Down Memory Lane is part of a Pilot Community Reminiscence Project .
Taster Session – Sharon Woodward
Over four days I ran one hour taster session workshops with 25 people from Abingdon and Resource Wellbeing Centre.
The idea was gauge the interest of the members in developing a bigger oral history project. The sessions consisted of show and tell where photographs, Meddles and a DVD of my Grandmother talking about her experience during the 2nd World War were used to stimulate memories. On the last day I really didn’t need to show anything to start the discussions. Often people were more than willing to speak about their experiences, if anything it was perhaps that too many wanted to speak and I was aware of missing quite large chunks of what I was being told.
Many talked of the experiences during the 2nd World War, from rationing of clothes, making do and mend along with the improvisation with ingredients for meals, as well as those with harrowing encounters of being given nine hours to pack a bag and leave the Channel Islands on the arrival of the Nazi’s, to bombings that left them as a child huddled in a metal box under the dinning room table, those who became female bus drivers and those who painted their legs with gravy browning, applied eye pencil to imitate stockings. Working for the Ministry of Food joining the volunteer services Red Cross, Home Guard as well as the WAAF, Wren’s RAF Navy and Army.
Having a sense of humour which has stayed with many on referring to the arrival of the American’s – they were Oversexed, overpaid and over here, unlike the British who were underpaid, undersexed and sent somewhere else. Although British lads were not as shy as they made out. One member admitted that he tried to join any of the services so he could wear a uniform. The reason being that in uniform you received more attention from the women. Where the term any Tom, Dick or Harry came from – was introduced to those who owed Chickens and warned not to name them. Nobody wanted to eat Harriet at the end of the day so TOM, DICK and HARRY would replace it.
I recalled the interview I did with my Grandmother Marjorie Spicer (formally Sullivan) many years ago when I was a Film Student back in 1985/86. What follows are the transcriptions from the short film I made (then on VHS).
I was born in the East End of London, in October 1920 my parents (Daniel & Emma Sullivan) were born in 1880.My mother was a housewife as long as I can remember and my father was a furnace builder he built the furnaces for the glass blowers to blow the glass bottles etc.
I left school at fourteen (1934) and went looking for work and got a job in a Millinery shop. Well I suppose I worked there about three months, but it wasn't what I expected, I wanted to make the hats, but it was only making tea and sweeping up. So I went to look elsewhere and got a good job in a factory Maison & Pearson the hairbrush people. I worked there and worked up well into a good position prior to War breaking out.
When War broke out I was only young I was nineteen, we just didn't know what to expect, everybody was very anxious. In fact we didn't think it would last very long, that was the view of most people it was more excitement than anything else.
When War was declared we were all issued with air raid shelters, they all had to come and dig your gardens up and put these shelters below the ground in case of air raids and that. But for the first twelve months practically, there was nothing of that way at all. There were episodes on the Coast but they didn't get inland much, not enough to disturb people, we had the sirens and a few odd planes go over. But it was in September 1940 when the battle of Britain started that was when the real War was bought home to the people in the East End amongst other places.
I had a young Nephew evacuated from school like most of the children and he was sent to Oxfordshire. Then when it got extremely bad or was threatening to get very bad; the lady that he was lodged with wrote to my Mother and suggested that we go down there. So we came down by car my Mother, two sisters and myself and stayed with the person my young Nephew was evacuated to. In the village quite local was a big, very large house (Sibford), which the Government had taken over for the Red Cross. Well the Commandant came to see my sisters and I, and asked if we wanted work there was plenty there for us to do. So the three of us went across to the house and were accepted as washers up and housemaids and that sort of thing. It was a convalescent home for solders that had been wounded or were hurt in some way and they came there to convalesce. Actually I was the only one who remained there all through the War years.
Well when I first came to the country I didn't like it very much at all it seemed very quiet to what the London life was and actually I was a person who went out quite a bit.
Some people accepted you and some didn't; they resented the Londoners in a way that, I really don't know why?
The Londoners had a bad name in the country, actually they thought we were interfering in their way of life and they resented it, but others couldn't have been kinder.
The man I married lived just a short distance from the house from what we went to live in. That was in 1943 - I went with some girls I worked with to a dance in the village. My husband as he was to become came over and spoke to me and from then on we went out together and I ended up by marrying him. He was a typical countryman one of the best!
He was an agricultural worker and he did apply to join the RAF. He went for a medical etc. and passed it all until they realized he was a key man on a farm there wasn't anything he couldn't do, and they refused to accept him because he was needed at home more than what the Air Force needed him. So he joined the Home Guard, which a good many more farm workers did, and he was in that through all the years that the War was on.
He was quite agreeable that if I didn't like the country that he would go back to town when we were married. Go back to London and get a job there, but he was a typical countryman that would have never been able to stand factory life.
After the War we were still rationed for a couple of years. America was very kind to us and sent lots of food over, but it still had to be shared round. Solders were coming back there again, there were more people to feed - and children had been born in the meantime so the population was still growing. But I don't know exactly, I should think it was somewhere like a couple of years before we were back to normal again. (Rationing continued into the 1950’s for some items)
When we first took over the house (the house had originally been built for Farm Workers but after the War the Council took them over, Tadmarton, Nr Banbury Oxon) we actually did have my Mother come and live with me for a period of time prior to her going back to London. She was very poorly and she came to live with us for about six months. Then she went back to London, my sisters having gone back. One sister married a Scotsman, and went to live in Scotland and the other went back to London 'to live with her husband
I had three children (1946, 1947,1949) and then my father retired from his work and as he was in a flat that went with his job they had to get out. So they came eventually to live with me (1950) although they were both elderly about seventy when they came to live with me and lived with me for thirteen to fifteen years .
Two of my children got married they live quite locally, one lives in Banbury town and one lives in another village locally. But my youngest son still lives at home with me and just recently I've had an older sister come and live with me because she became widowed. So for companies sack she is now residing with me and my son.
If I had to have a choice again or live my life again no I don't think: I would change anything really. I was glad to have a family I wanted a family, and everything has turned out just as one would hope it would.
I've never regretted coming away from London and I got no wish whatsoever to ever go back and live there again, I adore the country.
I lost my husband (Ernest Spicer) some years ago now (1974) and he is buried locally (Tadmarton) in the Churchyard in the local Church, some day I will join him I hope.
Interview Sharon Woodward and Marjorie Spicer 1985
(Funding is currently being sort to develop further archive and documentation).
With thanks to:
Jackie Bowler - Resource and Wellbeing Manager
Abigail Brown - Arts Development Officer, Vale of White Horse District CouncilForum Chairs:
Renee Zarecky, Josie Kinduich, Doris Hurley, Janet Churlish and Sylvia Pead