Posts Tagged ‘1940s hardship’

Painting by Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)

Painting by Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)

At first it seemed that the family had settled in and was on good terms with Mrs Winter and Alf. However, things soon began to take a turn for the worse.

In fact, this was the beginning of what must have been the worst years that Mrs Winter and her son had ever spent in their home. They were used to peace and quiet, but there was no chance of that after Mrs Bennison and her family moved in.

There were now an extra five people living in the house – Mrs Bennison, her husband Fred, their two sons and a daughter.

Mum said: “I think it’s a bleedin’ cheek having strangers billeted in your own house, I bet the government wouldn’t have anyone in their houses.” Poor Mrs Winter was certainly unlucky with the family she had to share her home with.

Mrs Bennison’s eldest son, Fred, had just been demobbed from the army. The other son, Ron, was still in the R.A.F and on leave when they moved. He had a few months left to serve, and would then be home for good. The daughter, Hilda, was about ten, a lot younger than her brothers and still at school.untitrafled

Mr Bennison worked as a barber, and always looked well dressed. He was tall, slim and handsome, and quite a vain man. He was proud of his hair, which was a steely grey colour and quite thick, and always glistened with hair oil.

His moustache was grey which I thought looked distinguished, but he did not like it and blackened it with shoe polish. He was a heavy smoker, and unfortunately, an alcoholic, and this led to arguments and shouting at all hours of the day and night.unpolitled

Mr Bennison was a very timid man and frightened of any form of authority. When he was later told that the police had to intervene to get access to Mrs Winter’s house, he was horrified.

Mrs Bennison, on the other hand, was different altogether. She had no fear of any authority and relished arguments with anybody, usually winning them. Her build was quite large, but her legs were slim and shapely. She had black hair, and when she smiled there were gaps in her teeth.

Although Mrs Bennison was the most artful person I ever knew, she was also one of the most generous. She would help anyone in need and give them her last penny. How Mr and Mrs Bennison ever married is a mystery to me, as they could not be in the same room for two minutes without an argument.


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The first time I saw my future mother-in-law, Alice Bennison, she was leaning over and shouting abuse through the letterbox of the house opposite.

untitlewidIt was 1947, and we had been living in Holmleigh Road for a few months. Since the end of the war the lack of housing had become acute, and local councils had the authority to requisition any rooms they thought were vacant. This applied to private houses as well as council property.

The flat they had allocated Mrs Bennison was the whole top floor of a private house, and this included the only bathroom in the house.

The owner of the house was an elderly Jewish lady named Mrs Winter who lived there with her son, Alf. Mrs Winter was a small, frail woman with hunched shoulders. Her hair was still dark, which contrasted with her pale skin. She spent many hours peering from behind the lace curtain of her street door, but I never saw her out in the street and she never spoke to anyone.

Painting by Lithuanian Jewish artist Arbit Blatas (1908-1999 )

Painting by Lithuanian Jewish artist Arbit Blatas (1908-1999 )

Alf was a tall thin man with dark hair and a long nose, like a beak. He was a very gentle and quietly spoken person, and showed endless patience towards his Mother. Alf was more sociable than his Mother and would always speak to my family. Mum said that he had a lot to put up with as he cared for his Mother as well as running a business.

It was in the morning when the removal van pulled up with Mrs Bennison’s furniture, and Mrs Winter would have been alone in the house as her son was at work all day. She was obviously frightened and refused to open the door when Mrs Bennison started waving her fists and shouting at her through the letter box.

untitlpedThe men, who were waiting to unload, said there was nothing they could do, and told Mrs Bennison to call the police and let them deal with it. Mrs Bennison then started shouting at Mrs Winter that she was going to call the police.

The police duly arrived, and called through the letter box that Mrs Winter must let them in. She still refused, saying: “I don’t want those people in my house.”

My family were all peering through the window, and when we saw the police leave we wondered what they would do. However, they soon returned, but this time they were accompanied by Mrs Winter’s son. He entered the house and could be seen talking to his Mother. He placed an arm around her then led her away from the street door, and not long after he returned to open the door.

The furniture was taken in and the van finally left.

Painting by Yehuda Pen (1854-1937)

Painting by Yehuda Pen (1854-1937)

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untitledbrUnfortunately, our Mum started to suffer with chronic bronchitis which affected her breathing, and though she would never make a fuss, some days she would have to take to her bed.

Being the eldest girl not working, I would have to stay home to help Mum, and in the winter months I was often absent from school causing problems for Mum with the school authorities.

I also lost my place in the school team as they said I was unreliable, and I can remember how upset I was at the time.

Mum still had her job in the hospital but it was getting too much for her, and now that my elder sisters were working and helping with the household bills she decided to stay at home. As there were still eight of us to look after she had more than enough to do.

571957_mediumKath, my sister, had trained to be a secretary which I thought sounded very posh, and when she told Mum that she wanted to be a land girl, I was surprised. We all missed Kath when she left home to start her new life on a farm.

Kath was always a pretty girl, but after she had been working in the country for a few months she looked lovely; it must have been all the fresh air and food. It was while she was working away that she met her future husband, Den, who was in the Royal Navy.Women's-Land-Army-1917

My sisters were all growing up, and it was not long before Lil and Mary were both courting. They had met their boyfriends at the same wedding. They brought them home one night to introduce them to my Mum, and a very unfortunate beginning it was.

As there were no lights in our hall, any strangers would not know that there were three stairs halfway down the passage, and as we were all used to them we often forgot to tell visitors.

Lil and Mary came in with their new boyfriends, and there was no mention of the stairs. Then we heard such a commotion in the hall. First there was a cry from someone as they fell headfirst down the stairs, and then there was a terrible howl as whoever had fallen had also flattened our poor cat.

The man picked it up and said it was not dead, but badly injured and he would put the poor animal out of her misery. He then asked for a bucket of water and to our horror, proceeded to drown the cat. We were all so shocked that no one asked the man if he had hurt himself.imabges

Mum was standing there not knowing what to do or say when Lil said: “This is Les, my friend, and he is very sorry for what he did to the cat.” Mary then told Mum that her boyfriend was named Jim.

We did not expect to see them anymore after what had happened, but they still called, being very careful when they walked down our hall. My sisters eventually married Les and Jim.

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