by Becky Ridgewell
I feel lucky to have had many inspiring females in my family – my mum, my wonderful sisters and my amazing daughter. But it is my granny I would like to pay tribute to on this page. She isn’t just a granny, she has been like the second parent I never had, a gap created by my troubled and frequently absent father. She looked after us when we were young and proudly attended my graduation when I became the first person in our family to go to university. Sadly granny’s memory is now failing her and she struggles to remember who I am. It is for this reason that her memoirs that she wrote before she lost her memory are so precious to her family and why I would like this edited version to be read by others.Reading her memoirs I am struck by her compassion, her resilience and her ability to manage both a family and a career even though this went against the norms of the time. Taking in pre-school children to allow mothers to work shows that even though governments continually say they cannot provide universal nursery provision, in 1940 they managed to organise this even though resources were limited because of hard working women like my granny.
My memories of living through World War II in rural Essex
I remember very clearly the day war was declared. We heard it on the wireless and silence followed. There was nothing you could do but your imagination ran away with what might be going to happen. Although we were not in a danger zone many aeroplanes passed overhead and one learned to recognise which were which. We watched our planes going out and stood wondering how many would come back safely.
One of the doctors (at the nearby hospital) was a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia. His wife was working there also but was not allowed to stay and sleep there so my husband at the pub suggested to her husband that she came and stayed with us. So I met Gertie who is still my friend today in our old age even though we are on either side of the Atlantic. She told us much about how the war was affecting her home country of Czechoslovakia. Sadly at the end of the war she found out that her mother, sister and nephew had all died in the Holocaust. Gertie stayed with us until my daughter was about to be born in 1943. Gertie thought we would need her room and so she found a little house to rent.
In many ways life for me didn’t change during the war. I continued to teach in the village school. Although even that was affected by war. Older village children who were too nervous to go to the nearby town came and joined me for a while and I was expected to take pre-school children so that parents could go to work in the factories. Supplies such as paper and exercise books were in very short supply. I even remember trying to use old newspapers for children to paint on. I can’t remember exactly when school meals were organised but it was towards the end of the war. As time went on and bombing was likely anywhere a brick school shelter was built. This wasn’t entirely a blessing as when the sirens went I had to take the children to this shelter. It had just one entrance, no windows and no lights. At first we would just go and talk –standing- until the all clear went. We couldn’t hear the sirens when we were right inside so one boy had to stand near the door (and risk his life!) to let us know when the all clear went. As time went on we got better organised with benches to sit on and we practised our tables and other oral lessons.