Wednesday, 3 December 2014

VE Day

This will be the last mailing about my war time memories for the moment because a new project has taken over my life filling those hours between two and four thirty when I tend to lie awake but haven’t the energy to go down stairs and make a cup of tea. 
    Tuesday 8th May 1945 – It was a bright sunlit day, blue skies and the sound of church bells, suddenly life felt wonderful.  All the grownups were smiling, we spent the morning gathering and tying up bundles of wood, even the smallest child was expected to carry wood to the top of Brent Hill for the thanks giving bonfire.  All the men who had been gone for so long would be coming home: no, not quite true for the war in Europe was over but the war with Japan had yet to be won and my father was captain of HMS Redpole somewhere in the Pacific.  The 8th May was his birthday but there would be no family celebrations for him.  It must have been hard for my mother but she was determined that we children should have a day to remember. 
    At three o’clock we all gathered in the village church, it really was standing room only for the London and Scottish Regiment was camped in a field on the edge of the village so joined us and paraded their colours.  Those who couldn’t get standing room in the church stood outside and we all sang our hearts out – Now thank we all our God, O God our help in ages past and of course, the National Anthem. 
    The government had decreed that the nation’s clocks should be set to double summer time for ‘The Duration’ to make maximum use of the day light hours but the smallest child was still wide awake when we began the climb up on to the moor each with a bundle of wood on our backs.  I remember the pile of wood for our bonfire as huge and even now I can feel the sense of mounting excitement as we waited for the dusk to turn to dark when the lighted torch would be pushed into the heart of the heap.  Suddenly the cry went up, ‘There’s the first!’ and someone nearby murmured, ‘and the red glare on Skidaw woke the burghers of Carlisle.’  Pin points of light sprang up on every hill top across Dartmoor, a flaming torch was pushed into the heart of our pile and our bonfire became part of the chain of triumphant fire that carried the message of peace across the country. 

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Bouncing Bomb

The dark cavern under the dining table continued to be my hiding place where I listened in on the adult world and, when all was quiet, created a dream world all of my own.  On 17 May 1943 I was curled up there again, I know the date for certain because as usual the wireless had been left on and I heard the news reader announce that they had just received the report that the Edersee Dam had been breached, what followed has remained in my mind ever since.  A pilot of the Lancaster Bombers of No. 617 Squadron was talking about the scene below him, a huge hole had been blasted in the dam 230 feet wide and 72 feet deep and an enormous wave was surging up the Ruhr Valley.  Cars were fleeing from the flood water and he could see their white head lights, then as they were over taken by the waves the lights changed to dull yellow, purple and then finally disappeared.  I didn’t feel I could share this with the grownup world; I just hugged the terrible image to myself.  I didn’t know then that 70 people had been drowned in their cars, nor did I know that the bomb which we all now know as the bouncing bomb had been tested and proved on the Fleet.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

HMS Ladybird

Sometimes life gets overfull and there is no time left in the day for the things I really want to do.  At last I’ve managed to slip away into the farm kitchen of my childhood memories hoping you will join me here. 

On 12 May 1941 I was in my favourite hiding place under the dining room table, when I heard the man on the wireless talking about HMS Ladybird, a ship I had always regarded as mine because I knew my name was inscribed on the inside of her bell.  I had been baptised on board in 1936 when I was six weeks old and the Ladybird was tied up alongside in Hankow so in accordance with Naval tradition the ship’s bell was used as the font.   The news reader said that German planes had bombed her, set her on fire and she had sunk but right to the very end while her guns were above the water even though she was sinking she had gone on firing and had brought down two enemy aeroplanes.  This was a very powerful message to a small person and has been part of my driving force throughout my life – never give up no matter how bad things seem to be, you never know what you may achieve even when all seems lost. 
HMS Ladybird was one of the little river gunboats that had sailed from the Yangtze to join the Fleet soon after the beginning of the war and so were involved in the Battle of Torbruk.  If you go to Wikipedia you can find the story of the sinking of HMS Ladybird including part of the report by the ship’s captain Commander John Blackburn; he tells how the sailors, gunners and officers, including the wounded with the ship burning under their feet and half the guns under water kept seeking his permission to ‘Carry on, sir, please.’  Only when the old ship was rolling for her final  plunge did John Blackburn give the order to abandon ship. ‘She went down with what guns we could still man, firing to the last.’
Next week another story from under the table.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

China to Falmouth

Back at the end of September I confessed that I am very lucky to be alive today because my mother got me out of China on the last ship to leave Shanghai as the Japanese invaded the northern border.  Life in a Chinese concentration camp was very hard and a baby of less than a year old wouldn’t have lasted long.  A Chinese lady who we called Amah came with us, she had looked after me since I was born and from what I gathered I doubt if she would have trusted my mother to look after me.  It came as a shock to find that though Amah lived with us in England until I was two, when I asked what her real name was so I could search for her when I went back to China in 1980 my mother confessed she had no idea.  All the early photographs of me show a smiling baby but from the age of two every one is of a very solemn child who never smiled at all.  My mother was a distant figure who believed in children’s hour, time spent with mummy from five to six o’clock, the rest of the day was spent with a constantly changing background of nannies; today we would call them mothers-helps for they were all untrained.  Then came the war and my mother disappeared to be with my father in Greenock while my grandmother supervised the nannies.  It probably wasn’t as bad as it sounds but for a couple of years life was just very confusing for a small child.  One memory is as clear as yesterday; I was standing at the top of a road in Falmouth looking down on the harbour holding the hand of ‘Nanny who married a Dutchman’.  She was talking to a sailor who had a red pom-pom on his cap, presumably the Dutchman in question.  The harbour was filled from side to side by grey ships and I now know I was looking at the Free French Fleet who had made an exciting escape from the Germans to fight alongside our Navy.  

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

What is a Ghost?

I find it sad that these days the shops are filled with so many ugly masks and skeletons, must haves for Hallowe’en.  Who now remembers that Hallowe’en means the evening before All Saints day?   When I was a child the night before All Saints Day was party time when we had toffee apples and other goodies and if one of the grownups was good at telling stories we gathered round the fire and shivered with pretend apprehension remembering the Cornish Litany ‘From ghoulies and ghosties and long leggedy beasties, good Lord deliver us.’  And here I have to confess I'd got it wrong, in my memory I had confused  Hallowe'en with All Souls Day celebrated on 2nd November when those who have gone before us are remembered, hence this editing.  Hallowe'en was originally the pagan festival of Samhain marking the death of summer. The spirits came out, the elves and goblins, good fairies and bad fairies. People dressed up so as to blend in with the occult creatures astir. Food was left outside, on one side of the door for the good spirits, on the other side of the door for the bad spirits, that is the origin of treat or treat and the tradition of handing over food to those who come to your door.  Thank you Jude - it is wonderful to have a well informed friend.
        For years I wondered whether there really are ghosts, certainly there are buildings and particular places where some will say that they feel uncomfortable, claiming they sense past evil while there are other places which seem filled with a sense of peace and well being.  Perhaps we really do leave something of ourselves behind which others who come after may sense if they pause as they pass by. 

Unseen Reality
What is a ghost?
A thought – a song – a sigh
Upon the wings of time
That echoes down the passages
Where you and I first met
And others who pass by
Will wonder why they pause and smile
Unknowing that the peace they feel
Was born in our content. 

© Carenza Hayhoe 1974

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Memories Beget Memories

I know that last week I promised to go back to my earliest memories and tell you about life at the beginning of the war but thinking about my time as a house maid reminded me of a day when it really was good to be alive.  Mostly the PGs were middle aged FCO families home on leave from the Sudan or young naval bachelors who drove Triumph TR2s.  You probably don’t know what TR2s were; they was low and fast, built between 1953 and 1955 and were followed by TR3s.  The breed were known as good tart traps and the owners would boast happily that they’d taken a corner a bit fast last week and rolled the beast but they all seemed to lead charmed lives because I don’t remember anyone getting hurt and I don’t recall ever seeing a dented TR2.
At last, just after I had said ‘Yes please’ to George a young couple arrived at Cleeve.  He was a submariner commonly known as Bone Dome and once you got to know him it became obvious why.  His wife Mary was the same age as me, very beautiful but looked as though a passing breeze would blow her away.  She had developed appendicitis when she was three months pregnant and a brilliant surgeon had removed her appendix and saved the baby.  Mary hated having to take life quietly, it wasn’t her style at all; she was also a passionate horsewoman so when the hunt met in Ivybridge though she was still supposed to be convalescent she longed to follow, but how?  She managed to persuade my cousin Sally to lend her an ancient rust bucket and give me the morning off but once we were in the Land Rover it was apparent that we had a problem.  I couldn’t drive and Mary’s six month bump was such that she couldn’t reach the gear lever.  It was long before the days of seat belts or any thoughts of health and safety and we thought ourselves indestructible, we were young and filled with imagination and determination.  It didn’t take long to work out how Mary could drive and operate the clutch and while I worked the gear lever.  A clear chill November morning on Dartmoor must be very near heaven, we bumped over rough ground, stalled and laughed and stalled again as we hurtled across the moor after the hounds.  We were alive and life was wonderful.  Mary became the best friend anyone could ask for; for a while she was a highly regarded breeder of Welsh Mountain ponies but died of heart failure when she was only fifty two.  I miss her still.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The End of The Beginning

As school days come to an end the question is what next?  My mother had been brought up to believe that girls should not be educated for ‘blue stockings are a bore they have no small talk’.  She decided that I should go into the hotel trade as a cook and entered me for a course at a college in Gloucester.  For the first time in my life I rebelled and announced that I wanted to go to agricultural college to learn about pig keeping so, escorted by both my parents I was interviewed by the Principal of Kingston Mauward College and entered as a farm student for Autumn 1955 subject to first spending a year working on a farm.  The opportunity for that came when I overheard our cousin Sally Sparrow, who had inherited a big house and two small farms near Plymouth, say she needed help.  It wasn’t long before she discovered I was most useful as a housemaid and general odd job girl so I found myself taking tea to her PGs (paying guests) in the early morning, hoovering acres of floor and sweeping mountains of stairs, washing sheets and all by hand for she had no washing machine in those days.  I led a double life because Sally tried to maintain standards of another era where staff lived and worked behind a green baize door; there I made some real friends but because I was family I ate in the dining room with Sally and all her guests.
To make ends meet besides running the two farms Sally took in young officers who were ‘standing by’ submarines in refit in Devonport, as well FCO families on leave from the Sudan.  Behind the house was a big walled garden where she grew fruit and flowers for the London market so I helped there as well which is why a young submariner found me under a gooseberry bush one warm July afternoon.  Under a gooseberry bush?  Yes, for how else would you pick the biggest fattest gooseberries that grow in the middle of a very large bush other than lying on your back and wriggling right into the middle?  Before long George Hayhoe and I were ‘walking out’ every evening accompanied by Bung, a small and vociferous Siamese kitten who hurled abuse at us if the grass was long and wet as he struggled to keep up, and Sally’s very old labrador Commodore who would amble ahead and then turn clearly thinking ‘what, you young things at it again, come on – catch up.’ 
At supper one evening early in October George leant across the supper table and in front of about twelve of Sally’s guests and said, ‘Enough of pigs, I’ve thought of another job for you,’ but no amount of questioning would persuade him to say what it was for three long days.
To celebrate my birthday on 10th October the submariners took me to The Sportsman’s Arm in Ivybridge and toasted me in champagne – I remember wondering why anyone should enjoy it; I said it tasted like Enos fruit salts.  The moon was full and when we got home it seemed too early to go to bed so I offered to show George a trap door in the attic which opened onto the roof.  In a valley between two gables, under the stars George asked me to marry him and, being a nicely brought up girl, I said ‘yes please!’
Next time I’ll go back to the beginning of the war when the Free French Fleet sailed into Falmouth Harbour.

ps.  Did you spot the spelling mistake?  Never trust a spell checker!