Welcome back to the life of my maternal Grandmother, Doreen June Willats.
Today we visit the second part of the series, the school years but if you missed the first part, you can find it here.
Let’s get straight to it, shall we.
Do you remember any holidays or special outings from your younger years?
We always use to meet my Aunties, Uncles, Cousins and my Gran, on Southampton common, on Bank Holidays for a picnic and to go to the fair.
I remember our first holiday after the war ended. We had a caravan at, Highcliffe, Dorset, in August 1946. Mum and Dad let me take my friend Margaret Boswell with me. The weather was really hot and we had a lovely time.
Do you have any other memories of your early family life?
My memories of my early life, are of being surrounded by love from my wonderful Mum and Dad, my beloved Gran, and my aunts, uncles and cousins. I was a very lucky little girl.
Please describe your first school?
I started school at Wollston Infants School, when I was 5 years old. I can’t really remember the school, but it was close to where I lived. I remember going home at playtime in the morning as I didn’t want to stay any longer.
What did you enjoy most of all about school?
I liked playing with the other children, as I was an only child.
Where did you go to secondary School?
I went to Springhill Elementary School, in Hill Lane, Southampton. I think I was 11 years old when I started there.
How did you travel to school?
I walked, all the Children walked to school then.
Where there any subjects you disliked?
I wasn’t keen on Mathematics and P.E.
Which subjects did you enjoy the most?
I liked English, Reading, spelling and drama very much.
What public examination did you take and how did you do in them?
I didn’t take any exams although I passed an exam to go to, St. Anne’s Grammar School but I did not take up the place as I wanted to leave school.
Did you enjoy music and singing?
I loved music and singing. I had piano lessons for about 3 years and singing lessons for about 2 years.
Were you good at sport?
No I never liked sports although I had to play Netball at school and I was quite a good shooter.
Did you make any close friends at school and did you stay in touch with them after leaving?
I had lots of friends at school. My best friend was Margaret, she was always my best friend right up until she passed away.
I’m also still in touch with another friend, Beatrice, now known as Betty.
How old were you when you left school?
I was fourteen years old.
My Father wanted me to go to, Greg’s Business School, but I didn’t want to go. There was quite a argument over it. I wanted to go on stage and be an actress.
What was your first full time job?
I was employed as a receptionist to a Chiropodist in the Avenue, Southampton.
How much were you paid?
I was paid fifteen shillings a week (75p) I gave my Mum Seven shillings and sixpence (32 1/2p) and had seven shillings and sixpence for myself.
How did you travel to work?
I walked until my Dad brought me a bike.
What hours did you work?
I worked from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday and 9am to 1pm on a Saturday.
How long did you stay at your first job?
I stayed there about 6 months but I wasn’t happy there, so I left.
What was your main occupation during your working life?
I was a Civil Servant, working as a assistant collector of taxes for the Inland Revenue.
Did you find your work fulfilling?
Yes I did, it was very interesting, but it was hard work with a lot of pressure.
Have you generally enjoyed good health?
I have but I had Meningitis when I was seven and was very ill for a long time. When I went back to school, I couldn’t do PE or games for a while as I wasn’t very strong.
Have you ever had to go to hospital because of an accident?
My Mum, Dad and I were in a motorcycle accident over on the Isle of Wight, when I was 3 years old. I had a gash on my leg, I’ve still got the scar. I didn’t stay in Hospital but my Dad did as he had a head injury.
Have you broken any bones?
No, touch wood, I’ve been very lucky. (Unfortunately Nan has broken her arm and hip, since I asked these questions.)
Did you like to do regular exercise or sport to keep fit as you grow older?
No, I’ve never liked sport very much.
I use to play tennis a bit and I liked skipping as a child.
How old were you during the Second World War?
I was 9 years old when the war began. We were going to London to see one of my Dad’s Aunts and we were waiting on the platform at Southampton Central Station, for the train. They broadcast Mr Chamberlains speech over the tannoy system.
At 11.15 a.m. Mr.Chamberlain had broadcast to the nation the following statement
announcing that a state of war existed between Britain and Germany: 3rd September,1939.
“This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a
final Note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock that they were
prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would
exist between us.
I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that
consequently this country is at war with Germany.
You can imagine what a bitter blow it is to me that all my long struggle to win
peace has failed. Yet I cannot believe that there is anything more or anything
different that I could have done and that would have been more successful.
Up to the very last it would have been quite possible to have arranged a peaceful
and honourable settlement between Germany and Poland, but Hitler would not have it.
He had evidently made up his mind to attack Poland whatever happened, and
although He now says he put forward reasonable proposals which were rejected by
the Poles, that is not a true statement. The proposals were never shown to the
Poles, nor to us, and, although they were announced in a German broadcast on
Thursday night, Hitler did not wait to hear comments on them, but ordered his
troops to cross the Polish frontier. His action shows convincingly that there is
no chance of expecting that this man will ever give up his practice of using force to gain his will. He can only be stopped by force.
We and France are today, in fulfilment of our obligations, going to the aid of
Poland, who is so bravely resisting this wicked and unprovoked attack on her
people. We have a clear conscience. We have done all that any country could do to establish peace. The situation in which no word given by Germany’s ruler could be trusted and no people or country could feel themselves safe has become intolerable.
And now that we have resolved to finish it, I know that you will all play your part with calmness and courage.
At such a moment as this the assurances of support that we have received from the
Empire are a source of profound encouragement to us.
The Government have made plans under which it will be possible to carry on the
work of the nation in the days of stress and strain that may be ahead. But these
plans need your help. You may be taking your part in the fighting services or as
a volunteer in one of the branches of Civil Defence. If so you will report for
duty in accordance with the instructions you have received. You may be engaged in work essential to the prosecution of war for the maintenance of the life of the people – in factories, in transport, in public utility concerns, or in the supply
of other necessaries of life. If so, it is of vital importance that you should
carry on with your jobs.
Now may God bless you all. May He defend the right. It is the evil things that we shall be fighting against – brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and
persecution – and against them I am certain that the right will prevail.”
Dad said we had to go back home. I couldn’t understand why and I cried because I was so disappointed that our trip wasn’t to be. Mum and Dad were very serious and quite all the way home, of course I was too young to realise what lay ahead of everyone. All the children were evacuated, I was taken to the station and put on the train with my little bag and big label on my coat. Everyone was crying but when the teacher wasn’t looking, I got out of the carriage onto the railways line side and I walked the lines to Millbrook station and I went home. My Dad was so pleased to see me, when he opened the front door to m. I remember saying, “I’m not going so there” He picked me up and hugged me and carried me through to Mum who was crying. She held me so tight, I could hardly breathe. Dad said we would all stay together and take our chances, so I stayed home. Dad didn’t let them know where I was, he wanted to see how long it took the authorities to find out I was missing. It took several days before someone came to see Mum and Dad.
How did the war interfere with daily life?
The bombing disrupted daily life, we spent nearly every night in the shelter. It was very frightening, smoke, flames and noise of the guns and houses collapsing and thinking we may be killed any minute.
We also had rationing so we couldn’t buy sweets very often and we never had bananas or oranges.
Were you ever in The armed forces?
I joined the Territorial Army when I was 17 because I liked the uniform. I was in the Royal Artillery and served for about a year.
It’s funny that certain questions and answers bring back your own memories, especially Nan telling me a little about the war.
I always remember her telling me about her walking the tracks to go home. How brave I thought she was.
This little piece of her story has always stayed with me. I can’t even begin to imagine the horrors she saw growing up in the war.
One other story/memory I always remember her telling me was about an air raid going off and they headed towards the public shelter in the park near Debenhams in Southampton, but my Great Gran, Eileen Willats nee O’Connor, her Mum, decided at the last minute to run to her sisters. (I think I have that right) Thank goodness they did, or I wouldn’t be sat here today telling you a little about my Nan’s life, as the shelter took a direct hit. My Nan remembers seeing arms, legs etc of the poor souls who were in the shelter, hanging in the trees.
If my Gran hadn’t had that feeling/foresight, they would have been in that shelter with all the people who lost their lives in that air raid.
Though Nan and Granny were the lucky ones, my heart goes out to all the families who lost their lives and family.
It’s hard to think that life could have changed so dramatically and if it wasn’t for a spilt second decision, life as we know it wouldn’t have happened because we wouldn’t be here, telling the tale.
I hope you will join me next week to hear more about my Nan, Doreen June Willats, life, from her social life, to falling in love, to becoming a Townsend and becoming a mother of 3.