Family life

At the start of the War practically every form of entertainment like theatres and cinemas were closed, although this was relaxed as the war progressed, not that this affected me, I had only experienced being in a cinema once before the war and before I started school, that one visit was in The Picture House one the two cinemas in Eastleigh, they were opposite each other in the High Street. The Picture House was the older of the two with marble steps leading up to the foyer and much more like a theatre as was its décor both inside and outside, I don’t know its history but maybe it was a variety theatre originally. The film I saw must have been a popular one, featuring Shirley Temple, when she was about five years old, in which she sang a song she was famous for ‘ On the good ship Lollypop’, whatever the film was about I’ve know idea but it was one of those films that one had to queue to get in, standing room only, at the back of the stalls was all that was available for mum and our neighbour Mrs Welch so they had to stand at the back of the stalls with mum holding me in her arms throughout the whole performance, a vague remembrance of moving pictures in black and white is all I remember about the visit. I think that it was the only time Mum ever went to a cinema.

For my family, a trip to the beach, before the war, was a one day, once a year affair and that was a Sunday School outing with the Congregational Church and was always to Southsea. Although I had been Christened in the Church of England at St Boniface Church in Hursley Road, my mother did not like Vicar, so we children were sent to the new Congregational Church in Kings Road, where Mr Frith was the priest. I’m unsure whether I started Sunday School before day school but there is a fair chance that I did as think that I remember two trips to Southsea before they ceased, due to the war. How we got to Southsea I assume was by train, I don’t think we went by Charabanc [coach] as they were the called but I do remember very clearly the last visit because there was a pool near Southsea Castle and the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour where you could hire a small paddle boat, suitable for children, with the paddles being operated by hand with handles, each boat had a number painted on it, so that you could be called in when your time was up. Whilst I was paddling around I saw a large battleship making its impressive and silent entrance into the harbour with the sailors lining the decks, emblazoned on the bow of its grey hull were the words ‘Iron Duke’ in relief and in black lettering. The ship was a WW1 ‘Dreadnought’ the type of obsolete ships we started the war with, although I did not know that at that time, to me it seemed so close that I could almost touch it, with its massive guns pointing fore and aft, it formed such a lasting impression that I can still see that ship in detail seventy-six years later.

There were the odd trips to Southampton and Winchester and occasional visits to more distant relatives. There were three relatives that I enjoyed visiting, although in general I hated visiting anyone. Firstly, there was Aunt Kit who lived in Winchester, she was one of Dads sisters. Aunt Kit and her husband Cecil and two children, Grace and Frank, lived in Stable Gardens, a narrow street off the High Street just below the West Gate. They were caretakers for the offices and showroom of the Winchester Coal and Coke Co., which their rented house backed onto, the house had no garden, just a tiny Courtyard surrounded by high brick walls and an entrance door through one that abutted an alley. One thing I liked about Kits house was that it had a cellar which to me as a five or six year old was a great adventure to go down into. Kit was short and dumpy, as were his other four sisters. All but one of Dads five sisters were deaf with the exception of Edith the eldest. Unlike like his sisters, Dad and his two brothers, although also short, were slim, neither of his brothers went deaf. Kit, despite being short and dumpy, was a very smart and good looking and fun to be with. Back in those days with very little to entertain, visitors, particularly if they had children and especially in house without a garden, was to go for a walk and I loved the walks we had around Winchester, with its ancient buildings, and along side of the River Itchen with its mills and around the medieval City Wall and passing through ancient gateways into the Cathedral Close with the beautiful Cathedral.

Another attraction was on occasions we travelled to the city by train and a train was always better than a bus as far as a young boy was concerned. Winchester, up until the time that ‘Beaching’ destroyed hundred of miles of track, had two stations, the main station on the Southampton/London track the western side of the city and Chesil Station on the eastern side, which was built against the flank of Chesil hill, I believe this was a single track known as the ‘Watercress Line’ because its main roll was to transport watercress, to market from the many beds sited on the Itchen River north of Winchester. This branch line started at Shawford and crossed the Itchen and the valley via a brick built multi arched viaduct and through a long dark tunnel approaching the station. I think the track then headed to Alesford and Alton and beyond.

It was by visiting Aunt Kit that I fell in love with Winchester back then, which was reinforced over the period that I was an Art Student there, but then planners started to ruin it.

Another place I liked to visit was Mums cousin who we called Auntie Maggie, she was one of mums cousins on grandmas side of the family and lived her sister, Lilly, and her husband, in a brick built detached house in Burley, a small village in the New Forest. To get to Burley was to me an adventure having to catch a train, which was in itself was an adventure, first from Chandlers Ford to Eastleigh, then a main line train from Eastleigh to Brockenhurst on a much bigger, faster train with a corridor, the local trains had individual compartments without any connection between them. Having reached Brockenhurst we then changed to another train, a real ‘puffing billy’ which chuffed its way to a place called Holmsley. As far as I remember the station was devoid of any other buildings anywhere near it, from this isolated station we had to walk almost two miles to reach Burley, through the unfenced forest, which was again a new adventure, with wild ponies crazing on the verges and crossing the road unmolested. On the occasion that I am recalling we passed an army camp under canvas, presumably on manoeuvres, a probable forerunner of what was to become common as we approach the then undeclared war. Apart from the sight of about thirty bell tents and a couple of marquees, there was an armoured car, which was no more than a gun turret mounted on a large car like a an old Rolls Royce, I’m sure it was a veteran from WW1, this was the type of equipment that we entered the WW2 about a year from my seeing it. It is hardly surprising that the Germans overrun us so easily with their super modern equipment, our politicians continue to make the same mistakes even today and expect our soldiers to fight with poor out dated and insufficient equipment.

I loved the novelty of Maggies house, which was detached, apart from the sight of ponies and even pigs grazing immediately outside their boundary fence, was that their domestic water was pumped up from a well to the kitchen sink, using a lever operated pump with an up and down action which gushed water out of a quite big spigot on the down stroke. Maggie had no children of her own but she was certainly knew how to handle them and I was very fond of her.

The third relation that I was happy to visit was Dads brother, Mark. Mark, his wife Lily and three children, Violet, Dorthy and Harold, moved house three times in a short space of time, just before the outbreak of war, firstly they lived very near to us in a semi-detached thatched cottage in Ramally Lane just across the road from our house. The cottage [now demolished] was a half timber affair and pretty run down, it had quite a large garden with lots of different apple trees with very different tastes and lovely tastes at that, the cottage, like Maggies relied on well water but here it was wound up on a rope with a bucket on the end. I can’t remember what sort of toilet Maggie had but at this cottage it was a privy down the garden and like so many cottages of the period the privy was under the spread to a yew tree, I never used either. I remember being upstairs in the cottage with my cousins and kneeling on the floor was able to look through gaps between the floor boards at the adult activity going on below, The tiny upstairs windows were practically on the floor.

Mark and his family then moved to a 1920 semi-detached house in Common Road, I think I only went there once and wasn’t anyway near as interesting and don’t remember any thing about it worth mentioning. Their third home was at Crampmoor, Nr Romsey, the house had been a pub called ‘Ye Old House at Home’ and the washed out lettering on the gable end of the building attesting to this, was still easily read. The only way that we could get to Crampmoor was to walk, unless we caught a bus to Hursley and then another from Winchester to Romsey, which still left a long walk down Crampmoor Lane. The walk, from home, was about three miles, the first leg was along footpaths through Ramally across the fields to Knightwood, then along Flexford Road, passing the St Johns Church, a small and ancient church dating back to Saxon times. I recently discovered, that in the graveyard are the graves of twenty two Hoskins including my Great Grandfather, [ I have now completed an oil painting of the church which has altered very little from my first sight of it] we then walked almost the full length of Pound Lane and then along Green Lane which was not much more than a farm track, and finally into the lower end of Crampmoor Lane, crossing a ford and the level crossing with its Gatekeepers cottage, which much later, one of my cousins would became the Gatekeeper. Having crossed the Eastleigh to Romsey railway track, uncle Marks house was about three hundred yards further on. The brick built house was pretty old and a bit tumbled down but it had about two acres of land, which backed on to the railway, it was owned by Dads second cousin, Harry Hoskins, who lived opposite St Boniface Church in Chandlers Ford and ran a successful coal and coke business and a hardware shop on the corner of Southampton Road and Leigh Road not far from my Grandma’s House, he also had a depot off of Hursley Road, just up the road from home [now a Drapers Tools warehouse]. ‘Ye Old House at Home’ had very low ceilings and small windows which made it rather very dark inside with the kitchen being particularly gloomy. nevertheless, despite this the house was very inviting. Auntie Lil always made us very welcomed, she was not very tall and was slim but full of go and seemed to be involved in every organisation in the village, apart from that, Uncle Mark kept pigs which added to the attraction of the place, we loved scratching their backs.

Mark was a ‘ganger’ with Southern Railway, his job, together with several other men, was the maintenance and upkeep of the railway track between Eastleigh and Romsey and further on to Dunbridge, this included keeping the vegetation on the embankments and cuttings in check, with once a year burning off the long grass, this was important because steam trains showered red hot sparks out of their funnels, often catching ripe wheat fields alight in late summer, if the embankments had not be burnt off the likelihood of this happening was increased. Another task was to keep the whole track from embankment to embankment weed free and weed free it was, finally and most importantly, was to make sure the track was safe. The lines of a railway tracks were mounted on wooden sleepers via a cast iron cradle bolted to the sleeper, the actual line was then locked into the cradle using wooden wedges, about 6ins long x 4ins deep x 3ins wide, these were hammered home using a specially designed long handled hammer, the ‘gangers’ job was to make sure that all these wedges were fully knocked home and to replace worn and broken ones. Another task was to check that the bolts securing the ‘fish plates’, metal plates which connected the individual lengths of rail, were fully tightened. The width of the gap between each rail was important and had to be wide enough to take up the expansion of the rail in hot weather, this gap gave the familiar ‘clickity clack’ or ‘tumpty – tump’ sound as the carriage wheels passed over them.

All of Marks children were a lot older than me, Violet the oldest was 10years older, all of them served in various armed services during the war, Harold was in the navy, Violet in the WRENs, I’m not sure about Dorthy but I think she was also a WREN. I gather that Violet used to push me out in my pram when they lived near us, She could play the piano and they had an upright one in what I suppose was their front room, I had quite a good singing voice and on one visit they wanted to hear me sing, being very shy I would not oblige but after a great deal of persuasion I agreed only if just Violet was in the room to play the piano and that the door was shut, so a sang a song, stood facing the door, I can’t remember what the song was nor if my audience could actually hear me through the door, never- the- less I got applauded, but for me I was red in the face with embarrassment.

Although my father’s family lived only about a mile from home in a semi-detached brick built house in School Lane, we rarely visited them. I never knew my Grandfather as he was already dead when I was born and did not know that much about my grandmother. Two of dads siblings were still at home when I was about five years old, Fred and Rose, Fred kept bantams to which I would feed grass, and that was about the most exciting thing that I can remember about that house. Dads sister Mary who lived next door, would always come round when we visited, and she was very deaf like my father. There are two memories that I have regarding grandmas house. My Father used to take Pat, Rod and I on country walks on a Sunday morning, more often than not we went through Knightwood in one direction or another, sometimes this lead us past Grandmas house, and that is exactly what we did, walked passed it, without calling in, but on one occasion it did not work out as Dad planned. Opposite Grandmas house was the play ground of the local senior school, which was unfenced, at that point it was a clay bank with scrub growing on it, as I ran up the bank I slipped and fell on to a broken milk bottle, badly cutting my knee, resulting in us having to go into the house to clean up the wound. The cut was about an inch long and deep, now-a-days that would mean a trip to the A&E for stitches and a Tetanus injection but back then it was washed and bandaged and that was that, but I was left with a scar which widened out to about a quarter of an inch and which I still have to this day. Another memorable visit was when Dads mother died, I don’t know how old I was but I remember being carried, I think by dads sister, Rose, around the bed where the body of Grandma lay, her eyes and mouth were open and Dad closed her eyes placing a penny on each to keep them closed and tied her mouth shut using a thin scarf. The remembrance of that occasion has put me off ever viewing any one that has died because I don’t want my memory of that person to be that of a corpse.

Eastleigh was about the only we place that we could visit regularly in the early stage of the war and it was a ‘one eyed ‘ working class, railway town, which most Fordonians regarded as a ‘ bit of a dump’ and ‘one eyed’, even though many worked there, mainly in either the railway Carriage Works or the Engine Works of the main construction works of the then Southern Railway, there was also Perelli General an Italian cable works which was an extensive factory in the middle of the town, it was taken over from the Italian ownership once Italy declared war against us, there was also a large printing works under the name of Caustons who’s main work came from printing ‘Littlewoods’ football coupons . Most of the men from Chanler’s Ford working in these factories were artisans and skilled craftsmen, therefore Chandler’s Ford regarded itself a cut above Easleigh. Our visits to Eastleigh were usually shopping trips and included an annual trip to buy shoes in Olivers Shoe shop which were not available locally, the proprietor would greet dad like a long lost friend and welcome us into his shop, [Mum never came on these trips], would buy each of us one pair of shoes and possibly a pair of sandals which had to last a year. Before one got to wearing the new shoes it was the practice that steel tips and studs or brads were hammered onto the souls and heels to extend the shoes life and nearly ever father had a ‘last’ and would repair shoes themselves or if that was beyond them then they would be taken to the cobblers for repair, in our case that cobbler was Mr Croad who lived five doors away in a identical house to ours, he worked from a couple of sheds situated along side the house. Mr Croad was extremely short sighted and wore pebble glasses with very thick lenses and had to hold the boot or shoe he was inspecting almost touching his nose to see what needed to be done and equally as close, to see whether he had done it, he had a petrol driven stitching machine in one shed which he would usually use only once a week, we knew when he was doing so because of the pop pop noise the engine made which audible from our garden.

If we were lacking in what would now be regarded as the ‘good things in life’ did we feel ‘hard done by? No we did not, that was life and what you’ve have never had, you don’t miss.