Mollie E. Hubbard nee Buckett
My teaching career started at the age of twelve when my parents insisted on my helping with the infants class at our Sunday School. I confess that I hated it, and dreaded Sunday afternoons.
Our church hall was crammed with children from the poorest streets of the City of Gloucester. At the back of the hall was a gallery, reached by a winding stair, and beneath this a room approximately 10 ft. sq. The room was partitioned off by thin boarding to make the infants’ classroom. One mite told her mummy “We have our Sunday School in a shed” - so you can tell what it looked like.
In this small room were four backless benches, and we took in as many kiddies as could squeeze on to them.
We gave priority to the regulars. The irregular ones were mostly boat children who lived on the barges going up and down the Gloucester & Berkley Ship Canal, and sometimes up the river Severn to Worcester or even Stourbridge.
In front of the class were a small table, two chairs and a minute harmonium. This was so small that our Lay Reader, my father’s assistant, could fold it up and strap it on his bike if it was needed elsewhere. The classroom door was left open while we had a short opening service, after which the older children settled down to their lessons and our door was shut.
Very few of the thirty or so little dears in “the shed” were clean, and many of them were distinctly dirty, so the smell on a hot afternoon was revolting. Occasionally we persuaded a man to open the little window, but as this was such a hard job, we suffered in silence.
At first I sat at the table sticking stamps in to the children’s albums. Each week there would be a nice picture illustrating the Bible Story for the day. The albums were dirty and torn, some looked as if they had fallen into the gravy, if not the baby’s pot.
Also I had to make the register with a figure “3” by each name. It was supposed to be one mark for attendance, one for being early, and one for good behaviour, but they all got “3” as long as I marked it. It was hard with such a floating population to know who was who. The teacher was expounding Bible Stories while I was doing all this, then the fun began!
I had to play the little harmonium for the children to sing choruses. As my music teacher had long given me up as hopeless, you can guess the standard of my playing and we “made a joyful noise unto the Lord”.
One day, the girls in the gallery above us were reduced to helpless giggles. When asked by their teacher “What was the matter?” they said “Miss, it’s the infants’ voices.”
This went in for a year or so when, horror of horrors, the teacher left to get married, and guess who had to take her place.
I made two changes at the outset.
First my elder sister Phyl, showed me how to make covers for the stamp books from strong brown paper, which at least stopped the albums from disintegrating completely.
Secondly, I very soon learnt that if I was to keep control of the class, I must face them. So the little “Blow George” was abandoned and I used my voice for the choruses. This was a valuable lesson.
I once dared to suggest that I wanted to be a “Nanny”, but I was quickly snubbed and not allowed to think on these lines. It was assumed that I should follow my two big sisters into the teaching profession, an idea emphatically endorsed by my headmistress at school. I knew I loved little children, but was not keen on the older ones. I agreed to go to a London College if they would have me.
I loved my Nursery School Practice which was in a wonderful old mill house on the river Wandle near Wandsworth High Street. But the infant school practice found me in an inordinately old fashioned school in a dingy district near the Elephant and Castle.
Assembly on my first morning was an eye opener. A hundred poor looking children stood facing the “Governess”, as the head teacher was called. The “Governess”, in a long dress and button boots (1936!) said “Good morning children.” The girls curtsied, and the boys bowed from the waist. “Good morning Governess, good morning teachers, good morning students, good morning all” they chorused, repeatedly bowing and scraping.
The children used small blackboards and tiny nuts of white chalk for nearly all their work. It was incredible how neatly most of them wrote and set out their sums. They had some “best” writing books which were used once a week. Some afternoons a small piece of paper was grudgingly given out for drawing or handwork.
But the dirt! If you never lived in London before the war, you have no idea of the sooty dust that covered everything! To keep a house anything near clean, you had to go round with a damp duster twice a day. To help the children with their coats and tie their shoe laces meant getting pretty black yourself. There was only cold water and carbolic soap and a very wet towel for ablutions.
I was fortunate in getting a post in my home town of Gloucester when I left college. My mother had died while I was at college and the idea was that I should keep house for Daddy as well as teach. We were lucky in having an excellent maid, a good girl who tackled all the housework. We still had a woman twice a week for “rough” and washing. So I only had catering and cooking to worry about, but there was an awful lot of entertaining. My mother had invited all of the church workers to Sunday tea on a kind of rota - which was a good way of keeping them up together.
My class at school was one of the first Nursery Classes for three year olds which were fast coming into fashion. My classroom was a most attractive newly refurbished room with its own tiny toilets and wash basins.
Hygiene training was counted most highly, and each child had a tooth brush and mug with the same picture that was on its coat peg and afternoon rest-bed. They all had a wash and brush up each morning, supervised by my wonderful young assistant. We had all the toys and equipment you could wish for, and our own little garden with flowers and grass and a sand pit.
My headmistress was a real dragon who could make you feel very small - especially if you made a mistake in the register and she threatened to send you to the Education Office to confess. But she was a most hard-working head, and basically kind and good.
I enjoyed my first year and remember the wonderful flowers the children brought from their gardens - and the sticky dripping cakes they brought for their lunch, wrapped in a scrap of “The Citizen”. I was glad when bringing lunch from home was forbidden.
The children now had to bring a halfpenny a day for a marsh mallow tea cake, or a couple of biscuits in addition to their halfpenny a day for their third of a pint bottle of milk. Biscuits and milk were served in pretty nursery rhyme crockery on blue and white check table cloths. Woe betide me if the cloths were crooked or soiled. The children took turns to be waiters - so it was inevitable that we had a spill or two.
My name was Buckett; and I used to tell my school friends that that utensil should always be called “a pail” - only in fun of course, but some people thought I was serious.
On my first day at Hatherly Road School, I told my little dears that they should call me “Miss Buckett”. After a moments silence a little girl announced “Our Mam’s got a bucket at home.”
I felt I had been accepted, though I was mostly called “Teacher”.
The funniest of my recollections of my first week’s teaching concern the children’s’ physical functions. A beautiful plump little boy, called Philip, came to school wearing a pale blue knitted suit which he had outgrown - in fact he bulged out of it. The trousers had a minute “fly” opening in the front which was wide open. Philip came to me with a large nappy pin and asked me to pin up his fly from the inside.
When I had done this rather delicate task, I said “When you need to go to the toilet at playtime, Philip, you must come to me and I will undo the pin.”
“Oh that’s all right Teacher, I goes out me leg!”
Another day, the head teacher escorted one of my boys who needed to leave the room. She took him to the minute toilets. “Oh don’t you wait for me Miss, I want to do puddings and shall be a long time. You go and listen to them kids in the hall playing their band.”
In the spring of 1939, my dad married Rene Denly, Sister Tutor at the Royal Hospital. They departed for a London parish, leaving me to find and cope with an unfortunate succession of lodgings.
I was spending my summer holiday at the London Vicarage when all teachers were recalled to their posts. War was imminent.
We had a very busy time trying to fit evacuee grammar school girls from Birmingham into billets. Too late, the authorities had realised that its important aircraft factory made Gloucester a target for German bombs. A few weeks later, the city would have been designated a neutral zone, that is we should not have had evacuees, nor send people away.
Where were you when Chamberlain announced that we were at war? I was in the sitting room of my lodgings and the first thing I did was to boss my landlady and her little servant and tell them they must practice putting on their gas masks. Neither of them had got theirs out of their boxes!
I had been instructed to report at school, but as no more evacuees arrived I spent a hot and boring Sunday afternoon with the staff of the girls department. In the next week, I had a lot of free time with good weather and I enjoyed blackberrying in the fields at Tuffley - long since built on.
Once back at school, we stuck paper strips on all the windows to stop shattered glass flying across the room. Most of you will remember that for the first few weeks of the war we took our gas masks everywhere we went. The children had to hang theirs on the backs of their little chairs, and also their coats, in case of a session in the shelters.
We often had an air raid drill. The rule was that if a teacher heard the air raid siren she was to ring the big brass bell very loudly in the hall. At the word “Shelter”, the children were to pick up their masks and coats and go to the appropriate shelter - a shallow trench roofed with corrugated iron and thatched with sandbags.
As my windows were the only ones which faced towards the city, it was not surprising that I usually heard the siren first. On the first occasion the Head ran red faced into my room calling “What did you hear? What did you hear?” I wished afterwards that I had given her a silly answer- what did she think I had heard?
This was a false alarm, but good practice for there were several day time raids when a lone raider would deposit bombs on the town instead of on the aircraft factory he was supposed to hit. Once bombs fell very near us, and anxious mothers came to see if we were all right and the Head allowed them to take their own children home.
In 1941 I decided to leave Gloucester and join the London County Council. I had to do a month’s teaching in London before being evacuated, and one wet cold day, I was sent to a convent at Victoria.
I had been told to tell the Sister headmistress that I was a protestant and that I had come to teach the reception class.
She was a tall unsmiling black robed nun who said she did not want a protestant teacher on her staff, and that she did not need a reception teacher. In contrast to this freezing welcome, the reception class teacher sat me by her nice fire, brought me a cup of tea, and dried my soaked coat on the fire guard. Then she thankfully divided the sixty or so noisy kids in her room into two groups and gave me the nearly six year olds and established us in another room with boards and chalks and not much else.
The teacher in the class above mine was a pianist, and two afternoons a week she would pack her children in with mine with a wonderful assortment of percussion instruments. Each child had something, even if it was only a little bell on a stick. The teacher played, and they all joined in, more or less in time. You never heard such din! Anyway, it made a nice change from endless story telling.
The same lady played the piano for assembly which was a lovely little service, very reverently done. I was told I need not attend, but I went willingly.
Unfortunately, one day my pianist colleague had her hand trapped in a carriage door at Victoria Station. As no other member of staff could play at all, and I could only play a little, I had to play the hymns for prayers. So off I went with the Westminster Hymnal to practice “Soul of my Saviour” and other hymns hitherto unknown to me.
Very often the children trooped off with the sisters to Westminster Cathedral nearby. At these times it was announced that “Miss Buckett would stay and mind the babies and Protestants.” I was horrified to find that the “prots” included some tall boys of 14, but I need not have worried, because these big boys were lovely and a great help with the tiny ones especially when the siren went one day and we all went down to a gloomy underground corridor hemmed in with sandbags.
When my month was up, the headmistress who had given me such a frosty welcome said she was sorry to loose me and couldn’t I possibly stay? But for one thing I knew my stepmother didn’t want me at the Vicarage and I was already committed to work in a residential nursery school.
It sounds like a strange coincidence that I should be sent back to Gloucestershire, but in fact I had had two weekends at Holcombe House, just to see if I would like the work. Unknown to me, Miss Walter, the head, had asked for me. The beautiful old house is between Nailsworth and Minchinhampton and was built by one of the many woollen mill owners in that valley.
Thirty three little Londoners, aged from two to five, were housed in this lovely place. The boss, officially known as the Commandant (shortened by us to “The Comm”), was a teacher and she had one qualified assistant teacher. There was a hospital sister to take charge of the sick room and generally supervise hygiene and diet for children and staff. She washed the children’s hair and took turns on the nightly bath time rota and gave out cod liver oil and orange juice.
One day Junie Taylor, aged just three, announced in a clear voice: “We get milk from cows, orange juice from Sister, and cocoa from pigs.” Junie and her big sister Rita, nearly five, came from my father’s parish - in fact they lived in our road - so I could not help feeling a special interest in them. They were adorable, both very intelligent with dark brown eyes and curly hair. I called them “My Bermondsey Beauties.”
The girls who helped with the children, in the kitchen and did the cleaning, were a very mixed bunch. One was unashamedly a gypsy girl, one was the daughter of a high ranking army officer who lived in a hall in Norfolk, one came from a famous show house in Wiltshire, and the others were just good hearted Cockney girls, but we all worked well together with no snobbishness and all worked long hours - more than they had to if we were short staffed or there was some emergency.
I worked from 7.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m. and I was supposed to have two hours off duty as well as three half hour meal breaks.
When I could get away I would explore the wonderful countryside all around us. If I was lucky to get a half day off, I would go on the bus to Gloucester to shop or visit friends, sometimes taking a small companion.
I took Rita Taylor to Gloucester on the bus one free half day. On the way to Stroud we passed a convent which had a very large wooden crucifix outside. Rita embarrassed me by jumping up and shouting excitedly “Look! Look! Miss Buckett there is Jesus Christ on the cross being crucified!”
As we passed Gloucester Park, Rita saw the large statue of Robert Raikes, the Sunday School founder, set on a big white plinth.
“Why is that big man going to be weighed in the park?” my small companion asked.
By chance, in a street, we met my Uncle Fred. We stopped for a chat and he was much taken with Rita and jingled in his pocket for some small change. That evening Sister questioned her about her outing while she bathed her. “We met a man whose name wath “Uncle” and he gave me thum pennieth”
Every six weeks or so we got four days off in a row, so we could go home for a long weekend. We only got a fortnight’s holiday a year - a contrast to my usual teachers holidays and we all agreed to stay on duty over Christmas, to give the children as good a time as possible.
On Christmas Eve, the Vicar of Minchinhampton rang to ask if we would like to take the children up to the church to see the Crib. I took the four eldest, the only ones who could cope with a mile long uphill walk. There was Freddy, a sturdy boy who ate up his food quickly and was always eager for any second helpings, Patsey, Rita Taylor, and another Rita. It was a coincidence that the only pairs of sisters were both called Rita and June.
I had been going through a bad patch in my life: my mother and my favourite sister had died, and, with my father’s re-marriage, I felt I had lost him too.
The children sang odd bits of “How far is it to Bethlehem”. They made a lovely picture in their bright pixie hoods against the frosty road. I suddenly felt a lifting up of the heart and was glad. The Vicar met us at the altar rail and we pointed at the figures and identified them. We knelt and asked God to bless the mums and dads and babies in London and keep them safe from the bombs.
Then we stood and sang “Away in a Manger”. They did me proud, not getting the verses muddled. They had had enough practice getting ready for our own little carol service.
All the way back down the hill, the kids shouted and laughed and jumped for joy, stopping now and then to scrape up enough hoar frost to make teeny weeny snowballs. They burst into the house, shouting to their friends “We have seen Jesus!” And I knew in my heart that we had seen Him.
I was disconcerted to learn that I was deputy commandant and in full charge of the establishment when the boss took her leave. Really I should have been told. I naturally thought that the Sister would take over and I found the responsibility overwhelming at first. One job I dreaded was carving a large joint for Sunday Lunch with all the staff watching me - I had never carved a joint in my life - but I had watched my Dad enough times to know a bit about it and I got by.
Some children had arrived with adequate clothes and had good parents who brought or sent them items as required. But some had arrived with a little case containing a few comics and a Teddy. We were desperately short of all clothes, especially night wear as most of the two year olds were in nappies at night. An appeal to the locals brought some welcome parcels of clothes and after an urgent request County Hall sent us “99 pink nighties”. Why 99 and not 100? These schools were all in units of 33 so 3 nighties per child came to 99!
Shoes were a great headache. The children were all supposed to have a pair of sandals and a pair of strong walking shoes - a few had wellies and slippers, but not all.
Shoes got outgrown and outworn very quickly and the boss was for ever writing to parents for bigger shoes, or money for repairs. Many of these requests were ignored and we had to resort to the bad practice of passing on outgrown shoes and spending much needed money on repairs. “Needs must when the devil drives”.
One day Patsey said to the commandant “Miss Walter, my feet are too near the ground.” On inspection we found that her little outdoor shoes were worn down with soles as thin as paper!
Toilet and “potting” were, of course, most important. All bowel motions had to be marked carefully on a chart so that any irregularities could be checked. Helpers’ hands were thoroughly scrubbed after each customer, which made it a time consuming exercise.
At the outset, the L.C.C. had provided enough little chairs and tables and good cots, but no toys or nursery apparatus at all. The vicar appealed for toys, and a good lot of cuddly animals arrived with a pile of tatty comics - which the children loved, though they could not read them. After I had been there a week or so, a large van came from London with nursery pre school learning toys - just what we needed - but they had been salvaged from a bombed school or store and were filthy and broken. However, it was enough for us to have a decent nursery school session between breakfast and mid-morning milk after which the children were all dressed up and shoes changed ready for the morning walk....
After a year at Holcombe House, the L.C.C. transferred me to a similar school in Surrey. This school, Folly Hill, had been evacuated from London as a long-standing entity and brought its own toys and apparatus. Also it had been adopted by a well known girls’ school, St. Felix, on the Suffolk coast which sent a generous supply of knitted vests and bright coloured cotton overalls, so we were well off. There always seemed to be plenty of domestic staff so we did not have to stand in for them. Also all of the laundry was taken care of and I never even washed a nappy while I was there.
Although I was a bit homesick for Gloucestershire I soon got to love the Surrey hills and the good view of the distant Sussex Downs. There were many sandy footpaths for the children to explore with no traffic problems.
But it was not all joy. The young women helpers came from rich homes in the greater London area. Spoilt darlings who had volunteered for nursery work to avoid being called up. They were not as devoted or reliable as the Holcombe House girls had been and although very smart and well spoken, I am sorry to say that some of their personal habits and hygiene were not 100% good. There was no good Christian atmosphere there - we had no grace at mealtimes and no evening prayers.
I was not sorry when I was transferred to a much larger school with 99 children at Mr. Harold MacMillan’s home “Birch Grove” in Sussex. He, of course, later became a good Prime Minister.
The commandant had been head of the Rachel Macmillan Nursery School in London and this school had been very well run. There was never any shortage of clothes or equipment and the staff normally had three hours off in the afternoon. On arrival I was shattered to hear that I was to share a room with a German girl. I had never shared a room before and I loved my privacy. However, things turned out very well. The foreign teacher was friendly and eager to be agreeable. We had plenty of drawer and hanging space and, best of all, our own en-suite bathroom.
I was at home on leave when our Bermondsey Vicarage was destroyed by one of the first V.1’s. Feeling very shaken, I returned to work early, to get out of London, to find that the Boss had transferred all my clothes and things to a small dark room off the backstairs, where she thought I should feel safer.
My gratitude to her was short lived: she suddenly put me on nights. This was because the V.1’s (Doodle Bugs) were falling all around us, in what was called “Bomb Alley”. The Boss said she wanted someone responsible on duty at night. The children’s beds had been brought down into the ground floor corridors, away from the windows.
I had been on nights 10 days when I came on duty to find a state of chaos. We were to be evacuated to a place of safety by bus the very next day. My ex-room mate made a wonderful job of packing my clothes and things, as well as her own. My helpers had packed our nursery equipment into crates, and the children’s things into their little cases and satchels.
Early next day we embarked in a fleet of buses equipped with food and milk for the day and all the apparatus that might be needed to cope with travel sickness. Our destination was Sidmouth, Devon. No one in my bus was actually sick, though some felt pretty poorly, and many needed to use the potties and pails. It was midday before we stopped by a wood and children and adults were glad to get out and stretch their legs.
We were having a mumps epidemic, and the “Mumpers” were in a separate bus with one of the sisters.
Having been on duty the night before, I dozed off quite a bit. I was amazed how well everything had been organised at such short notice.
We headed for the Devon coast. As we reached Sidmouth, the Boss came aboard my bus to speak to me. London had warned her on the phone that there was some opposition to our going to the town. They did not want dirty little children with mumps and nits. But apart from a small group, the natives gave us a warm welcome, and could not have been kinder. In fact they had laid on a civic reception with a meal for us at the Town Hall.
I was to join the Mumpers’ bus and go straight to Sidholme, the big house which had been requisitioned for us. The boss had warned me that we might get a bad reception. Sure enough, a dozen or so people crowed to the door of our bus as we stopped by the front steps, determined not to let us out. How glad I was to see our organiser from London come out of the house to greet us. While the natives tried to stop me getting out, she introduced me as the deputy commandant, saying that I was a fully qualified teacher and that my companion was a London Hospital Sister. Very soon she got them to go away. Local volunteers helped to lift the sleepy and poorly little Mumpers indoors. A meal of bread and milk, sponge fingers, and weak tea was prepared. We all helped the children to bed, with a “lick and a promise”. I was sent to bed until midnight. The Sister who had been in the Mumpers bus showed me where my dinner was keeping hot in a huge old fashioned oven, then roughly indicated where the children were sleeping, then departed to her own well earned rest.
The children slept soundly all night, being tired after all the excitement of the journey.
Two things stuck in my memory about that first night. First, I kept hearing a lavatory flush and jumped to the conclusion that one of the staff was ill, but I could not find her. At last I traced the noise to a gents toilet off the hall where there was an automatic flush which functioned every five minutes. They soon disconnected that the next day.
The second thing was a smell like bad meat, or rotting flesh of some kind. There was nothing in the clean but gloomy larder. I went though our picnic baskets very thoroughly, washing anything washable. At last I traced the smell to the front hall and to a stinking parcel of very old liver! R.A.F. personnel had been in the house before us, and no doubt an officer had bought liver for his dog, and had forgotten it in his rush to leave.
On the second night almost all ninety nine children had diarrhoea. No doubt the change of routine and richer milk had upset them. You can imagine what a night I had, dodging from one room to another when little persons awoke with a tummy ache and demanded their pot. Of course many did not make it and I had baths full of dirty sheets and nighties.
Looking back, I know I should have roused the sisters and demanded help, but I suppose I was determined to show that I could cope. Next night, which was comparatively accident free, I had three Red Cross nurses to help me.
Back on days, I found that groups of children were being taken to the seashore. What a long walk that was for the little ones, and, after a strenuous hour on the beach, they had to walk all the way back. No push chairs, no piggybacks - but we all loved it. Looking back at the war years, I am inclined to say “This was our finest hour!” The weather was grand and we adults spent our off duty time on the shore, even though we had to climb through sea defences to get to the water’s edge.
Unfortunately, the children were soon banned from the town and beach as epidemic followed epidemic: Scarlet fever, measles, whooping cough, infective jaundice. You name it - we had it! But we did at least have the lovely extensive grounds of Sidholme for walks, play and sea views.
As Autumn set in, the sea grow cold, dark grey and rough. I was not sorry when, out of the blue, a letter came recalling me to London. “You have done your share of time in the reception area” it said. I later learned that a certain headmistress had heard of me, and requested me on her staff.
My return to London coincided with my father’s removal to Dorset, so once more I was ‘homeless’. It was truly an answer to prayer when I was offered two rooms in a reconditioned house - that is to say it had been bombed, but basic repairs had been done to roof and windows and the ceilings replaced. Our friends, Lily and Dolly Hatherly, had been given the tenancy of the house by the Bermondsey Borough Council on condition that they let two first floor rooms which had their own electricity and gas meters. As Lily and Dolly were looking for a compatible tenant, and I was looking for somewhere to live, I agreed to ‘move in’.
I say ‘move in’, but all I had in the world was in the two cases I brought with me from Sidmouth. I proudly called my new residence my ‘flat’ - but, apart from the two meters, there was nothing self contained about it. All my water had to be fetched from the scullery tap, and all my slops taken down to be emptied. Needless to say, the ‘loo’ was outside in the yard. Oh yes! I had my own coal shed out there as well!
My Dad, bless him, turned up on my first day with two mended kitchen chairs and a small ‘scrub top’ table. This was my only furniture for several weeks until I could collect my ration of new furniture. If you had been bombed out, as I had been at St. James’s Vicarage, you were allowed so many ‘dockets’ to spend. With the ‘dockets’ I was able to buy a dining table and sideboard, two fireside chairs, a nice wardrobe and a single divan bed. I was allowed a square of ‘lino’ for the for the living room, and fifteen square yards of curtain material - just enough for my three windows.
Fortunately, the blackout rules were, by then, greatly relaxed as rockets could not see lights.
From the start we all three slept in the crypt of St. James’s church, Bermondsey, where various members of the congregation inhabited cubby holes under the arches. Wooden partitions with doors gave privacy to these little rooms, some of which were fitted with two tier bunks. Some of the ‘regulars’ had been going down there since the blitz of 1940 and had made themselves quite cosy. My compartment had no bunks, but I found a stretcher and placed it across two Sunday School benches.
Someone found me a shabby, but fairly clean, mattress, and my friends lent me two black army blankets.
My stepmother had found my old eiderdown from home, which had lain under the rubble of our bombed vicarage for six months. She had washed it, and had mended the worst tears, though it still leaked badly. We never bothered with sheets in those days: they got dirty so quickly. Pillow cases were made from old dresses or flour sacks. In the cold weather I took a hot water bottle down to the crypt with me, but I never felt cold at night.
A wooden crate made my washstand, furnished with a very battered enamel bowl and pail to match.
The good natured deaconess made us cocoa at night and in the mornings she brought us tea and enough hot water for a skimpy wash - all this for sixpence a day.
There was a tap in the church yard and some public toilets - but we had some ‘Elsans’ in the nasty dark cupboards for emergency night use.
At 10 o’clock each night, the deaconess led us in prayers. This had been started by my father when he and my stepmother first started to sleep down there. We joined fervently in the collect which asked that we should be “defended from the perils and dangers” of the night. Then we said the Lord’s Prayer and the Grace together.
As the ‘doodlebugs’, as the ‘V one’ rockets were called, petered out, so the more deadly ‘V two’s’ began coming. They were far more devastating in their damage and we had no warning of their approach. There was just an awful explosion.
My father came up from Dorset for the wedding of a close friend, and he slept in the crypt. That night a rocket fell on the R. C. church at Dockhead doing a vast amount of damage. It shook us badly in the crypt nearly a mile away. When my father put on his coat and went up to see what damage had been done to our church, he found that the great west doors were blown right open. They had been locked and bolted since the early days of the war.
By now you will almost have forgotten that this story is about Infant Voices, but I had to tell you how and where I lived during that last year of the war.
My school was at Paddington, which meant I had a long journey across London twice a day. Strangely, I did not mind the distance - I felt I was a real Londoner again. Each trip gave me a certain pride and excitement. Fortunately, we did not start school until 9.30 a.m. in war time, so I did not need to leave home before 8.30 a.m. If we were held up, as we often were, as the result of bombing, no one made a fuss if we were late.
My class of five-year-olds were of mixed race and mixed ability, at least half were Irish whose grandparents had settled near the railway terminus at Paddington. There were some Italians and central Europeans with very little English language, and one or two children of U.S. servicemen.
Most of the children had recently returned from evacuation in the country and there was much shifting about of families while the mothers found a suitable place to live. Many of the fathers were in the forces.
The children, their mothers and their grandparents were extremely friendly and kind, constantly bringing us teachers flowers and gifts of fruit, cake, precious soap and other rationed items.
I was just enjoying my five-year-olds, and getting on with the basics of reading and numbers, when the Headmistress bust in on me one day and said: “Buckett, gather up your things and get out of here and into the top class. That girl cannot manage those children and she is getting no work done at all!”
I could do nothing but obey, and actually those nearly sevens knew very little more than my little ones. It was tough work licking them into some kind of shape.
There was the same friendly attitude of children and parents, and even the hated playground and dinner duties were not too bad. After school I went by tube and tram back to my dear little home. I had many friends in South London at that time, and the weekends nearly always brought social visits with folk coming to see me or I to visit them.
The day before the war ended, Lily, Dolly and I stood on the top of a disused Anderson Shelter and listened to next door’s radio turned up load to hear Mr. Churchill announce a public holiday next day because of the signing of the peace. It was an amazing sight the next day to see swarms of people making for St. James’s church, coming from every direction to give thanks for the end of the war.
These were folk who never entered the church unless for a baptism, wedding or funeral. It seemed strange to me that they should come now, when they had never come to pray when they were in constant danger from air raids, and their men folk in the forces.
The irony of it was that the vicar had taken the day off, and could not be found. I suppose it never occurred to him to hold a service. The gallant Lay Reader, Mr. Chapman, held the fort for hours announcing hymns, praying, and speaking to packed pews and crowded galleries.
Every school holiday, I spent some time with my parents in Edmondsham, Dorset enjoying the quiet and cleanliness of the country and getting very fond of the rambling Rectory, parts of which were very old. Smutty the cat and I became fast friends and I liked the hens in the orchard.
During the first autumn term after the war, the children trickled back to London. Extra classrooms were opened up and work became something like normal.
My class put on a brilliant Nativity play that Christmas, due to hard work by a music specialist and the Head Teacher.
Early in the Spring Term, my Dad received a letter from an old friend, the Rev. George Hubbard, who had just returned from India. He wanted to know if Mollie was married. Daddy invited him to stay at the Dorset rectory during my Easter holidays.
George and I quickly picked up our news and resumed our old affection for each other.
By Whitsun we were engaged and I left school in July. We were married on October 5th 1946.
I did not teach again for nearly ten years.
Write-ups of recent holidays...