By Mervyn E . Foulkes.
I was born on 8 May 1940 at 22 Bromfield Park, Mold., and christened Mervyn Edward. This was about seven months into the Second World War, when conditions began to get austere and parents had to skimp and improvise in order that their offspring would not go without. Food, clothing and petrol was rationed but to a child the most important thing of all was sweets, and in this instance, rationed sweets; but more about that later.
My earliest recollection goes back to when I was about three years old. We lived on a bit of a hill and from our home had a clear view of the skies over what I think was the direction of Liverpool. I was taken out of the house on more than one occasion to see searchlight beams lighting up the sky.
These, of course, were looking for German aircraft which were bombing the cities. I also remember, though at what age I do not know, being taken by my father to the town’s Recreation Ground to see two searchlights and their crews. This was during daylight and maybe they were practising, I don’t know. I certainly remember a small underground Anderson air-raid shelter in our back garden into which we were to retire when the ‘warning siren’ went. I should, at this point, note that just after the war I can recollect my father and others digging it up, and a man whose garden backed onto ours, who I called Uncle Alf, had this corrugated-iron shelter for his coal shed. I know it still existed thirty years after the conflict, and for all I know, it could still be there today? Having dug it up there was naturally a large hole left that needed to be filled in, and amongst the assortment of rubbish thrown into it was a small battered red pedal car which I cherished. I can, to this day, remember shedding buckets of tears as I watched it disappear under rubble and soil. I could not take my eyes away from it and cried and cried until it was out of sight.
Another memory is of lowering paper blackouts on the windows of our house at night. These were made of stiffish black paper with a thin batten running along the bottom from which dangled a piece of string attached to an inch-long wooden toggle. They were lowered at dusk and secured at the sides with drawing-pins so that when the indoor light was put on not a glimmer was allowed to escape because it was said that an aircraft could see a chink of light from a great height and, of course, this is what the enemy was looking for. In those days nightime navigation could be unreliable as it was calculated by ‘dead reckoning’ using the stars, and in daylight, by ground maps. Therefore, it was not unusual for German bombers seeking out Liverpool to be as much as thirty miles off their target. When they passed over this area everyone sat in the darkness listening to the droning overhead. It was in a fire-lit room that we also listened to the sarcastic comments of ‘Lord Haw Haw’ [A British traitor named William Joyce] who made propaganda broadcasts in English on behalf of the Germans. He always started by announcing, ‘This is Germany calling; Germany calling’, and he would go on to say how Britain and her allies were losing the war and suffering great losses. Of course, I was too young to understand anything but I remember the darkness, flames in the hearth, and the crass voice. Also on the wireless |radio| were programmes put out to assist our war effort. I do not remember much about these, however, I can recall one called Workers’ Playtime which was aimed at boosting the morale of factory workers; the BBC outside broadcasting unit visiting different locations to play lively music, listen to a couple of comedians making everyone laugh, and interviewing employees. We listened to all news bulletins but they meant little to me. I was more for Dick Barton, Special Agent and his two sidekicks Snowy and Jock! As I previously memtioned, times were very hard and shortages of food meant that it, together with clothing (few had cars) had to be rationed. To supplement provisions most people were ‘Digging for Britain’ by growing fruit and vegetables in their own gardens or renting allotments from the Council. We were no exception. My father grew many things but the bulk of his crop was potatoes because our family was made up of Mum, Dad,
three sisters, myself and two brothers, one of whom was in the Forces and the other a baby born in 1944. Father was unfit for military service due to having a clubfoot and found himself working at the ammunitions factory at Rhydymwyn. His father, my grandfather, lived a quarter of a mile from us in Alexandra Road. He used to be a blacksmith at the gas-works in Gas Lane, which was again the same distance way but in the opposite direction. At the back of his home he had a large pigeon-loft housing dozens of of the birds and I well remember on the odd occasion having roast pigeon as meat in our meal. Another dish placed before us now and again was wild rabbit. More than often someone in the locality would capture one – legally or otherwise – with a snare or with a ferret and nets. The charge would be as little as sixpence ( 2p i n today’s money) and this would make a huge pan of stew, enough to feed the whole family. Of course, Mother would have to skin the rabbit herself. Another type of stew she made was called jot, possibly because it had few ingredients? It was made with bacon scraps, potatoes cut like today’s crisps only thicker, and an onion. Not much in the way of taste but very filling and welcome in winter. A light favourite which I greatly enjoyed for supper was a basin of bread and hot milk. A further treat was called ‘Wartime Cake’ which was made without any fat or butter. This tasted great, and so did the bread-pudding made in a large roasting tin. Wonderful; still sometimes made today. I’ll move on slightly to when I was five years old. I remember clearly having a gas-mask, but by this time we were not required to carry them around with us. Soon afterwards the War ended and I can recollect the day the news broke very clearly. Father got me out of bed and took me to the centre of Bromfield Park, which had a small island in the middle of the road, to join all the people singing and dancing there. I even remember them bringing a piano from a woman’s house up the top of the park. Her name was Doris Davies and she played it .The celebrations went on for hours. (Perhaps you’ve noticed my birthday is on V.E.Day – Victory in Europe.) This also reminds me of, soon afterwards, being taken up town at dusk by my Father to see for the first time in my life the shops, street lights without blackouts or any restrictions whatsoever. To me, a small child, a wonderful and never-to-be-forgotten sight. I went for my early education to Mold Board School in Glanrafon Road, just off Wrexham Street. Coupons were still required to buy food, clothing, etc., and would remain so for a number of years before rationing was abolished altogether. It was taken off in stages as more and more goods became available in the shops. This meant, of course, that hardship could only be reduced gradually.
Our footwear was mainly clogs which were O.K. except in winter when the snow used to pack tight under the sole and you would end up as if you were walking on stilts. For ‘best’ I had a pair of boots which had hobnails in the soles and these would be repaired by my Father who had a cobbler’s shoe last and a sheet of leather plus the hobnails. You can imagine the toe-caps left much to be desired.
Our clothes were patched when holed, and being a small boy, I always wore short trousers. Mine, like most normal boys’ were invariably full of patches – and let’s not forget – the rationing of clothes made it necessary for each household to hand garments down and across the family. My mother used to make trousers out of an old overcoat, not just for me but for neighbours’ children as well, and also made girls’ dresses from discarded frocks. When all the cutting and sewing was done the scraps were cut up and used to make what we called peg-rugs. These were made with a hessian sack which was cut open, washed, and cut to the required shape. Then, having cut up the old scraps of clothing into strips about one inch wide and five inches long, you had to sharpen a short stick about eight inches in length with which you proceeded to push the pointed end through the weave of the sack and follow it with a strip of cloth. It was a boring and thankless task but we all had to muck-in to get the job finished. Another use for a hessian sack was to have one tied around the waist for an apron and many, many people wore these. Whilst writing about sacks I must mention flour sacks. If you were lucky enough to get a couple from a bakehouse, they being made of cotton, you could unpick them at the seams and stand them in bleach overnight to rid them of the printing. Next they would be sown up into a pair of curtains and dyed to give them colour. These things had to be done as there was no money for niceties. Indeed, items of cloth that could not be recycled were kept to one side for the Rag and Bone Man that used to come around periodically to collect them. In return for a bundle of rags we would receive as many as six one-day old chickens which, incidentally were all male, which you kept in one of the drawers near the fire to help them warm, because at that early stage in their life they needed brooding. But, one after another, they would die and you would be lucky if two survived. These were fed on household scraps and when big enough were kept in a small shed in the garden where they would have ‘free-range’ during daylight hours. I remember two in particular we had, fed and kept especially for Christmas Dinner. This was the only time you had chicken and it was luxury. These surviving couple were white cockerels, one short and fat, the other thinner and with very long legs. The latter looked like an ostrich and ran like one. There was no escape from this second bird and there was nothing it liked better than peck lumps out of a small boy’s legs. Mine must have looked like caviar to it. I could not go through the door without a battle, and at the time I must have been the second best in Wales at the hundred yards dash. Obviously, the cockerel was Number One because during the first three months of its life it consistantly won, the trophy being my bleeding legs! In the end I found a simple answer to this gauntlet-run I had to endure. It was a stick. You only had to show it the stick and it would ignore you, but forget it, and you were attacked mercilessly. This skinny thing had the last laugh over us as it died of natural causes two days before Christmas!! It was a good job we had its mate or we would not have had meat with our festive dinner that year. I was given the task of taking the dead bird to the gas-works to be burnt in a retort. Whilst mentioning Christmas toys were also handed-down to younger brothers and sisters after having been given a lick of paint and most girls would have a home-made rag doll. One thing we looked forward to at this time was our yearly oranges. Yes, one a year at Christmas is all we had. They always seemed to get a boatload in at this time. I should add that it was a couple of years after the War before I saw my first banana. It is a funny thing that we all seem to suffer from boils these days. As a young boy I never seemed to be free from a boil for long, mostly on my neck and sometimes on my face. They said it was something lacking in your diet. I do not think so. I suspect we are free of them today because of the antibiotics that are fed to the animals we eat through the food-chain. Christmas over, we prepared lor the New Year’s Day ritual which I remember vividly. We would go to the top of Bromfield Park, to an engineering works by the name of R.S.Davies & Company , and at 10.00.am prompt, knock at the office door. The owner would open it and in unison us kids would chant, ‘Happy New Year Mr.Davies. Clenig please.’ [Calennig ‘New Year’s gift] At which he would proceed to hand out a shiny sixpence to each child, but to receive one you had to live in Bromfield Park, and he knew us all. To Robert and John Whitley he would give a shilling each (5p) simply because they were twins. It made us jealous. Rumour had it that Mr. Davies was a millionaire and this just at the end of the War.
We had our Victory Celebration Party in one of the side squares in Bromfield with everyone afterwards moving to a field at the back of Bromfield Row to play games, but this did not last too long before we were ordered off by the landowner because someone had been pinching her plums. Nevertheless, it was a great day. Writing about clenig reminds me that once a year ( I forget when exactly ) we used to go around people’s houses, knocking on the doors with our faces blackened with soot and in our hand a small branch or bush with paper streamers hanging from it. When they opened for us we proceeded to jig about and sing :
A gun jun jar;
A gun jun jar.
Lena niena norsa.
Penny in ajar;
A penny in a jar.
tena niena norsa
I’ve no idea about the spelling, nor where the custom came from or what it stands for, but I do know it would gain us a few pence to spend. I suppose people seeing us dressed-up thought it was well worth it for a laugh. I now move on a couple of years to when we had the very severe winter of 1947. One memory of the deep snow sticks in my mind never to be forgotten. Father had taken me down the lower area of Gas Lane, to a house that was being built for the manager of the gas-works. It was almost completed and because Father knew the joiner I think the objective of the visit was to come away with sticks for lighting our fire at home. How we managed to reach the place I’ll never know as the snow was up to my waist and I was trying my utmost to follow directly in Father’s footsteps. Reach it we did though, to find the joiner working upstairs in front of a nice big grate of fire. While the two men chatted I sat at the top of the stairs pulling the hard-packed snow from down my Wellingtons and throwing it down the stairs to an open front door. I suspect Father carried me some of the way. If the parents of today forced their children to carry out such chores they would certainly be put on probation, if not placed in jail . I sometimes brought a supply of coke for a neighbour from across the road named Mrs. Brisco. She was a wonderfully clean little woman who always wore a spotless hessian-sack apron; invariably scrubbing her yard on her hands and knees and her steps with a donkey-stone. She’d pay me with a sixpence, plus a big piece of apple-pie which she regularly baked on Saturday morning. Whilst mentioning apples, we used to go to a house in the Pentre, opposite the Queen’s Head, which we called ‘Mary Blod’s’ ( I can only think that her name was Mary Blodwen?). There we could buy a small bag of cut apples ; they being windfalls with the ‘bad’ lacerations, bird-peckings, bruises etc. cut out of them. They were wonderfully sweet – tasting. Occasionally we’d collect blackberries, wild gooseberries, wild strawberries, damsons, mushrooms and nuts of every description. Indeed, all things that nature provided. Their collecting were tasks we enjoyed doing after school or during holiday times.
I must also mention the man who came around playing his hurdy-gurdy | mechanical violin worked by a wooden wheel instead ot a bow ], which to me was a box on a single leg (to rest it) with a strap to sling around the neck lor carrying. It was played be turning a handle attached to its side. He visited Mold about three times a year, so also, did a chap with a barrel-organ . This was an instrument containing a cylinder studded with pegs which, when played, opened valves letting air into the pipes to form music. To me it had a Tar more pleasant sound than the former. Neither gentleman made much money as it was still ‘hard times’.
There were occasions when we discretely went to the refuse tip to search for discarded pop bottles, glass bleach containers and jam jars. These we would wash in a stream that runs down Gas Lane ( today it runs in a culvert ) and would afterwards take to the shops and gain twopence for a bottle and halfpenny for a jar, all of which were returnable in those days. One incident leading from this involved myself and a friend. We had spent the day rooting through the rubbish and came away with one bottle short, that is, we wanted another twopence for something. I thought our pantry at home might contain such a bottle and off we trooped. Sure enough, there on the floor at the back was a pop bottle with, what I thought, was about half a cupful of lemonade. This I opened, and in a split-second, drank it down. I immediately started choking and vomiting for the bottle contained bleach! It was raw bleach brought from Courtall’s Rayon factory. It played a big part in their processing at Flint and people working there used to bring some home for bleaching clothes on washday, which was always a Monday. The pain was unbearable and my friend, who had a speech impediment, ran out shouting for my mother who happened to be talking to a neighbour over the garden fence. This was Aunty Maud Dutton ( My godmother and wife of Alf mentioned previously in conjunction with the air-raid shelter.). My friend was shouting in his own way, ‘MERVYN HAS DRANK BLEACH!’ It took them some minutes to understand what message he was attempting to convey. But once they realised the gravity of the situation all hell broke loose. My mother ran in, grabbed me and stuck my head under the tap in the kitchen, shouting at me to drink as much as I could. She also poured down what milk we had in the house. By this time Aunty Maud had arrived with castor oil and duly helped Mother to pour, what I remember, were two cupsful down my throat. This seemed to do the trick because I remember being sick all over the floor. I can’t recall if I ever saw a doctor but I did recovered from this misadventure although, for years afterwards, everything I drank tasted of BLEACH! Before leaving this tip-scavenging stage in my childhood I should perhaps mention that we as kids spent hours delving through the refuse. The dump received all the town’s household waste which, when I think back, was not much as there was only two lorries to collect it. One was driven by a Mr.Morgan who lived about forty yards from our house. During the school term both he and some of us little ones came home daily for lunch, alter which he’d drive back to work with us running behind him. We’d jump up to grab the top of the tailboard and hang on for grim death, riding like this up to Wrexham Street. This particular lorry had a wind-up back for tipping, no hydraulics, and an open body. So if you happened to be behind it on a windy day you had your eyes filled with ash. A chap called Ned looked after the tip and I remember he had a horse and cart for travelling to and from work. On occasions the tip would catch fire and would continue burning for weeks. It was then dangerous as it burnt underneath, leaving a thin crust on top, through which you could easily fall and get burned. This did happen to more than one child though never fatal. Following one big fire they had to cut massive trenches across the tip to prevent the names from spreading. However, these hazards did not prevent us from playing on this wonderful play-area which resembled a maze. We were oblivious to the dangers lurking there: the possibility of the trenches falling-in upon you, germs everywhere and rats! It was a massive breading ground for rodents. Some days there would be hundreds of them scampering about, and us nine year olds, we would kill dozens of rats with sticks and large stones.
Even at the tender age of 7 or 8 it was my job every Sunday morning to accompany my Father to our town refuse tip, which again was no more than a quarter of a mile from our house, and sift through the rubbish, picking out the cinders |burnt coal not reduced to ashes] for our fire at home. This did not take much time since every household had coal fires in those days and ashes made up the bulk of people’s rubbish while paper for kindling was generally salvaged from newspaper and all kind of packaging. Once we had filled two small sacks with cinders, we lifted them onto the bar of an old push-bike and took them home. This was always completed by about 7.30.am during the summer months but later in the murky winter when my hands would be frozen. It was at this stage that I was taught to be mindful of the needs of the home and this was often rellected in my actions. After being out playing with my friends all day, and happened to come across a blown-down tree, we would drag it home to be sawn up for firewood. We would salvage anything that would burn.
At the age of nine I started another of my regular jobs. I had to go to the gas-works every week to fetch home a sack of coke [ pieces of coal burnt in a closed furnace, larger than cinders ] which you could buy for two shillings a hundredweight. You were obliged to take your own sacks, and for convenience, pushed it home on an iron-wheeled sack-truck. God! It was heavy. Remember, I was only nine at the time. The reward for this would be sixpence that enabled you to go to the pictures for 4d, and with the twopence change, buy an iced lollipop tor yourself.
The tip was our ‘Horn of Plenty’ so to speak. If ever we wanted anything we would look upon it as our storehouse. If we decided to make a truck this was done by going to the tip to seek parts. The wheels and axles would be removed from an old pram, a wooden plank had to be found, nails needed reclaiming from discarded boxes and straightened for re-use. The intended truck was simply a plank 4 or 5 feet long with a wheel in each comer. The front axle was made to pivot and we steered with a piece of rope tied to each end of this axle. When made, the truck could be used for many things. Neighbours might ask you to take things to the tip for them or the yearly bonfire, such as an old armchair. You could move coke or logs, carry people’s weekly shopping home for them in a cardboard box – and more than once – I brought home horse dung off the street for the garden.
These were useful chores approved of by parents and earned for us a few coppers so that we could have our favourite treat, a night at the pictures; the Savoy in Chester Street. Once a year we’d take a home-made Guy Fawkes round the houses on Bonfire Night asking for ‘Penny for the Guy’. Our parents were not too keen on us racing these trucks so that happened ‘out of sight, out of mind’ ! We could also make up a pushbike by salvaging parts. One day you would perhaps discover a wheel, the following week a frame, another time a seat (although we often used the foot of an old Wellington for this) , and so on. You would hide these ‘potential scraps’ in the bushes until you had a basic parts for a bike. No brakes of course; those were for posh children! I recall one day playing on the tip when a van drew up and a man opened the back and threw out an old motorbike, in bits. As us lads were dragging the various parts off the tip when another man came along and took it off us. That motorbike was back on the road within a month. In its new guise it was plum-coloured with a square tank with the gear-change on the tank. I thoroughly enjoyed spending half my childhood on that tip.
Thankfully, it is unnecessary – and would not be allowed – today. On the land next to the Tip (capital T!), there was what we called The Bonks’. These were shale spoil heaps from the old Bromfield Colliery which covered many acres thereabouts, another wonderful place for us to play. One we called ‘Red Bonk’ because the shale there had, at some time, been burnt to leave a red ash. On its top stood a small wooden hut acting as an aircraft observation post. This was the steepest of the two bonks and we had great times sledging down it on a discarded tin roofing-sheet or a piece of oilcloth [floor covering]. The second hillock was on the other side of the road and called ‘Kinsey’s Bonk’. It was shale as dug and was unburnt grey. The boundaries of this feature were to the back of it, the railway line from Mold to Coed Talon, while to the left of it was a field owned by a Mrs Edwards who lived in a small cottage by the Woodlands Road level crossing. Her free-range hens took to laying eggs in the hedge alongside the grey bonk, and of course, it was not unknown for small boys to find these nests and scurry home to show their prize! The term in use at the time was ‘Finders’ Keepers’. This particular bonk got its name from having Kinsey’s Tripe Dressing works to the right of it. What a stench. Unbearable! Those were the days when you would play into darkness with complete safety although a severe scolding was awaiting you for coming home late. The heaps are no longer there. The red was used for road-making and the ground now houses small factory units.
Behind Kinsey’s was a small field, and beyond that, Bromfield Hall which, supposidly, had a ghost. It was only the very brave who entered those grounds, which we occasionally did, scrumping apples. If I now go forward a couple o f years we come to when I moved from the Primary to the Secondary Modern School. The last mentioned was a posh term for the higher education we were now to receive. It was still referred to as the ‘Central’ though, that is, until it was given the name Ysgol Daniel Owen, after Mold’s famous novelist. This establishment was again within a quarter of a mile from my home but this was not to last for long as we soon moved house to the far corner of town, Third Avenue, Bromley Estate; before Queen’s Park was built. This made my school journey about one and a half miles each way, to be walked four times a day, as it was not often that I stayed for school dinners. At aged eleven I still had to fetch coke from the gas-works on the same old iron-wheeled sack-truck and push it all that way across Mold, and I remember how cruel my father could be. This particular day my mates and I had arranged to go to the pictures. Suddenly it started snowing. I picked up the sack-truck from my elder brother’s where I had left it on my way to school as he had his own house in Bromfield Park, near the gas-works. I knew that on this day an extra effort would be required of me because Father had gone to work leaving strict instructions that I was to fetch TWO hundredweight bags of coke. This meant two journeys, in the snow. My father was already home when I arrived soaked to the skin. I remember standing by the fire trying to dry out when my friends knocked at the door. Father answered it and informed them that I would not be going out again that night, shutting the door in their faces. I told him that I was going to the pictures to which he replied, ‘ No you’re not’, to which I replied, ‘Yes I am.’ It was then that he took down the dog lead which always hung from a nail by the door and lashed me with it. This went on for a few minutes. Me being defiant and him responding with further lashings until my mother could not stand it any more and came between us. She ordered me to bed out of his way. The red weals on my legs stood out what must have been half an inch. I do not remember which hurt the most, my legs or my pride as I had lost face with my chums. That was one side of Father’s cruelty .
Remember, in those days discipline in the home was very strict and you could be hit for far less than answering your parents back. But the cruellest thing of all that he did was to leave our household. He ABANDONED us for another woman. I was eleven, my young brother seven. The rest of the family were grown up and possibly old enough to understand, we didn’t. He literally left us to fend for ourselves. He refused to pay Mother any maintenance for us, leaving us not knowing where the next meal was coming from. It was sometimes weeks before he would send a few pounds for us to live on. Of course, it ended up in court where he was ordered to pay £2 a week for our mother and 10s.0d. each for the upkeep of two boys; £3 in total. He often neglected to pay this. He was quite happy to see his own children without food, clothes or shelter. I have never forgiven him for such cruelty and it is a credit to Mother that we survived because she often went without herself so that we would benefit. For all that, in later years and unlike me – she never bore him a grudge. In fact, she frowned on my unforgiving attitude because she was such a gentle and kind person. Because of our situation my thoughts were forever turning to the days when I could leave school and get a job so that I could contribute to the family income.
At the age of twelve or thirteen I managed to obtain an after-school job delivering groceries from a branch of the Co-op which had opened down Clay Lane [now Clayton Road], run by a Miss Jones, with her assistant named Amelia. I was the second boy to hold this job which paid 10s.Od. a week which I gave to Mother, she allowing me to keep any tips that I might get. Some weeks this amounted to 2s.Od. When I had finished deliveries on a Saturday and weighed out a full sack of potatoes into 5 pound bags, Miss Jones would come into the back with my wages in an envelope and a paper packet containing five Woodbine cigarettes: I now considered myself a ‘ big boy’ as I had started smoking! I should perhaps add that these deliveries were made with me carrying them in a wicker basket in all weathers. People did not relish slipping on wet leaves or falling in the snow, but it was O.K. for the delivery boy as long as the goods were not damaged! After about a year of this they bought a delivery bike. What contraptions they were to get used to. A very large carrier on the front that could take two enormous boxes, and a carrier at the back to receive a smaller one. When fully loaded it was almost uncontrollable, but at least, it more than halved the time that I was out on my round. If you have ever watched the television show Open All Hours and saw Granville on his shop bike then you know what I mean! 1Iremember seeing t.v. for the first time at a neighbour’s house, that of Fred and Catherine Jones. They were very kind and let my young brother and I go round to watch Children’s Hour on a black-and-white nine inch screen. You had to draw the curtains to see the picture and if the reception was poor the images on the screen would give the impression that it was snowing. Our stay was limited to the one hour except, that is, when a cricket Test Match was on. Then we were allowed to stay until ‘close of play’. I think this was mainly for Fred’s benefit as he liked his cricket and it was a good excuse to leave the television on. After a couple of years delivering groceries it became time to leave school at fifteen years of age. Full-time employment was beckoning
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