I have no doubt that my mother and grandmother assumed from the outset that the cottage was a temporary home, one they would occupy only for the duration of the war. I can imagine there were occasions when the war seemed to be dragging on and they wondered when they would be able to return to something more akin to what they had been used. Receiving the telegram that announced that my father was missing in action would have been such an occasion. Life rarely works out the way we expect, especially when external events such as a war interfere with its anticipated course. It would be over 14 years before my mother was able to leave the cottage and then only thanks to a kind and gentle, hard working man.
None of the features of civilisation absent from the cottage was remedied during those years. When we left there was still no electricity and water was still carried in buckets from the semi-submerged concrete tank.
The man who rescued my mother in the mid-1950s was not the first with which she had a relationship during those years. One of my earliest memories is of a morning late in March 1946. I was 4 years and 4 1/2 months old and it seems odd to me now that I clearly recollect being on my knees laying a fire in the grate of the small living room. Screws of newspaper followed by slender sticks of wood topped off with small pieces of coal. I heard a sound which I at first supposed was the cry of a lamb. Then the groaning of the hinges in the door at the bottom of the stairs and my grandmother was there.
“Can you hear that baby up there?” she said. “That’s your baby sister.”
I had a vague recollection of my mother leaving the double bed she shared with me at some time during the night. She had, it seemed, gone to her mother’s room when she experienced the first labour pains. I have no idea who my sister’s father was. I like to think she was the result of some over enthusiastic victory celebration that got out of hand the previous June. So far as I was concerned she became my constant companion for the next six and a half years, until I was sent to boarding school.
We invented our own games, taking it in turn to be master/mistress of our “games school”. We created our own radio programmes with interviews and plays we ad-libbed. On holiday in South Wales we produced plays we presented in the front room of Aunty Win and Uncle George’s home. [I’ve written elsewhere about Uncle George, the father of a member of the same bomber crew as my father]
Of course we fell out over the choice of games to be played but it taught us both the importance of give and take in a relationship and the need, sometimes, to relinquish some measure of control over the other.
My mother read to us from the classics and from contemporary novels borrowed from the mobile library which visited every six weeks. She taught us our alphabet and how to translate symbols into sounds so that each of us in turn was already able to read by the time we started school.
I should have begun attending the village school after the Christmas holidays, in January 1947. But the weather that winter made it impossible. My recollection is that snow arrived on the day after Christmas. The met office says it began on Jan 23rd. There is no contesting the fact that it continued, on and off, for many days until the way out of the cottage was blocked by a mountainous drift of the stuff. Temperatures remained below freezing for several weeks.
Deliveries of bread, meat and milk ceased. A farmer neighbour brought some supplies on horseback. Nowadays such conditions would be relieved by air drops from helicopters. A small number of such aircraft had been used in search and rescue during the war but their availability for civilian use was still some way off. Eventually the snow melted and I was able to attend school following the Easter holidays.