|Bulb fields in The Fens. Watercolour by J Grinsell 2002|
In country areas land was reasonably cheap and many private houses had large gardens. Ours was no exception, with a long drive down the side of the house leading to a rear garden, at least half of which was taken up with fruit trees and a vegetable plot.
Every year the fruit (mostly plums and pears) was picked and stored in the dark air-raid shelter. When war was announced in 1939, the construction of Anderson shelters was deemed a necessity. I have no idea who helped us to build ours but it was constructed of corrugated iron and covered with soil. They were damp and cold and I remember being hauled out in the middle of the night to run to the bottom of the garden and bed down in the shelter. Later on we were issued with a Morrison shelter for inside the house; it was basically a steel box with wire mesh side panels.
Father complained that most of the fruit we harvested seemed to be given to other branches of the family. In fact Mother bottled a lot of the fruit for home cooking throughout the year, anything to add to the basic food ingredients which were available on ration. Father's interest was in growing tomatoes so he spent much of his time in the greenhouse.
Mother's fruit-bottling would also have come in useful in her role as a member of the Women's Voluntary Service (WVS). She spent some of her time helping out at the local RAF hospital. For those who were able, it became a regular practice for young airmen to come home to tea. I remember wounded servicemen had to wear blue suits with red ties and white shirts so they were immediately recognisable but still subject to military discipline when not on active service.
Childhood friendships in Ely included two boys who lived within cycling distance of home. One was called Christopher Hipwell and lived at the bottom of Cambridge Road. The other was John Stevens whose father had a farm about a mile up the road. I spent many days playing in the garden or on the farm. At an early age I learned to make 'stooks' from harvested wheat.
Other memories of family life in those early years centred around my father and his job with the British Sugar Corporation. The factory turned sugar beet into unrefined sugar but when it shut at weekends I would sometimes go to the factory with my father on Saturday afternoons if he had paperwork to catch up on. I was fascinated with his office and always came away with pencils, rubbers and paper from his desk. The factory had been a target for German bombers and all windows were covered with brown sticky tape to reduce the effects of shattering glass.
The busy times for the factory were during the sugar beet harvest, called 'campaigns'. The British Sugar Corporation became the centre of social activity for the family; sports such as tennis and bowls plus dances and children's parties. This played a huge part in my parents' social life throughout the whole of Father's working life.
Apart from occasional visits to the cinema (the 'pictures' in our day) when British Movietone News was a regular feature, the only information sources were the radio and newspapers. As a youngster I was interested in comics and radio programmes like ITMA, Monday Night at Eight and Dick Barton-Special Agent.