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The War Years (1939-1945)

When war broke out, Ben joined the RAF and drove a ‘Queen Mary’, a big vehicle which was for carrying aircraft and which could sometimes be seen parked outside the school.

Anne describes the free time she had with affection:

"Our days off school were happy ones and sometimes my Auntie Audrey[1] would spend quite a bit of time with us. When her father was hay making, we would take his tea to him in a basket with sandwiches and cake and a bottle of cold tea. My Nan would put enough in for us too. We used to love this. After tea, we would help the men load the hay cart and afterwards we would stroke the horse before riding on the cart home."

She and Audrey also liked to play in Woodeaton Wood, which was the nearest woodland to her grandparents’ house.

"It had a cart track through the middle like a cross road. In the summer it was grown over with a carpet of lush green grass. You could not see the other end so we would skip singing “The wonderful wizard of Oz”. This was a special place as there are lots of wild flowers in there – orchids, primroses, dog roses, bluebells , violets and many trees with honeysuckle growing up the trunks. One day we were walking back up the field when I saw a piece of rope or so I thought but it was a snake. My Auntie shouted just in time as I was just about to pick it up. I was so scared!"
Audrey Phipps
Audrey Phipps as an adult

The war did impinge on one occasion when Anne was returning from the farm with a jug of milk. She had reached the church when she heard a rumbling noise. She jumped up on the bank as a convoy of tanks went past on their way to the Otmoor bombing range. "I could hardly breathe as I thought the Germans had arrived and I ran home screaming to my mother," said Anne.

Anne was only seven when that happened but later, when the war was over and normal life was beginning to be resumed she joined the G.F.S – the Girls’ Friendly Society. They met at the Vicarage and were taught to crochet and embroider and said prayers and sang. It was a quiet and peaceful way of life. "We would all go to Sunday school and Church. Sunday evenings we would get together with another family, the Maltbys, and go for walks through the fields with our dogs and catch up on the gossip".

According to Anne’s account of her life in Elsfield, the major event of the year was Christmas. It demonstrates how the difficulties of life in wartime and the lack of money, though it must have been a cause of concern for the adults, did not diminish the pleasure the children experienced.

"There was no money to spare so when my Dad finished work he would come home at dinner time on Christmas Eve, then my mother would go shopping. It was a long job and I will never know how she carried it all on her bike. As it grew dark we would make tea and wait till mum came home. Everyone was so excited. It was only then did the cake get iced and presents wrapped up when the little ones were in bed. We always had a real tree. My Dad saw to this and then he would dress it with real candles and cotton wool and barley sugar sticks and little odds and ends. It was so pretty. All the decorations were made by hand, we made our paper chains from pretty paper or sometimes plain white paper until we could afford to buy some real ones. Our house smelled so good with all the cooking preparation. My Nans would have saved a pudding from the year before and it was given as a present or some tinned fruit, which was hard to get. Anyway, Christmas Day was great being a big family. My Dad was good at making wooden toys for us so we were lucky."

The customs from earlier in the century were still carried on. On Christmas Eve all the boys and girls in the village would gather by the school and start carol singing. The most important call was at the Manor House, where Lady Tweedsmuir had gathered all her family. The group of children would go in and sing to them all. The carol singers were given food and a warm drink to take them on their way and when they reached the end of the village it was late so they would walk back just in time for bed.


[1] Audrey Phipps, who married George Hambidge.
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