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Childhood wartime memories of Drybrook.

A threshing machine
A threshing machine and traction engine. Source: Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Review

Childhood wartime memories of Joy Evans (nee Davies); living on a farm near Drybrook.

I was born in 1934 so was just five and a half when the war started. We lived on a small farm in Herefordshire, about half a mile from the nearest neighbour, and about one mile off the main road. It was a dairy farm producing milk: poultry providing meat and eggs and pigs, which could be slaughtered under licence on the farm, for pork and bacon. There was no electricity so the cows were milked by hand and the milk put into churns and cooled in the nearly stream. My father had a milk round where the customer provided their own jugs and the milk measured directly into them. He also sold eggs and dressed chickens to them.

As there was no electricity, there was no television and I can't remember when we had a phone. We just had a wireless which was operated by a battery that had to be taken to a garage to be recharged. I remember my parents sitting around it listening to the declaration of war and of course they were nervous and very apprehensive of what was to come. The school I went to was about two and a half miles away. My father would take me in the morning and I would walk back at night and not think anything of it. The school had to tape all the windows in a criss-cross fashion with masking tape. This was to prevent the glass shattering in the event of a bomb. We carried gas masks in small brown boxes at all times and of course had numerous drills to learn how to use them correctly and how to evacuate school premises and shelters, which fortunately we never had to use. I had two small brothers; one just a baby who had an all-in-one gas mask, which looked very Dr Whoish!

Rationing in the war didn't seem to affect us. We had milk, eggs, grew vegetables and fruit, made our own butter and bread and had poultry and pork. The pork was salted and hung on kitchen walls as deep freezers weren't around then! When I watch documentaries I do feel quite guilty as we lived quite well. We did have ration books and coupons, but our lives were comfortable compared to some people. I was just a child and parents provided for their children and did their very best for them. We didn't have many toys: I had knitted teddies and dolls and my brothers had wheelbarrows made by the local carpenter. One of the highlights of the year was when the pigs were killed on the farm and the bladders could be inflated to use a football. As the bladder is a very muscular organ, the football lasted a long time and we had great fun.

We had evacuees boarding with us: four boys from London aged five to eight. They arrived very frightened and nervous and the countryside was like a foreign country to them, with no traffic, buses, trains etc. They had never seen farm animals before and had never had home-grown produce or milk that did not come from a bottle! It did not take long for them-to settle down; though of course they missed their family. We had a wood close by and one day before they returned to London, we all carved our initials in the bark of a big beech tree. They are still there now seventy years on!

We didn't really suffer air raids and bombing like the big cities, but the raid on Coventry stands firmly in my memory. The Germans had concentrated on London, but in October and November, they changed their strategy and attacked the "industrial factories in the Midlands and in the dock areas of Cardiff, Swansea and Bristol. On the night of the Coventry raid, my father had a cow calving in a small cowshed. It was proving to be a difficult birth and she needed help. As there was no electricity, the only light came from a small oil lantern and you had to be very careful not to let any light escape which could be seen from outside. There was no telephone so we couldn't call for the vet and it was all hands to the pump!

The German bombers were going over fairly low and slowly as they were laden with bombs. They always flew in formation and their engines made a recognisable noise. We didn't know where they were heading, but towards dawn, there was a huge orange glare in the sky. It was the fires burning in Coventry and the city had been virtually flattened, which included considerable damage to the cathedral. We learned all this when we listened to the news on the wireless. The memory of that night will live with me forever. The nearest bombs fell about five miles away: rumour has it that a man going home from the pub drunk showed a light and a bomb was dropped. The man lived but his dog died.

Just above the farm, deep under a hill was a railway tunnel where T V British bombs were stored. This was guarded in turn by the three services; the Army, Navy and the Royal Air Force. There were no trains, but the tracks were used to transport the munitions.

There was a radio station called Radio Germany, which was used to broadcast propaganda to frighten British people. A man called Lord Haw- Haw, William Joyce, would talk about bits of the country and what Germany would do to destroy them. The call-sign he used was, “Germany calling, Germany calling!" and was very recognisable and ominous. One day my mother was listening and she heard him describe the tunnel, the bombs stored there and all of the little farms nestling in the valley below and how he would blow it all up! Needless to say, she was in a terrible state and very frightened, but being my mother, just got on with life.

Up the lane from the farm, a caravan appeared with two people living in it. They came to the farm for their milk and eggs and in hindsight they were probably German spies relaying information back to the Germans. They and the caravan disappeared as quickly as they had come. It was a quiet, unused lane so was an ideal spot for them. Today, we all might have suspected terrorism or spying, but not so much then.

In the later stages of the war, an American airbase was set up about four miles away. They were short of water and would come to the farm with large tanks for the drinking supply. We children thought they were wonderful mainly because they were so generous with chewing gum and sweets.
Then one day they told us they were leaving and we watched them go in convoy. Afterwards we learned that they had gone to take , part in the D Day landings and that a lot of them had lost their lives.

In 1945, I took a scholarship to gain entry to the local grammar school. My mother gave me fish for breakfast that morning, as in those days, people believed that fish was good for the brain! It must have worked -as I passed and was given a bicycle as a reward.

We used horses on the farm during the war, but around 1947, my father bought a grey Fergie tractor. I loved that tractor – much more fun that the monsters of today! I worked very hard as a child on the farm and remember helping on the threshing machine. The Health and Safety Executive would have had a field day if children did that sort of thing today. Rationing went on a long time after the war ended, but I remember being very excited when oranges appeared in the shops again! When I was a district nursing sister twenty-five years later in the same area where I grew up, people could remember me delivering milk to their doors and still treated me as a child and not as the district nurse! Lots of my patients had served in the First World War and I would spend hours listening to their stories of Passchendaele and The Somme: it must have been hell on earth for them.

When I look back now, my childhood seemed very idyllic and I was very lucky. I had good hard working parents who cared for us. There were thousands who were a lot worse off and who'd suffered tremendously, but we all came through it. Britain was rebuilt and life moved in....just memories left.

Joy Evans

June 2011

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