School days after war remembered
Dear Sir, — We were from all kinds of backgrounds and our parents worked hard to earn money and give us the best that they could afford. Don’t forget the war was not long over when we were born and there was a lot of displaced people who were also struggling to survive.
Most of the men had been demobbed from military service, whether it was army, air or navy. They all had been given a demob suit and a bit of some sort of counselling to help them to find a job.
Sergeants and ranks above were offered jobs in the civil service such as The Royal Mail, British Rail or British Road Services or any other positions that could help to rebuild the infrastructure of the country.
Everyone got married in a church with the blessing from the priest or the vicar. The brides wore white beautiful dresses and the men wore their demob suits, as that was the only one they had. A few pints down the pub followed and if they were lucky a day trip to Blackpool.
Then: Baby Boomers, the 1950s Wow. Now mums and dads were getting things together. Both were working, earning a few shillings while trying to put the horrors of the past behind them.
Little town schools in the fifties were usually attached to the church and ruled by Mrs, Misses, or even a Mr — who was either too old to serve in the forces or not able to do so due to some sort of infirmity. Strict rules were taught from day one.
We had to line up and show that our hands and nails were clean. Girls dressed in flowery frocks, white ankle socks and sandals and the boys with Fair Isle pullovers over a shirt and also short trousers. No uniforms were required. It was what parents could afford to dress you in at the time — posh kids wore a tie.
Prayers were said every morning before lessons and before lunch and then again before leaving school. Discipline was strict, but it didn’t do us any harm. It is always good to have respect for other people who have knowledge. You are never too old to learn.
The “nit nurse” would visit and we all had to line up outside the cloakroom and wait for our name to be called. Dressed in a white smock coat, she would finger through your hair and part it by stretching a clump of hair until the white of your scalp was exposed. She was looking for those little creepy crawlers that made you scratch your head with ferocity.
A few days later most of the children came to school smelling of a pungent chemical that had been used to wash their hair with. Some of the girls who had long hair had to have a special distinctive haircut to remove all the irritating little beasts.
School dinners were all prepared at the canteen opposite the senior girls school, which is now Daven Primary School. They were packed into large metal thermos containers and then delivered to other local schools by a cream coloured Bedford van.
The meals usually consisted of meat and two veg followed by sponge cake covered in thick yellow custard. Sometimes the pudding was either a rice pudding or semolina with a knob of jam.
No wonder we were all fit and healthy.
After it was all over, all the scraps were put into a metal dust bin for the pig farmer to come and collect. It always seemed that more went to the pigs than was delivered in the first place.
Every business was thriving. Len was busy with his scrap yard on Lawton Street; Banks’s scrap yard was at the bottom of Victoria Street and Houston’s yard on Royle Street. There was still a lot of ex US army vehicles on the roads, which had been auctioned off at give-away prices.
Some were used to cart sand from Hinkley’s sand quarry on West Road.
All the textile mills in Congleton were so busy making fashionable clothing that it was impossible for them to keep up with demand. Ladies’ clothing was the biggest production of the mills. Nylon stockings and dresses were being made by the dozens and shipped out. Anyone with a small van could make quite a few deliveries every day to fashion shops in Stoke or even Manchester. Great Universal Stores on Dale Street in Manchester was a huge buyer of all fashions for Kays catalogue.
Everyone knew a man called “Flogger”, though nobody knew his real name — he was just Flogger. It was possible to get two fresh rabbits from him for the cost of five Woodbine and a shilling. If you needed anything — just ask Flogger.
Every pub in Congleton was busy and the only food they served was a bag of crisps or a packet of salted nuts. Later, just before closing times, the fish man would come around with a straw basket, full with packets of shrimps, muscles and other types of seafood which were all soaked in vinegar. Nobody seemed to care, until the next morning.
In the Congleton Chronicle every week there was always an advert from Bostock’s Coaches, displaying a “Mystery Tour” trip. Nobody knew where it was going, which added to the fun and you could guarantee there would be quite a few stops on the way for a bit of liquid refreshment.
The tour would start at Bostock’s garage, at the back of the Shackerley Arms and have a few pick ups on the way. Everyone would try and guess where the trip was going to, but as people didn’t travel very far in those days, it was very easy to be lost. Onward through the leafy lanes of Cheshire.
The big black and white Cheshire milkers were in every field, also there were lots of sheep grazing in separate fields with everyone saying how nice it all looked. The first stop was The George and Dragon — nobody had a clue where they were and didn’t care.
“Let’s have a drink”, everyone said. Many country pubs had signs displayed, saying “Coaches Welcome”.
Trundling off through the lanes again the coach occasionally scraped the leaves of overhanging trees and then everyone found themselves on the car park of The Romping Donkey. Time for another couple of drinks. Babycham with a cherry on a stick for the ladies and a couple of pints for the machos.
Fire up the big Foden engine on the coach and let’s go.
By this time, nobody spoke about the black and white cows or the fluffy woollies, the question was “How far is it to the next stop?”
Passing through Holmes Chapel it was obvious that the next stop would be the Good Companions, as that pub had a huge car park and an easy access for coaches. There was lots of coaches from all over the place — it was packed.
The bar staff were on full alert, serving and washing and there were glass collectors going around the room collecting glasses and emptying ash trays. As one coach left another one arrived.
Blaster Bates had just finished one of his funny tales in the back room and was having many free drinks bestowed upon him by patrons who were still laughing at what he had said; you could guarantee not one of them will remember a thing in the morning.
Last orders was shouted and the ding dong of the huge bell was sounded. There was a sudden rush to the bar by what seemed a lot men who had just crossed the Sahara Desert and were dying of thirst. The time had now passed, and everyone got served just in time, maybe. Towels were placed over the pumps and it was time now for the bar staff to sink a glass and have smoke on an Embassy filter tip cigarette, but not stopping to wash the multitude of glasses that covered the twenty foot bar top.
At the end of the bar was Flogger, emptying all the rubbish and putting it into a big dustbin and taking it out to his ex US Army truck that was parked at the back of the pub. He always had an access to a variety of wild game, so fresh pork, pheasants, rabbits and trout were also for sale.
I think the leftovers from school dinners helped to feed the pork he was selling. — Yours faithfully,