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Whitecroft - Childhood in the 1930s and wartime.

Whitecroft carnival 1941

Photo above: Whitecroft carnival, 1941, courtesy of Geoff "Gruffy" Aldridge.

Whitecroft, Childhood in the 1930s and wartime - by Sheila Bevan

I was born in Whitecroft and lived there until 18 years of age. My grandparents Charles and Charlotte Phipps lived at Woodland Villa, Pillowell Road. They had twelve children, nine girls and three boys, my father being the youngest but one; consequently there were many aunts, uncles and cousins round about. There were also quite a few other Phipps' in the area, although not closely related.

In the early 1930s my grandfather gave my father a piece of his enormous garden where geese had been kept, in order to build a house. This was the first time we had electricity. In 1936 my father planted two fir trees to celebrate the Queen Mary's maiden voyage. It was ironic that he died on the same day as the she left Southampton on her last voyage on 31st October 1967.

In those days there were many small shops in the village. The main ones being the Post Office kept by the Farrs which sold various things, the Co-op for food and not forgetting Worgan and Elsemore Butchers and Harry Lukers fish and chip shop. There were three pubs, the New Inn, the Miners' Arms and the Royal Oak. These were not frequented by our close family as we were staunch Methodists; however it was not unknown for a pint of cider to be fetched from the Jug and Bottle at the New Inn - after dark!

Mr Coldrick delivered milk which was ladled into a jug at the door. Bread was delivered a couple of times a week by the Co-op and Kears' bakery. Wet fish was available on Tuesdays from Harry Luker's van down the road. Before the Co-op was built every Friday evening was spent trekking to the Co-op in Pillowell or Yorkley to stock up for the week.

The main employers in Whitecroft were the Pin Factory and the Princess Royal colliery, known locally as the Park Gutter. At the age of five we all went to Pillowell School. The girls and boys were taught separately but in break times we played together on the bank outside the school gates. Games went in cycles, for the girls it was skipping, hopscotch, whip and top and jacksies. No one knew what started each craze. Times were hard in the 1930s but we children made our own fun. With my cousin Marion Luker and friends Gwyneth Harris, Olive Phipps and Doreen Willetts we would play in the woods making dens in the bracken, decorated with bits of old china and anything else we could find. We would spend hours out there and no one worried about us. Children today do not have the same freedom. At the entrance to the wood there was a swing, a piece of rope hung from a high branch, sometimes with a piece of board for a seat. What price health and safety! I remember the new playground being opened on The Green; swings see saw, roundabouts, sand pit and a very high slide which was not at all slippery until lots of bottoms had polished it!

There were lots of events during the year to look forward to. Pillowell School twice arranged trips to Shakespeare's memorial theatre at Stratford upon Avon. Both times we saw a Midsummer Night's dream. I was thrilled by the scenery and the fairies. The chapel anniversary was a big occasion. Our second best frocks were worn in the morning and new ones for the main afternoon performance. There were Sunday School outings, the favourite was to Severn Beach but there was also Bishop's Cleeve. During the summer there would be excursions to the seaside such as Bournemouth, Barry Island and Weston-super-Mare, where the tide was always out. On bank holidays there would be a trip to Severn Bridge by train from Whitecroft and the station was usually packed. We loved playing in the rock pools when the tide was out. We would walk up to the Severn Bridge Hotel and eat our sandwiches on the lawn in front of it. Occasionally we would go to Sharpness Docks instead but it wasn't so much fun except for crossing the bridge on the train.

The British Legion once gave a party in the Memorial Hall for children whose fathers served in the first world war. After tea there was much fun and games. Miners' rallies were held at the Speech House. A large marquee was erected in the field. There were lots of speeches by miners' leaders and politicians. I'm pretty sure that Stafford Cripps was one of them. After the speeches we would have tea, only then would we be allowed to try out the rides at the fairground brought there for the occasion.

Aunty Gert taught music at home (LRAM certificate prominently displayed). Nieces and nephews were coerced into learning the piano. My cousins Marion and Robert were much better than me. I hated practicing scales but I did once come second in the Cheltenham Eisteddfod, much to the surprise of Aunty Gert.

Evening entertainment was mainly from a rather primitive radio. It was powered by a large accumulator which had to be recharged regularly at Brown's bicycle shop. The Sunday night serial was the best thing at the time and I can clearly remember the Count of Monte Christo and Les Miserables. I also remember Neville Chamberlain announcing war was declared.

In 1935 we celebrated George V's Silver Jubilee and in 1937 George VI's Coronation. We were given a commemorative mug and cup and saucer respectively to mark the occasions. We had tea parties and a bonfire at the top of Yorkley.

In 1938 I went with some of my friends to LGS. Most of us would cycle but you could also catch a service bus down by the Co-op. LGS was a great school, strictly run by the head, Mr J C Burch. It had high academic standards and sporting achievements. I loved it.

At the beginning of the war Whitecroft, like other rural locations, had its share of evacuees. They arrived at the Memorial Hall, where they were allocated. My cousin Marion Luker and her family had a girl about our age called Marion Johnson from Hornchurch School, Rainham, Essex. Her brother, Stanley, was with another aunt across the road. Our family was not required to take on evacuees as we did not have a spare room. However, when my father went down to the hall there was only one old man in his 80s left whom no one wanted, as children were preferred. His name was George Creasy and my father brought him home. He was a nice, intelligent man from Eastbourne I believe. He stayed with us for a while before going back to live with his son.

Whitecroft didn't suffer much during the war. Apart from a few incendiaries in the forest, the only bomb fell near the Pin Factory. We were awakened by the explosion. My father made my mother, brother Charles and me sit in the pantry under the stairs which was supposed to be the safest place. He then put on his tin hat and went out on his ARP duties. We didn't stay there long as it was cold and cramped. We were all issued with gas masks which we were supposed to carry at all times. They came in a cardboard box with a piece of string attached for a shoulder strap. If one could afford it a carrying bag could also be bought. Babies had a gas mask which fitted over them that was hand pumped. My brother had one of these but later graduated to a Mickey Mouse type one. The tin hat and a gas mask are still in use. My daughter in law, who teaches history, uses them as props. I now believe it is dangerous to put on an old gas mask as they contain asbestos. How did we all manage to survive?

Rationing during the war years wasn't too bad. Margarine tasted horrible then and needed to be covered with jam, homemade of course, no shop stuff. There were plenty of blackberries to be picked in the autumn and most gardens had soft fruit and apple trees. Getting the sugar was a bit of a problem during rationing. Instead of getting the ration coupons for eggs we were allowed to keep chickens. Instead of a bacon ration we kept a pig. This was shared with the aunts and uncle at Woodland Villa and kept in a pig sty at the top of their garden. After slaughter a side would be hung up in the kitchen. The bacon was very fatty. There is a saying that everything in a pig is edible except the squeal. My mother could have testified to this as she had to prepare it all. The sight was enough to make one a vegetarian for life!

Mr Ron Aldridge started a youth club in the Guild Room at the chapel. I remember playing table tennis there. We also went for cycle rides, once going as far Tyndale's monument in the Cotswolds via train to Berkley road station. The pool near Cannop colliery was a favourite place for bathing as the water was always warm. On one occasion my cousin Robert Watkins and I were sitting on the bank getting changed when a grass snake slithered past into the water. We made a quick exit and never went there again. I heard later that the pile of sawdust outside the colliery was nice and warm and a favourite breeding ground for snakes.

Towards the end of the war bananas became available again. My brother was so excited about eating one for the first time but at the fist bite it was 'yuck' and the aversion has remained ever since.

Celebrations for VE day were quite modest. In the evening we walked to Parkend to see a large bonfire but as far as I remember nothing else. The following September I left Whitecroft and returned only for occasional visits to visit my parents.

With thanks to Marion Pritchard and Robert Watkins for additional information.

Sheila Bevan, March 2012.

Neil Rutherford wrote: (July 2012) "... came across your notes on Saunders Green. My great Aunty Gerty was born in Saunders Green in May 1895. She was baptised May Gertrude James and had a brother my grandfather Isaac Jones James who was born in Brockhollands in 1898. Gerty married Walter George Probert in 1915. Could this be your Aunty Gert? if so I would welcome any information on the family further back".

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