Tuesday, November 2, 2010

26 Great Sampford

Although the war in Europe ended in 1945, rationing and shortages continued for another five years. As service women, we were allowed enough clothing coupons to buy 4 handkerchiefs and 2 bras, which had not been supplied by the Air Force, in fact I cannot remember how we ‘supported’ ourselves. No coupons were given for civilian clothes and I had only my white spotted navy blue dress made of see through material, Princess Dianna style. I have seen wartime movies where people went to church halls and were given clothes donated by charities overseas, but I never saw such a place. We did not know it at the time, but we girls owed a debt of gratitude to Barbara Cartland, for it was she who urged the Government to allow service women to buy a once off allocation of wool and fabric through the EVT – Educational and Vocational Training programme – so that we could start knitting and sewing again – how divinely domestic, darling!

Countrywide, it was a difficult period of adjustment for everyone. Fathers were coming home after years away to find that the children, who had been toddlers when they left, resented this strange man who now wanted their mother’s attention and her bed. Prisoners of war returned, broken and bewildered and it was not unusual for a man to take food from the kitchen and hide it. Not that there was much spare food to hide. Prior to 1939, very few women worked outside the home, being expected to stay at home, look after her husband and children and keep everything going on a weekly housekeeping allowance. It was a matter of pride that a man must be responsible for keeping his wife and children, “No wife of mine’s going out to work!” was the working man’s claim. But, during the war, women had worked in offices, factories, on the land and in the services, earning their own money and enjoying their independence. It was then that woman realised they could cope on their own and were capable of doing great things... in fact almost everything a man could do. They suddenly realised the idea that men were superior to women was the biggest confidence trick ever pulled on the human race!

Many women now continued working, and employers were delighted to keep them on because they were cheap labour, while their husbands tried to find employment.  But before the war there had been great deal of poverty in England and the working man wanted a change, a new beginning after six years of war, everyone was hungry for a welfare state which was why, in spite of all he had done for the country during the war, Churchill was voted out at the first peace time election and Labour was voted in. And that is the end of the political history bit.

Of course, I was hardly aware of all this. I had my three dull meals a day, a bed and my few shillings a week. Other than on the barrack square, nobody shouted at me, and provided I obeyed the rules, I was pretty much left alone. Great Sampford was a long way from Saffron Waldon, the nearest little country town, and no busses passed by, but as they became available, we were issued with bicycles so that we could get around a bit. The offices were up a steep hill away from the billets, so we pushed the bikes up but free wheeled down and were able to cycle round the countryside. Opposite the WAAF site stood ‘Smoky Joes’ - every camp had a Smokey Joes at the gate - where we could buy a mug of tea and a corned beef sandwich which, with a dash of mustard, is still a favourite of mine, although the post war corned beef was far superior to the fatty rubbish sold today.

Quite a few Italian prisoners of war worked on the camp and, although subject to camp discipline like the rest of us, were not under guard. They did not try to escape because there was nothing to escape from or to. As far as food was concerned they were a liability, but they were a good looking lot and although forbidden to do so, some of the WAAF ‘fraternised’

I was totally disinterested in the good looking Italians, or any other male on the planet, because my eyes had lit upon on a certain Corporal Tom Winter in the Central Registry, and it had been love at first sight, for me not for him. He was over six feet tall, dark hair, blue grey eyes, a beautiful speaking voice and drop dead handsome. All the girls were in love with him, but he seemed a bit nervous and shy around them. During the war Tom had been a trainee navigator in Canada, but when the war ended so did the need for the trainees, and he remustered to RAF Police until his number came up for demobilisation. He could have been a Cook, Medical Orderly or RAF Police. Well, he hated the idea of cooking, fainted at the sight of blood and so chose to be a copper. Two friends who were with him in Canada also volunteered, much to the amazement of the remustering officer, because nobody ever volunteered to be a copper. So, there he was Cpl. Thomas James Winter, not yet twenty three and - THE ONE. We did not work in the same office so it took a great deal of scheming, making excuses to go into the Registry and often working late because he always did. Somehow I pushed him into inviting me to go to the ‘pictures’ with him, and that was a date that lasted fifty five years.

Because Tom had never possessed a bicycle as a child, he could not ride one, and if we were going to go out together it was essential that he learn, which was harder than you can imagine. He had no sense of balance or co-ordination and would get on the bike at the top of the hill, freewheel downhill and crash into the low brick wall at the bottom, that being the only way he could stop, but in time he learned. His legs were long enough and his feet big enough to use as brakes!

There was a cafĂ© near the camp, attached to a farm, called “The Beehive” where one could get eggs and bacon, sausage, baked beans, bread and butter and a cup of tea for a couple of bob. Tom never had any money and so I used to pass some to him under the table so he could pay the bill. The country roads were almost devoid of traffic but one evening we were cycling towards our bacon and eggs, when I heard a car coming up behind us. I yelled behind me “keep in” and, when the car had passed, looked behind to see if Tom was alright. He was nowhere to be seen. He had gone headfirst into a ditch, complete with bike! We did not have lamps for our bikes, batteries were expensive and hard to come by, so we half rode, half scooted and sometimes walked, hoping that the village copper would not catch us riding without lights. Then summer was upon us bringing with it long evenings when lamps were not needed, and we could find some nice, grassy spot to sit, or lie! I had to be back in the billet by ten o’clock unless I had a weekly late pass.

We had only been going out together for a few weeks when Tom was posted to Rhodesia, and he asked me if we could become engaged before he went and, for once, I said no. I had been engaged too many times, simply because I could not say no and hurt the boys’ feelings. This time it would have to be marriage, so that I could go with him, or we would wait and see if I was still around when he returned after two and a half years. Marriage would be difficult anyway, I was not yet twenty one and my father would never give his permission. Also, we had not a penny saved and there could be no white wedding with all the trimmings and lots of wedding presents. We would start out with absolutely nothing.

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