Make Do And Mend

Sherborne Museum

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Clothing
Everyday Life
1939 - 1945

"I was on the borders of Northants in the country at Hatfield. My future husband worked for De Havillands - a reserved occupation. We were getting married on the fourth of November. We found people were moving out of London. There was a new housing estate at St Albans but they were being bought up by people moving out of the city. We brought forward plans for our wedding. We had relations in Leicester at Poddington on the Bedfordshire border. Villagers got together with cars to bring them from the station for the wedding. My husband had Saturday and Sunday off and then had to get straight back. When we got to St Albans our house wasn't finished. Our furniture had come down the week before. The steps had still not been done. Nothing happened for a few months. A plane off loaded its bombs on its way back from the city and they fell on Kell End Hospital. De Havilland's workers had shelters but these concertina-ed and collapsed and people were killed so my husband would never go in one. I remember we were having supper when bombs came screaming down. My husband and I and the dog took shelter in the cupboard under the stairs. When we came out our house was intact but there was cocoa all across the table, spilled by the shock waves. My husband was working on toolmaking. He started at 7.30am and had to cycle five miles into work in the dark and would be there all hours. There was a blackout on cycle lamps. The lamps were covered with black with only a small slit cut in it to let a little light out. We used to club together to get enough petrol and shared and have people rides. It was very quiet. I became pregnant. The general lying in hospital was evacuated to the Bishops Palace at St Albans. I arrived there and shortly afterwards Staff Nurse said 'I have a surprise for you. You are having twins'. I had two girls but not identical. It was a bit of a shock and in wartime a problem as we had a pram for one. My husband saw an ad for a twin pram. The air raid warden came with twin gas masks and I was supposed to sit and pump enough air for both of them! Rationing - well we were lucky with twins because they got extra. We kept ducks amd hens and grew tomatoes and currants. We had a big pram and then we needed a pushchair. We had to get a Doctor's certificate to get a twin pushchair! You couldn't get identical clothing for twins - but I didn't want to in any case - and mine weren't identical. We stayed there all of the war. Although a married woman and with twins I was still called up for war work. I was sent to Peakes Coat Factory - once a specialist firm but then producing uniforms for the troops. I wasn't very good. I broke the sewing machine needle. I did get a suit there at cost price. They still made specialist coats that were sent to America.
When the twins were three they used to walk everywhere quite happily. I took them out for a walk on the edge of St Albans. I remember they were dressed nicely in little kilts. We went to the Marshallwick Estate - there was a piece of land there that had never been built on. The estate hadn't been finished when the war started. They weren't allowed to build any more houses during the war. I remember the whole area was covered with a crowd of German prisoners of war. They all stopped work and looked at the twins. I think they were getting the land ready to plant crops. It was at the end of the building site. Houses cost £500 then.
My husband had to work at his bench standing on concrete under electric light all day long. It wasn't good for him. He had had a motorbike accident and working like that caused him to have an ulcerated leg. I was supposed to soak bandages with cod liver oil -you can imagine the state of my new sheets! We got to see a consultant. He was the King's Doctor! He got rid of the cod liver oil and stripped the veins in the leg instead - and that cured it. They don't do that today."
Hatfield, Northants

Denise Richards
now lives at St John's Almshouse, Sherborne, Dorset but recalled her wartime years.
Clothing
Food and Cooking
Everyday Life
South East
1939 - 1945

"I came from Surrey but now live in St Johns Almshouse, Sherborne, Dorset. At 14 I went into service but at 20 I was called up for war work and worked in a factory - making things for guns. I stayed at home as I lived close by and was picked up for work. We lived in the country in a village called Frimley Green - all fields, farms and allotments. I lived with grandparents on both sides of us! We were quite well off for food - one grandmother used to sit and talk about rationing in the First War and go back even further to how very short of food they were in the Boer War. Things were much worse then. My father was in the Queens Regiment and was away at war from 1914. He served until his time was up. During the school holidays I used to walk to see relations - the only way to get there. My uncles all had allotments and one grandfather was a gardener. He used to keep his kitchen garden for growing fruit and had allotments. I remember doing a lot of knitting and sewing in the war."
Surrey

Mary Jones

Clothing
Food and Cooking
Everyday Life
South East
1939 - 1945

"I was in Central London during the war. I was nursing - in training when war broke out. I was on night duty when Great Ormond Street Hospital was bombed in the blitz. Most of the teaching hospitals had been evacuated to base hospitals in the country. None closed but bed numbers fluctuated. It was a very highly organised system evacuating patients every morning. As soon as they could be moved they were moved out to base hospitals. Green Line coaches were commandeered as convoys of ambulances. Every morning the convoys left. It was a very organised system every morning and then on the return journey patients were brought back who had recovered from operations. During the blitz it was horrendous. I remember a particular night when I was on night duty on the fifth floor. The sirens went and we wheeled the beds and cots - and remember we had very sick babies and children - out into the corridor as it was considered the safest place away from glass and arc lights. That night I shall never forget as long as I live. Crump, crump, crump we heard followed by bounces on the roof - a very large bomb had gone down the main lift shaft. All the main services were knocked out. We still wore a Victorian style uniform - long capes, gas masks on shoulder and each of us had to carry a baby wrapped in a blanket and their huge baby gas masks packed in large cardboard boxes. We had to carry everything down into the basemet lit only by a small pen torch. It was regarded as the safest place. It was a very big hospital and a tall building so an easy target. As soon as we got to the basement the water started to rise until it was a huge flood several feet deep. Everything from the kitchen was floating. I remember seeing babies bottles, a pound of sausages, childrens green ration books - they all floated by. Firemen from the ak-ak factory opposite came to rescue us. I don't know how they did it. They piggybacked us up from the basement still carrying our baby patients and all our equipment and put us down on the ground floor. We all gathered in the atrium of the hospital and assembled. Then we went out in single file across the forecourt and across the road to the Hospital for Nervous Diseases. It was like treading on an ice rink. Every bit of glass from our hospital had been blown out. It was treacherous to walk on, especially carrying so much and our precious babies. We also had our white starched bonnets - we were a sitting target. It was pitch dark and a black out. We never came out until 6am/7am and then went into the Out Patients Department and sat on the floor. We were all 18 years of age. We were given a boiled egg each for breakfast.
Wartime London was difficult, especially in September 1940 at the height of the blitz. German bombers came up the Thames in the late afternoon to bomb the East End. I remember it always smelt like burnt toast afterwards. I shall never forget it. Mother was home on the outskirts of Reading and Father was at The Front for the second time in his life as he had served in the First War. Our patients had special dried milk and special juices because of course they did not need a meat ration so their needs were substituted. There were no oranges so rose-hip sysrup was substituted. Rationing didn't stop when the war stopped - not until 1953, the last being meat - not until after the Coronation. Food was shorter after the war, especially bread and potatoes that had not been rationed before. We had to feed the people of Europe. I started nursing six months before war broke out and I was a Senior Sister by the end of the war. Our Nurses Uniform altered during the war to save material. Our Nurses dresses had been 12 inches above the ground and this went up to 14 inches. The dresses had taken six and a half yards of material to make! They took the straps off of our aprons and our bibs were fixed with safety pins. Caps changed in style too. Gradually our long sleeves became short sleeves. Our long full capes became short capes. The problem was getting everything starched. It was difficult to get enough starch. We had at least one clean apron a day. We had to buy our own uniform. We went to the hospital tailors to get measured. Mother said it was like starting at boarding school all over again! In our second year we were given enough material to make our uniform. We were paid £15 a year, in the second year £20 and in the third £30. It was quite expensive to go into nursing before the Health Service. If you didn't like it and left you had to pay them back. You had to supply your own safety pins too. You had to pay for breakages; six pence (6d) for a broken thermometer. It was very disciplined. We were not allowed out after 10pm. Only in recent years have women become emancipated. We were all under 21 [ 21 then being the coming of age] so Matron was responsible for all of us. It was a great responsibility."
Central London

Mary Hatt
Mary Hatt was interviewed at the St Johns Almshouse Memories Tea Party where she has recently retired to after a lifetime career in nursing.
Clothing
Food and Cooking
In The Home
Everyday Life
South West
1939 - 1945

"I remember the Sherborne Bombing Raid. I was going out to the hairdressers, Ruth Foster's Mum. I was passing Mrs Grant's house and she called "You had better come in. The barrage balloons have just gone up Yeovil way." I didn't see the damage done in Sherborne. We heard the planes and the bombs but we couldn't get about in wartime so I didn't get to Sherborne ( five miles away) very often. I always remember the start of the war. My Mum was killed on the 24th of August 1939 at the Cross Roads. She had been worried about the coming war and said she didn't want to see her boys go to war. I remember her arm was broken and she had other injuries and later that night my sister Linda came and said Mummy's dead. Mrs Gervis was a nurse, the schoolmaster's wife, and she had come to help. We used to wear black for six months. I remember Gran made us girls black and white check dresses - for four of us. At Yetminster we had an air raid siren at Brister End up by the quarry. Quite a few men from the village used to man it - Dr Stevens was one of them and a man from Ryme came to help. I remember looking forward to going to Sherborne by charabanc every year to Phillips and Andover in Sherborne but it was bombed. We used to pay into a clothing club at the Vicarage - a shilling a week [5p] and at the end of the year we used to enjoy the ride in the charabanc with the roof down if the weather was fine and spending the club money at the store. I remember Harry Saunders was Sexton at Yetminster. He lived in the thatched Sexton's cottage next to the church - it isn't thatched now. His job was to light the lamps in the church and each night he used to go into the church to ring the Curfew Bell. I worked for Dr. Stevens - in service. Mrs Stevens had a canteen in the garage for soldiers. There were lots billeted in Yetminster and it was my job to fry the soldiers breakfasts. Miss Buckler helped and Miss Trubridge - but she was killed at Hendford, Yeovil when her mackintosh got caught in the wheel of her bicycle. Nearly every house in the village had someone. Aunt Kath had an evacuee - a girl and then later another girl. She had such pretty hair she was such a pretty little thing. When the evacuees came they didn't have anything. A lot of them were so poor. We tried to get them things. At our school - we had a boys school at Boyles and a girls school - it was difficult to fit them all in. I remember Ration Books. Mrs Stevens kept all of my food coupons as I was in service there and provided the food. I just had my sweets coupons and clothing coupons. There was a lot of jiggery pokkery going on. They were in with some of these high up people and they didn't go short of anything! We used to see it going on. Ourselves we made do. We knew we couldn't have it and we didn't have the money to buy things either. If you wanted a bigger garment it was more coupons you had to use. I didn't need much clothes. I was in service so I had my uniform. I had my dress and apron and cap - stiff white cuffs and starched cap. Mrs Gould did all of the house washing and Mrs Dean was the Parlour Maid - she was very smart. Lyn my sister was cook. I was allowed out once a week and then had to be in by 10pm. Washing day used to go on all day. We used to have to make a bowl of starch and then there were little bags of blue. We used to buy little squares of blue for about two pence (2d). Wash days started in the morning and was still going on at night. At home we all had a stool each that Mr Hillier the wheelwright made and at the end of washing day all the stools were scrubbed and the brushes and handles. When someone died we always kept a light burning in the bedroom all night with the body. I'm not sure why but it was something everybody did because we kept the dead bodies at home those days. I remember Mr Hillier made my Dad's coffin and carried it from Brister End down across Vecklands on his shoulder to our house. Dad had been ill from January until May. We didn't have any electric and lit a fire upstairs in the grate to keep him warm. Meat - well I know the Stevens got it on the Blackmarket. I used to stay with the Loveless family in Yeovil sometimes. They had soldiers billeted with them and they used to bring them chickens, towels and blankets! I remember working for a mr Zimner too. When he had to go to London occasionally I used to have to post big parcels for Mrs Zimner to her daughter in London. I don't know what was in them but I remember they used to cost 2 shillings and 6 pence to post. My brother Norman was in the Home Guard. He used to be up all night and then have to go to work all day. I was born in Mill Lane, Yetminster and lived there for 82 years. Dad's people came from Scotland but my Mum never saw them. Dad was in the navy and was posted to Portland. My Mum had relations in Portland and used to go and stay sometimes and that was how they met. There was never enough money for her to go to Scotland to meet them. Dad used to be away in the navy for three years at a time. When my brother Norman worked for Willis's in Sherborne he used to ask me if I wanted a lift into Sherborne and I used to have a ride on the cart - sitting on the board across the cart. He used to drop me in Westbury , Sherborne anbd I used to go up to Carters the butchers. They used to sell a big bag of bacon bits for 6d. It all made a difference as we only had £2 in wages coming in and then you had to pay rent and everything. In service I used to get £20 a year and I used to have to pay a shilling a week stamp."
Yetminster, Dorset

Cis Bell
at 97 is amazingly active and with an excellent memory.
Clothing
South East
1939 - 1945
Rationing
"We were issued with clothing coupons and could spend them how we liked. Obviously a great coat took a lot of coupons and stockings not many. Furnishing fabric was unrationed and made splendid dressing gowns - and the silk from parachutes was marvellous for underclothes!"
South East

Margaret Webster
Is now a resident of St Johns Almshouse, Sherborne, Dorset but when war broke out was living in a small market town in Hertfordshire.
Clothing
South West
1939 - 1945

"I remember the excitement of a group of ladies when a sea green silk parachute 'became available'. I thought silk would be fine and smooth but to me it felt quite rough, not at all what I expected and I wondered what they could make out of it that would be comfortable to wear."
South West

John Spencer

Clothing
South West
1939 - 1945

"Make do and Mend! I remember it well. I used to turn sheets sides to the middle and make new collars for father's shirts out of shirt tails. Then when the cuffs wore out I used to shorten the sleeves to make short sleeved shirts. We didn't waste anything or throw things away."
Dorset

Kathleen Gray

Clothing
Food and Cooking
In The Home
Everyday Life
South West
1940 - 1945

"I was born in Bristol in the winter of 1940 and as a baby of course blissfully unaware of the conflict in progress. It is family folk lore now that at that time my father did not have a car and cycled and slithered along icy roads to his best friend's house who then took him and my mother in his car to the Bristol Maternity Hospital. My mother, so the story goes, was dressed to the nines in a coat, hat, fox fur stole complete with it's head and tail, and gloves.
However, gradually I became aware that my father, who was a Special Constable, disappeared off into the blackout on his bicycle, to spend the night on duty. Father was by day in a reserved occupation in a Bristol factory.
I remember visiting an aunt and uncle at their farm just outside Gloucester and standing at the roadside watching and being almost deafened by enormous army tanks trundling past. I can remember the sound of the sirens - but cannot remember being at all frightened. I remember the shelter under the pantry which we got into by clambering thru' a trapdoor in the pantry floor. When we were all ensconced in there one night there was an almighty crash and my parents feared the worst, but in fact some saucepans had fallen off a shelf!
Most of all I remember much laughter, happiness and silly jokes between parents, relatives and neighbours, which I now find quite amazing as at times conditions must have been terrifying and so many husbands and sons were away.
I remember that on VE Day 1945 all the neighbours who lived in our road organised a fete and sports day at what was later to become Cleeve Rugby Club, at which we were all presented with red, white and blue rosettes and I was taught to plait with the three tails of my rosette. I remember that my mother kept eggs in isinglass in a bucket under the stairs. Fresh eggs were a rarity which we enjoyed after a visit to my grandparents in the country.
I also remember dried milk and orange juice from the 'clinic'. A real and rare luxury was a tin of salmon and a tin of peaches - kept for special occasions such as when the family visited. A friend of my grandmother's made me a skirt to wear to school from the handed down suit trousers of my father's. All my jumpers were hand knitted."
Bristol

Wendy Mellish
was a wartime baby, born in Bristol and now resides in Dorset.
Clothing
Food and Cooking
Everyday Life
South West
1940 - 1945

"Thinking about it all has reawakened many more wartime memories. I learned to read at the age of three - a sign outside the sweetshop saying 'No Ices'. I remember the 'pig bin' along our road into which everyone scraped their leftover scraps after Sunday lunch to be boiled up to feed the pigs. The metal chains strung between the pillars on ours and all our neighbours' front garden walls were taken for the 'War Effort' to make aeroplanes we were told.
I remember the bombed sites surrounding and in the heart of Bristol. In fact these sites were used for car parking and became commonplace. There were also the British Restaurants where plain reasonably priced meals were served.

Life was different outside of Bristol Wendy found.

I remember waiting at the station with my mother to catch the train from Fishponds (Bristol) to my grandparent's farm in Wickwar, Gloucestershire. I was absolutely terrified that the 'gangers', the men working on the line, would get run over by our train. We came home laden with eggs, a chicken and home cured bacon from Grampy's Gloucester Old Spot pigs.

My mother took me to Weston Super Mare on the train for a week's holiday in 1944 when I was about four years old. £5 was enough for our guest house accomodation plus a skirt and a pair of shoes for my mother - and ice creams for me!

Wendy lived in Bristol until 1960 and after a move to Somerset settled in West Dorset and has now discovered her maternal Gloucestershire branch of her family actually originated from Dorset, having traced this side of her family back to the 1600s."
Bristol

Wendy Mellish
was a wartime baby, born in Bristol and now resides in Dorset.
Clothing
Food and Cooking
In The Home
Everyday Life
South West
1939 - 1945
My Second World War experiences.
"I was aged four when war broke out in 1939. I lived in Sherborne, Dorset, with my Mum and Dad and my cat, Smut, who was a fantastic catcher of mice and rabbits - all these trophies he brought home to our doorstep!! We lived in a council house on the western outskirts of Sherborne in an area called 'Lenthay'. My best friend, Barbara (two months younger than me), lived next door - we were inseparable and started school together in September 1940 at the Abbey Primary School. We always carried our gas masks in a square cardboard box on string round our necks and we had identification bracelets giving our name, date of birth and National Identity number.
The first lot of evacuees from London came to Sherborne in October 1939 and we had a girl called Ivy Mahoney billeted with us. She was from a poor family and my mum soon found new underwear and clothes for her as her own were falling apart. She taught me lots of Cockney songs and my dad used to play schools (writing on a blackboard) in the evenings with us; he was always the teacher! He also played his records on the wind-up gramaphone; that's when I first realised how much I liked to dance. Ivy was very homesick, in spite of my parents loving care, and after six months her mother came and took her back to London in 'The Phoney War' when the expected German bombing did not start. Sadly, however, she and her family were killed in a later bombing raid on the East End of London.

So . . my Dad had to give up his job at the start of the war and was seconded to the Army, requisitioning (taking over) houses for Army use towards the war effort. He was also a Special Police Constable and went out on patrol at night, leaving me and my cat Smut asleep on a camp bed under the stairs each night, in case of a night bombing attack. It was great fun for me sleeping there. My Dad's office was a mile away on the other side of town.

On Monday 30th September 1940, Barbara and I were taken to school as usual, sitting on our little seats behind our Mums on their bicycles - Barbara's Mum was a teacher in our school. We each had our bottle of milk in the morning as usual, and after our sandwich lunch had a rest 'heads on hands' on our school desks. My Mum met me at 3 o'clock after school on the bike. [See Pam's separate account of that afternoon to continue the story of that day.]

My Dad was 'called up' into the RAF on the 17th August 1942 aged 35. When he was training to be an Armourer (Bomb loader) at Hereford, Mum and I followed him there and stayed with some friends. I went to school in Hereford for two terms and really enjoyed it - I had a friend called "Orange"! I remember sitting in a rocking chair, eating chestnuts - Hereford is famous for its many chestnut trees. Then Dad was posted to Warmwell, near Weymouth, so we returned home. He then went to Scotland and, finally, Norway - so I didn't see him for a year or more. I still have a bracelet and brooch he brought me back from our Norwegian friends, Ingrid and Eimar.
While Dad was away it was just, Mum, me and the cat - quite cosy in winter with the 'blackouts' up at the windows. "NO LIGHTS TO BE SHOWN AT ALL " (in case bombers could see buildings etc) ARP Wardens came round at night to make sure no lights were showing anywhere - no street lights for six years! We didn't have too much food to eat, although Mum grew some vegetables in the garden. Our ration of cheese for two for a week could be eaten in one or two sandwiches. Many hours were spent by me shaking the cream from the top of pints of milk to turn it into a little butter!
My Gran in Sussex had a smallholding and we sometimes received a plucked chicken in the post from her. I remember once the post was delayed and the bird was rotten when we received it. No sweets, chocolates, bananas, oranges, ice-cream. Bread, vegetables, a little meat and cheese, fish, dried eggs (ugh) were on ration and available. Some people kept chickens for the eggs ( and the dead chickens). When my Dad was eventually demobbed in 1946 I had left Primary School, had passed the 11-plus and was attending Grammar School ( Lord Digby's School for Girls, Sherborne). I can still vividly remember running up the road in my school uniform (my skirt was dyed navy-blue and cut down from one of Mum's, because clothes were rationed too) and greeting this Dad who I hadn't seen for a long time. We soon sorted ourselves out as a family and I thrived from a very happy childhood."
Sherborne, Dorset

Pam Kaile
nee Biss

Do you remember having to make do and mend? Please submit your experiences.