Sunday, November 7, 2010

29. Another move and a surprise

It was not long before the Police School moved again, this time to Pershore in Worcestershire. Tom told me that he and Peter Darby had been to the station and that we had been allocated married quarters -  living accommodation on camp for the families of service me. That was marvellous news because now we had somewhere to live. They both seemed a bit “cagey” about the accommodation, but Trotty, Peter’s wife, and I did not care because all we wanted was somewhere to live where we would not be beholden to landladies. (Funny the things one remembers... Trotty and Peter were renting a couple of rooms from two dear old spinster ladies who sent all their clothes to a laundry, first removing the buttons from garments and the elastic from their knickers which they put back when the laundry was returned. They said that laundering ruined the elastic. Now why on earth should I remember that?) I gave up my job with Rotol, gave our landlady notice and set out, with our few belongings, for our first married quarter.

The Darbys and the Winters were to share an old disused NAAFI. Our half was the library and the dance hall, their half was the dining room and the kitchens with adjoining toilets. They had the advantage of access to water in the kitchen and toilets while we had to go out of our front door and round the other side to the back of the building to get to the toilets and wash hand basins. There was no bathroom for either of us. Piled up at the end of the dance hall were two single iron beds with lumpy mattresses, two wooden armed lounge chairs, a table and two dining chairs, a minimum of pots and pans and a zinc bath. The floor was covered with the usual dark brown patched linoleum. The post office and nearest shop were a good two miles away, and we had no means of transport.

The morning after our arrival I set to work cleaning the place up – it was pretty dirty having been disused for a long time. So I put the zinc bath under an open front window, there being no window in the back wall, and proceeded to carry buckets of water from the wash hand basins round the back, pouring them into the zinc bath through the open window. It is not easy filling a bucket from a wash hand basin! I reminded myself of Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerers apprentice, carrying buckets of slopping water to and fro. Well, after about the eighth bucket I looked through the window and thought it strange that the zinc bath did not seem to filling up. I went inside and found that there was a hole in the bath and the water was seeping all over the dark brown linoleum. I grabbed a saucepan and baled the water out of the bath and back through the window as quickly as possible, and got on with mopping up the floor.

I wondered why my life had to be one challenge after another. And now came the next one.  I was pregnant! I was ecstatic. We had no money and not a single baby bootie but, against Tom’s better judgement, we had been “trying” as they say. Well, not so much trying to, as not trying not to, if you see what I mean. Heaven knows why, but I wanted this baby so much and I usually get what I want! The first time I called Tom “Daddy” he cringed, he knew nothing about babies, nor did I come to that, he had never held one and the whole baby thing frightened him. I tried to involve him by showing him little things I had knitted or sewn, but he remained aloof, not nasty or unkind, just not ‘into it’ and the idea of putting his hand on my tummy to feel the baby move embarrassed him. He would rather have been strung up by his thumbs than watch the baby being born.

Our accommodation was not exactly baby friendly, without running water or a toilet near, but we were enjoying a beautiful summer and who knew where we would be by February next year? As it happened, the WAAF huts were being converted into little houses with two bedrooms, living room, bathroom (heavenly) and kitchen so, with luck we might get one of those before the baby came. The medical officer wrote a letter confirming my ‘interesting condition’ and with it, I applied for some clothing coupons to buy material and wool to make clothes for the baby and a ‘mother-to-be’ ration card so that I could get one extra egg every two weeks and some special concentrated orange juice. Jane had recently given birth to Caroline and sent me her maternity clothes - two smocks that she had made herself, and a grey wool flared skirt. The skirt had a circle cut out of the front through which the bump could protrude, and it was tied round the waist with tape. I could not wait to be big enough to wear my smart maternity outfits. Dear Jane, when Tom and I were married she quickly sent me some of her surplus wedding presents, a couple of pillow cases, some tea cloths, a saucepan and some other items I do not remember now.

Transport was still a problem; the officer in charge of the motor pool was a miserable so-and-so who would not allow his drivers to give wives lifts into the village, even though vehicles went there very frequently, so I bought a second hand bike, which I rode to the post office to get my weekly allowance and to the shop for food. Later, riding a bike with an eight month bump was no fun. We moved into a converted hut in November, we had a coal allowance and a paraffin allowance for the two Valor paraffin heaters on which I cooked, with a portable oven that could be lifted on top of one of them for baking. This worked well, but the wicks had to be kept very clean or they smoked and black oily soot would land on everything and was the very devil to clean off. But, that little house was so warm and cosy and we had hot and cold running water. What is more, the hot water tank was in the bathroom and so the bathroom was always warm. The little coal fire in the living room blazed and, when all my chores were done, I would sit in front of it and listen to “Mrs. Dales Diary on BBC radio.

At Saffron Walden we had just one young Medical Officer and no anti-natal clinic; scans were unknown then, pregnant women were just that - pregnant. The only RAF maternity hospital was located at St. Athan in Wales, at least seven hours away by bus and train, so I was booked to go there a week before the expected date of delivery. It was a very long journey on my own. As it happened, there had been a miscalculation and the baby was not born until four weeks after my arrival, and a very long four weeks at that, but I was too far away to be sent back home. Tom managed to visit me once during that time, spending a couple of nights in a nearby Sergeants’ Mess. We went for several bumpy country bus rides, hoping to shake the baby up, but he would not budge. One evening, on our return to the hospital, we found that beautiful, darling Sister Reynolds had prepared a table in an unoccupied side ward room with some food for us, and a little vase of flowers. She delivered our son,Tommy, and if not for many shifts and changes, might have delivered Jeni for me two and a half years and several continents away later. She was such a lovely lady.

A very interesting patient was admitted and put into the bed next to me. She and her husband, a pilot who had flown with the RAF during the war, had just escaped from Poland and it had been a harrowing time for them. Her baby was due in a matter of days; she did not speak a word of English, had nothing for the baby to wear and, as yet, had nowhere to live. She was terrified and exhausted. We could not communicate verbally, but we became friends, and I tried to make baby jackets for her out of lint dressings. My baby had still not arrived when she went into labour and I sat with her in the labour ward until it was time for the delivery. It was quite scary because I had never before seen a mother in labour, had never heard of contractions and, until then, had not known what was in store for me.

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