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World War 2 Two II WW2 WWII


Irene Hayward

from:West Midlands

Extract form Irene Hayward's Journal - life as a wartime child.

'Sunday 14th September 2007

Tonight on the tele I was watching a programme about tracing ancestors. It was Graham Norton and after looking back over old family history, he found that his grandmother had four illegitimate children and used two surnames. It started me thinking about my own family from way back and I realised that my dad's mom (my grandmother) had four children. Her husband was never mentioned at anytime. She brought them up by herself and cleaned for other people. Did washing and cleaned for Bloxwich Church to feed and clothe her family. But as I said, her husband was never mentioned by anybody in the family and she never wore a wedding ring. My imagination is working overtime again. Strange though, she didn't receive a widow's pension. Alice her daughter had a son (she wasn't married) and her son got two girls pregnant at the same time. Makes you think doesn't it?

My mom and my Aunt Alice couldn't stand each other. Every time they met it was open warfare. Then when my Gran died, my Dad asked Alice to come and live with us. Every day was a battle ground. It was rows among the three of them from morning till night... not a nice atmosphere at all. My Gran and my Dad used to make a bit of extra money making bodged rugs for the neighbours... nobody had any money then. Times were really hard. Carpets were unheard of... it was lino or bare floor boards. People used to bring their old clothes and sugar sacks to my Dad. Sugar was sold loose then, from Hessian sacks. Nothing was ever in prepared bags. So old clothes were cut up in 4 inch strips and with a bodger it was threaded into these sacks at regular intervals to make a hearth rug. I can still remember the stale sweaty smell that was part of these rugs. It was awful, but the rugs lasted for years... and so did the smell. The only way they could be freshened up was to throw them over the clothes line on a windy day. But if it rained it brought out even more strange smells.

My Dad worked down the pit and as part of their wages they were allowed a load of coal every so often. My Dad used to sell it for beer money. It was against the law to sell it, because coal was rationed, but he never got caught. I used to have to get the coal in using buckets and put it in the air shelter in the back garden and people used to fetch it when it was dark. What made it even more dodgy was my Dad was a part time Special Police Constable. There were more criminals on the police force than there was anywhere else. They used to break into shops when they were checking the premises and steal margarine and sell it to the locals.

My Dad was also an air raid warden and our next door neighbours were incendiary bombed. My Dad couldn't take off his Police helmet to go in the house to see what damage had been done because his helmet was full of stuff that he had nicked from other places he has visited. My mom used to take the stuff to work to sell to the other women she worked with and also swapped it at the butchers for meat for Dad. I never had any. I was brought up on bread and dripping and bread and lard. It might be the reason I don't eat much meat now.

At one time people used to push empty barrows from Bloxwich to Cannock in the middle of the night to steal coal from the pit heads and push it all the way back again. The coal bits were then mixed with cement and shaped into coal bricks to burn. Sometimes families used to wait at the canal-side for the coal barges to come past. They used to throw lumps of coal from the barges to people who stood waiting on the tow path.

It would be around the same time in life that I came home from school and went down the garden to feed my two white pet rabbits to find they were not there. They were in a stew pot in the oven cooking together with carrots onions and pearl barley. I was so upset that I cried and got thumped because I wouldn't eat my dinner.

It wasn't a happy childhood at all. I remember spending most of it standing in a pub doorway with a bottle of Vimto and a packet of crisps.

I used to go to The Sunshine School in Blakenall Lane, I suppose it's still there. I passed my 11 plus exam and was chosen to go to Elmore Green High School where uniforms were compulsory and was given a school uniform grant to pay for it. But I never got to go because the money got spent in the pub, I had to go to RC Thomas senior girls school where I became head girl and prefect.

This is so depressing looking back, so I am giving it a rest and going to put the kettle on once more.

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