Marjorie's story

Childhood memories

By Marjorie Wotton

Photo:Princess Alice Hospital Carnival Float - Age 5

Princess Alice Hospital Carnival Float - Age 5

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:Brother John as Clive Of India's brother

Brother John as Clive Of India's brother

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:Brother John in Navy age 20

Brother John in Navy age 20

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:Father (Harry) during 14-18 war age 20

Father (Harry) during 14-18 war age 20

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:1919 - Mother and Grandmother

1919 - Mother and Grandmother

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:Sister Sheila, Father and husband Frank - 1955

Sister Sheila, Father and husband Frank - 1955

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

I was the middle of three kids. I was christened in Hailsham Parish Church and kind of got lost between my siblings cos we were bombed out, and it confused my family in Hailsham. When we'd left Hailsham I was tiny, and when we got bombed out and went back there, I was about 9 or so, and my younger sister was the little one, so they all sort of forgot about me. My dad said, 'I've always liked young ones in the house'. He also said, 'I've fathered three, and brought up the whole street' as there were so many kids round my house.

Sitting on a sack of potatoes

I have moved many times between Eastbourne and Hailsham. We stayed in Eastbourne in the war and got bombed out. My mum and sister were in the house at the time. I was 7 and half years old when the war began. When we were bombed out, I was out of the house, but my mum and my sister were sitting under the stairs on a sack of potatoes. A very large chimney pot from the next street fell through the back roof of the house through the ceiling and floor of a bedroom, and the wooden ceiling of the kitchen landing on the floor seconds before the force of the blast blew my Mum and sister (still sitting on the sack of potatoes) up against it and sheltering against what was happening outside. My father had never taken the wooden ceiling down inside the house, which my mother used to nag him about, but it protected them from the blast.

Blast blew the door off its hinges

My brother was running home after the air raid siren. He got just inside the front door, when the blast blew the door off its hinges and propelled him up the stairs with the door on top of him. This saved him, but he had to shout when the rescue workers came, as they walked over the door to see if anyone was upstairs. They didn't realise he was underneath!

Rule Britannia all the way

As a result, we went back to Hailsham, with my sister and my mum; the budgie in the cage, and the cat, as it was all we could carry. We came back later to get the piano. We picked it up on the back of a lorry. My brother sat on the back in his naval uniform with the piano, playing Rule Britannia all the way from Eastbourne to Hailsham. I remember the kitchen of the house we had in Hailsham. It was a big room, so that's where everyone congregated. There was a big range, so it was always warm. We used to cook chestnuts there. You had to remember to prick them so they didn't explode. We had a big copper kettle in one corner that we used to light a fire underneath with wood to boil the water, and a bread oven with a fire underneath. There was a big range, which I used to have to clean every Saturday. The cat used to sit under it for warmth and you would be upstairs and smell burning, and have to go and rescue the cat's tail from the fire! There was a gas cooker for if the coal wasn't burning too well. There was a big dresser and a huge white table, scrubbed several times a week. When the war was on, we had a Morrison table there instead.

They used to go into the privy to stay warm

When we first went to Hailsham, there was a privy up the garden path. We only had three gaslights in the house then. My father went to the privy one night, and there was a huge uproar. He had gone in in the dark and sat on the cat, which was sitting on the toilet seat. They had both gone down the hole! My brother and I had to get him and the cat out! The cats were my grandfather's ratters, who used to go out at night. They used to go into the privy to stay warm.

The men were away a lot

My mum used to bang our elbows with a wooden spoon if they were on the table. She banged my dad's elbows once by accident. She also used to say: 'If you don't know what you've done, then I'm not telling you', and then she wouldn't speak to us for days. My father used to say: 'They're only children'. We all sat together, whoever was there really. The men were away a lot, so it was mostly my mother, my sister and me. We used to have to wash our hands and take our elbows off the table. You used to eat what was there. My father-in-law used to make strawberry ice cream with real strawberries, which was lovely. He sold them in his shop.

The garden of our friends' house in the next street backed onto our garden. The top of the wall between the houses had trellis on top, we used to push their tortoises through the fence to give them a change of garden. The top of the courtyard tree was always full of cats because my mum's Pekinese used to chase them up it.

Family of lamplighters

In the road we lived in before the war, everybody came out and scrubbed their front steps and the road was made of chalk, so people who worked up the hill on the downs would bring chalk back to fill the holes and make the road smooth. There was a lamplighter to turn the gas on. He would come twice a day. I always say that we're a family of lamplighters, because we're all so tall. We then swapped houses and lived over the road till we were bombed out. My father had just decorated before the bomb landed. It was an awful job, although we then had pretty wallpaper. One day just after it was done, my brother and his friends had a bowl of strawberries. They threw one and it left a mark on the wall. My brother thought he would get what for, but he painted another flower on the paper over the mark, and my father never noticed!

Bombs and dogfights

I used to walk about a mile and a half to school. I went through the fields as I wasn't evacuated, so it was safer than the roads. When the bombing got bad, the school started school dinners so that we could stay there and avoid the dogfights. All the teachers had been dragged out of retirement, and they didn't teach us proper lessons. They used to teach us how to mend punctures. I went to the Holy Trinity School in Seaside, Eastbourne, starting in about 1936 probably. My school teacher was a spinster and was related to us, but didn't like my side of the family. Then I went to school in Pinner. I went to visit my aunt and uncle, and then the bombing raids started so I got stuck there and had to go to school. Then I went to Heron House School followed by Hailsham Secondary School which I left in 1944 age 14. We spent so much time sitting under desks avoiding the bombs and dogfights that I didn't learn much. I remember all the school windows were taped up. We were all scattered by the war. We lived in Eastbourne and when we got bombed out people went everywhere. The school I was at in Pinner was bombed too.

Always a policeman on the corner

When I was older and I used to go out, if you were late at mine, my mum used to lock the door, and I used to have to sit on the step until my dad would sneak down and let me in. I was allowed out on Saturdays to go to the dance. It finished at 11.15pm, and I had to be home by 11.45pm. It was quite far, and we used to belt home. There was always a policeman on the corner, and he used to check his watch, and say 'you've got so long to make it home'. There was a neighbour who uses to listen out and tell my mum what time we really got home, so we used to stop and take our shoes off, tie them round our necks and run home, so that she wouldn't hear us. The neighbours used to have a giggle watching us.

M&S hairdresser

I met Frank, who I married in Hailsham. We moved back to Eastbourne and I have worked as a hairdresser and manicurist. I finished my working life as a staff hairdresser at Marks and Spencer's in Eastbourne. I still live here.

This page was added by Susan Morrison on 31/12/2007.

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