Songs of Innocence

Songs of Innocence by Fran Abrams Page A

Book: Songs of Innocence by Fran Abrams Read Free Book Online
Authors: Fran Abrams
Elsie recalled. Aged thirteen,
she was now able to leave school and get a job in a sugar mill earning twelve shillings and sixpence a week. The now largely female workforce took her to its heart: ‘It was wonderful to mix
with young people who were laughing, singing and cracking jokes with one another. Despite being worried to death about their fathers, husbands, sons or brothers in the war, they tried to look on
the bright side.’
    Olive Everson, growing up in Suffolk, noticed only minor differences to her daily routine: ‘It didn’t affect our small village to any great extent – at least not the children.
We noticed that some of the young men went away, and that our parents were careful to black out the windows at night because nasty things called Zeppelins dropped bombs from the sky. Ration books
were necessary to take with us when we went to a shop. Flour, to make it go further, was adulterated with other substances and our mother’s home-made bread no longer tasted as before and was
a light brownish colour and sticky in the centre. My father was just too old to be conscripted and in any case he was engaged in work of national importance. He joined the volunteers and wore his
uniform at weekends.’ 31
    Yet for many families, especially in the poorer parts of the big cities, the early months of the war were a time of desperation. Many lost their main breadwinners quite suddenly, and the economy
took months to settle into its wartime routine. Sylvia Pankhurst, who had been running a women’s suffrage campaign in the East End of London, was shocked by the state in which she now found
some of the children she knew in Stepney and Bow: ‘I met little Rose Pengelly, one of our junior Suffragettes. “What are you doing in Ranwell Street?” I asked her, knowing the
chronic poverty of that little alley. “All out of work, all helping each other,” she chirruped gaily, flashing a merry smile to me, from her clear green eyes, her red plaits tossing.
Yet I saw she was pale, and her gait not as buoyant as usual.’ 32
    The wife of a ship’s ‘greaser’ told Sylvia the government had commandeered her husband’s ship, and since then she had had no money nor any word as
to his whereabouts. She had six children, and the family had gone four days without food. Sylvia said she saw ‘a wilted look’ growing upon the children: ‘They seemed like fading
flowers.’ A photograph taken at the time by Sylvia’s friend Norah Smyth spells out the appalling hardships faced by some East End families in the early months of the war. In it is a
child of maybe eighteen months, clearly close to starvation, legs stick-thin and hands clutching one another, almost claw-like in their frailty. The child – impossible to tell whether a boy
or a girl – has only tufts of matted hair and its expression is a haunting mixture of curiosity and terror. 33
    Soon, the former Suffragette headquarters in the Old Ford Road had become a feeding centre for babies: ‘Here, and in the passage through the house, the queue of distressed mothers
extended: Already the babies were ill from starving; they could not digest the milk now we had got it for them.’ Later, Sylvia would open a nursery in an old pub, renamed the Mother’s
Arms, along with cost-price restaurants and a toy factory. Yet many of the children were already in too poor a state to be helped: ‘Several times it happened that after a baby had been nursed
patiently to apparent health, and had been sent away to the country to assure its stability, it would return home, catch a chill or some childish ailment, collapse and die, quite suddenly, as
though the physical well-being we had built for the little body had been merely a house of cards.’ 34
    Sidney Day, born not far away in north London, was six when war broke out. His father spent almost the whole time in France, driving the horses that pulled the infantry guns. Sidney remembered
regularly going without. ‘While me

Similar Books

Veiled Passages

Terri Reid

Mate Set

Laurann Dohner

Violet Lagoon

John Everson

Royal Pain

Megan Mulry

0986388661 (R)

Melissa Collins

Eldritch Tales

H.P. Lovecraft

Silken Threats

Addison Fox