“One of my first vivid memories was Dad opening the door and seeing this flaming thing flying through the sky.”
Bombs falling and flashing lights.
Pat was born in 1935 and lived a peaceful life with her mother and father in a little village called Frodsham. However, when the war began, life began to change. Pat’s first vivid memories as a child was being woken by her mother and father, put in her little siren suit, and being taken out to the shelter.
“I can remember very well dad opening the door and seeing this flaming thing flying through the sky, and I think it was a plane actually on fire, and the noise and bangs and things. So, that’s one of my first vivid memories.”
Planes flying back from Liverpool would often fly over Frodsham dropping leftover bombs on the way to get rid of them. Before long, her family moved from Frodsham to Newton-le-Willows. There weren’t any factories in Newton-le-Willows, so her family felt safe from the bombings.
“I was happy; we had a nice house, and I made little friends, and I can remember being with other children and going to little parties. Everything was rationed, so of course, we couldn’t have big birthday cakes or anything, but I do remember that being a happy time.”
As a result of the rationing, Pat recalls how all aspects of life had to be thought out first.
“There wasn’t much that happened that hadn’t been planned, because it was too dangerous to do something without knowing what time they would be home or when the bombs would have started or if they would have food or if they had time to exchange their coupons at the corner shop.”
“I suppose in a way, a little bit of a disturbed childhood would be all I could say, I think. And I wasn’t unhappy, I don’t think, at all. I had lots of little friends, and I had a tricycle which was my treasured possession.”
Pat was always moving as a child. When she was eight years old, she was evacuated to a boarding school in the Lake District. The boarding school was in a large house decorated with little stained glass windows.
Her room had a large window overlooking the grounds. Inside the wood panelled dormitory were six little beds, each with their own jug, washbasin, and small stand. Every morning a maid brought round a metal tin jug filled with hot water for the children to get washed. The dorms had no heating. When the winter came everything so cold, and the hot water froze almost immediately when it was poured into the washbowl.
“I made friends with a lady who I’m still friends with, and I still write to and talk to on the phone today. And it was her first day as well, so we palled up and we stayed friends.”
In the summer, Pat would go swimming in Lake Windermere, play hide-and-seek and climb the trees. When the winter came, they made a rink on the water and skated outside.
“I was an only child; I didn’t have brothers and sisters. A lot of my life I have had to work out on my own by myself.”
Fortunately, the school didn’t have to ration. There was lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and cooked meals. Sometimes the children would be sent sweets, which the Matron would take and put in a cupboard. On the weekend, she would dish them out and let the children have one or two.
“None of us had a normal family life with the war and then being in a boarding school. I still don’t think it was normal family life. I wouldn’t want to send a child of mine to boarding school.”
In her mid-teens, Pat stopped playing sports and games. Her knee kept dislocating and started to cause her pain. She often had to see a physiotherapist, and it was these visits that gave her the idea to study it herself.
She took her O-Levels and looked to get into a college. Pat got an interview at the London Hospital, but the interviewer was worried about her ability to qualify, “We would take you, happily, but your knee is unreliable.”
Pat moved down to London to live in Essex. She applied to the county council in search of work. Pat spent a year in a kindergarten as a student teacher in a place called Harold Wood, near Romford. It was at this point in her life she then discovered speech and language therapy.
“That to me sounded to combine the two things I loved; one was acting, and meanwhile I’ve always done singing and belonged to local choral societies and local things like that, and local drama groups, and I thought, “Well, that’s good, because I like acting, but it will be a job that I think I can do.”
Due to the war, a lot of children developed or had speech problems as a result of their experiences. She began training in London and started doing sessions in the clinics as well as a few days at the local hospital. Pat saw lots of different patients: people who stammered, or who’d had their voice-box removed, had laryngectomies, or those who’d had strokes or been in a car accident.
It was through the hospital that Pat fell in love with sailing. Doctors would often head up to sail at Burnham-on-Sea. One day they invited Pat to go sail with them.
“You just need to really pay attention and concentrate, and move fairly quickly around in the boat, which was one of the things I found quite difficult.”
Pat went on to own a little boat of her own and went on to sail with lots of friends.
“It was quite small. It was just like a big rowing boat, really, with a mast and a sail, two sails.”
Her ventures took her was back and forth across to the Channel Islands and Brittany. Her biggest sail took her across the North Sea to Denmark, and through the Kiel Canal.
I asked Pat if it was her perhaps her time at Lake Windermere that gave her a love of the water.
“I think I got used to being near water and loved it. And it was a chance to be out on the water, and the boat was something that you could manipulate yourself; it didn’t have an engine or anything, you had to learn how to put the wind in the sail and make it go.”
In the First World War, Pat’s father was in the Navy. Although he didn’t talk to her about his time in Scotland until his eighties or nineties, he would later recall the submarines he worked on fired by hot coal. One day, Pat asked her mother, “Well, where are his medals? Where are dad’s medals?”. “Oh,” she said, “he wouldn’t have anything to do with them because so many of his friends were killed.”” Her mother later told her that an enemy submarine had crept in and blown up her father’s vessel.
“Funny, isn’t it, life? I would have loved to have known much more about it, but as he never offered me that chance, I didn’t take it.”
Despite her childhood being disturbed by the war, Pat’s memories of growing up are overwhelmingly happy ones. When asked if she had the chance to look back at her life, what would she pass on to others, Pat’s response truly reflects her resilient nature and passion for life.
“I think the most important thing in life is to believe in yourself and to realise that we can do the most amazing things if we only believe in ourselves and encourage ourselves to keep going. Things will change and move on.”
This is the first of many Extraordinary Stories to come. Guild Living is celebrating the extraordinary lives of older people living within our local communities through the ‘Extraordinary Lives Project’. We believe that every older person has an extraordinary story to tell, and we are excited to have the opportunity to bring to light the amazing life experiences of others.Interviews with those willing to share their experiences have been carried out under the supervision of Academic Researchers from the University of Bath.
Guild Living will exhibit and share the collection of wonderful stories on our website, on social media and in our interactive galleries, which will be set up in each of the towns and cities where our communities will be located.
Through capturing and presenting these stories, we will engage with local schools, community groups, charity organisations, and – most importantly – the locals where these older people live.
We are so excited to share these amazing stories with you and bring to light the amazing lives of older people right in our communities.