could never tell exactly what they were – we never had anything like them at home – it was a challenge to guess from which plant they came. Steamed ‘spotted-dick’ puddings which fell out of the biggest pudding cloths you can imagine were a real challenge. Why was I always singled out to receive the large portion spooned from the outside of the pudding? All white, shimmering and slippery, because water had seeped through the cloth and turned the outside of the pudding into a white gelatinous mess, known throughout my school years as ‘WINNIE’. Imagine a few currants sometimes embedded in this and then be reminded by an index finger in the small of your back to ‘eat up every bite of your delicious dinner’ … lucky were the girls who sat in the middle of each bench because they were close to the flower pot on each table, and able to quickly deposit a particularly nauseating mouthful under the leaves of the poor unsuspecting plant. How well I remember eating custard one day and running my tongue around a hard furry object in my mouth, which upon inspection turned out to be a wasp. What an end … drowned in a sea of custard somewhere between the kitchen and my spoon. UGH.

A second shrill blast on the whistle was a signal that we could now talk quietly for the remainder of the meal. Any loudness or naughtiness and you were made to stand by the wall and forego the remainder of your meal. At times this was more to be desired than having to eat, unless the Head Mistress chose that moment to come into the dining room and give out some special announcement or just to check on how things were going along. If you were standing by the wall you were peered at through ‘pince-nez’ glasses and invited to ‘wait for me in the hallway’ …. Most of these invitations ended up in the ‘ink room’ – a musty little room with shelves full of powdered ink, pencils, pens, nibs and paper etc: A chair was placed in an open area, over which one draped one’s body – the tunic was whisked up, knickers pulled down and several stinging slaps with a plimsoll (tennis shoe) administered to the bottom. It was much better to cry out at the first smack because we believed this cut down on the punishment, at least by a few whacks … Ha …

The whistle again and the meal was over. No more talking whilst various lists and notices were read out. This is when you learned whether you were destined to leave class at a specific time during the day to visit the oculist, dentist, doctor or to have your hair washed. On the way out of the dining room we were able to pick up any letters or packages from home; and how cherished those things from home became.

After a quick trip to our particular bathroom for teeth cleaning and final inspection we were off to the school building. Before classes we assembled in the large hall where we attended Morning Prayer. This hall was the most beautiful room in the whole school and I loved it and enjoyed sitting there (most times). The panelled walls and beamed ceiling seemed warm and I never got tired of studying the faces looking down on us from the life-sized portraits on the walls. At one end of the hall there was a large stage or platform which held the biggest bible I had yet seen. The focal point for me though, and by far the most interesting, was the beautiful pipe organ. How I envied the boys’ singing teacher who played it for morning and evening prayer. This I thought must undoubtedly be the loveliest job that anybody could have. Each morning and evening we sang a couple of hymns, psalms and the Lord’s Prayer. As the years passed I came to know so many of these hymns and could sing them – all of the verses – from memory, and still can, many years later.

Scholastically I did not become a threat to any of my classmates. I was seldom at the top of the class, but hung very comfortably around the middle, able, after a few years, to predict the order of names on the class lists before I read them on the notice board. I was definitely much happier during geography, literature and art classes than I was in math, or science. I think I was a little intimidated, at least awed, by our math teacher. She was an extremely large woman, who must have continually worn taffeta petticoats because she rustled as she walked – swish-swish up and down the rows between our desks. I was fascinated by her size and rustling, much more than by the problems and theorems she was trying to pound into our heads.

I really enjoyed French classes, and loved our French teacher. Miss Nicholas came from France and how beautifully she spoke the language. I can remember how patiently she repeated particular sounds and hard words over and over again until we got it just right, just right.

When the schoolroom part of our day was over, we congregated in the large play-room. This room contained our private lockers, no furniture, netball basket on the wall at each end. Just a room for playing ball and having fun. In the summer time the big sliding door could be pushed back making the room almost an extension of the playground, and a haven from the rain. On the notice boards were posted the ‘games lists’. In the summer we had swimming, tennis, rounders (like baseball) and netball (like basketball). Our swimming pool was beautiful and we spent many happy hours learning how to swim. We started out by holding on to little green cans which had a handle on each end, and we would pick up our feet and kick away, and soon were able to float very easily. Every girl was required to learn the art of life-saving, and as the years progressed we obtained many diplomas and medals. In the winter we played hockey and netball, and when the weather was too bad for games, we went for lo o o ng walks.

We usually played or walked until it was dark, and then, after getting washed and tidied up we once more lined up in the common room and marched in to tea. The dining-room always seemed a much cosier place at tea-time, with the lights turned on, and mostly, I suppose, because we knew we had nothing to fear from the menu. We soon got used to the tea; it was hot and sweet and warmed us after being out in the cold. We could have as much bread and butter with jam or honey, as we could eat, and every now and then we would try to break the school recording of eating 17 slices of bread, but I never knew any girl who ate more than 12. For dessert we had plain or fruit cake and an apple or an orange … very nice. One of the most common punishments for misbehaviour in the dining-room was to be denied your cake or fruit for a week.

The two dormitories for the littlest girls were approached through a ‘covered way’ leading off the play-room. Three nights a week we had a bath, and on the other nights we had what was called a ‘strip wash’ – hair brushing and fingernail inspection.

I was usually very glad to jump into bed – our days were very full, not much time given up to just sitting around.

Now and again when the nurse wasn’t around, we managed to get up to some ‘high jinks’. With about fifteen beds on each side of the room, and fairly close to each other, we could leap from bed to bed at good speed. Of course, the nurse, known to us as ‘Johnny Walker’ all the time I was at school, would inevitably come in and catch us flying around. We then had to stand in a line down the middle of the dorm, with our feet together and arms held straight above our heads. You can’t do this for very long before you begin to wish that you hadn’t given in to the fun. Of course, the punishment was soon forgotten and we were again ready for more fun whenever the opportunity arose. If Johnny Walker caught us messing about in the bathroom she had a very effective cure. The offender was required to put a foot on the side of the bath tub and she would give the toes a sharp quick tap with her scissors and oooooh … it really did sting, and sent me hopping to bed more times than I care to remember.

Well, we followed this routine with very little variation most days of the week. I could never quite decide whether I liked Sundays or not. Breakfast on Sundays was made a little special. We either had cornflakes (instead of oatmeal) and bacon, and marmalade instead of jam for our bread and butter.

After breakfast we got ready for church, which as one of the few contacts we had with the outside world. We wore our best blouses, shoes and panama hats, and away we went. Not forgetting a clean hankie of course … In a line – two by two – or in a ‘crocodile’ as we called it, we walked to church, the line led by girls in the 6th form followed in descending order by the youngest.

I always enjoyed the walk through the village, and one of the big decisions to be made each Sunday was with whom you were going to walk and of course sit next to in church. I usually walked with Marjory, a girl from Newport, who suffered from dreadful bouts of asthma. I lost count of the times she had been rushed to the hospital by ambulance, fighting for every breath. We were often awakened at night by the sound of her gasping and wheezing, followed by hurried footsteps as she was carried out of the dorm. She was usually gone for about four days, and then of course had more frightening stories to tell us when she returned.

Pauline was my other choice for a partner on Sundays, and partners we were through most of our school days, she came from Birmingham. How lucky Pauline and I were during one summer term … ha … We were selected to work in the Head Mistress’s’ garden. We loved this work and took a great deal of pride in the beautiful red hot pokers, lupins, delphiniums and roses, etc. which grew so well in spite of our unskilled handling.

At the end of one afternoon’s work we were tidying up the tools in the garden shed, when we noticed a door at the back of the shed, which, usually kept locked, had been left open. Of course we had to investigate and were most intrigued when we realized we were in the basement of the school. A world of pipes and wires etc. running along the low ceiling, branching off in all directions. After we had taken a good look around, we made our way back to the shed door, and it was LOCKED … We didn’t know what to do, so started looking around for another way out. We were almost convinced that we would have to spend the night down there, when Pauline noticed a little window, down at ground level. We were able to get it open and Pauline wriggled through and I followed close behind. It was not quite so easy for me though, I was a little bigger than Pauline, and I was half way out when I suddenly was aware of a pair of black shoes and two legs about an inch from my face. I knew those feet – what luck – the Head Mistress … No more gardening for Pauline and I, no cake or apples etc. for tea for weeks – punishments stretching out ahead of us for what seemed to us an eternity.

Well, back to Sunday mornings … I loved the music in church, but must admit that most of the sermons were wasted on my tender and uninterested ears. The sermons were made tolerable however by the silent contests that were carried out in our pews – how many times you could crack your knuckles by pulling your fingers very hard, or who could pull the longest hair out of her head, all of this done very discreetly because of the ever watchful eyes of the ever present mistress or the Head Mistress herself. The last Sunday of every term was enjoyed by everybody – this was known as Mad Sunday, and we always finished the service with the hymn designated in the back of the hymn book ‘for use at the end of term’ … in Hymns Ancient and Modern … how we shouted out ‘Lord dismiss us with Thy blessing ‘… ha … no lack of enthusiasm on this day. The last verse ‘Let my Father-hand be guiding All who here shall meet no more’ – we liked that line, it had a good ring to it, but the last two lines, ‘Those returning, make more faithful than before’ … well, we weren’t too keen on that, but sang it with gusto anyway.

Back from church and dinner over with, if the weather was compatible we were sent off in groups in all directions for an afternoon walk, always accompanied by a teacher of course. Those walks seemed so very very long and were not very enjoyable on cold windy days. It was on one of these walks that I fell and broke my arm. For a treat we had been taken on a path through the Bushey Woods, Pauline and I were partners at the end of the line, and we deviated from the path a little, to climb over a fallen tree. I fell and felt a sharp stab of pain in my wrist, which I tried to master for a few agonizing yards, but finally had to own up to, to the teacher. By that time my wrist had swollen to twice its normal size. An older girl was instructed to accompany me back to school as quickly as possible while the rest of the girls carried on with their walk. It was a very long walk back to school – three miles if I remember correctly, and before I was taken to the hospital by car my blouse sleeve had to be cut from my arm and a temporary splint and sling put on to make me more comfortable. I was given an anaesthetic by the very first black man I had seen, and I was truly fascinated, and captivated by his smile. When I awoke my arm was encased in a plaster cast from above my elbow to the tips of my fingers. I was whisked back to school in our Doctor’s cart, and as he was carrying me up to the ‘sick-wing’ I showed my appreciation for all that he had done, by being sick all over the front of his lovely suit. The only tears I shed through this whole predicament were tears of embarrassment over this last disgrace. I wore the cast for weeks, and on the day that the cast was removed I went outside to play and slid on some ice – fell against the wall and broke my wrist again. So – I finished the rest of the term with my arm in a cast and a sling.

The summer term was, of course, the most enjoyable, and the one day that we all looked forward to at the end of term was Sports Day. Such a happy day, full of anticipation, tension and excitement. I remember it as being ALWAYS bright and sunny. I suppose we must have had a wet Sports Day some years, knowing English weather, but if so, I have blanked them out of my memory. We all ate a hearty breakfast that day and then dashed to the notice board where we signed up for the various races in which we wished to compete. There were lots to choose from, three-legged race, sack race, wheelbarrow race, running and relay races and of course high jump.

After signing up we pinned on our ribbon rosettes denoting to which of the four ‘houses’ we belonged. I belonged to Windsor so my rosette was purple, Lytten was green, Dickens red and Thackeray yellow, as far as I can remember. You might compare these to sorority houses in America. Naturally the competition between the houses was very keen. Windsor was in a bit of a slump all the years that I belonged to it, although I don’t take full credit for that. We did have our share of shining moments through the years, which helped, but we soon learned not to feel too badly about losing (more often than winning) after hearing SO OFTEN (as which English child has not) that ‘It’s not who wins the game, but how you play it’ … well …

Race heats were run off, one after another, amidst shouts of encouragement, or boos from the onlookers. None but the very best runners ever made the relay team … house against house for the coveted cup. These girls were the cream of the crop. When the chosen few heard their names called out over the megaphones, they crossed their fingers, or offered up a silent prayer to the Almighty, thus appealing to both worlds, that at the big moment they would not trip or fall, or commit the unpardonable sin of dropping the relay stick.

I usually entered the three-legged and sack races and the one I liked best of all – high jump. I did pretty well at that and always felt confident about winning a second or third prize. Sports Day was not my day to shine though. This was the day that my sister came into her own. Very few could beat her in any of the races, and she could throw a baseball further than any, and she broke the school’s record for this I believe.

One particular Sports Day I remember very well, and I imagine so does she. Molly had won every race in which she had competed and at the end of the day made more trips up onto the stage to receive her prizes than any other girl. At the close of the ceremonies Molly was surrounded by admirers, when up walked the Head Mistress, who proceeded to gather up two thirds of Molly’s prizes saying, ‘It is not good for one girl to have all of these … we will put them away and use them again next year’. None of us could understand this reasoning but assumed it was CHARACTER BUILDING and let it go at that.

The boys’ sports day was held on a different day from ours, and either on this day or one of the assigned visiting days was when my Mother would come to see us. How we awaited that day. As there was usually no school on these days, Molly and I would go up to the front dormitory and there we would sit by the window and watch the driveway. We could not see the big iron gates because the driveway turned to the left after circling the heart-shaped lawn and flower gardens. Nobody knows how impatiently and with what fierce concentration we watched – knows how impatiently and with what fierce concentration we watched – until … at last, the parents started coming in – down the driveway in batches, from all corners of the British Isles, and beyond, depending upon which train had arrived in the station. We were not allowed to run out onto the driveway, but had to meet our visitors in the front hall. We would literally fly down the staircases from the dorm – two steps at a time.

Why, oh why, did I always have to cry? The minute I felt my Mother’s arms around me I would start. No-one could have been happier than I, but from the minute Mummie arrived until the time she left, I would hang onto her … hardly leaving her room to walk, and weep away uncontrollably. I would think of all the million and one things I wanted to tell her, but not be able to say a word. All day I was unable to believe that she was really with us, and immediately started worrying about how soon she would have to leave. How lonely we did feel after all the visitors had left. It was always a very quiet procession in to tea on visitors’ day.

Those of us who were lucky enough to have received a ‘tuck box’ could derive a certain amount of comfort from the jam and marmite, cake and fruit etc. that had been carefully carried or mailed to us from home. We always debated whether to gorge ourselves, enjoy one mad binge, eat everything in one single glorious, lip-smacking day or nibble at it a little at a time, day after day, and savour every crumb. The latter course usually won, and you would be surprised how many weeks a jar of marmite or jam can last. Never has so little been spread so far …

The fourteen weeks of term did finally pass, and the lists of girls whose train fares had been received were read daily. The big day was here at last. What a glorious sound ‘UP YOU PEOPLE GET PLEASE’ was to our ears. Most of us had slept in our underwear and stockings so it did not take us long to dress; our little brown suitcases stood at the foot of each bed, waiting to be carried downstairs to the common room. Who tasted cocoa or porridge that morning? We were divided into groups according to which of the main railway stations we were headed for in London. When the magical words ‘All girls for Liverpool Street You may now leave’ were heard … I felt such a thrill, I shook from head to foot with excitement. We jumped up, tried to walk quietly and sedately out of the room, down the hall, out of the door, then walked and ran down the driveway and out of the gates, down the road, over the wrought-iron bridge to the station. (Have you ever put your tongue on a piece of iron on a freezing cold day? I have. I stopped on the bridge one day and leaned over the railing to look at the railway lines, and without thinking I touched my tongue to the railing and stuck fast. For one panic stricken moment I thought I was going to be there until spring, but obviously I did get unstuck, but had a sore tongue for the rest of the day.)

Talking about cold weather – Molly and I were on our way home one year, Keith had left school by then, and Molly discovered that she had left her gloves at school, and her hands were getting very cold. When we arrived at Liverpool Street Station we had quite a long wait for our train, so I opened up Molly’s suitcase and took out a pair of her long black stockings and she took off her coat and put her an arm in each stocking – I tied the loops at the back of her neck, then she replaced her coat and had lovely warm hands, and appeared to be wearing black mittens …)

We took the electric train to Broad Street Station and crossed over to Liverpool Street, and were soon on our way to Norwich. My brother, Molly and I used to stand in the corridor of the train nearly all of the way home. English trains were a little different from American trains in those days – each carriage was divided into separate compartments with a corridor down one side. We would hunt until we found an empty compartment and then set about making it appear full. We would put our suitcases on end on the seats and put our coats around them and our hats on the top, and hope that fellow passengers would think the compartment fully occupied. When we got tired of standing in the corridor we would take our window seats and watch the familiar countryside rushing by, and listen to the clackety clack of wheels. Our excitement grew as the train carried us closer and closer to Norwich … Thorpe Station at last … We were on the platform before the train had come to a complete stop – our hearts beating so fast, you could hardly breathe – and our eyes wet with happy tears. Down the platform we ran, and how our ears hurt when we ran by the big black and green engine, which invariably chose that second to release its steam in an ear-splitting shriek. We dashed by the ticket collector, through the barrier and into our Mother’s arms.

In no time we were outside the station and on the bus. Past the castle on the hill, past the market place as bright and busy as ever. There was the old Guildhall on the right and the big new city hall ahead. Everything so amazingly the same as it had ever been. How my lovely city was going to be hurt and severely damaged in just a few years, I then had no idea. We had a few more home-comings in peacetime.

We had seven weeks holiday in the summer, three weeks at Christmas and thee at Easter. In the summer we usually arrived home on my birthday or the day before. The minute we stepped inside the back door my eyes would dart into the living room to the sideboard, and there would be my birthday cake. My Mother always remembered.

Off would come our uniforms, and how nice to wear dresses and short socks and sandals. We soon made the rounds of all the aunts and uncles and cousins ‘by the dozens’.

Early the very next morning I would hear ‘Jean … Jean’ – voice calling over the garden gate, and there would be my friend Beryl from next door. We played together from the time we were three years old. We used to sit in the little summer house at the end of her garden – for hours at a stretch, amusing ourselves with dolls, crayons and playing house. A great treat for us both was being able to have our ‘tea’ in the summer house, just the two of us. Little cucumber sandwiches, biscuits and mandarin oranges. It was our own private little world hidden away behind the apple trees, at the end of the garden path.

Beryl’s father was an especially proud gardener, his lawn was as carefully tended as the best Persian rug, and his flowers would have matched any on display at Covent Garden. We loved being allowed to look at all of his plants and seedlings in his greenhouse. Such warmth inside and what a lovely green and earthy smell. On Sunday mornings we could hear him scrubbing his flower pots and hosing off the foliage and always whistling while he worked. He was not feeling too well one particular day, so Beryl and I decided to cheer him up. We picked off all of his tulips for him, such a lovely mass of colour – and I mean ALL, from both sides of the garden path. What a lovely bunch we thought as we carried them in to the house to him. To our amazement his face fell when confronted with our gift. Not only had we ruined his beautiful spring blooming, but the tulips we offered were useless as the stalks were only two inches long …

As we grew older Beryl’s Dad often recalled that day and of course recounted it to us many times – by then he was able to smile about it. This story was inevitably followed by reminding us of the day that Beryl and I got hold of a pair of scissors and decided to play ‘barbers’. I gave her hair a cut first, and she ended up with what might be described as a two inch long bob or shingle as it was called then. Her Mother appeared on the scene and terminated the game just as Beryl had taken the first whack at my hair, so I went around rather lop-sided for a while.

The minute we were home from school our bicycles were soon out of the shed, checked over – tires pumped up and off we would go to check on all of our favourite places. I loved riding over the little streams which ran right across the road in a couple of places. We would get up speed and put our feet over the handlebars and hit the water with such a splash, and sail right across. Every time we went under the bridge at Sandy Lane we shouted at the top of our voices to hear the echoes that would bounce back off the walls. There were times when we would get down to only one bicycle between us, due to flat tires etc. So if we wanted to go to the swimming baths or for a picnic, two of us would start walking – the third, usually my brother Keith, would ride on ahead about half a mile. He would leave the bike on the side of the road by the hedge and continue walking ahead. Then Molly and I would catch up to the bike, then ride – two on a bike – half a mile past Keith and then repeat the whole procedure. This way we did not notice the two or three miles. In those days there was not fear that anyone would steal our bicycles – it never entered our minds, how times have changed.

Overlooking Sandy Lane, on a little hill surrounded by trees and shrubbery is a lovely old village church. Down through the cemetery and trees leading from the door of the church to the road, is a dirt path, worn smooth by countless feet going up and down through the years. At the end of the path is an old iron gate completely overgrown with weeds, which hasn’t been opened or shut for years and years. One day my brother and I had been exploring the church and the grave-yard, and had pushed the gate open; he told me to hop onto the cross bar of his bicycle and he would give me a ride down the path. This I did and we literally flew down the path through the gate, out onto Sandy Lane, across the road in a flash, and smack into the wall of the other side of the road. I lay on the ground a little stunned I guess, because I thought to myself quite seriously, ‘Well, I must be dead, and it didn’t hurt half as much as I had always expected it would.’ It seemed to me that I lay there for quite a long time contemplating how easily I had passed from the land of the living. Of course it was really only a few seconds, and then I began to feel my scrapes and bruises. My dazed period of euphoria soon ended. We were luckily none the worse for wear, but I shall always remember Sandy Lane as the place where ‘I died and rose again’ … ha …

When we went for picnics we really carried our food in style – no paper bags for us. Our sandwiches were always carried in an attaché case, with a bottle of water into which, upon arrival at the chosen spot, we dropped our lemon fizz tablets, or lemonade powder. We had so many lovely picnic spots to choose from, there are numerous streams, rivers and small lakes in Norfolk – we never ran out of places. We liked to take along a jam jar each and make a handle from string for each one, tied around the neck of the jar. We also took either a large white handkerchief or pieces of old sheet for ‘dredging’ the streams for tiddlers, which were then popped into the jars and carried home where they lived an abysmally short life.

When we were visiting in England a few years ago, we returned to one of these old picnic haunts and recaptured some of those happy moments. We picked some beautiful watercress which we ate for our tea that evening and watched a whole new generation of children playing around in the water just as we used to. The little girls had their dresses tucked up in their knickers to keep the dresses dry. After watching the children for a while, my Uncle Fred who was with us that day looked at his watch and suggested that we go across the road to the village pub for a cup of coffee or a glass of ale … it was 11 o’clock. This we did, and Uncle Fred took a soul-satisfying swallow of his ale and said ‘My first today’. The bartender looked up, rather surprised and said, ‘I should hope so, we have only been open five minutes’ … oh well, time is too precious to waste.

Living so close to the coast we spent many lovely days at Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Hemsby etc. – sometime we went by bus and sometimes by train, taking advantage of the cheap day excursion rates. Many times I can remember setting off in the rain, but confident that ‘It will get out later’ carrying spades and pails and paddling shoes etc. only to spend the afternoon at the pictures because of rain. We often went to the sea as a family group – Uncles, Aunts and Cousins, and I can remember one special holiday when we rented a cottage right on the beach … what a jolly crowd … I wonder how Grandad put up with so much noise and confusion … probably loved it. I remember that we children saved our pennies and any chance sixpences that came our way for several weeks prior to the holiday. The minute we arrived at the beach Molly was off to the ice cream stall with anyone who wanted to go with her, and it seems to me that she was there for hours until all of her money was spent … no thought in her mind of the remaining days spent in total abstinence after her glorious binge. I suppose someone always took pity on her afterwards.

I remember with a chuckle how long it took to get through all of the ‘Goodnights’ … so many people under one roof, the cries of ‘Goodnight’ seemed to ring out and on indefinitely. ‘Goodnight Uncle Fred, Goodnight Aunty Molly, Goodnight Aunty Kathleen, Granddad …’ and on and on, until it became quite a game. Our little cousin Mary was the youngest of the tribe and each of us in turn called ‘Goodnight Mary’ until she became quite exhausted and sick of the whole thing. Finally she called out in a cross little three year old voice ‘I sha’n’t answer you any more so SHUPPUP’ and that was that. I can’t remember what it was now that she was showing us one day, but she sent us into peals of laughter when she said, ‘They wook wike wikkle wambs’ wegs’.

Two or three times each summer at least we rode our bikes to an open hilly area known locally as the ‘Three Fields’. Here in summer the little paper thin poppies grew and I can remember how I loved the perfume of the gorse bushes in the hot sunshine. We picked lots and lots of juicy blackberries here each summer, and one of our neighbours would weight them out for us on her hand scale and then we would sell them for tuppence a pound. We loved to ride over to the chalk caves in the middle of the three fields – of course we had been forbidden to enter these caves and really had no urge to go in them either, after hearing about ALL of the people who had been buried alive inside.

The chief attraction in this particular area was the gypsies. So as not to be noticed we left our bicycles by the fence at the edge of the woods and then walked across the field until we could look down into the little gulley and see the brightly painted caravans. A chill of fear would go through us if we saw smoke coming from the chimneys. My brother always warned us to be quiet in case the gypsies heard us. We couldn’t begin to imagine all of the dreadful things that would happen to us if we were caught. It was a known fact, as Uncle Ron told us, that gypsies stole babies and sewed them up in rabbit skins.

The last time we visited the Three Fields we saw row after row of houses, no more dusty roadways or gypsy caravans … it is best perhaps not to go back, there are too many changes after twenty years.

My Mother used to tell us about the poor old gypsy who came to our door one day. On a large tray, suspended from a strap around her neck, she had buttons, thread, shoelaces, and ribbons etc. for sale. My Grandmother answered the door and after looking over the gypsy’s wares said ‘Nothing today, thank you’ and started to shut the door, but the gypsy stuck her foot in the door and shouted, ‘Not today, not tomorrow, nor the next day, thank God for the fresh air’ … Can you imagine what a frustrating unprofitable day she must have had ?

Needless to say these few weeks comprising our holidays soon flew by and all too soon we were at the station saying goodbye … three of us now, my sister Molly – now old enough to go – sitting quietly, wondering what this sudden upheaval in her life was going to mean. Every click of the wheels took us further and further away.

The three of us always stopped outside the school gates, put our cases down and straightened our hats and ties etc. we knew if would not go unnoticed if we showed up in any state of disarray. After a last look behind us down the road and a long look at each other, we took a deep breath and walked through the gates. Keith going alone down his driveway to the ‘boys’ and Molly and I down ours together.

The story continues …

Routine soon had us in its grip, and the weeks and months and years rolled by, time for us measured by how many weeks until the end of term.

One summer became particularly boring for six adventuresome little girls. The number was limited to six because these girls all came from the same general area of the South West of England. The knowledge that they were going to attempt to run away from school gradually seeped out among the children. Plans were carefully and seriously made, what devious little minds children do have. I must admit that I wished that I was one of them, but coming from the East there was no way I could be part of the expedition. All that I could contribute towards the success of the venture was a tube of toothpaste and a penny with a hole in it, which was a keepsake and had not been handed in at the beginning of term with the rest of my pocket money.

Each evening, before bedtime we lined up for a snack, a beef dripping sandwich – and on the night before the big day these sandwiches sacrificed by some of us were collected up and hidden away in a locker to sustain the girls between London and Newport.

The day had arrived – during a free period designated for ‘brisk walking’ around the playground, all involved in the plan met in the woods behind the play room. Here we helped the girls to remove their badges from their blazers, and hat bands and badges from their panama hats. Wearing their blouses over instead of under their tunics we were convinced that their disguise was a foolproof as we could make it. With thumping hearts, dry throats and crossed fingers the girls went out through the little private gate used only by the school nurse and the matron. They were on their way.

The Head Mistress visited the dining-hall that evening at tea-time, and announced that there would be an assembly in the ‘Hall’ as soon as we had finished tea. An assembly which included everybody in the school, girls, boys and all the teachers … we knew something big was in the wind, and had the distinct feeling that it was not good.

When everybody was seated and all the whispering and conjecturing was silenced, all eyes were turned towards the Head Mistress and Head Master up on the stage. Suddenly the side door opened and out onto the stage trooped the six bedraggled little girls. What a blow … everything had gone well for them until they were on Euston station in London where they walked smack into a teacher from school who of course recognised every one of them … what luck …

The Head Mistress introduced them from the stage as ‘the six little noodles from Newport’ … then the axe fell … she said that undoubtedly they had been helped by other girls and that these girls – any who had helped in any way to further this escapade were to come up on the stage …

I felt that she already had a pretty good idea who ‘these other’ girls were, so with shaking knees and scarlet cheeks I made my way up onto the stage. Each one in turn admitted her contribution; and I felt like a condemned criminal destined to be a failure for the rest of my life when she, with her hand upon my shoulders looked at me through her pince-nez glasses and said, ‘I always knew you were a naughtily little girl, but I didn’t know that you were DECEITFUL.’ All of this in front of the whole school … I could imagine my brother snickering away and enjoying every moment of my discomfort … I felt less than an inch high and wished that I could just vanish into thin air.

As was to be expected, weeks of bread and butter teas – no cake, jam or fruit, no sweets from the ‘tuck shop’ and various menial tasks followed for all of us, but, all in all, we considered it a jolly good try.

When I first started to write down these reminiscences I thought of giving them the title of ‘Tuppence Tuppence’, but decided instead to use ‘Up you people get please’, those words being the music to which we began every day … On Wednesdays and Saturdays we had ‘Tuck Shop’. It sounds such an old fashioned word now, but was in common use in England, in boarding schools at that time. Two long tables were set up in the common room and after school we were allowed to purchase our sweets. The tuck list was made up in the classroom during the day … usually on a Monday. We were allowed to spend up to sixpence a week. There were always a few lucky girls who could afford that much each week, and would call out ‘Threepence-threepence’, or’ tuppence-fourpence’ when it came to their turn, or perhaps they would save the whole sixpence until Saturday and then carry off their load of sweets (and you could get quite a lot then, as so many things were four for a penny), and deposit it in their lockers. We had three children in our family so had to spend more frugally, and it was a really good week when we could afford tuppence-tuppence.

The tuck shop is where I was introduced to pomegranates and it was quite common to see a group of girls with heads down, busily picking out pomegranate seeds with a pin and popping them in their mouths, a fascinating way to spend a quiet half an hour.

Life was not all gloomy though … we soon learned to take advantage of every situation. As we grew older we became ‘school mothers’ and were assigned one of the small children to take care of. It was our responsibility to see they were tidy and mend the holes in their stockings. We would charge the poor little unsuspecting tots a piece of candy for each hole – the bigger the hole, the bigger the candy. This was done to us when we were tiny, so considered it our right to collect our dues when we attained this exalted status.

There were several such minor tyrannical practices carried out by older students, as there has been all over the world, and these were endured and accepted as a part of growing up. Many a time have I been given half a dozen biblical verses to memorize and then required to recite them in the prefects’ room with a waste paper basket over my head. I must say, though, that these are the verses that I remember.


I remember the day so clearly – standing in the living room with my Mother, listening to a special message on the wireless, and learning to our horror that we were at war with Germany. Tears ran down my Mother’s face. I of course could not grasp the full significance of the announcement, but she knew all too well the meaning of war. Our father had served in the army in WWI, in Ypres, France, and been gassed and wounded, and of course her thoughts flew to her son Keith, who she knew would be called on to serve. Our hands shook as we made a cup of tea and thought of uncles and friends who would have to join up and be sent who knows where.

Gas masks became a part of ourselves, hanging from our shoulders whenever we left the house. We awoke one night to the sound of the air raid siren … the very first time, and the first of so many times … Of course we were absolutely terrified, threw on our dressing gowns and put on our gas masks, the only time I think that we ever wore them – ran downstairs and huddled under the stairs in the pantry. This, we had been told, was the safest place in the house. Our hands shook so much that the candles went out, but we held hands and prayed that if a bomb did drop on us that we would all go together.

As soon as possible after war was declared work began on building air-raid shelters. We had one put in the middle of our back garden. It was two thirds below ground and covered with about a foot of soil in which planted geraniums and rock plants, which when blooming looked quite pretty … strange but pretty.

The first few nights of the war … nights, weeks, months I should say, we spent each night getting in and out of bed and trooping out to the shelter each time the siren blew. This of course left us dead tired in the morning. Our poor little neighbour was almost crippled with arthritis and it took her so long to reach the shelter that she invariably heard the all clear before she was inside it and would then turn around and start the slow treck back into the house. We all shared the same shelter at that time and would sit on wooden benches on each side, clutching our gas masks and everything else that we considered too precious to leave in the house.

One night when we had already been up and down two or three times my brother Keith said, ‘I don’t care what happens – I am not getting out of bed one more time.’ My mother, sister and I trooped out as usual and were sitting quietly in the shelter listening to the hum of an airplane (when our neighbour calmly informed us was ‘one of ours’) when all hell broke loose. Bombs started dropping, guns firing, so I stood up and opened the shelter door and in one leap – my brother, followed by the cat, landed in the middle of the shelter. Ha … he said that he made it from the bedroom to the garden in three strides …

One night a fighter plane (German) was not detected until it was over the city and we awoke to the sounds of the crash warning, a serious of loud hoots, which meant immediate danger. We leapt out of bed, ran downstairs and dove under the dining table. Lights danced all over the walls, reflected from fires and search lights. The house shook so badly that the dining room light fell down, plus all of the plaster from our ceilings. We decided to run out to the shelter one at a time. I was the first to go and ran like a hare. I sat in the shelter and waited and waited but nobody else made it out, because the bombing and noise went from bad to worse. When the raid was over we stood outside and we could see flames in every direction all over the city. Bombers had come in after the fighter made its appearance, so it was quite a night, we all knew our lovely city was really in trouble. In the morning we found machine gun bullets in the garden path and were very thankful to be alive and knew we had been much luckier than a lot of people.

It seems surprising to me now that so many of the incidents I remember about the war are so humorous. Perhaps it’s true that subconsciously we only remember the things that we want to.

I remember the night I was walking home from the theatre in the blackout – and England during the blackout was BLACK. You found your way sometimes only because the route was familiar. I was about half way home before I heard footsteps behind me, and a few minutes more before I started telling myself they were a man’s footsteps. I crossed the road – they crossed. I stopped to tie my shoelace – they stopped. I quickened my steps and they quickened. By that time I was really in a panic, and started running at full pelt. They even followed me up to the back door of my house … I was so scared I could hardly think. He was behind me almost breathing down my neck. ‘Are you in a hurry?’ said my brother nearly convulsed with laughter … laughing so hard the tears were running down his face. Luckily he dodged my purse as I swung at him. I didn’t think I could ever forgive him

One morning I was walking between the Norwich electricity plant and the river, the air-raid siren blowing and was hurrying along to the shelter. I waved to an old man who was standing looking up the river. A workman coming out of the plant fiendishly pushed over a large sheet of steel which had been leaning against the wall, and as it fell he yelled ‘JUMP’ and the poor old fellow hearing the load crash jumped right into the river … the air was blue with his cussing and swearing as he was fished out.

As every able bodied person had to work at some kind of a job that would ‘help the war effort’, my mother joined the National Fire Service and looked very smart in her navy uniform. Headquarters, to which she had been assigned, was in a lovely old private home taken over by the government for the duration of the war, and it was located just around the corner from where we lived. Her job was to chart and keep track of fire fighting equipment, so that they could tell in an instant what was available and what was in use. Sometimes she worked long hours at a stretch and often spent the night there. One morning she came home with a large bump on her forehead because she forgot that that she was sleeping in the upper bunk.

During one period of prolonged bombing Mother had been working for about thirty six hours off and on, and when she finally did come home and walked into the house, we took one look at her and burst into laughter. What a picture … we could see how completely exhausted she was, her hair was an absolute mess, her face smudged with dirt and smoke, and her tin hat sideways on her head. Her gas mask over her shoulder and her haversack down her back, both appearing to weigh a ton at that stage. Poor little thing, she said that she was dead tired and had spent hours on the back of a dispatch rider’s motorcycle delivering messages all over the city, bumping over fire hoses and rubble, in and out of potholes. With every bump her tin hat fell down over her eyes, more and more, until she couldn’t even see where she was going. As she needed both hands to hold on to the dispatch rider she just had to hang on and hope that he knew what he was doing.

The Second World War was certainly not all fought in the trenches or in the skies. So much was done by just ordinary people, like my Mother, and my Uncle Fred, marching and drilling with his friends in the home guard, ready, at the beginning of the war, to fight with gardening tools and nothing but courage for ammunition. A girl giving birth to her baby when the hospital was hit by bombs and all the lights out … a fireman, in a dazed condition picking up his friend’s head which had been blown off by flying shrapnel … a ninety pound woman pulling her 180 pound husband up and out of an air raid shelter, saving his life but ripping and tearing every muscle in her back.

I remember riding my bicycle one morning and passing what was left of a row of houses which had been completely destroyed during the night, and looking at the last house on the road, miraculously left undamaged, and seeing a little woman on her knees scrubbing her front door steps. Nothing was going to interfere with her daily routine, especially old Hitler.

My brother, in his office who, when he heard the crash warning stuck his head inside the office safe, figuring it offered good solid protection. He must have missed death by inches when the safe was blown right out of the office, and he was left kneeling, unhurt. All of the personnel were sent home after the raid, and Keith caught a bus, but when he discovered that he had left his money at the office, the conductor put him off, and he was forced to walk the long three miles home, filthy dirty, badly shaken, but nevertheless glad to be alive.

All of these people, and millions of others, carried on their daily lives the best way they knew how, able to joke about the hardships they had to put up with. Individually what they did didn’t amount to much, but united, they made up quite an army.

Back at school we watched as large shelters were built between the playground and the hockey fields, and air raid drills were carried out regularly. These drills soon became unnecessary when the raids occurred more frequently. Looking towards London the sky appeared to be full of barrage balloons just hanging there, waiting to ensnare enemy planes trying to get through to the cities.

Towards the end of one summer term, when the bombings all over England had been really severe, the Head Mistress sent for me. Concerned about our safety she said that she thought that Molly and I would be much safer at school during the summer holidays, than in Norwich, and that she had written to our Mother to suggest this to her. I was STUNNED and couldn’t imagine anything worse. What did I care about bombings? I wanted to go home.

When I told Molly, she of course burst into tears. I promised her that I would try to think of something and not to give up hope. We WOULD go home even if we had to walk. Of course our Head Mistress was only doing what she thought was best, but having to stay at school right through until Christmas was to us utterly unbearable.

Only two weeks until the end of term – and I still had no idea what to do. I was looking through the things in my locker one day and found a postcard. I looked at the stamp and it was like new – it had come through the mail untouched as sometimes happens. I knew straight away what I was going to do. I glued a piece of white paper over the used message part and rewrote the address and then begged Mother to send our fare. That night, after everybody was asleep – I hoped – I got out of bed very quietly and put on my dressing gown and slippers.

I was sleeping in what was called ‘Top Dorm’ by now, so I had a long way to go. I didn’t make a sound as I flew down the stone stairs, two steps at a time, with my heart in my mouth. I ran through the common room, across the play room and outside to the path beside the ‘little dorm’ where I had slept as a new girl. The path to the wooden gate which opened onto the road, led very close to the Head Mistress’s apartment. In fact, I could see through the big French doors in her living room as I crept by. As soon as I had the gate open I dashed across the road to the letter box, and my card was on its way.

I threw all caution to the wind on the way back. I hardly remember getting back into bed, but I knew I was shaking so hard that I thought my bed would creak. I remembered to say ‘Thank you God for letting me find the postcard and PLEASE let us go home this summer.’

Molly and I had been allowed to have our beds side by side so that we could be together during the air raids, so in the morning I whispered to her not to worry, that our fares would come, I was sure. Each day the train lists were read out in the dining room and I tried not to show too much interest … and then … wow … one day our names were called out, our fares had come, and with only three days to wait.

I met Molly after school that day and we walked up to the end of the playground. We stood by the high wire netting fence of the netball courts and looked across the playing fields to the railway lines. We watched a train going by and could see all of the people inside … no lights on of course, and we wondered if the people on the trains ever spoke about us as they passed each day, going back and forth to the city. We smiled and waved to them and felt warm inside, completely happy because … we were going home.

AGR/021/RH Land Girl - schoolgirl photo 15 Oct 1940.jpg (869px x 1439px)

Schoolgirl 1940s

Submitted to WISEArchive in 2015. 

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