Jenkins-Of-Ewelme Web Site

B M Dixon Memo

The following text was derived from some email correspondence following kind birthday wishes from my eldest sister Barbara sent to me in November 2006 using the same medium. Since Margaret and I had been visiting Exmoor and the surrounding area for regular short breaks during Margaret's illness, we often found ourselves either driving through or were not far from Wiveliscombe in Somerset. This is were I spend the early month's of my life during evacuation during the 2nd World War. Although I later became familiar with the area during later family visits to see friends (especially 'Auntie' Mary and 'Uncle' Sid and dog Brandy, who ran the 'Three Horseshoes'), nearly invariably during Easter Rugby Tours with the Old Haberdashers RFC, I never established where we actually lived, which according to my birth certificate, was called Haberdashers Cottage. During one family wedding at Bourton-on-the Water (David and Fi), I asked Barbara where we had lived. She indicated that it was "on the bend from Wivi to Langley March, laid back from the road". That sounded easy enough, and during our next opportunity duly looked for a cottage laid back from the road on "the bend". It all seemed to fit, and sure enough, there was an old semi-detached cottage tucked away off the 'bend'. I was kindly invited in to look around and even took photographs of the exterior and interior. During our next visit to the 'Jenkins-of-Harpendon' for one of many marvellous winter family get-togethers, I found I had got it all wrong, and I was concentrating on the wrong 'bend'! To shorten the saga, Barbara kindly agreed to jot down some of her memories of the time when I was too young to retain anything meaningful. Such information could also be of interest to other members of the wider family, or beyond, so I'm sure Barbara will not mind sharing it.

Hi, here goes.
Our parents were married in 1932 and lived in a flat somewhere in the Kensington area, I think. I was born in 1935 and fairly soon after that they moved to 36 Fordington Road [Highgate N.6]. Dad worked in the city and travelled in by tube [East Finchley], which was just across Cherry Tree Wood, as you will remember.
I think the house was new when we moved in. I think it was conveniently situated for Dad to commute, keep up with the Haberdasher's Old Boy's RFC ( I know he was playing when they first married, but do not recollect ever having seen him play) and to be not too far from his Mother, Nanna, and Uncle Peter, who at that time lived in Croftdown Road.
I was born somewhere near Kensington Gardens, and, I believe, just qualify to be a Cockney. I was a Truby King baby! She was the child expert of the day. One of her recommendations was that the baby was bathed in as hot water as possible and then thrust into freezing cold, which explains a lot! I was always very dark, and was born with brown eyes, which explains my extreme jealousy when Liz earned high praise from Mum, for her beautiful blue eyes, when she came along. I have long suspected a touch of the tar brush on the Mayes side of the family - something Middle Eastern possibly. Certainly Marcus and Charlotte and Michael bear that out, and Michael had the 'Blue Spot' which apparently shows a different blood mix. 
 Baby brother, whose name was David, because he was born on March 1st, came sometime after me when we lived at Fordington Road. I remember that his nappies caused a great deal of concern. I visited him in hospital, where he was in isolation, to say goodbye, before he went to live with Jesus. He died of
gastro enteritis, and penecillin and antibiotics were then not heard of. I was not that much involved. He was my brother and I was expected to love him, but he was too little for me to have contact with, beyond holding him as a special treat. It must have been devastating for Mum.
Dick and Mary Walsh lived up the road from us, with their two children, Richard and Susan. Susan was younger than me but Richard must have been about the same age. They were strong Catholic and when I was about three, Richard and I went to the convent together and were taught by the nuns. I have only a vague memory of this, but I do remember that awful railway rhyme I quoted to you. ' The Boy stood on the railway line, The engine gave a squeal, The driver took a little spade and scraped him off the wheel.' Dad always made a huge joke of it, as he did when we had home made jam roly poly for pudding and he called it 'sore leg'. It did look awfully like that!
I remember Dad digging in the garden at the back in Fordington Road and telling me that he was going to be a soldier in the war. Richard Walsh and I used to play the Hitler game. We each had a tricycle and we used to go on the pavement to the end of he road and one of us would shout 'Hitler's coming' and we would turn and pedal like mad for home. I think he nearly always won!
The Lewis's lived on the opposite side of Fordington Road. I don't have any memories of Dick and Paul at that time, though I do remember them in Wivvy. I just know that I knew them, if you know what I mean.
When war broke out, Dad had already sorted our lives out. He had found a cottage in Langley Marsh which he could rent from Sidney Pulsford. He was the owner of the garage and lorry business up the road.
Dad had his rugby connections and knew the area. He and Mum had honeymooned at Hartland in Devon and called at the Three Horse Shoes where they had sat on the seat outside and Mum had drunk too much cider. Sid and Mary Slocombe were their friends ever after.
Mum had refused to live there unless she had some mod.cons., and it was agreed that a bathroom with a flushing loo was to be added. There was no electricity but there was gas. Mum used a gas iron and the lights were gas mantles. There was a hand pump over the kitchen sink which was used to pump water into the tank above. I don't remember how it was heated in the kitchen, but there was a geyser to do the bath water. We had a bath once a week.
The cottage had a back door leading into the kitchen, which had a door to the bathroom and another to the living room. This had a fireplace with mantle above and two easy chairs each side of the fire. I think there was a dining table in there and also the radio, which was run by a large battery, which had to be charged.
I used to take it to the cottage two or so below us to Dorothy Pearce's Dad who charged it up again.
Between us and Dorothy's was a little shop called Mrs. Land's. It sold cigarettes and tobacco amongst other things. 
From the living room was a door to a lounge, which we rarely used. In the winter the water used to come up through the floor in this room. The carpet was rolled back for the season. When it was time to put it back, it was sprinkled with used tea leaves, brushed and then beaten on the line. There was the piano in there and also a sofa and some easy chairs.
Up stairs were three bedrooms.
The garden was quite big. It had an orchard and a building in which we kept chickens and ducks.
Liz was born in Rustington in 1940. I think we were living in Ifield with Auntie Busty and Uncle Barclay at that time. Uncle Barclay was a large red headed and bearded man, who didn't like little girls and I was terrified of him. They kept greyhounds and there was a moat around the house. I rather think we were there until the cottage was ready, and Dad came at weekends. I went to school there. I think I was bullied by the big girls who came to collect me and take me to school. I hated it and was afraid!
Ifield was a large house with a cellar. When the siren went, I was sent to the cellars on my own. I was terrified as I was convinced that Hitler was there. Just as well the siren rarely went.
I remember going to fetch Mum and Liz in the car. The wicker cot was put in the back beside me and I was told to watch for her lovely blue eyes to open. When she developed golden curly hair as well, that was the end! 
I don't remember moving into the cottage, but soon after that Dad joined the West Somerset Light Infantry and prepared to serve king and country, having removed wife and children to a place of safety.
I had problems with settling in at school as the lay out of the building was similar to the one in Ifield. I ran away several times and it wasn't until I was allowed to ride my tricycle to school and leave it at the Headmaster's house, which adjoined it, that I settled and stayed at school.
We were all issued with gas masks. Liz's was a lie in one, made in the shape of a friendly animal. Mine made lovely rude noises when I breathed out. It had Mickey Mouse ears. I had to have it with me always.
When the war started in earnest, our friends from Fordington Road came and joined us. Mary Walsh, Richard and Susan lived with us for a time, until there was some sort of a bust up. They then rented the Quick's cottage, the only other one in Langley Marsh with a bathroom. Coal was kept in the bath until then. This cottage was up the road from us on the LH side next to the garage. On the other side of the garage was Mrs. Paynes, a little shop.
I don't remember the Lewis's living with us. They had a cottage at Whitefield, at the other end of Blackwater Lane.
I remember Auntie Jewel arriving. There was lots of chat about her coming and some work done on the cottage before she arrived. Her father had connections with the area and lived somewhere near Taunton.
We children all went to the village school and the adults all met up on Sunday mornings at the 3 Horse Shoes. The Sunday joints would all go in the oven. The gas pressure went down as everyone had a roast. Up to the pub. Everyone had a drink or two and we children played in the garden. Mary kept an eye on the gas situation and as soon as it went up, we all repaired home. Jewel took no time at all to be assimilated in the group. Of course, there was a dearth of men. The local farmers were there and younger ones came home on leave, as did Dad, and Uncle Leon. Dick Walsh was in the Navy and was killed.  
We had various visitors from London, and from time to time Nanna came. Auntie Bob came with Meric. Auntie Maisie and Uncle Toc came. They all thought that we were very lucky to be out of the bombing. Dad came home on leave. Then he was posted to West Africa and we didn't see him for a long time. Life was very manless. When the American's came and set up camp, we children were very excited. They used to come out to the 3 Horse Shoes and Liz enchanted them with her rendition of 'You are my Sunshine'. Some of them went out with local girls and I remember that there was at least one GI bride in the fullness of time.
There was food rationing. Mr. Yandle, from Langley, who had very unattractive red rimmed eyes, came and dug the garden. Dig for victory was the cry. We grew potatoes and other vegetables. We also kept chickens and ducks. For special occasions, Mr. Yandle would come an d kill one and hang it by its feet on the washing line.When there was offal at the butcher's in Wivvy, I was sent shopping to get some for us. Sometimes at harvest time I used to go up to the field and stand with a stick and chase the rabbits as they came out of the corn. All the dead rabbits were put in a pile and at the end the farmer would give out a rabbit to certain people. We often had rabbit in a stew when I bore one proudly home.
I remember when praise for Liz's blonde curls became too much for me, who had nothing special to commend me. I persuaded her to come into my bedroom and cut off the curls with a pair of scissors. Mum noticed them floating down as I dropped them out of the window, but it was too late - the deed was done! Imagine how sick I felt when they all grew back better than ever!
When you were on the way, I was sent to boarding school. Having read Enid Blyton and Angela Brazil, I was quite keen to go. The reality was not so good. I hated it.
 I cried buckets every time I had to go back, but to no avail. Mum put me firmly on the bus and off I went.
You were born in Wellington, Somerset. I knew of your arrival when I eventually got a letter from home. I remember Mum sitting at the fireside in the easy chair feeding you.
I remember when there was excitement at school. The invasion had begun. I was very unsure of what that meant. It was obviously a good thing!
Some time later I was singled out to go into another room and given an exam. paper. It had hard Maths in it and OK English. My experience of the 11plus. 
The war was over, due to the Atom bomb.
I was sent to stay with Uncle Peter and Auntie Bob. I had an interview at Q.E.G.G S. [Queen Elizabeth's Girls Grammer School] I think Uncle Peter's influence had quite a lot to do with the fact that they gave me entry. I was to stay with Peter and Bob until you all came back from the country. I have often thought that I was not wanted to be around at that time! I think I was a very troublesome child.
Meric was very accommodating and we had many good times. They, by this time, had moved to Northumberland Road, where they rented that large house. Peter was head of the QE Boys. He was too old for the war, and had a reserved occupation in anycase.
You all returned, but it was a while before I was allowed home, other than weekends. I was told it was due to the fact that we lived in Middlesex and QEs was in Hertfordshire. I had won my place giving the Barnet address, and I would have to transfer.
So you see, I really didn't have a lot to do with you, because I only saw you in the holidays, until I came back to live in Fordington Road. Liz had much more to do with you and eventually took you to school with her to The Martin School in Finchley. I do remember that you had to be bathed in liquid paraffin twice daily to help with the eczema and you left a trail of finger marks up the stairs as you were learning to climb them. I also recall that the stair carpet was green and worn and Dad painted all the worn bits with green ink which didn't quite match! It looked pretty awful.
Liz apparently saved your life when you went out into the road with out looking and she rushed after you and pulled you back from the path of a vehicle. This was on the way to school, I think. I also remember the commotion when you pushed the fire bell at the fire station at Muswell Hill and ran away. They found out where we lived and came and told you off. Dad laughed and laughed about it afterwards! [I'm grateful to Barbara for leaving it to me to describe the events in my later adolescence, that certainly didn't cause my father to laugh and laugh!]

I replied:

Hello Barbara

Wonderful! That certainly seems to explain one of my impressions that you were often away from home in addition to your period at Cambridge. I had no idea that ‘Busty’ had anything to do with us, apart from being a friend of Auntie Maisie. I remember taking Margaret to visit Ifield when Maisie and Bill were living there. I remember thinking that the place had seen better days. I also got the distinct impression that Maisie was hoping to inherit!

I guess it was during your period of living in Barnet that I was suffering my infant trauma of being separated from the family during Mother’s illness (hysterectomy that went wrong?). My memories are of living with Auntie Maisie, but then this changing to Nora Hill (one of Maisie’s friends). I remember being desperately upset when Liz and Dad came to visit, only to be told that I couldn’t come home yet. Now whether this was a short or long period and exactly how old I was, I’m really not sure.

It might be just a coincidence, or just the fact that we do like Exmoor for short trips away to the West Country, but we were in Somerset again last week. Apart from my continual infant problem with travel sickness, I always enjoyed our visits to Wivvy once we had arrived, usually associated with Easter Rugby tours I believe…primroses in the lanes and the rolling green fields.  Perhaps that’s why I chose to live in an area as unlike Ealing or even Highgate as possible, and always much preferred, if I had a choice, to go to Maidenhead to stay with the Spice family in school holidays.

How similar your young experience of Langley was to the wartime scenario conveyed in “Goodnight Mr. Tom”, only you can know, but it obviously wasn’t all sweetness and light, especially with the aspects you describe of ‘baby brother’, the convent and other schooling and even Liz’s curls! Anyway, I’m still interested in where we lived for a while, especially now you have described neighbours and shops. In this respect, and why I am starting to believe in ESP, I obtained a street map of Wiveliscombe last week with the intention of sending you a copy for you to mark a couple of things and, OK, to give you a gentle prod to re-write your previously lost attempt. I did think from your previous description of where the ‘cottage’ was, that I had found it and even been invited in, but now I’m not so sure. So I attach a copy of the map, although if you can’t ‘open’ it, I’ll post it to you.

I’m currently re-designing our web site, but I hope you won’t mind if I add your memories to the other accumulating family ‘memoirs’, which will include mine of course when I get the time. We’re currently looking forward to adding another person to the family tree, and hope for Maisie’s sake at least, that what arrives doesn’t turn out to be a piccaninny!!!   

Barbara again:

Gordon and I also visited Maisie and Bill when they were living in Ifield. We were on our way back to Aden with Patrick, Helen and Marcus. We somehow lost our luggage on the train, just to complicate matters. They were sort of camping, I seem to think and Bill was working in Crawley as a metallurgist. Maisie certainly thought that Busty would leave them a good bit, but, of course, they got nothing.
When Mum had her hysterectomy, she had two bouts in hospital. The first was for the op. and they vacuumed her out! This was the latest technique in those days but in her case it went horribly wrong and she nearly died. She came home after the op. but then became very ill with a cyst that had grown. Liz had gone to Auntie Ginger's and I didn't know what had happened to you. I was at home with Mum - I don't know where Dad was - I think the Doctor must have come and called the ambulance. She was so ill that the ambulance men asked me to go with them and look after her en route. They asked me whether they should ring the bell or not! I was at home during this time as I was at school. I must have been about 13years old, which would make you about three.
This time she was in for quite a time. I used to make sponge cakes to take in for her and she shared them in the ward - so it became a sort of obligation. I looked after Dad and the house. I remember that I starched all of his shirts, instead of just the collars. I quite liked being in charge and felt quite resentful when she came home! The two hospital times must explain why you were in two different places.
It was sometime around this that I noticed that your blue shorts had a hole in them and the lining was showing through. I lay you on my knee and darned them with blue wool. You were so scared you lay very, very still.
Looking at the map, if you go up the road from Cruwys Cross, round the bend, our cottage was on the RH side of the road, just up from the bend. There was a cottage in front of us, and on the RH side facing it was a drive down to our detached cottage which lay behind.

And here's a copy of the marked up map:

If I do ever find the place, I will of course post a photo or two.