MUM'S ARMY

What of the women who stayed at home and 'kept the home fires burning'? Although not subject to the dangers their menfolk might suffer, nor the dangers faced by many ordinary civilians in the great cities which suffered heavy bombing, nevertheless in their way, they all did their bit.

The first problem they had to contend with was blacking their own windows so that not a chink of light would show at night. Heaven help the woman who was careless, for the ARP Warden would soon be knocking at her door shouting, 'put the light out, don't you know there's a war on'.

The second and perhaps the most worrying problem was rationing. Ration books had to be collected from food centres and then she had to register with a particular grocer or butcher. Shop shelves soon became empty. If you saw a tin or a carton, you could be sure it was a dummy. Any luxury items, such as tins of fruit or Spam were strictly under the counter for favoured customers.

The Ministry of Food issued leaflets showing housewives the best way to cook meals and how best to use their meagre rations. Queues were inevitable and became such a way of life that people would join a queue without even knowing what they were queuing for. We may laugh at the antics of Corporal Jones in 'Dad's Army' doling out one or two sausages to his pet customers, but this was how it was.

Of course rations were supplemented by vegetables for nearly everyone followed the advice 'Dig for Victory', or kept chickens or pigs, so the humble potato still remained the most popular item of food. Food was very scarce and precious, and waste was a criminal offence. Early in the war in 1940, the Echo recounts two Cheltenham housewives who had wasted food. After all, men like Mr. Hazell were risking their lives to bring food and war supplies to the country.

Gas masks were issued to everyone at the beginning of the war and had to be carried everywhere, but fortunately were not needed. As more and more goods disappeared from the shops, people were forced to make do and mend. Clothes rationing was imposed and people began to barter, not only clothing coupons but also food coupons. If someone did not take sugar, they swapped their sugar ration for say tea or butter. In the autumn extra sugar was issued for bottled fruit or to make preserves. When she wasn't queuing, digging for victory, making preserves or writing to loved ones in the forces, the housewife would be knitting comforts for the troops and making over old clothes. At the same time there was the ever-present danger of air raids.

Cheltenham received its share of air raids early in the war when German bombs rained down killing several people and causing much damage. The nearest they came to causing damage in Arle and Hesters Way was at the railway near Arle Road bridge, Rowanfield and Kipling Road. A bomb is believed to have dropped in the garden at Box Cottage but fortunately the Webbs were not hurt. It was a time of deprivation and adjustment but the British women no less than their menfolk did what they could for the War Effort.

Mrs. Hulbert recalls Wartime Arle

Mrs Hulbert recalls that the fire watchers (ARP) used to meet at The Poplars. There were about a dozen of them and Mrs. Morris let them have a room where they could sleep at night. Two were on duty each night.

Uncle Fred Kearsey was in the Local Defence Volunteers (LDVs), Mrs. Hulbert recalls. She remembers Mr. Raechel of Bank Cottages who used to go out when the air-warning signal went, shouting 'sirens be gone, sirens be gone'. The sirens were a sound one never forgets.

The Ack-Ack (light anti-aircraft guns) were situated on The Brow manned by the regular army, men who used to camp in Nissan huts there and go to Hope Farm for water. However when the Americans took over they had piped water installed. She also remembers an ack-ack gun out at Hayden.

The LDV used to go into Cheltenham once a week to the Drill Hall to learn to drill and to use guns. They used to practice in the fruit orchards on Sunday with their faces blacked.

More memories of Mrs. Roberts [now Mrs. Brewster]

In wartime Arle, Mr. Roberts was an ARP Warden as was Mr. Raechel and Mr. Peart. At that time Mrs. Roberts and her family lived at No. 6 Arle Cottages and she remembers the bombs falling. She had just come back from town with her daughter, aged five, and saw the plane's bomb door open and the bombs drop. They landed on the railway in Arle Road.

Her first husband, Charles, worked for 'Arle Farm' for 28 years and his father and grandfather also worked there. Their son went to Elmfield School and, there being no shops in Arle, she had to go to town for her rations.

Mr. Bromage, who was a neighbour, was in a reserved occupation. The farm like so many others was concentrating on pig breeding during the war, and Charlie used to go to the American Camp to get scraps for pig feed. The Americans lived much more luxuriously than the British soldiers or the ordinary people, and what Charlie brought back did not always end up in the pig swill. Even the hogs though lived 'high off the hog'.

About this time 30 people (she believes evacuees) lived in Arle Farm House, Mr. Wood having moved to the Moat House at Uckington. A couple with a baby lived in the farmhouse and Mrs. Roberts often chatted with them. Some of the people worked at Brockworth.

Arle Farm Cottages did not have electricity at the time so they had to rely on oil lamps and candles. Prisoners of war worked on the farm and also at Hope Farm and in Swindon Village, as well as Land Army girls.

But, as Mrs. Roberts says, though they had a hard life and few luxuries, one could feel safe in their little homes, leave doors unlocked and leave bicycles standing about. Sadly this is not the case these days, so along with Old Arle, we seem to have lost the spirit of caring for each other and respect for other peoples' property

Mrs. Hyett

When the war began she was a 16 year old girl, when it ended she was married with a child and living in Arle. She recalls that her father, like so many men took on an allotment to grow vegetables to supplement the meagre rations.

One brother had been called up in the first batch of conscripts before the war started, another was in a reserved occupation and the third was too young, but he tried to do his bit by keeping chickens. All food scraps were saved, mixed with mash to tempt these creatures to lay. What excitement when they heard the first jubilant cackle! Alas the result was an egg no bigger than a pigeon's, but they improved with time. When the chickens became broody, they were destined for the pot. Regrettably her brother's one and only attempt at dispatching the creatures was so traumatic, he was violently sick. The rest of the hens were allowed to die of old age.

When she came to Cheltenham with her daughter in early 1945 to live with her sister-in-law, she had first to register with the grocer, the butcher and the doctor. Food was still very scarce and one day when she opened her bacon ration and found it was crawling with maggots, she took it back to the shop and was told that she shouldn't be so fussy - maggots were nutritious. She was given some other bacon, but wonders who got her maggoty share.

However, the end was in sight and when a friend offered to baby-sit so the two Mrs. Hyetts could go to the Odeon to a matinee, they were glad of a break. The film was Woodrow Wilson with Alexander Knox playing the lead. He was just into an impassioned speech asking for a League of Nations to end all wars, when the screen went blank. A hush fell on the audience and when the manager came on stage to announce that at last the war in Europe was over, the audience went wild. Tears, hugs, kisses, and cheers. The National Anthem was struck up and this time there was no rush for the exit as there usually was. Everyone stood proudly to attention with tears on their faces. The manager then said the film would continue for those who wished to stay. Few did for we all wanted to get home to our families and celebrate.

In the days that followed, larders were raided, precious items were produced and street parties were held all over town. Mrs. Hyett's party was set up on the path in Brooklyn Road and it was lovely to see the children's faces light up at seeing more food than they'd seen for a long time (still no bananas though). A street party was held also in Village Road - has anyone got a photograph? However, the war in the Far East still continued and looked set to do so - until we heard of the new bomb. A second bomb followed the first and Japan sued for peace. Mrs. Hyett's husband, Donald, got a short leave and her sister-in-law suggested they took a short break in London, now that it was safe there. She would look after her daughter. They took advantage of this kind offer and their second day in London was announced as VJ Day. Finally the war was over and London was en fete.

Thousands of people of all ages and nationalities gathered, hugging and kissing and cheering and celebrating, but many of them made their way to the palace. Mrs. Hyett and her husband stood, surrounded by thousands of happy people, calling for the Royal family, who eventually came out on to the balcony. It was a once in a lifetime experience and people would have stayed all night. Mrs. Hyett though was six weeks pregnant and her husband eventually persuaded her to leave, but this was one occasion she has never forgotten. Now they could look to the future.

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