MEMORIES OF A WARTIME GP MOTHER

Ernie Bray writes: My mother Emily Bray's three eldest children (out of six) attended Grange Park throughout the war years and I asked her to write down her memories of those days. The family moved from Shepherd's Bush. She still lives with my father in the family home in Kingshill Avenue. - Ernie Bray, February, 2002.

Emily Bray b 1909

When we came to live in Hayes in October 1939 we had already experienced a year of phoney war. Rationing was in force. Everyone had a gas mask. The one for babies was a cumbersome thing large enough for a child to lie down inside. When I took Vera out in her pram her gas mask came too. The two boys Ernie and Philip carried theirs in boxes slung over their shoulders with string. I carried mine the same way. When I went out with the children I used to wonder who I would deal with first if there was a gas attack. I decided that I would put my own on first. Ernie could manage his own but Philip needed help and Vera was dependent on me.

During the 1938-39 the evacuation of schoolchildren and mothers with young children became very imminent. Quite often people would stop me in the street and ask my why my family were still in London.

Dad and I were very much opposed to the family being separated and Dad found a house for us in Hayes were evacuation was not compulsory.

It was the first time that we had occupied a whole house to ourselves. Rationing meant that we had very little coal. The only heat was an open fire in the living room and a closed stove in the kitchen which heated water. I had to eke out the solid fuel very carefully. No carpets.

At that time in the autumn and winter we sometimes had very thick fog. Peasoupers they were called. The children were very self reliant and found their own way home from school.

The rationing of soap and washing powder was a big problem for me. I used to spend all of Monday washing by hand. Because of the hard water I tried all kinds of things to make a lather. Soda, bleaching soda, borax and ammonia and as a result my hands became very painful with dermatitis and I lost many hours of sleep.

We were not short of food. The rations for five people worked out well for us. Vegetables were not rationed and dad grew some in the garden and on his two allotments. Also we kept chickens and the eggs were very welcome. However I remember the family were loath to eat the chickens. Perhaps they regarded them as pets.

The three children went to Grange Park School regularly. Having to spend so much time in the shelters meant the whole class sat in close contact with each other. As a result of this they all became infected with head lice. This was a great worry for me. I bought Derbac soap and a metal small tooth comb and did my best to get clean heads again but it took a long time.

We were fortunate in as much as the children kept reasonably healthy and did not lose much time at school because of illness. Sweet rationing meant that the children’s teeth were cleaner and healthier. Rationing prevented over eating. Babies were vaccinated against small pox. Nowadays there is much discussion about injections against measles etc. There was an injection available against diphtheria I remember but we seemed to cope with measles, chickenpox and mumps as they happened!

I do remember Grace having measles about 1945 I think. She was worried by the light in her eyes. Probably she remembers it too. This was all before the NHS and if the Doctor was called he needed paying.

I attended first aid and home nursing courses and became a member of the Red Cross.

Because of petrol rationing there were very few cars. The children played in the garden or in the street and came to no harm.

Keeping the children in decent shoes was a big problem. Even if you had the coupons it was almost impossible to find a shop that could supply the boots or shoes. People gave me footwear their children had outgrown but I rarely used them.

The photos show my mother Emily Bray with Philip, baby Grace, Vera and Ernie in 1943. The second photo shows my parents and myself on their 70th wedding anniversary in April 2001.

Grange Park mother, Hayes, Middlesex