Monday, 30 June 2014

Grandma's WWII

My husband's Grandma (Kathleen Hooper nee Richards) was nine years old when World War II broke out in 1939. She lived at 102 Cumberland Road, Hanwell, West London. She was friends with another Kath, who was 2 years older than her. Their parents were friends, through the Salvation Army.

Kath was evacuated from London when she was 10. She went to stay with one of her father's colleagues, Mr Whiteway, (who he met when serving during WWI) who lived with his family in Lyndale, Lancashire. It was a small village and there were only two classes for all of the village children at the local school. Mrs Whiteway was the postmistress. She was middle class and her family were seen as the 'leaders' of the village. She was a kind woman who insisted that the two Kaths drank hot milk every night before bed. It was boiled on the open fire in their kitchen. Kath was happy in Lyndale, but the kids made fun of her London accent. Otherwise, they all got on well. She didn't learn much at the village school - she was too busy having fun.

The two evacuees went with the Whiteways to church on Sunday mornings, and they went for walks in the evening. Sometimes Mrs Whiteway would send the girls with a jug to buy milk from a nearby farm (fresh from the cow.) One evening, they took their time going back home and it was getting dark. They saw some sheep in one field, which was ok, but then they came upon another field filled with large ugly creatures that made a horrible sound. The girls sat down and cried. They were too afraid to keep walking through the field. Soon the farmer found them, sitting there in the grass. He told them that it was safe- the terrifying animals were only turkeys. The farmer put Kath on the handlebars of his bike and leant the other Kath a bike to ride, and made sure they got home ok. They were told off for getting back after dark.

Kath and Kath only stayed there for a few summer months. They saw it as a bit of a holiday but they did miss their families. Soon they went sent back home to London - just in time for the start of the Blitz.

Kath's father was too old to serve in the forces, so he volunteered for home war work. His job was to boil up water at his home in a huge urn, and then take it to the bomb sites to serve tea to those who had just been bombed out. He also used his own car to drive injured people to the closest hospital. It was a harrowing job, seeing the immediate after-effects of the Blitz. No doubt he witnessed many terrible injuries and dead bodies. He found it very stressful, and sometimes Kath would see him shaking in fear as he headed out to help. She quite liked the idea of making tea for people, but was told firmly that "it's no place for children."

People could choose to sleep in the underground overnight if they wished, and many did. Bunk beds were set up and there was a communal atmosphere. There would be sing-songs through the night, as the bombs landed overhead. You would then head back home in the morning to get dressed and go to work. Kath asked her parents if she could sleep in the tube one night, but was told no. They had an air-raid shelter in their garden. If the siren was going off, Kath would be put to bed by her mum in the shelter, and her mum would then head back to the house to make dinner for her dad. They would then join the children (Kath and her older brother Den) to sleep in the shelter overnight.

When there was a lull in the bombing, Kath would visit her friend Kath who lived in Bayswater. She would take the trolley bus to get there. If there was another raid while she was out, she would just head to the nearest shelter. Older Kath lived in a block of flats, and her father (Mr Truman) was the head porter. Her friend had a bedroom in the old maid's room of the building, which was right next to the porters' rooms. Mrs Truman would put the girls to bed and then head back to her room. One of the porters would them let them out and they would sneak out to Hyde Park. They would wander around a bit, buy some chips, and then head back home to eat them. Mrs Truman never said anything, but surely she smelt the distinct odour of chips in the room?

Kath's school was open as education was supposed to continue as normal. On one occasion, their home was fenced off from the school- there were some unexploded bombs that they had to walk past. Kath had to go into school, walking closely past the bombs, collect homework, and then head back home to do it. Not surprisingly, not a lot of learning was actually done during this time. Although Kath did pass her 11 plus and got into grammar school. While she was there, the whole school was evacuated to Torquay. But Kath did not want to go, and her mother did not want her to go either. So she stayed home in London.

When she was 16, Kath attended Pitman's College to study book-keeping and commerce. The college did not have an air-raid shelter, so when there was a raid, everyone took what books or tabulations that they could and sat under one of the stone staircases. They were considered safe as did not tend to fall down if a building was hit.

Kath's brother Den left home when he was 16 to train as an architect. He went to Wessex and stayed with his Auntie Nancy and cousin Ron. Den was called up when he was 18 to the Middle East. Kath is not sure how many countries he served in, but she does remember getting postcards from Egypt. Den helped to design the Bailey bridge - a temporary bridge that was used by the army during the war.
Click for more info on the Bailey bridge.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Jewel and Arthur

Gran (Jewel Booysen) and Gramps (Arthur Huebsch) met in early 1949 in a boarding house called Faylands, in Pietermaritz Street, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, where they were both staying.

Gran and her younger sister, Jenny were living there together. They had grown up in Cape Town, where their mother was still living at the time. Gran worked in the Post Office, starting on the switchboard and then moving to the telegraph office.

Gramps was there with his brother, Edgar. Their parents had retired the year before and bought a small farm called Langverwacht, in Hidcote, near Mooi River (a small rural town in the foothills of the Drakensburg Mountains.) The boys needed to stay in town for their jobs. Gramps worked in the local brewery, as a mechanic.

There was a shared dining room at the boarding house, and no doubt they caught each other's eye one night at dinner. One evening, Gran was sitting in the lounge knitting, when Gramps walked up to her and pulled one of the knitting needles out of her work, leaving all of the stitches dangling. Later, they all decided (Gran, Gramps, their siblings and some friends) to go for a walk. They ended up walking for a long time, and found themselves at The Hatcheries on the north side of town. Somehow Gran and Gramps got separated from the group and got back home much later, long after everyone else had gone to bed. When Gran's mother found out, she was not impressed.

After a whirlwind romance of only 3 months, they got married on 1 August 1949 at St Mary's Catholic Church in Loop Street, Pietermaritzburg. Gramps had been raised a Catholic, so that's why the ceremony was held there. They had very little money, so Gran got married in a normal inexpensive pale-blue dress. The whole ceremony lasted only 7 minutes. (That was just like her, not to make a fuss.)

Gran was 22 and Gramps 24 years old.

They moved into a tiny one-roomed place after they were married. Gran told me once that some people thought (incorrectly) that she was pregnant, hence the 'rushed' wedding. The fact that their first baby was born more than a year later proved the gossips wrong.

Gran told her new husband that all she really wanted was 6 children and a van to drive them around in. She did conceive 6 babies, but sadly miscarried twin boys. Their 4 surviving children are: Uncle Philip (who lives in Botswana); my Mom Heather (UK); Aunty Ruth (USA) and Aunty 'Joon' (Kathleen) who still lives in South Africa. Gran also got the van she desired, about 14 years later.

They had 10 grandchildren, and now, although they never met them, 9 great-grandchildren, and one more on the way.

They were happily married (they really were happy and obviously still very much in love) for 48 years, until Gramps died in 1997.


Friday, 6 June 2014

My back garden

We moved into the house in Oribi Road when I was about 11. There was a badly-dug small pool with far too much chlorine in it. After we moved in, Dad soon turned it into a beautiful well-made larger version. I loved that pool. Summer lasts about 10 months in Pietermaritzburg so we really appreciated it. It got up to about 40 degrees Celsius at the height of Summer (Jan and Feb). On those days we couldn't stay outside too long, even in the pool.

As far as I remember, there were two trees in the yard. One was an orange, and one a mixture of lemon and orange - literally two types of tree were grafted together. I guess you could call it a lorange or oramon. We sometimes made fresh orange juice with the fruit but needed to add loads of sugar to make it drinkable.

Around the back of the old servants' rooms (two small bedrooms and a not-very-nice toilet block) was where Dad had his vegetable patch. He grew all sorts there, and very successfully too. Home-grown food tastes so much better but I am useless at growing things- they all die in the end.

Sometimes when Dad was gardening, he would come across small snakes. He would chop their heads off with a spade (there are many poisonous kinds in South Africa). I liked to play with the smooth dead bodies. They were pretty cool. When my brother and I played hobos in the garden, I would light a fire and burn the bodies. Or anything else that was to hand. Sometimes marshmallows.

When we first moved in, the servants' block was filled with junk and random furniture, and we used it as a den. My cousins would come round and we'd play armies in there. Being the oldest of the group, I was leader or co-leader most of the time.

Sometimes I would have to mow the lawn. Not I job I enjoyed then or now.

When we got lovebirds, they lived in a large aviary along the far wall (furthest from the house.) They needed to be far away because they were so loud. We also kept guinea pigs in the yard, much closer to the house. I loved my guineas. The cats would sit on top of their run and keep a close watch. But if we took the pigs out and showed them to the cats, the felines would scarper. Most amusing.

We had three cats and a small naughty dog called Thomas. He belonged to my brother but adored Mom.

There was a gate outside the old servant's quarters toilet block. You could climb to the top of it and then carefully position yourself on top of the outside wall (about 7 foot high). From there you had a great view over the neighbourhood. All houses are single-storey, so you don't usually overlook your neighbours. One neighbours on one side had lots of lush vegetation, so you couldn't see much anyway. But you could see surprisingly far. The neighbours on the other side had a huge pool and two large unhappy dogs who I never saw being walked or petted. I felt sorry for them - they were obviously seen only as guard dogs and not pets. They barked a lot.

I spent a lot of happy times in that garden. In the evening it was lovely to just go and sit in it and look at the stars. You could hear the crickets at night - I missed them when we moved to the UK.

When it rained, it did a proper job. You would get drenched in seconds. It didn't rain often, so I enjoyed standing outside and feeling the warm drops pummelling my skin.

The thunderstorms were amazing. We would count between the lightning and thunder to work out if it was moving towards us. We felt so small and vulnerable against the might of creation. It was liberating. The thunder shook the windows and sometimes lead to a power cut. All the torches and candles would come out. So much fun.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Exercise: Write about a memorable meal from your childhood

1) One Christmas Day we went to Durban beach as a family. It was mid-Summer, so very hot and the beach was be packed. I can't actually remember what we ate. It would have been a picnic probably. Some people had braiis on the beach but I don't think we did.

The day was hot and sunny as usual and we spent time playing on the sand and swimming in the sea. The waves along that stretch of coast were huge - imagine Cornish waves but much bigger. It is a real hot-spot for surfers, unsurprisingly.

I was out swimming and none of my family were nearby. I must've been about 13. Suddenly a wave grabbed hold of me and didn't let go. It rolled me over and over until I could feel my lungs running out of air. I wasn't scared though. I thought that if it was my time, then that was that. It was a pretty cool way to go anyway.

Eventually the sea did spit me back onto land. I sat for a minute on the shore, getting my breath back. Then I wandered back to where my Mom was sitting under a parasol and asked for a drink. I never told my parents about what happened- I was worried that they'd ban me from swimming in the sea. After my drink I went back in. I love the beach.


2) It was my Gran's birthday I think. We had a swimming pool in our back garden (that my Dad had done most of the work to make and kept spotless - I remember he always seemed to be measuring PH levels.) All 10 of the cousins (and their parents) on my Mom's side of the family were there. We ranged in age from 2 - 15 years old.

I loved my cousins - we always had so much fun together. It was a hot sunny day as always and we were running in and out of the pool. There was a lot of making whirlpools and playing Marco Polo. It was noisy and chaotic, but in a good way. All the dads had a swim too. I don't remember the moms swimming very often - they always seemed to be busy preparing food or chatting. I did think that when I grew up I would make sure I had as much fun as the men and kids always seemed to have. And I'd go swimming in public, not fret over if I was too curvy. I have kept that promise to myself, I'm pleased to say.

Again, I'm not sure what we ate for lunch. Was it a braai? I know we did have several. Dad had built a brick braii pit for us.

Hmm, the brief for this exercise was to write about a memorable meal but the trouble is that I just don't find food that interesting or memorable. It's always the people (and water, apparently) that make an occasion special.