Chapter Six, January 1940.

Sweet thing’s are made of this.

Here I am aged eight moaning about the necessities of life. Who ever heard of a vegetable like a swede, being cooked and then flavoured with banana syrup? Well today, that’s what we had for pudding; banana fritters without any banana. What’s the world coming to?

The war really is getting serious. Sweets are vanishing from the shops. My mate Teddy Wade, from Cowley Avenue, gave me some nice sweets yesterday. They are called ‘Zubes’ and were in a little round tin. He said he bought them from the chemists in Guildford Street, near the Station.

“They have lots of this sort of thing, they’re called cough sweets, so as well as tasting nice they are good for you”.

Teddy is the sort of boy who knows a thing or two, he then carried on.

“If you know where to look, you can get anything. In old Mrs. Froud’s shop, you know, next to the ‘The Bell’, she’s got sweets in the back room. She must have had them for months, they are all stuck together, but they will soon be all gone, so if you want some, you had better go now”.

I left it too late, Mrs. Froud’s shop had been cleaned out, all that was left was little square tins of ‘Nippits’. These are tiny bits of liquorice, meant for people who smoke, to clean their breath. Not meant for kids at all, but they were better than nothing, and lasted along time.

Whenever there was a mention of somewhere with a sweets delivery, kids from all over the town would fill the shop. It was becoming a serious problem, even ‘Woolworths’ were selling fake bananas that were really just large dried bean skins. They even had sticks of wood flavoured with aniseed or liquorice—I think they were roots of something or other. Theses had to be sucked to get any flavour from them, then they became very stringy.

Today at dinner time, Miss Slaughter, our head mistress, told us what to do if the siren went off while we were eating our dinner.

“It’s never good to rush your dinner, but this is what we must do now. Instead of putting your knife and fork down between mouthfuls, keep them in your hand, ready for the next forkful. Then we will all be finished more quickly”.

I looked at Tony Rees, he pointed at his empty plate. Like me, he had finished his dinner as soon as he had sat down. Our knife and fork never left our hands once we got started.

Miss Slaughter—well named as far as I was concerned, she was very handy with the stick—then stood on the platform holding a bag of Horlicks tablets (little squares of compressed Horlicks in paper wrappers).

“All line up here in alphabetical order, there is one tablet for each of you.”

I am never very lucky with this sort of thing, and sure enough, me and my mate, Laury Zubiana, —who was of course at the end of the queue— went without……….Such is life.

For the last few weeks it has been very cold. Me and Don, have been ‘wooding’ up St Anne’s hill, a large woodland park, about a quarter of a mile away, up past the Golden Grove Pub. Most of the fallen branches that are nearest to the town, have already been cleared by other kids. So now, we, and his friend Kenny Edwards, have had to go further up, into Blue Bell Dell.

We are so lucky, lumber jacks have been busy felling trees for the war effort. Lucky? Yes we are, but I am very sad to see theses huge Sweet Chestnut trees chopped down. A whole hill with loads of trees gone in a matter of weeks. The old Nun’s Wishing Well that was pretty much hidden in the dense undergrowth, and only a few of us knew where it was, is now there for all to see.

The lumber-jack’s mainly used enormous axes to fell the trees, this gave us lovely large chips of wood, just right for the fire-place, and easy to fit in the pram. Don looks at our old pram full of these quite heavy chips and then at the buckled wheels. He decides we carry as much as we can, hoping a pram that is only half full, will survive the bumpy track down the hill.

We returned day after day, together with the rest of our mates and cleared the hill of all this wonderful firewood. We gave some to our neighbour, old Mrs. Phillips, ‘Pedlar’ her son was one of the first to join up, leaving her all on her own.

Unfortunately, the Sweet Chestnut wood chips are still very green and are not very good for burning, but at least they were free, and once they dried out a bit they were fine.

The blackout is now in full force, fire wardens would soon shout if they see so much as a glimmer of light from your windows. They would say an enemy plane can see someone smoking a fag from 2,000 ft. We believed everything they told us.

The Local Defence Volunteers were always good for a laugh, which was very unfair as they were so keen to protect us and they took it all so seriously. I think even they thought it was funny though, with their home made white arm bands with LDV hand written on them, and having to practice drill with broomsticks or something similar, they had no rifles. They were men too young or too old for the services and all shapes and sizes.

With only one fire to heat the whole house, we would all crowd round it, with the result we had scorched legs or worse still, chilblains. The wireless was always switched on for the nine o’clock news. With Alvar Liddel, the news reader, often with some bad news, like when one of our ship’s was sunk with many sailors dying. This was followed by ‘Into Battle’, a newsplay about the war in which we seemed to always be winning. We all loved it.

Mum was very upset when we heard that Italy may be joining forces with Germany. We have a lot of Italian friends and neighbours, and we thought they would be sent away to prison camps. I think our Italian neighbours were very unhappy about the war, and we thought it would be very unfair for them to be blamed.

So far the war had been happening somewhere else, and lots of evacuee’s decided to go back to London.

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