A Country Holiday in Wartime
During the Second World War we travelled every year, despite the air raids, from our house in the West Riding of Yorkshire to spend summer holidays with my aunt and uncle in Buckinghamshire.
It was always the same. When the day arrived my mother and I (and my toy panda) set off for our small local station, where it was possible to stop the London train by giving three days’ notice. When the train was due the porter had to be on the platform with a red flag.
Once we were aboard the journey always passed quickly – Wakefield, Doncaster, Retford, Grantham, Peterborough and then, wonder of wonders, London King’s Cross. We then took a taxi to Baker street and from there, pausing only to buy a penny bar of Nestle’s chocolate from the machine, we were off to Great Missenden, where we caught a local bus to the village where my aunt and uncle lived. By four o’clock we’d reached our destination.
Auntie Doris and Uncle Leonard lived in a wooden bungalow which belonged to the owner of a large country house where my aunt was employed as cook and my uncle was responsible for the garden and looking after the livestock, ie some five dozen hens!
The small house seemed to me like something out of a fairy story. It didn’t matter that there was a stone sink with one cold tap in the tiny kitchen, nor that the toilet was some yards from the house and none too fresh-smelling at that. As well as the kitchen there was a sitting room which contained a three-piece suite, dining table and chairs and a piano, as my aunt was an accomplished pianist, albeit self-taught. An oil lamp provided the lighting. There were also two bedrooms – my mother and I
shared the smaller one. At night, before I went to sleep, I could hear the squirrels jumping on to the corrugated roof and the owls hooting in nearby trees. In the morning I was awakened by cocks crowing.
Our arrival was always the same, and the scene has remained firmly implanted in my memory. Tea was set out on a white lace tablecloth, with bread, butter, jam, scones, trifle and home-made cakes, not to mention the striped woollen tea cosy on the brown glazed earthenware teapot. We exchanged news, usually with the comment from Auntie Doris: “hasn’t she grown?” to which I took great exception.
In the evenings we settled down to listen to the piano and sing. I remember particularly Sleepy Lagoon and I’ll Walk Beside You, and in later years I always requested Marigold.
During the day life was very exciting, at least to me as a small child. I was allowed to roam all over the grounds of the big house and pick flowers and fruit as I wished. The owners were delightful and we were made to feel very welcome – we were even allowed to have a bath occasionally in their large old-fashioned bathroom, and what a luxury it was to have some hot water! I often ‘helped’ in the kitchen where my aunt was busy preparing meals, for some unknown reason one of my favourite tasks was to grind the coffee beans. I wasn’t allowed to wander around the house at will, but from time to time I was called into the sitting room or dining room, and I always had a good look at all the family photographs and the collection of objects of various kinds which adorned the shelves. If we were lucky, we might be introduced to guests, and we knew all the members of the family.
In addition to my aunt, a lady from the village was employed to clean the house, and the family nanny still lived nearby, although the two sons and two
daughters had long since left the nest.
We knew quite a lot of local people, and we called on them frequently. Even in wartime there were village fetes, and sometimes we took a bus to Chesham, Amersham or Great Missenden.
One of my favourite jobs was to help my Uncle Leonard to collect the eggs and put them in baskets. Sometimes I could do this on my own, but I was always a bit worried when I found a hen sitting on the nest. However, she usually moved off smartly when the lid of the nesting box was raised. I was taught the correct way to carry a hen, and I was greatly interested when a batch of eggs hatched out and the wet chicks emerged. It took them a while to fluff out and look as appealing as those shown in children’s picture books.
It was during these summer visits that I developed an interest in wild flowers which has remained with me. We used to walk along the country lanes, and I soon learned the names of all the flowers growing by the wayside. Sometimes I played with the local children, but I think they felt I was an outsider, and anyway I always said I couldn’t understand their accents! I remember especially one family in the village who seemed to produce an offspring every year, and my last recollection of them is when they had about a dozen children!
The local manor house also proved an attraction, although I never got any further than the garden gate, the family there owned a London store, and I did know two of the children who would come to ‘our house’ to play croquet on the lawn.
It all seems a long time ago, but my recollections of those holidays remain as vivid as ever.