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Archive for July, 2013

miner

Miner (Photo credit: Leo Reynolds)

Our new billets were near the mine. I was with my sister Lil, and Mary and Kath were in a house a few doors away from us. The house Lil and I were in was small, just two bedrooms upstairs, two rooms downstairs, a scullery and outside lavatory.

Lil said it smelt and the whole place needed a good clean. Mrs Davies, the lady who took us in, evidently did not like housework. She spent the best part of the day sitting in front of the fire reading love stories with her skirt above her knees. Over the years her legs had turned a mottled, mauve colour with the heat of the fire. She was quite well-built, with a round face and dark curly hair, and when she spoke it was with a strong lilting Welsh accent. Although she often spoke of her family, I never saw them as they were in the forces or working in the factories.

We were treated kindly by her but, nevertheless, Lil would often complain that our bed needed clean bedclothes, and that we needed a bath, as it was difficult to keep clean with just a jug and basin and a kettle of warm water from the kitchen. But nothing ever improved.

Mr Davies takes a bath

Mr Davies was exempt from the forces as he worked down the mine. Coal was vital to industry and the home, as most people cooked and kept their house warm by coal. He was a quiet man, working long hours down the mine and spending most of his free time singing with the local choir.

I will never forget my surprise the first time he arrived home from the pit covered in coal dust, and proceeded to take off all his clothes and bath in a tin bath in front of the fire. Evidently this was normal in mining villages. Whoever was in the house, visitors or family, the bath would be brought in from the yard and hot water poured in. Mrs Davies would scrub his back while we sat there. At first, Lil and I would stare in amazement with our mouths wide open. At home our Dad would never take any clothes off in front of us. He even kept his cap on if he was sitting up in bed. But we soon became used to the nightly routine.

First day at school

The first day at the village school dawned. I was worried at the thought of starting another school, especially after my experience at the previous one. Lil and I met our sisters, Mary and Kath, and made our way to the school. When we arrived we were told to wait inside the assembly hall with the other children. Mr Williams, who was the headmaster, then called all the evacuees to the front of the hall. Altogether there were about twenty-five children. He first made a speech, explaining to the rest of the school how we had left our homes, parents and friends to be away from the dangers of wartime London. Mr Williams then asked us to tell everybody our names and said he hoped we would be happy while we were at his school.

All the teachers were strict and expected the pupils to be well-behaved and quiet. Each morning and afternoon the teachers would take it in turn to call the names of the pupils and mark them off in a register. When you heard your name you had to answer ‘Yes Sir’ or ‘Yes Miss’. If your voice was not loud enough the teacher would throw the heavy register book at you. Many were the times I looked up to see the book sailing through the air, aimed at someone’s head. I soon learnt to call my name out loud and clear. A cane was kept by the side of the teacher’s desk and used frequently for any misbehaviour.

My first teacher was called Miss Davies, no relation to the lady we were living with. She was quite small in build, but what she lacked in height she made up for with her voice; it was so loud it hurt your ears.

What everyone in class feared was when she left her desk and walked up and down the rows of desks. In her hand she held a long ruler which she would rap across your knuckles if she thought you were wasting time. However, I do remember the encouragement and praise we received if she thought any of our work was good. She had a system of different coloured stars, gold being the highest. I remember feeling very envious when the girl sitting next to me was awarded a gold star for her work. The highest I achieved was a silver star.

My sisters and I soon settled into our new school. The children were more friendly towards us and there was no bullying. I made two close friends, Margaret Rose and Gwyneth. They invited me home for tea and shared their precious sweets with me. This was a big treat for me as Mrs Davies kept our ration book and we never received our sweet ration. I believe she gave them to her own family. Sadly, over the years I lost touch with my two friends, which is something I regret.

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