Yesterday would have been my mother-in-law's birthday. She was born in 1915, and always said that it wasn't a stork who brought her, but a witch on a broomstick. Hmmm. Her life wasn't a pretty one, you know. She was born into a family of 3 children - she had an older sister and an older brother, but when she was very young, her parents separated, and she went with her father to Ireland. The other two children stayed in Dorset with their mother.
However, for some completely unknown reason, her father then put her in a children's home and was never heard of again. So she grew up in an orphanage in Ireland. And then came the some trouble in the area. This could very well be the orphanage she came from, because she told me that suddenly, they all had to leave and get on a warship. And all the girls were sent to Devonport - Plymouth, in Devon. She was told that the boys were eventually sent to Australia, and that would be a whole disaster of its own, given what we have learned about the export of children to Australia in recent years. A national disgrace.
So, Mother-in-law and the other girls were "looked after" all right. They were put in a house on the moors, and as soon as they were old enough - about early teens, they were sent "into service". It sounds just like Upstairs, Downstairs. She didn't really mind, though. She had a life of her own, and she was always a very self-sufficient woman.
It wasn't until the beginning of the war that she found her mother. I can't remember how. But she met her again, and her sister. I can only imagine the feelings of hurt when she compared their lives, you know. One sister had a family, and she....she had no-one. She never met her brother. Her mother told her he was going off to war - he was a soldier, and he was leaving on a ship one particular day, so M-i-l went off to watch the marching soldiers, and just wondered which one was her brother. But she was philosophical. And he never came home. He died a few years later in the Far East in a POW camp. I do not want to think about that either. She remained in contact with her mother and sister, but it was not a close relationship at all.
So, she met my father-in-law and they got married in 1940, in the war. He was older then her, and in the Home Guard. Plymouth was the major naval base, so it was flattened during the war. She told me about the devastation. I was so interested in how she had lived, and coped. So many fascinating things. The fact that the bay was strung with lights, to confuse the German bombers and make them drop their bombs in the water - things like that. She told me about how one whole part of her husband's family died when a bomb dropped right into the air raid shelter, and how it was just closed up, because there was nothing to collect and bury.
This was her reality. And during all of this, my sister-in-law was born in 1941, followed by Geoff in 1943. All pregnant women were evacuated to Looe in Cornwall, which was a sleepy little town on the coast. She told me how she had to leave her little daughter with her husband, and how worried she was about them, (how did she survive the separation??) and how in the middle of winter - Geoff was born in the March of 1943- she used to wade into the sea up to her waist to try to bring on labour, so she could go home.
I don't want to think about that either.
And then I asked how she coped in the air raids. Well, she said, there was no way she could get 2 babies, 3 gasmasks, 3 emergency packs food, nappies etc etc etc and carry them all at a flat out run to the nearest shelter down the road, so she and the babies would hide under the kitchen table instead. She told me, quite matter of fact in the telling, that the houses on either side of theirs were bombed.
We have no idea, you see, of how lives were lived out here during the war. But it was a simple fact. It happened. She coped. But when I try to compare her life to that of my parents, it is so incredibly difficult to image that in one moment of time, there could be such differences.
|Mother-in-law at our wedding in 1976. She flew to Cape Town with us - that was an adventure....|