Home Front

St IvesMe dad?  Well he wasn’t one of the lucky ones got off from Dunkirk, was he?  After that mum took a job on the line at the Vickers plant workin’ nights.  After dad was killed I never seen her smile ever again.  Alls she did was work and drink.  She’d come home of a mornin’ then start hittin’ the gin which she traded all our meat and sugar coupons for.

Sometimes she’d bring home a gentleman friend which would bring us sweets, but generally me and Lolly was always hungry.  And when she got a full load on, better watch out, cause she’s got a wicked temper, she does, and don’t displease ‘er none ‘cause she’ll just as soon take a strap to your bum as pick ‘er nose.

Times she was at work me and Lolly was cared for by Mrs. Jenner, a sweet old lady lived in the next flat which was real good times.  Real hard of hearin’ she was.  We was all cozy there that night, Mrs. Jenner knittin’ something, and me and Lolly sittin’ on the floor cuttin’ out pictures from a magazine when Jerry’s bomb hit.  Why we wasn’t down in the shelter I dunno.  Maybe the old dear couldn’t hear the sirens.  Maybe there wasn’t a warning .  Sometimes there wasn’t — I don’t remember.  The blast roared through window and blackout curtains.  It throwed the three of us against the far wall like we was little stuffed bears.  The scissors I had been holding, was throwed deep through my leg stickin’ right to the bone just above me knee.  Lolly’s little head was hangin’ down her back unnatural like, her neck snapped like a pencil.  Her and old Mrs. Jenner was goners.  My ear drums was burst, my left eye still had little pieces of glass, and me bum and the backsides of me legs was shredded up by the window glass.

The air wardens carried me out, and I was in hospital near a week.  Soon as I was patched up well enough to walk, Mum put me on one of the children’s evacuee busses of which they was many lined up at Charring Cross Station.  I remember her tryin’ to tell me something but not bein’ able to hear nuthin cause I was still stone deaf.  Her breath it smelled of gin and she’d put on ‘er lipstick crooked.  All the other mothers was soakin’ up their hankies with tears, but not mum.  She was waggin’ her finger at me and shakin’ her head like I done something wrong.  That’s the last time I seen my mum.

We was hunnerds of us, children bein’ displaced to the countryside away from Jerry’s target zones.  We, all of us, had us our little kit bags and gas masks and information tags, some on strings around our necks some pinned to our coats.  What a horrible sad sight it was too.  Hunnerds of bawlin’ children and mums and dads cryin’ their eyes out while the Wrens in uniforms went about passin’ out biscuits and kind words, helpin’ the littlest ones up on the coaches and sortin’ out the rest of us proper like.  I remember it was cold and mum had put me in both my sweaters and coat.  She’d even put a Cadbury chocolate bar in my kit bag.  One of the Wren ladies dried up me tears with her own hanky then give me two biscuits and a hug, sayin’ somethin’ but I couldn’t hear nary a word.  She carried me up on the bus and put me in a window seat.

The bus trip was ever so long.  After all the weeping and sobbing back at Charring Cross – most the children settled out and slept save one girl who gived in to occasional fits of bawlin’ and screamin’.  I still had stitches in my bum and on the bad leg and plasters too on the back of me legs so I had to sleep layin’ on me side.  The children’s busses that day left Charing Cross Station in London for Bristol where everyone got off and was put up in a school where they give us tea and then blankets to sleep on the floor.  When the lights was put out I ate half my Cadbury bar then lay down on me side to fall fast asleep.  Come mornin’ when I woke my coat and kit bag was gone.  Took in the night by a thief.  And me tag, pinned to me coat, it was gone too.  I felt so low and the only thing what kept me from cryin’ was bein’ angry over losing the other half of me chocolate bar.  Well they give us a nice breakfast of Marmite sandwiches and tea and lined us up to use the loos before we got back on the busses.  I tried to explain to one of the wardens that me coat was pinched in the night I couldn’t reckon if he unnerstood me or not, cause I couldn’t hear nothin’.  He was an old man and kept shakin’ ‘is head and makin’ signs to me wantin’ to know where was me name tag.  He must knowed I was cold though ‘cause he let me keep my blanket.

Most of the busses took their children to towns in Wales, but two busses scattered the rest of us around Cornwall.  It was raining when we queued up to get on the bus, and as we did a warden pinned a tag on each of us indicating where we was to be put off the bus.  I remember the rain hitting the ink and washing away the first word.  My tag must have said Saint Ives, but the rain washed off the word Saint. I reckon this was providential.  Well, I didn’t grow up no saint but that is how I come by my name. Ives.

That bus stopped at every town and village on the road.  A bobby there was ridin’ the bus, and he’d direct the driver to one place or another where he give a little talk then we was lined up whiles various couples picked over us like we as turnips or cabbages in a bin.  The first to get picked was your boys big enough to muck out stalls or work in fields also pretty girls dressed fine – they was easy picks.  Each village was required to take a certain number of evacuees; it was the law.  In some places the people was kind and you could tell they was up for helpin’ out and doin’ their bit; but there was just as many tried to shun their duty, so to speak, and that bobby had to talk stern to them town constables and councilmen.  Nobody wanted us damaged ones or the raggedy ones.  At the end of the day we was pared down to the last half dozen or so: a little girl with big thick spectacles who kept scratchin’ at her head lice, a skinny boy with a funny shoe musta been built up 4 or 5 inches, ‘nuther red faced girl who couldn’t stop bawlin’ and screamin’, a boy named Roger was completely bald headed, had a purple birthmark coverin’ half his face and an arm in a cast, then me with me eye patch like some bloody pirate, plasters all over me legs, and deaf as a brick.  I am sorry to say it come down to that poor bobby knockin on doors and tellin’ whoever lived there – ‘Here, this here’s your evacuee, have a good day.’  That’s how I come to live in Lower Dendeen with Mr. and Mrs. Creech – dumped on the doorstep like a sack of coal.

Me and the bald boy named Roger was the last of the lot and it was well past dark.  The bobby tried hard to convince the Creeches to take us both but Mr. Creech must have said no enough times that bobby took Roger away to knock on other doors so I was thankful I wasn’t the very last one picked.  I was so tired and hungry too; alls I wanted was me tea and a place to sleep.

Oh they was big ‘uns ,they was, the two of ‘em fat with big round shiny faces When the bobby left, Mr. Creech he tugs on my ear real hard like and sits me down at the little table in the kitchen whiles Mrs. Creech put the kettle on.  I was much afraid.  But Mrs. Creech give me a big wide smile and come over and patted me shoulder.  She picked up the big loaf of brown bread was on the table, held it to her breast, and with the big knife that stayed by the loaf she cut two thick slices which she slathered with butter and then slices of boiled tongue.  This was a most delicious thing.  Then she poured tea for Mr. Creech and me.  After my tea she poured the kettle into a wash tub whereupon she undressed me.  When she saw the stitches on me backside and leg she had Mr. Creech come over holdin’ tiny pincers in his fat fingers and he pulled them stitches out and removed the plasters from my legs.  Then she scrubbed me from head to toe with a bar of brown country soap taking great care with my legs.  Finally she wrapped me in the wool blanket I’d been given in Bristol and trundled me off to a loveseat by the hearth where I fell into a deep, deep sleep.

The next morning after breakfast Mrs. Creech she takes me measures with a tape then sends me off with the Mister.  He had a wagon loaded with some bales of hay pulled by a brown mare called Missus Nelson.  We goes off down this long country lane to wheres there’s this here barn.  He makes signs for me to stay up there in the wagon and he goes into the barn.  Whiles I’m sittin’ there I get the strangest sensation, kind of a tickle in me ear and come to realize that I’m hearin’ something.  They was killin’ pigs in that barn, they was, and I could hear them very high squeals – that’s all I could hear, but sure enough these here ears was workin’ again if only for them poor pigs.  This made me ever so happy and give me hope that things was to get better.  Later Mr. Creech and another man in a bloody apron loaded two scalded pigs into the wagon, covered ‘em up with a canvas tarp and then bales of hay and off we goes.  He give me a wetted burlap sack to stow under the wagon’s seat.

It was them pigs trotters which we was to carry home for Mr. Creech.  We was to eat on them boiled trotters for a week, and wasn’t they a treat with cabbage?  The rest of this cargo we delivered to the back door of the public house which was The Cocked Hat.  The publican come out and he brung old Mr. Creech a pint and sandwiches and short beer for me and him to enjoy.  My hearin’ clicked in an’ I heard plain as day, Mr. Creech tells him, ‘This here’s Ives come from London to stay awhile.’  Then it was afternoon and the old man pulls the wagon under a chestnut tree and stretches out in the back for a nap on top of them hay bales.  There was a field of oats of which I pulled some for Missus Nelson then lay across the wagon’s seat for me own nap.  When I woke up I decided I liked that name Ives an’ I reckon that’s where I was re born, so to speak.  But my hearing was to come and go for a long while.

Later in the afternoon we delivered two slaughtered lambs to The Cocked Hat.  We was give the lamb’s kidneys and liver which Mrs. Creech would put into a most delicious pie.  Mister Cornthwaite, the publican, once again set up a pint for Mr. Creech and a short beer for me and then we was on our way home, day’s work done.  The beer and the afternoon sun in our faces put us jolly and Mr. Creech commenced whistlin’ a tune.  Again, me ears tingled a little bit and I could just barely hear his very high notes.  Once home and after he’d unhitched her, he showed me how to rub down Missus Nelson and fetch her oat bag.  He musn’t have been too disappointed cause he patted me shoulders gentle like just like he did to Missus Nelson and was grinnin’ large as we stepped into the cottage with that big bag of trotters.

The kitchen smelled of baked bread and Mrs. Creech sat pumpin’ the treadles of her sewing machine finishin’ my first pair of long pants, God bless her.  That good woman was a wonder on that machine which would sew all my clothes.  She even took the blanket give to me in Bristol and fashioned a nice lined coat which I wore til I growed too big.  The cottage was none too big, but Mrs. Creech had made a cozy little niche for me in the corner by the hearth with a pillow and roll of stuffed ticking with a cot that folded up during the day.  We had us a fine dinner then him and the missus sat by the fire whiles I drifted off to sleep feeling better than I could ever remember.  To be sure I carried plenty of sorrow in my chest for me dad, poor little Lolly and old Mrs. Jenner.  But as for me mum, it was more like a mix of pity and anger.  A belly full of the best food I ever ate, the warm fire, and them two sweet old fat folk was more than enough comfort.  I wanted never to return to me mum or London.

The next day we visited three more farms for dozens of eggs and chickens.  Mr. Creech put me to work plucking them stinkin’ scalded birds which I learnt quick enough even if I do say so myself.  Same as the pigs and the lambs — the birds and eggs was delivered to Mr. Cornthwaite, the publican.  Mind you, we kept the giblets and a few eggs back for Mrs. Creech.  And oh didn’t she cook the most tasty giblets and gravy ever got poured over toast.

And that’s what we did for the rest of the war years, Mr. Creech and me.  We drove the food route generally three days a week depending on the weather and what was available which he learnt always from Mr. Cornthwaite.  There was always care to be taken to avoid the Home Guard check points which they was always lookin’ for countraband to be sure.  There was also secret investigators from the Food Ministry nosin’ about the whole country, but Dendeen was so tiny any stranger’s presence put everything on hold.  Between the constable and the publican just about everything LVD planned was knowed ahead of time.  On certain days we got up long before daylight to make the two mile trip to the docks where we’d load cod and haddock from a fishing boat cause the cool of the morning would keep the fish fresh and the Home Guard generally wasn’t about early in the morning.  Missus Nelson pulled tons and tons of beef, pork, mutton, poultry, fish, butter and cheeses, tons and tons to be sure.  We never got stopped or inspected, not once.  The same bales of hay and canvas tarp lasted the whole war.  Sure the people of Dendeen ate comfortable, but most of what we hauled to the back door of The Cocked Hat went by lorry to London.

In addition to bein’ the blackmarket’s drayman, Mr. Creech was Dendeen’s Justice of the Peace.  His older brother Robert Creech was the village constable.  When Robert was in his 50’s, he’d fathered a boy, Peter Creech, two years older than me.  Sometimes the constable had to spend the night in Plymouth then Peter would stay with us.  Like the other Creeches Peter was fat but unlike them he had a sour nature.  The first night he stayed the night he shoved me down and claimed the cot for his own.  As I was pickin’myself up he landed a kick to me leg right where the stitches had been, opening up the scissors wound.  I saw red, I did, and charged him with a vengeance, knocking him to the floor and pummelling his fat face.  He set up a clatter and run to his Aunt bawlin’ and tellin’ ‘er God knows what.  She run to the barn and come back with old Mr. Creech.  He sat Peter at the table getting’ his story while Mrs. Creech cleaned me leg then sewed me up again with black thread and salve.

I don’t know if it were punishment or just to keep us lads apart but I had to sleep that night in the barn with Missus Nelson.  I worried my way through that night, I did. I prayed to God to not let me lose my situation.  The Creeches was the nicest people I ever knowed, but with Peter’s dad the constable, I reckoned he might come lookin’ to lock me up.  Next mornin’ Peter come to the table with both eyes all purple and blue swollen near shut which served him right.  Makin’ sure no one was lookin’ I made signs to him that he was a cry baby and shook a fist in his face.  That night with Peter gone I was back in my own little corner again but when I unfolded the cot I seen right away that it had been peed upon.  When Mr. Creech seen that he put two and two together and made signs for me not to worry.

Mrs. Creech kept a garden behind the barn and on days when Mr. Creech and me wasn’t out on the food run I was put to work pullin’ beans, weeding, diggin’ rocks, and such.  It was clear she enjoyed my bein’ around and she set about teachin’ me all manner of things about the garden and the kitchen.  When we baked it was me who kneaded and scubbed pans.  Whatever we was bakin’, was it buns, or bread, or meat pies – Mrs. Creech always throwed in some little treat for me, somethin’ with sugar and cinnamon.  A marvelous woman and good teacher she was and them skills she taught would come to serve me well.

Gradually me hearing improved enough I could understand speech by the end of the war, but my leg wound has left me with a limp – and when old age began creepin’ up, I found myself usin’ the cane ‘specially on them rainy days.  The war years is fifty-some years past now but them days remains clear to me.  The Creeches, God rest their souls, called me Ives from day one and so did everyone else and that’s who I am, Ives, on accounta some raindrops washin’ away some ink one day in Bristol.  See, there was nothin’ for me to go back to in London and didn’t I love the Creeches as much as any lad could love his own mum and dad?  Sure, they felt the same.  Later I found out my mum was killed in the big fire at the docks just two weeks after I left London.  As Justice of the Peace Mr. Creech had no problem gettin’ me registered on the books.  “William Gary Ives, born Lower Dendeen, 1 September 1931.”  Later I was formally adopted by the Creeches but kept my Ives name.

Mr. Creech’s brother Robert, the constable, dropped down like a stone in front of The Cocked Hat one day, dead of a heart attack.  His boy Peter then was shipped off to his mum in Canada.  Although we got off to a bad start we later became chums and I was sorry to see him leave. Mr. Creech and Mr. Cornthwaite and several others, who I will not name, grew quite prosperous in the war.  Their network of farms and fishing boats put tons and tons of rationed food into the bellies of people from Cornwall to London.  Oh sure there’s them what raised such a stink about black marketeers as traitors – but thems the same as was so quick to drop a few quid for a nice cured ham or some butter and cheese.  Just about ever’one who could was skippin’ coupons – us in Dendeen was just luckier than most.  And who ever believed the toffs and gentry was gettin’ through the week on l/4 lb. of butter and Spam?  It aint like we was sendin’ the food off the bloody Jerrys.

After the war Mr. Cornthwaite attached a small Inn to The Cocked Hat which I later managed for 20 years and also served as Dendeen’s Justice of the Peace, like old Mr. Creech until I retired 10 years ago.  Then I turned my place, which the Creeches had left to me, into ‘Creech Cottage’, A Bed and Breakfast it is now.  My daughter Anne runs it and quite well I might add, as business is been ever so sweet these past years.

© Gary Ives 2012

First Published August 3, 2012 Bonzer with Bonzer Plus”

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