Rosemary Varndell's memories of growing up

Wartime in Warickshire and Eastbourne

By Rosemary Varndell

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Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Childhood Memories

By Rosemary Varndell (nee Swain)

In September 1940 I was 3 years old. The 2 nd World War had started the year before and my mother was on her own taking care of my brother, who was 10 years old, and me. Her family – mother, brothers and sisters, lived in Warwickshire and she decided to take us to live in a little village not far from Coventry. The village had one shop which was in the front living room of a small cottage and there was one bus a week which went to nearby Stratford upon Avon. We travelled by train from Eastbourne . I believe it was a train speciallyorganised to take people away from coastal towns such as Eastbourne. I remember another little girl standing on the platform holding a beautiful china doll. My doll was called Sally and her face was made of plaster which had become quite “knocked about”! The girl thought my doll was very ugly compared to her china doll, so I hit her over the head with my doll, much to my mother’s horror.

We didn’t stay in Warwickshire many months because Coventry was being so badly bombed; it was a big city with many factories and a prime target for the German bombers. My mother brought us back to Eastbourne and, because so many people had left the town she was able to rent a house in the Seaside area. From here I went to school for the first time. I started school, age 4, in the Brodie Hall, which is situated in the grounds of Christ church. It is still there but nowadays is used as a nursery school. I remember very little of my time there. I know we learned our “letters”, writing on slates using white chalk. We were taught to “tie a bow” and had an “afternoon rest” each day lying on rush mats. They were quite prickly!

When I was 5 I moved up to Christchurch Infants School in Redoubt Road. The junior school next door was already in ruins, destroyed by bombing. Here I learned to read and write and we often played with plasticine. One day I pressed a large ball of plasticine into my hair. Of course I couldn’t get it out and when my Mum met me from school I told her the boy sitting behind me had done it. After cutting the plasticine out of my hair, taking a large lump of hair with it, she said she would have to tell my teacher about the naughty boy.

At that point I told her I had done it. She wasn’t very angry with me but told me never to blame others for things I had done. A very good lesson to learn! When I was 7 I went to Bourne Junior School. I walked to school each day and in the winter it was very cold. We had coal fires in the classrooms and when the crates of school milk (each child had a small bottle of milk to drink) were brought into the classroom the teacher would put the bottles near the fire to thaw the ice which was in the milk. Each class consisted of 40-44 children and much of the time we had to share text books. We also had two playgrounds – one for boys and one for girls and the toilet blocks were at the end of each playground. Again very cold in the winter! I do remember wearing a uniform at this school – dark navy gymslip, white blouse and a red sash round the waist.

When I was 11, I sat the 11+ examination, which I passed and from here I went to Eastbourne High School for Girls in Eldon Road . This building is now used by Cavendish School . My father was very pleased and proud I had passed the exam but my mother was very worried because of the cost of the uniform and sports equipment. In those days such items could only be bought from Bobby’s of Eastbourne. It was expensive but my father’s sister, who owned a bakery business in Brighton, wrote a cheque for the whole amount which meant I was able to go to the High School. It was a very good education, almost like a private school. We played hockey, netball and tennis. I don’t think the ordinary town schools had the same facilities for games and we all felt very privileged. The school curriculum was also very good, including Latin, German and French, Chemistry, Biology and Physics.

Other memories I have of war-time are of being taken to the Redoubt Bandstand and walking along part of the seafront. The beach and shoreline were covered in barbed wire and my mother told me when the war was over I would be able to swim in the sea and build sandcastles. I don’t think I really believed her – it was almost like listening to a fairy story. I remember playing in Seaside Recreation Ground but even that was out of bounds at one time as food-rationing went on for a long time and Seaside Rec was planted with potatoes and other crops. I remember my mother queuing for food – sometimes it was for just half a Swiss roll from Marks and Spencer’s. I have never tasted such delicious cake since that time!

The one thing I can’t remember is being frightened. There were many bombing raids – night and day – and many times when we had to go into the shelters but I was very young and didn’t remember what life was like before that time.

 

This page was added by Richard Potter on 26/07/2010.
Comments about this page

I was interested in Rosemay's recollections since I went to Eastbourne High School about the same time as she did. I can't see clearly enough whether I am there. Maybe it's me, looking very small and unsure of myself in the middle of the second row? I too remember the barbed wire that blocked the beaches during the war - indeed my Dad and I crawled under it for his last swim before he went away for 5 years. After the war, I too went to Bourn School before passing the 11+ and remember their worry over the price of the uniform - and their joy at my passing, since they knew that getting there would open up opportunities that they never had. And it did. Now I must try to remember Rosemary Swain - and Rosemary do you remember Jean Warner (now Perraton)?

By Jean
On 17/11/2010

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