Songs of Innocence

Songs of Innocence by Fran Abrams Page B

Book: Songs of Innocence by Fran Abrams Read Free Book Online
Authors: Fran Abrams
Dad was away, me Mum had to keep the seven of us on rations. I would go round and get food from Buckingham’s shop. Mum would say, “Take the cup
with you and get an haporth of jam, a pennorth of sugar, a bit of tea, a tin ofevaporated milk and a lump of margarine.” We hardly ever seen any meat.’ If Sidney
thrived, it was largely through his own ingenuity: ‘Every day I nicked something from the shops and stalls around Archway, specially the greengrocer’s. If you are hungry you got to
live.’ 35
    Another major issue, Sylvia reported, was the growing number of illegitimate babies for whom there was little or no support. The army’s separation allowances did not extend fully to
unmarried partners and their children. The navy deducted sixpence from the daily pay of each sailor to send to his wife and children, but ‘in respect of a bastard child, fourpence’. In
many cases, even this paltry sum did not come through. Many of these now-absent young men would have married their sweethearts if they had known they were pregnant or had had the time to do so,
Sylvia said – though there were also reports that men ordered by the courts to support their children were escaping their responsibilities by joining up.
    Soon, though, even the most affluent homes were coming to terms with the horrors of war. Hermione Llewellyn, her mother and her brother Owen returned to her grandmother’s large house after
her father’s departure for Egypt, only to find it had been turned into a hospital. Each week ambulances would arrive bringing bandaged soldiers: ‘Owen kept asking who had hurt them and
they always said, “The bloody Boche.” 36
    ‘Sometimes in our house grown-ups talked French, or stopped talking at all, when Owen and I were around. One day when Cook was having her afternoon rest Owen and I looked at her newspaper
on the kitchen table: we saw dreadful pictures of men without arms or legs, and there were pictures of men all huddled together sleeping. Owen was five and owned a tricycle and explained it all to
me: “There’s been a quarrel between the Kings and Emperors,” he said. “And now all the good men are fighting all the bad men.” He told me the sleeping men in
Cook’s newspaper were dead but they were heroes and would go to heaven.’ 37
    War work
    Harry Watkin was six when the war started, the second of ten children born into a poor family in the slum district of Hulme in Manchester. Even at this tender age, and in the
absence of a father who had joined up, it was his job to run most of his mother’s errands. Later, he would remember thick fogs, broken only by candles carried in jam jars, and queues for
everything. 38 ‘The longest and slowest-moving queues in which I waited were those at the Medlock Street gasworks to buy coke. It was
overall a wearisome task. First a wagon had to be borrowed from Jack Booth’s coalyard in Duke Street. I had to beg, looking as humble and as grateful as I could, for the loan of one. They
were very strong and heavy with iron handles and wheels and made a noisy clatter as they bumped along over the flags and setts. These coke errands meant half a day off school and I would take one
of the children with me, riding in the wagon.’
    Many children had work to do in wartime. In addition to his regular domestic duties, Harry took part in a national scheme to raise funds for refugees, which involved selling scent cards:
‘They were coloured and strongly perfumed and every boy at school was given about a dozen to take home and sell. Well, I didn’t even consider asking mother to buy one and I
wouldn’t have dreamt of trying to sell any to our neighbours – one never bothered with or spoke to women unless specifically sent by mother. So I just kept the cards until we were told
to return all money and unsold ones. Obviously mine were soiled and creased, for there was no place in our house where they could have lain untouched. In spite of that I was given

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