Ivor's Insights Part 9

Part Nine
     We were allocated a corrugated-iron Anderson air raid shelter which was installed in our back garden. A hole approximately 2.50 metres by 2 metres by 1.50 metres
deep was dug out, a concrete floor laid in the bottom and 100mm thick concrete walls lined the sides.  The superstructure of the two longitudinal sides of the shelter consisted of 2 metre long sheets of corrugated iron with curved ends which were bolted together to an arch. The ends of the shelter were plain sheets of corrugated iron with an opening at the front for access. The earth from the hole was then backfilled up and around the superstructure. Bunk beds that would sleep four children were supplied. Any other furniture had to be found by the householder.  
   This was all fine except for the fact that we had to share this shelter with our neighbours, Lou Cordon, his wife May, daughter and son. This meant that the five children had to cram themselves into the two bunk beds whilst the four adults made do with any chairs small enough to fit into the available space. I remember the air raid siren wailing out its mournful sound every evening at around 6.45. My father would just have time to get home from work, have something to eat and then we’d all descend to our hole in the ground until morning. We had to find something to act as a door to cover the access opening at the front of the shelter. This was solved by sacrificing our slate bedded billiard table which did the job well. It received no ‘cannons’ or thankfully, no bombs throughout those raids. 
    Every morning we kids would look for shrapnel which may have fallen in the street from the overnight raid. We collected it as souvenirs, the bigger the better, some pieces were so jagged the thought of the damage they could, and did, do was frightening. My mother used to warn us of these dangers and told us to stop collecting it. The ironic thing about all of these nightly raids was that our neighbours had an old lady lodger who refused to take any shelter. In true Churchillian spirit she declared that Hitler and his murderers were not going to make her leave her bed at night and they didn’t. She survived the war in her nice warm bed!
    Finally, on this nightly shelter ritual I must tell you that there were occasions when things quietened sufficiently during the night for the two men, my father Bert and our neighbour, Lou, to venture outside the shelter into the garden on the pretence that it was just for a ‘look around to see everything was in order’ Just what they would do if things weren’t in order we never, thankfully, found out. Suffice to say that on these occasions after a couple of minutes the sound of a bottle opening and liquid being carefully transported into a glass was heard. This delicate operation was followed by our neighbour saying in hushed tones ‘Cheers Bert, all the best’, a toast eagerly reciprocated by my father with ‘Cheers Lou, same to you’ You certainly couldn’t blame them for having a few beers and a smoke, usually Woodbines, Players Weights or Park Drive, not knowing if each drink or smoke would be their last. 
   These day and night bombing raids were so common that it set a pattern, which became a normal way of life for many people throughout the country. Life and work had to go on. The men would go off to work every day and hope that their loved ones, to say nothing of their houses, would still be there upon their return. Everyone was issued with a gas mask. This was stored and carried in a cardboard box or a round tin which had to carried with you at all times. Windows in all buildings had to be completely blacked out at night so as not to emit any chink of light which could help guide an enemy aircraft. Air Raid Precaution Wardens (A.R.P) would patrol the streets and if they spotted a light anywhere they would shout out in a loud voice ‘Put that light out’
      We were lucky in that as Greenford is about 10 miles west of London we were spared the terrible bombing raids they and other big areas of Britain experienced. We had a shock one day when one of our own anti-aircraft shells fell on Wedmore Road but no one was hurt. The worst we had was when a land mine – a large bomb dropped by parachute from German planes - destroyed a local pub called ‘The Load of Hay’, killing the family owners. My father remembered seeing the remains of the parachute hanging from the trees surrounding the piles of rubble.
   I remember sometimes on my way to school the air raid siren would sound just as I was approaching the entrance to the school.  I would quickly turn round and being young and quite fleet of foot would tear back home hoping for a day off school. This ploy was sometimes viewed with suspicion by my mother who would doubt my protestations that I was only just around the corner when the siren sounded. Sometimes it worked but on other occasions just as I arrived home, panting and puffing a bit, the All Clear siren would sound and all my efforts came to nothing as I was packed off back to school. Rotten old Hitler or words to that effect come to mind.  Of course if we were already in school and the siren sounded we were marched to the underground air raid shelters in the school grounds and continued our lessons there until the All Clear siren sounded.
   Another hardship we all endured was rationing. In January 1940 due to the German submarines attacking many British ships bringing food and other supplies to Britain the Government were forced to introduce some sort of rationing. This entailed each adult being issued with a ration book which you presented to each shopkeeper when purchasing any product. The shopkeeper would cross off the appropriate coupon in the book accordingly. Remember there were no supermarkets in those days.
     Here is a short list of some of the food stocks which were rationed.
Bacon, sugar, butter, meat, tea, cheese, tinned tomatoes, rice, eggs, peas, canned fruit, biscuits, breakfast cereals, milk, dried fruit, cooking fat, jam.
A typical ration per person per week was butter 2 oz, margarine 4 0z, bacon, 4 oz,
Sugar 8 oz, milk 3 pints (sometimes only 2 pints), meat – to the value of one shilling, approximately equates to 6p today, cheese 2 oz, one fresh egg, dried egg 1 packet every four weeks, tea 2 oz, jam 1 lb every 2 months, sweets 12 oz also every four weeks. I remember visiting our local sweet (candy) shop with our ration coupons and trying to make up our minds as to what to buy and would it last until we were able to get any more. One of my favourite chocolate bars was Fry’s Chocolate Sandwich. The name wasn’t surprising because it was made up like a sandwich having a top and bottom layer of milk chocolate with a layer of dark/plain chocolate in the middle. Unfortunately this delicacy melted away many years ago.
    In addition to the above rationing list, everyone was allowed 16 points per month to use on whatever food items they chose.   I remember the packets of dried egg powder which came from America. It was in a brownish coloured waxy type cardboard packet bearing a picture of the Stars and Stripes on the front. One packet was equivalent to 12 eggs. The product was suitable for making omelettes or scrambled eggs and quite nice to eat as I remember. We also had Spam tinned meat from Argentina and whale meat called Snoek from South Africa. Of course expectant mothers and all infants were entitled to more than the above rations. 
     The government encouraged all people to grow their own food wherever possible. Dig for Victory was the motto which saw house lawns, flower borders as well as plots of land called allotments turned into vegetable gardens. We benefited from all of those options through the efforts of my father working in our garden as well as an tending an allotment. I remember every house had ‘Pig’ bin allocated which housed any scraps of food left over (which wasn’t very much really). This receptacle was collected weekly by the local council and its contents were fed to some hungry pigs somewhere. Our bin was often hauled into the middle of our road by us boys and served as a wicket in a game of cricket. Sometimes a figure of authority would appear and tell us off; forcing us to put the bin back in the garden which isn’t cricket is it?
   In later years when the health experts looked back at the war time food rationing regime they came to the conclusion that the general health of the public was far healthier in those days than subsequent years when food stocks were plentiful with shops full of so many choices of food but unfortunately much of it contained excessive fat, sugar, salt as well as chemicals and insecticides which subsequently led to a dramatic increase in cases of Diabetes and Obesity. This problem greatly increases the chances of coronary and stroke issues.
  As well as food being rationed there were other items such as clothes, paper, petrol, soap – 1 bar a month (hurrah said the kids) - and washing powder which was also rationed.  
   I can’t say I will never know how on earth my mother coped with feeding and looking after all of us so well during those days of austerity, because I do know the answer. She was, like all mothers, always putting their families first. She may have been small in stature but what she lacked in height she more than made for by her stamina, dedication and love for her family. I should also add that like, many other women, she also took a job working in a local factory, helping the war effort.
We were so lucky to have such a strong lady as our rock and anchor.
   I remember in the kitchen, in an effort to eke out the meagre butter ration she would make her own substitute butter/margarine spread, don’t ask me what the ingredients were but it tasted fine to us and helped us through.  Also when making a beef stew with dumplings she would put in a couple of extra dumplings and when they were cooked would fish them out, drain off most of the gravy and then put some jam over them and feed them to we three, always hungry, boys who devoured them with relish and gratitude. I carried the memory of this innovative easily made and filling dessert into later years and when I was married, much to the surprise of my wife, and I suspect many of you readers, I would occasionally ask her to put an extra dumping into the wonderful beef stews she makes! I’m pleased to say she does sometimes indulge me.
    As the youngest son, it was natural that some of my clothes were hand-me-downs from my brothers but my mother would also visit Jumble Sales and find other suitable clothes for all of us.  I remember coming home from school at lunch time on Monday’s, and seeing the kitchen filled with steam with my mother, up to her arms in soap suds washing clothes in the boiler. As if that wasn’t hard enough work the clothes still had to be put through the hand operated mangle afterwards. But, being a Monday Mum would usually have managed to keep some meat and vegetables left over from Sunday so I would have a slice of some kind of meat accompanied by lovely Bubble and Squeak for my lunch. Unfortunately, in time this weekly hand washing task affected Mum’s hands so badly that she developed dermatitis. She was forced to daily apply the appropriate cream onto her hands and cover them with bandages to ease the suffering. This painful and debilitating condition couldn’t go on so my father bought Mum a washing machine which if I recall correctly was called a Swirl-lux. Thank goodness this innovation made her life a lot easier.  
---End of Part Nine--- 

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