Evacuees arrive

Before the war and up to 1940 I had only my sister and Don Welch to play with, Don, an only child, who lived next door and was a couple of years younger than me and not really allowed to come out very often and was not much fun anyway, in fact we did not get on that well at that time, I remember chopping up worms and throwing them at him every time he ventured within range sending him back indoors, crying, so I played mainly on my own or with Pat and very occasionally with Rod, but when Pat went to school I spent most of the time on my own during the day. The reason for this was there no other boys of my age living anywhere near, apart from Don, Pat also suffered the same problem with the lack of girls of her age in fact for her it was worse. Rod fared better as there more lads of his age living near and as he was older was able to range further afield for his friends he also made friends very easily, although I did play with him occasionally I was not particularly welcomed to join in with him and his mates as our age difference was too great.

As a result of the intense night bombing of Southampton many families were made homeless particularly in Northam and Woolston and the areas near the docks and the River Itchen, these were the slum areas of the city, where the majority of these displaced families were evacuated to I do not know but I do remember that several families were housed in the Scout Hut which was then in Valley Road, I remember passing the hut one day on my way to school, the door was open and I could see quite a large number of children and adults inside and one small child was in the doorway, she was dressed in a very patched and worn dress and her face, legs and arms were grey with dirt, not new dirt, the smell coming from the building was also very unpleasant with adults being equally dirty.

Apart from those being displaced there were a great many who decided to escape from the town who were not necessarily directly in line of the attacks but not taking any chances and for safety sake decided to find refuge further away from the towns centre, to this end we had an ‘old’ Mrs Cooper and her black Scottie dog take over Mums bedroom, I don’t remember how long she stayed with us but I very much remember her dog which bit me, quite severely, on my hand at our very first meeting which resulted in me being very untrusting of the breed ever since. Mum slept downstairs in the front room, but I don’t know how or on what she slept as there was no bed in the room nor even a spare mattress as far as I remember, this must have been even more uncomfortable at weekends when dad was home but I really don’t know what happened.

‘Old’ Mrs Cooper was replaced by her daughter-in-law and her two daughters Gladys and Brenda, Gladys was about 14 years old and Brenda slightly younger that Pat who was about 10 years old. Their own home was towards the eastern end of Burgess Road and to the north of Southampton which as it turned out was probably safer than Chandlers Ford. I’m unsure exactly at what point that came to live with us but I believe it must have been at the end of the night raids as I have no memory of the being in the shelter with us. Mr Cooper stayed in Southampton during the weekdays and only visited over the weekends, he had been too young to fight in WW1 and too old for WW11. I do remember that he did get dad to talk about his experiences in the trenches in the first war the one and only time dad had ever mentioned the subject which quickly brought him to tears. Like so many veterans of that war Dad felt, somehow, guilty that he and his two brothers came through that war unscathed having witnessed so much death right next to him. One task that he and his fellow soldiers had to do was creep out of the trench in turns to mend the telephone lines which were constantly being broken by the shelling, time and time again his trench mates never came back, but he did and without a scratch.

How the Coopers reacted to living in our house with its outdoor lavatory and no bathroom against their own house which both a bathroom and an indoor lav’ I don’t know, but they seemed happy enough. At the same time they probably had some influence on our lives, being, ‘townies’ as we termed anyone not living in the country, a more modern approach to life, in some ways this was a sort of cultural shock to our family. The Coopers were into cinemas and probably many other up to date forms of entertainment, Gladys was very much into films and had lots of American ‘movie’ magazines with all the latest gossip about the then famous ‘stars’ with lots of photographs of the latest glamorous female and handsome men in the business and so Pat and I became familiar with the names and images of ‘stars’ such as Betty Davis, Jane Russell, Diana Durban, Mae West, Sonja Henny, Carmen Miranda, July Garland, Shirley Temple and the likes of Clark Gable, Errol Flyn, Humphry Bogart, Robert Donart, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ronald Colman, Mickey Ronny, James Cagey, Charlie Chaplin and many many more and apart from Shirley Temple I had never seen any of them in an actual film.

Pat and I did go with the Coopers to visit their semi-detached house in the eastern end of Burgess Road which was typical of 1920/30 style of architecture with bay windows and an arch over a set back front door which had stained glass panels, in the case of the Coopers house the top half of the house was in pebbledash rendering, the front garden was very small with a flight of steps up from the pavement and a wicket fence. I don’t remember what the house was like inside as I was too interested in the trams which passed the house and spent the whole of the time we were there, watching them. Although I knew what a tram looked like from earlier visits to Southampton, my impression was pretty vague but here I had an opportunity to really get a close up view of them as they were very different to a bus.

The trams were rounded at both ends as there was no actual front or back as both ends could become either with a driving position at each end as they could not turn round at terminals thus when a tram reached the end of the route the driver would have a long pole which he used to detach the armature which connected the tram to the overhead power cable and swing it round and reattached to face the other way, what was the back end of he tram now became the front. There was a couple of wooden boards across the front of the tram and under the rounded ends, between the road and the undercarriage which abutted the slatted step up into the entrance to the tram which was immediately behind the driver, directly opposite the entrance was the spiral stairs to the upper deck this arrangement was repeated at the other end tram. As I remember it, the driver did not have a seat and stood up for the whole journey as the control of the tram was down to two handles called the ‘deadmans levers’ which wholly operated the tram, both the start and stop and the acceleration and braking, it was called the ‘deadmans lever’ because if the driver took his hand off then the tram would immediately stop.

The driver of the older trams was exposed to the elements as there was no windscreen, later trams were fitted with one. The trams run on a track which was sunk into the road to level with the road surface, granite setts or cobbles about 4’’ [100mm] square filled the space between the tracks, as a tram was running on a fixed track, the track had to be placed far enough out in the road to pass parked vehicles thus when passengers alighted or stepped off the tram they had to cross the gap, I don’t know what the rules were about passing a tram with car or lorry but the tracks could be quite dangerous for cyclists if their front wheel got caught in groove formed by the track, my fathers youngest sister Ruth was killed by a tram as a result of doing just that. You certainly knew when a tram was coming by the loud metallic rumble from the noise of the metal wheels on the metal track, although there was no engine noise, added to which there was a crackling noise and lots of sparks from the armature as it passed the joints which carried and supported the overhead power cable. I think that our visit to the Coopers house that day was the only time that I traveled on one, this was because their house was on a tram route, about a mile down Burgess Road from its junction with The Avenue where we alighted from the bus from Chandlers Ford.

Just like a bus the seating was set across the carriage and facing the front, with two seats each side of the gangway, the seating was made of slatted wood with a simple wooden back rest with two metal supports which were pivotal so that when the tram returned, the back rest was swung over to be on the other side of the seat. I think there was a similar arrangement on the upper deck but unlike the buses at that time the gangway was in the centre, whereas on a bus at that time it was on the offside with a step up from it to reach the four seater bench seats. Like the buses Trams also had a conductor to collect the fares. To my mind, better than either a bus or a tram, was a trolleybus which Bournemouth had, it combined the maneuverability of a bus, which it looked like, whilst being powered by overhead electricity like a tram. I only went on one once and was impressed by its quietness and smooth running.

The Coopers must have stayed with us a number of weeks as Pat was taken to a cinema in Swaythling by them on another occasion, which must have been a novelty and a real treat for her. It was whilst they were with us that I suffered a number of boils [abscesses] on the back of my neck, which were very painful, mum was hopeless in dealing with anything like that so it was Mrs Cooper that made and applied bread poultices to them in order to draw the puss to the head which would eventually burst, spewing out a mass of greenish yellow puss. A bread poultice was made by placing some bread in very hot water and when fully soaked, drained and placed in a piece of cotton or linen cloth which was the squeezed into a pad. No sooner had I got rid of one boil when another formed, which was probably caused by some lack in my diet due to rationing. I still have lumps on my neck where the boils had been.

Although we got on very well the Coopers I bet mum was pleased to get her bedroom back when they left, although we never took in anymore evacuees other families did such as the Bakers who lived three doors away, he was a painter and decorator by trade and was, I think, self-employed, they had a young daughter of their own. They took in the Newtons, a widow with three children, Marion , Frank and Allen. Marion was the eldest being roughly four years older than me, Frank came next and about eighteen months older with Allen being roughly two years younger. The Newtons house had been badly damaged by the bombing but I’m not sure where the house was. It didn’t take long Frank and Allen together with Don for the four of us to became inseparable mates and called ourselves the ‘ Ramalley Gang’, named after the lane across the road from us. Like the Coopers the Newtons were ‘townies’ and much more in the then ‘modern world’ than we Hoskins and having lost their father were by no means as disciplined as was I.