VE Day, Etc

VE DAYI cannot leave the story of Leydene without mentioning VE Day. Not because of the day itself or because of the fact we were given a holiday, but to remember the generosity of the people of Hampshire towards the Services. At every pub there was a hog’s head of beer sitting in the garden or out front on the street for the services to help themselves. There were tables of free food for us and there were parties everywhere. During the hours of daylight I managed fifteen pints of beer and as the evening wore on we went inside and started on the hard stuff. It was not a case of how much one could manage to consume, more a matter of how much one could avoid drinking without offending our hosts. Everyone wanted to treat us.
At Christmas Sophie managed to spend the holiday with me at Petersfield. We went up to Dulwich for Christmas Day and Boxing Day and spent the rest of the time freezing in Madame Spirella’s. It was a good thing we were so thin, Sophie only weighed seven and a half stone and I, ten and a half. The little single iron bed was barely enough for the two of us. The journey back to Petersfield was an eye-opener to Sophie, finding such a mass of humanity in every imaginable uniform cramming the train, all going back off leave.
The following summer Sophie gave up work because she was pregnant with Gilly. We found another one-room flat, this time with a put-U-up settee which converted into a double bed and I commuted to Leydene every day. >From here at weekends we sometimes went to see Willie and it was on one of these occasions I introduced Sophie to the hedgehog.
I had aquired a dog called Josey. For some reason Sophie had gone to bed early at Glenlea, possibly because she was tired. I had taken Jose for a walk and as we returned I saw, in the distance, silhouetted in the moonlight reflecting off the shiny road surface, a small bundle. Josey saw it too and shot off to investigate. When I reached it I found it to be a ball of hedgehog cowering from the dog. Like the adder, I knew nothing about hedgehogs and I think this was the first one I had ever been close to. I took off my uniform cap and dropped it over the creature, lifted it and carried it back for Sophie to see.
With the vagaries of the comings and goings of the Dutch Boys at Glenlea, this weekend there had been no bed available for us and Sophie and I were sleeping on a mattress on the floor of our room. She was in bed reading when Jose, I and the hedgehog burst in, eager to see her. I put the hedgehog on the floor for her better to examine it when we were suddenly aware of hundreds, it looked like hundreds anyway, of fleas jumping everywhere, onto the bed, onto Sophie and all over the carpet. My hat of course was full of them. City dwellers can be unaware of rural matters where as any youngster in the country would know that hedgehogs were the preferred home of the flea.
Ellen, calm and practical as ever, merely brought DDT and a Hoover and proceeded to Hoover them up while I transferred the frighten little beast out to the garden. In the same ignorance I didn’t stop to wonder if I had taken it away from a family which would now starve. When we were satisfied that all was clear we settled down for the night. The following morning when I sat up on the mattress I saw in the very centre of Sophie’s forehead a flee, like the red dot on the forehead of an Indian girl. I said nothing until it had hopped away and she was fully awake.
In the garden of Glenlea was a huge mulberry tree on which grew mulberries the size of large strawberries. If one has never tasted mulberries one should remedy that at the first opportunity, they are the most ‘meaty’ fruit I have ever tasted and those at Glenlea, eaten with sugar were something very memorable. I have never ceased to wonder why mulberries are not more common in the shops, they are so delicious, and indigenous, far better than Kiwi fruit and they don’t have to come so far.
RUM AND ‘VJ’ DayVJ Day, Victory over Japan, the 14th of August 1945, the day declared by President Truman as a holiday, was a holiday for us too. I was Duty Petty Officer in the Chief’s and PO’s Mess at the Signal School, and part of that duty was to issue the rum. behind a table covered with a white cloth, at the head of the Mess. I stood with the Dixie full of rum in front of me, a jug, a measure and also I had a pint of bitter at my side. As each member of the Mess approached I ticked off his name and then dispensed his ration. Excitement was intense because, although we had been expecting it for some time, the reality meant so much to us. It meant release, demobilisation, home and hearth for ever. It was a carnival day, all classes had been suspended, the news had been read out and it was a day’s leave for those who could take advantage of it. The immediate result as far as I was concerned was that everyone who came to collect their rum offered me ‘sippers and, if I had drunk all I was offered I would have joined the twins, but after all I was on duty, so I limited myself to the odd pint of beer, my own tot and perhaps sippers from a few close friends. However, the rocks I ultimately perished on were the fumes coming from the Dixie as I stood over it handing out the rum. I found it was affecting me. From that point I was careful not to drink any more. To be drunk at the rum table could have been interpreted that I had been illegally sampling. In due course my duties ended and at mid-day I was free to catch the bus to Petersfield where my new wife awaited, booted and spurred for a trip by train to Portsmouth and perhaps Southampton, places she had never seen.
I arrived at our one-room flat in fine fettle, not inebriated, but close, the fumes had not yet had their full effect. Lunch was ready and we were due to leave soon after the meal but then, one minute I was totally compus mentus, the next I was fast asleep, (shades of Southend), and poor Soph never did see HMS Victory. Needless to say I have been attempting to recover lost ground ever since, but Brownie Points are hard to come by in some quarters.

Categorized as General

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