Chapter X

Leeds Again


FROM JANUARY 1940 till the end of July I was at Leeds again. I came back to a frozen Headingley, and that winter was not easy; my cylinder was one of the few not frozen in this road, so my tap water was much in demand. Before school, and often after school, there was always snow to be swept and shovelled. A good deal of knitting for the Forces had to be fitted in amongst corrections and preparation at night.

In my diary for that time I have many pessimistic notes about the War. It was a terrible time, I am ashamed to say that I took a very gloomy view of things. I was not one of those people who helped the nation in any way—the Headmaster once told me so, not quite in those words.

My diary: Friday, 19th January: “Goebbels says the Germans all say that the British must be destroyed and we shall soon know the Fuehrer’s plans.” Then a bad word which may have helped me at the time!

Sunday, 21st January: “H.M.S. Grenville sunk and two other British boats. Terrible air raids over Finland”.

The next day the school boiler burst and we were all sent home at 11 o’clock. It was mended quickly, school as usual the next day but not much warmth. Later on I was frozen-up at home and could not get a plumber for many days. When the thaw came the water poured into my sitting-room. The bad war news went on ... “More destroyers sunk, bombers over the North Sea and a battle over Whitby” (where I had relations). In February I had bronchial influenza and neuralgia and was away from school about a fortnight.

On the 20th we heard that Surgeon Lieut. G. J. Kearney (Old Leodiensian) had gone down with H.M.S. Daring. I fear I suffered distinctly from war nerves and could get no respite even at night. I used frequently to dream that Fairbourne was being invaded from the sea. One night I was at a banquet where Hitler was speaking, very calmly and quietly. Someone there told me it was the ‘calmness of confidence’. I said “No, it’s the calmness of despair.” Hitler stopped his speech, and started to look up in a dictionary the meaning of ‘despair’. I knew I was for it—then I woke up.

MORE DIARY: 9th April: ‘Germans taken possession of Denmark, invading Norway’. 10th and 11th April: ‘Big naval battle. Many German ships sunk, and four of our destroyers’. 23rd April: ‘Budget. Letters 2½d. 10 cigarettes to be 8½d.’ [And now, nearly 10 years after!] 7th May: ‘Prime Minister warning of bad time to come. Still harping on invasion of this country.’

And so on, up to the terrible news of the invasion of the Low Countries in May. On that day I went to Fairbourne with some friends in their car. We should never have gone if we had realised how serious was the news. We had heard a rumour from a milkman, but we regarded it as an unfounded rumour. The next day we heard that the Whitsuntide holiday had been cancelled throughout the country and the Government Schools were to return.

I REMEMBERED the last time the Whitsuntide holidays were ‘off’. That was in 1916 because the munition workers thought it would help them if the schools had no holiday. At the same time as this most annoying news we heard of Lord Kitchener’s death at sea. The Head, who had been on parade with the O.T.C., called us from a game of cricket. “Come here Miss Christie, and all you other little boys”! ! He knew we should all take the cancellation without grumbling. But I’m afraid we did not! The Whitsuntide camp was all set, all the hams and jams bought and ready for transport. I never heard what happened to them.

ON TO 24 YEARS later. On 10th May, poor brokenhearted Mr. Chamberlain resigned, and the saviour of our country, Mr. Churchill, took his place.

I stayed at Fairbourne till the following Saturday, bathed every day I could, and took some ‘duty’ in the way of escorting bathing parties and playing games. It was a glorious summer and as it went on the war news got worse. It was an agony to listen to the news on the wireless, how one longed and prayed to hear something in our favour.

At school we were busy doing and re-doing evacuation lists. Boys are a marvellous asset in bad times; they make you forget bad news when you are with them, though I well remember on the day we heard that the French had laid down their arms, a twelve-year-old boy came to me in school and said: “All the women and children should be sent out of the country.” When I asked him why: “Men and boys don’t mind dying for their country.” I had a decided lump in my throat then.

ON 3RD JUNE, I was coming home carrying a basket of strawberries and I saw many B.E.F. men from Dunkirk who were waiting for billets for the night. They asked for strawberries, when I tried to give the lot away to them a sergeant would not let me. I talked to several of the men who called me by my name, which surprised me. However, there it was, printed large on the case of my gas mask! Amongst the men was an Old Boy: C.B. ——. He told me he had seen the Germans machine-gunning refugees.

In June we heard the news that we had cleared out of Norway and that the perfidious Italians had declared war on the Allies. Two local prophecies about that time: from my decorator, that the Germans would be here in a fortnight; from a wise man that we were ‘sunk’ if the Germans got the French fleet. Naturally one had but little zest for games and amusements, but I note that on 17th June, that terrible day, I had a game of tennis. “I played well, thinking I was smashing Hitler’s face.”

On 19th June we had an air raid warning lasting for four or five hours.

About this time we said sad farewells to several Leeds Grammar School boys who, with hundreds of others, were sent to Canada for safety.

WHAT A RELIEF it was in those days to meet a few relations and friends who were still optimistic about the outcome of the war. Some could give reasons to back up their opinions, others just had faith during those darkest days. According to J. B. Priestley, who broadcast on 30th June, I was a ‘shiver sister’! I was even more depressed when a friend, one of the staff, said one day: “What is there to live for? You may see the Germans beaten. Then there will be a Bolshevik revolution in Germany. It is probably all Europe that Stalin wants.” (Was this prophetic?)

In August I went to Fairbourne for holiday duty and slept at the Hostel. It was good to see the boys again. The night I arrived I played ping-pong with them and was beaten. That day the news came through that an Old Leodiensian, John Freeborn, had won the D.F.C. Later I believe he won a double bar to that decoration. At school he was always most daring—more than once he played truant. I remember Mr. Johnson’s trying to take him to the Headmaster after one of these escapades. He wriggled out of the master’s grasp and was out of the school gate before Mr. Johnson had reached the door!

I got back to the Fairbourne wind, which kept me awake that night, or it may have been the supper of lobster mayonnaise! I was at Fairbourne from 9th August until 5th September and thoroughly enjoyed myself, though one could not say I had an easy time. I helped a good deal with the preparing of meals and the washing up, very often had sole charge of the boys there. According to my diary I taught lessons occasionally. Just mild ones—singing, games in French, pronunciation, etc. We bathed once or twice a day, had many games on the sands, long walks, visits to Barmouth, we went blackberrying, we had shrimping parties—we found these most successful if we all wore bathing costumes. Once we were shrimping beyond the point and T. A. R. E——, otherwise ‘Lord Fairbourne’, or ‘Eggy’ (why the last name I never discovered)—caught a dab. He carried it back tenderly and carefully in his bathing costume, which he kept dipping in the sea to keep the fish alive. Then it was cooked and he had it for supper.

One evening there was an exciting report that German parachutists had been seen landing in a certain district. The Home Guard turned out and dashed to the spot to find a woman hanging out white clothes!

MR. AND MRS. BARDGETT, with their younger son, were also on holiday duty at the hostel, and Mr. Bardgett organized and gave a most successful concert. I did some posters for it in Welsh! My Welsh was passed by our Welsh John, but not by Dr. Lloyd. So I had to start all over again. The hall was packed on the night of the concert and things went very well, specially some verses made up about local people, sung to the tune of ‘Join the Darkies’ Sunday School’. We raised £12 by that concert, but I have forgotten what was the charitable object.

The elder Bardgett, Brian, was at the hostel from the time we went to the time we left. As I write, he is head boy of Leeds Grammar School. I think the splendid physique of many boys like him is very largely owing to the years they spent at Fairbourne.

MR. WELLS was now master-in-charge at Fairbourne, the Inces returned to Leeds. The Headmaster asked me if I would like to go back to Fairbourne again. So I left the decision with him. I was told that he decided I should go back, chiefly because I had so many ‘side-shows’. Anyhow it was very gratifying and inspiring to me to be greeted by loud cheers from the boys when they heard I was to return.

The Headmaster very kindly brought me back to Leeds in his car on 5th September. After warning me that he would need me in the back of the car as ‘ballast’ I was allowed to sit in the front with him! We had quite an exciting journey, as there was an air raid warning as we passed through Chester.


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