Three Dead Twins
I have previously written about several little events from my childhood which I hope have amused those people who may have read them. They were primarily concerned with my Mum a remarkable lady in her own right. However, my Mum in Law, in a very different way was a remarkable woman too. I have said previously that my Mum, bless her, was not really made from ideal Mum material but the same cannot be said for my Mum-in-Law as she was undoubtedly made from what most people would consider to be the very best Mum material. She herself came from a large family of ten children so I think it must have been in her genes whereas my Mum had been an only child.
Mum Flo as I shall henceforth call her had seventeen children including four sets of twins of which my Husband is one half of her youngest set. She had ten girls and seven boys and fourteen of them survived into adulthood although one daughter, Edna, died aged twenty-eight just after we were married.
Joan was born in 1924, followed by Edna, in 1926, followed by Edie in 1928, followed by the fourth girl, Joyce, in 1929. The girls were then followed by the first boy, Peter, born in 1930 but then in 1931 the first set of twin girls were born Constance and Susan. Tragically, Constance was taken with Whooping Cough when she was just five months old. In those days, with no immunization, Nature provided for a very high infant mortality rate and with no such thing as National Health or Family Allowance, the need to take care of their living children was paramount to Mum Flo and her Husband, Walter.
Therefore, it fell to Joan aged just seven herself to carry out the tragic and harrowing duty of wrapping Constance in a sheet and taking her dead baby sister in a pram to The Salvation Army for burial. The other twin Susan succumbed to the same awful condition two months later and once again it fell to Joan to carry out this painful duty. Then in 1932 the first set of twin boys were born, Walter and James but tragically Walter too succumbed to Whooping Cough. Obviously this was a very harrowing time for the family but Joan and her sisters together with the eldest boy, Peter, worked very hard to help their parents take care of the younger children as they came along.
The next to be born was a boy, Horace, and joy of joys, this child survived. Horace was followed by Margaret, followed by another set of boy twins, Ronald and Donald, followed by my Husband Derek and his twin sister Marion and they were born in 1938. They were followed by Sylvia in 1940 and Jennifer in 1942.
However, just before War broke out, all the older children, with the exception of Joan were evacuated from their home in Dagenham to Norfolk. Mum Flo stayed in Dagenham with the younger children as she felt they were too young to be uprooted.
Three days before War was declared Edna, Edie, Joyce, Peter, Jimmy and Ossie were evacuated to Norfolk. All the schools in Dagenham including the children’s school were issued with a number and each one had to assemble their children at Dagenham Dock where three ships were moored waiting for them. All the children from Dagenham were being evacuated to Norfolk and Suffolk. The Royal Sovereign and the Golden Eagle took most of the children to Yarmouth but The Royal Daffodil with Mum Flo’s children on board went to Lowestoft
Each child carried a gas mask and a knapsack with one change of clothing and a carrier bag with their meagre food rations. Mum Flo and her sister, Annie, stayed up most of the night before, making the knapsacks. The children arrived in Norfolk on the Thursday but if war was not declared they would be returned home on the Monday. The children were all very excited at the prospect of what looked like a jolly jaunt or adventure. They had never been to the country so it seemed like it was going to be as near to a holiday as they were ever likely to get.
On arrival at Lowestoft the children were taken to a school and assembled in the school hall. The floor of the hall was covered in straw or hay. This was where they were going to sleep; the boys upstairs and the girls downstairs. However, Mum Flo had instructed Edna that on no account were the children to be separated and that Edna must look after them at all times. The authorities were at their most officious and were adamant that the boys would have to sleep upstairs with the girls downstairs but when faced with Twelve year-old Edna’s absolute determination to carry out her mother’s instructions they finally capitulated and allowed all the children to stay together. No mean feat for such a young girl to accomplish methinks.
The next day The Salvation Army came to feed them but as the food was being dished out someone came running in shouting that War had been declared. Edna, Edie and Joyce burst into tears at the realization that this was not going to be the longed for holiday but rather an enforced separation from their younger brothers and sisters and from their beloved Mum and Dad.
Worse was to follow as the children were treated like cattle as people came in to the hall and picked which child they wanted. Obviously Mum Flo’s children were being left because most people only wanted one or at the most two children. However, Edna was picked quite early on but she steadfastly refused to go with the family if that meant separation from her brothers and sisters. As a consequence none of the children were picked. Faced with this situation there was nothing that Edna could do so Peter and Jimmy went to a farm in Thorpe Abbots. Edna and Ossie, the youngest, went to the Gamekeeper’s Lodge and Edie and Joyce went next door to a spinster who acted as housekeeper to her father so the children were, at least, all in Thorpe Abbots.
The billet that Edie and Joyce found themselves in was a very small and basic farm worker’s cottage with just one room downstairs with a fireplace complete with a cook pot. The toilet as we shall rather extravagantly call it was situated at the bottom of the garden and soon after arriving Joyce was desperate for a wee. She was unceremoniously pointed in the general direction of what served as “The Toilet” but she returned to the cottage in floods of tears. Edie, alarmed at this sudden change in Joyce’s demeanour enquired what on earth was wrong. To which Joyce, between sobs, replied that she had searched and searched but she could not find the chain.
It soon became obvious that the spinster lady could not cope with children so Edna, Edie, Joyce and Ossie together with two other lads were taken to a Manor House. There Colonel and Lady T's maid looked after them. They had one room with a very large table where all the children ate. Fortunately, all Mum Flo’s children once again slept in the same room much to Edna’s relief. They lived at The Manor House from September, 1939 until Christmas of that year.
The food at The Manor was not what they were used to as Mum Flo cared little for Jugged Hare! The girls in particular did not like it so they wrapped it up in any rag they could find and stuffed it up their knicker legs to be disposed of later when no one was looking.
Colonel T was a rather fearsome figure as he had served in India and the walls in the Great Hall were hung with Tiger heads and the like such as he had shot whilst serving with The Raj. He cared nothing for the children and had as little to do with them as possible. Lady T, however, was more kindly and she allowed the children to play in her special room in the attic which had a large rocking horse and a big trunk full of clothes from India.
One day, when the children were at school they were told they would not be going back to The Manor. They were given no warning and had no chance to collect their meagre possessions. Apparently, Colonel T had died in the night! It occurs to me if Colonel T treated Lady T with the same indifference he showed to the children then perhaps she might have considered having his head hung in the Great Hall too? Would seem fitting somehow!
While the children were in Norfolk each family had to pay money to the Council for their upkeep and Norfolk families who took children in were paid ten shillings a week for one child and seven shillings and sixpence for each child if they took in two. Mum Flo had to take the money to the Central Hall in Dagenham each Saturday.
During their stay in Norfolk another of Mum Flo’s sisters, Aunty Lil, occasionally sent sixpence for the children to spend between them and this was very enthusiastically received partly because it meant that they were not forgotten.
Once a child reached the age of fourteen it was considered by the authorities that the child was old enough to work so that when Edna reached that age, Her Father together with his Brother –in –Law, as he had a car, came to collect Edna and at the same time they took Peter home as he was very unhappy. The journey took six hours as the weather was very bad. Edie remembers standing up at the main road watching them drive away and wishing that they could all go home too. It was in February, 1940 that Edna returned home to Dagenham. From then on it was Edie who got into scraps in order to protect Jimmy.
Edie’s recollections of her time in the five different homes she had in Norfolk were, unfortunately, not all happy. One home in particular stands out in Edie’s memory as being worse than the others. This was when she lived with a lady who at best treated her coldly but at worst her treatment verged on cruelty. Edie remembers spending one Christmas wandering the countryside alone because the lady in question did not want her in the house interfering with her family’s Christmas festivities. The woman had a daughter, Joyce, and she too treated Edie badly. Years later, Edie met the daughter at a wedding and Edie reminded her of who she was. Then there was a son and the woman sent Edie to help his wife when she had her first baby so Edie had her uses.
When it was eventually Edie’s time to return home Joan came by coach to pick her and seven year old Ossie up as the lady who had taken him had by this time got six children herself and so had no room for Ossie. Joyce, meanwhile was living happily with another lady in the village.
TO BE CONTINUED