In Memoriam

Peggy Thompson 27 June 1926 - 14 March 2018

Life In Shorwell During The War by Peggy Thompson

Picture of Peggy ThompsonMy sister and I were born in the village of Wroxall. We moved, as very young children, to Chillerton for, I think, about two years, then to Shorwell where we spent all of our growing up years. They were happy years, spent in a loving home.

During those years the war came and the peacefulness of our village was somewhat shattered. Houses were requisitioned (the largest being Northcourt) and these houses stationed the troops. The first to arrive was the Second Batallion of the Royal Fusiliers, a London company with cockney accents, so different to our own.

LIFE AT HOME

Mother had a small tea room, but with the arrival of the troops, this rapidly turned into a canteen and a home from home. My parents made the soldiers very welcome and our home was full. My mother said that she hoped someone would look after her son as she tried to do for the boys stationed here. They called her 'Ma' and her hospitality did not stay just with the men - we often had a wife staying with us for good measure. We even had the Bren gun carriers, which were like small tanks, parked outside. The village boys were most impressed.

The soldiers were allowed in most rooms in the house but not the front room or upstairs. One soldier I shall always remember was the one who became very famous and his name was Eric Morley. He and his wife were responsible for the Miss World programmes on the television in later years. Chairs were always full so he sat in the kitchen on an oil drum, which was our coal bin. I remember, to our fascination, he used to put vinegar on his eggs.

We, as a family, had an indoor air raid shelter - a very large table type which filled one of our rooms, originally the dining room, but long taken over by the troops. My sister, Sylvia, and I used to get in under the mattress and listen in on conversations. One lady who was a constant amusement to us was a retired school teacher who lived a little way up the road. Every time there was an air raid warning red, down she'd come to sit under our stairs. She always wore what was called a siren suit the same sort as Winston Churchill wore, and she brought the deeds of her house and anything important to her in a suitcase. She was a very tall, forbidding sort of lady and married to the air raid warden, who spent his time in the air raid post which was in the village hall.

The warden had quite a broad accent and when the raid was over he would ring my mother and say 'Air raid warning green and no casualties.' He would arrive on his bike and come to visit his wife under the stairs. My sister and I would wait with handkerchiefs stuffed in our mouths to stop us laughing aloud! She had rather a loud, deep voice which seemed very funny to us and would say 'Kiss me William', which was quite out of character, or so we thought. Later on, when the air raids were not quite so frequent, I was detailed to go to sleep in her house right under the thatch, which I thought was rather dangerous.

The boys who manned the field telephones found that they could ring my mother on our phone and they would order sandwiches, nearly always egg, when they were on guard half way up Shorwell Shute or down by the church on guard duty.

There were no plastic boxes or bags in those days, so brown paper bags were the order of the day. Bearing in mind we had no lights or torches, when the order came for two egg sandwiches, off I'd go up the Shute, brown bags in hand. Out of the darkness came the cry, 'Halt who goes there?' 'Pass Peggy, be recognised'. Most nights I was up and down the Shute and up and down the main road on the same errand.

AIR RAIDS

My father took charge of the Demolition Squad and was stationed in Freshwater. He found himself there most nights as there was usually an air raid.

One night, in an air raid, when the planes had passed over, we opened the front door and everywhere, including the front steps, was covered in incendiary bombs - it was as if the stars had dropped and the village was alight. One house, at the bottom of the Shute, was on fire. No one was hurt in this raid but the thatched house was gutted. One amusing thing out of all this was the fact that our father had pulled his onions and laid them out to dry - those 'Jerries' had burnt them all, which dad did not find amusing - he was really angry.

Another time, a bomb fell in the Council yard beside our home - quite a bang. However, our house had walls three feet thick and not a pane of glass was broken. There is another house built in that space now. We didn't get away without some disaster though - a house in Yafford had a direct hit and people were killed.

In 1943 my elder sister, her daughter and unborn child were killed in an air raid in Shanklin, as she was visiting her in-laws when it happened. The gas works were hit and seven firemen from London who were sent down to have a break from the fierce bombing lost their lives as well.

Once, early in the war, it was announced that in the case of gas being used, the warden would ride through the village on his bike, with a football rattle. One sunny afternoon in August, in our garden, I was up in the sky as high as I could get on our swing, when, down the road came the warden with his rattle, having a practise! I jumped, not waiting for the swing to come down and I landed up to my armpits in my father's pig manure heap. My poor mother had to hose me down - and all for a gas attack practise!

DOING OUR BIT

Speaking of pigs, we had two in our sty - we couldn't just have one. It had to be registered with the local police who came round to check the pig book to make sure we were not cheating with more than two or less than two. When my father had to send the pigs for slaughter, one went into the food chain for the Ministry of Food and we could keep the other. When it came back, my sister and I were sent round the village with parcels of meat for those who had no pigs to slaughter, so everyone had some fresh pork.

As most men of the village were called up, my sister and I used to go to the farms, get the cattle in from the fields and help in the milking parlours. I also remember having to scrub their feet, poor things. They used to get such hard feet from all the mud, so we had to treat them using a paint called Stockholm Tar* - real messy stuff but I think it used to form a protective covering.

We also took our money to school for savings stamps to help the war effort and knitted for victory. In those days, I could turn the heel of a sock but not now.

SOCIAL LIFE

We used to have concerts in the village hall - then it didn't matter how many we got into the place, the more the merrier. There was no other entertainment at the time so our efforts were eagerly awaited.

The whist drives were quite something. My sister was really good at it - but not me. I went along, much to everyone's utter disbelief - they groaned when I went in. 'Oh no' could be heard around the hall and I spoiled quite a few games for them but I was blissfully unaware of the havoc I caused.

My sister and her friend were what they called the 'Spitfire Band'. They entertained the children with song and dance in a shed at the top of our garden. It cost a halfpenny to get in and refreshments were supplied by mum. Of course the whole amount gained was only six pence but our rector, who was a truly lovely man, would take it with grateful thanks. We also had to collect conkers and take them in sacks to the rectory - something to do with oil but I cannot remember what it was used for1.

On Sundays, we had a marching band with bugles and drums that led the boys on Church parade. They were the Church of England lads as Catholics were taken into Newport in an army truck. The Methodists joined our family and walked to the Chapel up in the village and more often than not they were invited to stay to lunch.

The village was also home to evacuees. We always had two perhaps more and they were always up to something. The nearby beach was an attraction but strictly out of bounds. This didn't stop them from climbing the cliffs from above and coming home with seagulls eggs which my mother cooked for them, albeit they were a bit fishy! After these escapades they very rarely had a pair of shorts that weren't ripped to pieces!

TOWARDS THE END OF THE WAR AND AFTERWARDS

All of our childhood spent in Shorwell was a happy one. In the wartime, everyone was there for each other and if there were things to share we did just that. As a village we picked ourselves up and dusted ourselves down and got on with things.

When I was growing up there were many men in the village with a very pronounced Isle of Wight dialect. One such, or rather more than one, worked for dad and when they came to the door to request something it was either I or my sister who answered and we could not understand half of what they were saying!

During the war my father had a revolver which was kept in readiness for any eventuality. After the war he built a wall in the garden, wrapped the thing in old silk and built it into the wall. Years afterwards, when the next owner of our house knocked down the wall he found it and the police were at mum's door - apparently the thing was in perfect condition and could be fired at any time!

Towards the end of the war when the soldiers were nearly all gone, the 'canteen' was shut and my mother became the village postmistress, which lasted quite a number of years. During a break in my nursing career I took on the village post round in all weathers, rain, snow, sun, on a bike with a large basket on the front twice daily. It was a very long round, but it kept me fit!

* Stockholm Tar is a completely natural, gooey substance that seals and protects any small cuts or nicks in the hoof. It is derived from Pine trees

1 Conkers were collected as a source of starch from which Acetone could be made. This was a vital ingredient in the manufacture of cordite which was used in shells. The local manufacturing plant was in Poole, Dorset.

You may download Peggy's account as a PDF file