Letter: Recalling wartime in Stamford

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I finished reading an article headed “Women at War” commemorating the Anniversary of D-Day, and I thought, what about Women at War on the Home Front?

To commence, I was at All Saints’ School in Austin Street for the early part of the war, and as I crossed Red Lion Square on my way home to Doughty Street, I remember being pelted with sugar bars by American soldiers in convoy through the town!

As my sister Peggy, 12 years my senior had left her job as a secretary to Mr Brick the town builder and joined the ATS, and my other sister 18 years my senior was married to a serving soldier, my parents had a spare bedroom and offered to give lodgings to two young women in the Land Army, Dolly from Hampshire and Rosie a Cockney. They were kept busy felling trees in a wood at Essendine, and my Saturday morning treat was to go with them on the back of a lorry, help build a fire, and to make toast for their ‘elevenses’. I hated the black crows which had been shot and hung from the trees, but the girls often collected rabbits to take home to my mother who made delicious pies, meat being so scarce.

I could read from an early age, having had two older sisters, but it was Dolly who taught me to knit. She was fortunate that her husband Harry, who was a paratrooper, was stationed at Wittering and came to visit her when he had a pass. He was a jolly ‘rough and ready’ fellow, and as he had lost his own mother at an early age, called my mother ‘Ma’ much to my amusement! Sometimes he would try to persuade my parents to allow him to stay the night, and when mother was reticent ‘because we are so short of food’, he would open his greatcoat to reveal a string of sausages, straight from the cook-house!

On those nights I had a mattress in the cupboard under the stairs, and could listen to all the programmes on the ‘wireless’ long after my bedtime.

My father used to lend Harry his bicycle to get to the Square for 6.30am where he had a lift back to camp on an Army lorry. He left the cycle beside St John’s Church for my father to retrieve, but we often had a visit from a policeman on the said cycle, thinking it had been stolen!

Harry somehow knew these visits were numbered, that some kind of big offensive was being planned, and when in early June he did not arrive, I remember standing in our back garden with Dolly watching the planes going over, and where was Harry?

Many soldiers sent reports back to Stamford that Harry had been killed, and I remember my dear mother being very supportive to Dolly who was inconsolable. Fortunately the reports were wrong and Harry arrived, and after the war had ended, our friendship with the couple continued until both of them died.

Many years later, my late husband who taught at Casterton Community College, helped the late Mrs Brenda Hemphill, also a teacher there, to organise a coach holiday for pupils to Etratat in Normandy so they could visit the beaches and museums associated with D-Day. I was fortunate to be invited to go along as extra staff, and the holiday bought back many memories of the war-time I had known.

Sheila Blankley

Arran Road