There was no escaping the way the war was changing our school. Reclaimed jumper wool was knitted into six inch squares, then sewn together as a large blanket. For the life of me, I could not complete one square, and was soon moved to unravelling the jumpers.
My mate Dave produced perfect squares, he was good at everything.
Of all the things we did for the war effort, my favourite was helping the local farmers.
Bentleys, in New Haw was one of the farms. We were given a packed lunch consisting of lovely slices of meat or corned-beef in a sandwich, and a large slice of steamed jam pudding.
This was by far, more than our weekly ration, and most likely why I loved the work.
We were driven there in the back of an army lorry, very exciting and all of us singing.
The work was mostly weeding, a gang of about twenty kids in a huge field of carrots, it was back-breaking. We were rewarded with a star if we finished a row before any-one else. At the end of the week each star was worth a penny, it soon mounted up if you were quick.
Need-less to say the boys never got a star, the girls seem to be so much better at it.
The children were aged between ten and fourteen, one school was from nearby Addlestone, St Pauls, mostly girls, there was a lot teasing by the big boys from our school.
Up till then, I had never really thought about my clothes, I had what most of the other kids had. Most of my mates never wore under-clothes—our outfit, if you could call it that—was a short pair of grey flannel trousers, and a jersey with a collar and three buttons.
Some of the children were of course better dressed, you could always tell if a family was better off by their clothes, and in particular their shoes.
In the winter I wore a shirt under my jersey, with boots and socks, the boots were of the cheapest leather—I think it was more like compressed card-board. Needless to say they never lasted very long, and were then repaired with the cardboard from cereal packets. Shredded Wheat was the best, as it had a very shiny finish, this was nearly water-proof if you put the shiny surface in first, to cover the hole. I was always cold, with chilblains and chapped legs.
A couple of my mates wore proper shoes, always brown brogues, and polished until they wore away the colour and ended up with orange highlights. They also had under-pants and vests. In the winter they had jackets and overcoats, gloves and balaclava’s. We called them mummies boys, but we did envy them.
Another group of boys were almost as well dressed, but in a more industrial way. They would have heavy duty clothes, and ex-army boots, with studs every where, they never wore out and lasted for years. They bought all their clothes from Gilbert Jackson, a shop next to the Picture Palace that specialised in farm or factory wear. And army surplus. We bought ours from Mr Norman, the Tally man, and they hardly lasted the winter.
When I first saw Monika, a girl from the Addlestone school, it made me realise that some girls were also poorly dressed, she was a bit older than me but very thin, and to be honest a bit dirty. Her dress was too small for her and was simply held together underneath with a safety pin. This is what caused caused the nasty teasing by our senior boys.
It was quite a few weeks later that my mate Tony, told me that her name wasn’t Monica Nodraws, but it was what the boys were shouting, because of her lack of knickers.
It was OK for me and my mates not to be wearing pants, but a girl, that was too bad.
The poor girl’s family were just too hard-up to afford them, I suppose.
Monica Nodraws 1942