I remember clearly the day when the first world war was declared in 1914. Granny Hamilton and I were visiting Aunt Eleanor at Aberly in South Wales. She kept a public house there. Uncle Jack, her husband (one of father’s older brothers) had died a few years earlier at the age of 35. Our lives in the country went on much as usual during that war. Although there was food rationing we were not short of fresh vegetables or dairy products and there were always rabbits, hares or other game for meat. It was probably much different if you lived in a town. Miners and Farm workers were exempt from call-up for Military service, so not too many young men went off to war.
There was one young soldier I met at Peasedown one day in early 1915. He was home convalescing from serious injuries to his back, chest and face. He had received his wounds serving with the Somerset Light Infantry in France the previous November. Having been eventually sent home to a Bristol Hospital he was now almost recovered. We met quite accidentally and chatted then for a lark had our photographs taken in Albert Swift’s studio. He was 20, I was fifteen. I had in fact met him just once before. We were distantly related in that my paternal grandmother was his grandmother also. We were not true cousins since we did not share the same grandfather. He and his brother had both been born in London but their present home, with their parents, was now at Peasedown. When fully recovered he was posted to Mesopotamia not to return until after the war in March 1919. We wrote to each other occasionally throughout the war as did Gertie.
In the middle of the war in 1916, as the result of an advertisement in the paper, I took a job in Kensington, London as a maid. Another local girl, Iris Welch, was at the same house as cook. It was light clean work. Although there were bombing raids over London at the time, I don’t remember any falling in the vicinity of Kensington. In London I received pocket money which I never had at home, although Father would give me a shilling (5p) to save in my account when I cycled to Radstock to bank his money for him. I stayed there only six months as mother was needing my help back home.
Back home I am busy with the family and become involved with a boy in the village whose parents were friends of mine. He was a very good musician, able to play both the violin and the piano. Since I could play the piano we were encouraged to play duets and were invited to perform together at the local chapels. He also played the piano at village dances which were now being regularly held at Shoscombe and Wellow schools. I liked to dance.
Brother Richard had by now stated at school. About this time Father bought a ‘Separator’ to separate the cream from the milk so we were now able to make our own butter. Eventually father had a contract with a Peasedown man to buy our milk. It was then my job to strain and measure the milk straight from the cows each morning ready for collection. I did not have as much time for leisure as some of the other village girls I knew but I never considered my life to be one of drudgery.
In 1918 Dora, my only sister was born. Mother was 42 and had a bad time at the birth now there were even more chores added to my already busy time.
I am eighteen now and ‘going steady’, as they say, with the musician. The following year 1919 we were engaged to be married. But fate took a hand. The young soldier, home at last from the war, came to thank Gertie and me for writing to him. Seeing Cecil then I knew I could not go through with marrying Wilfred. Of course I had to tell him. It was not very pleasant. He said “A man doesn’t easily give away what he wants most”. We never spoke again although there were many notes, none of which I answered. His family did not forgive me and did not speak to me for years.
On coming out of the Army in 1919, Cecil joined the Irish Constabulary and went to Ireland being stationed in county Clare on the west coast. He returned at the end of the year as the constabulary was being “wound up”, but in coming out early he missed a compensation award. There was now no alternative to working in the mines.
On December 24th 1921 we were married at the Bath Register Office. Our four day honeymoon was spent at Burgate Near Fordingbridge in a cottage owned by Aunt Clara. It was normally leased to a Bournemouth Solicitor as a week-end fishing cottage. Sadly, Granf’er Rogers died the day before we were married and was buried the day after we returned from our honeymoon.
Our first home was with Granf’er Hamilton who was living on his own (Granny having died in the previous September ). Granf’er was deaf and made our lives so intolerable that We soon moved out to live in two rooms at Stoney Littleton. Jim was born there in the following November. So under pressure we moved back in with him. Although the old man was no angel, we got along better. We were happy we had Jim and a home.
Cecil was now out of work and ‘on the dole’. He had worked just two weeks in the mine after we were married. The first week he brought home £7, the second week his notice that the Dunkerton mine had closed. There was work at alternative mines, but only for ‘carting boys’. This was totally unsuitable for Cecil because of his war wounds, so he was awarded a Government disability pension of eight shillings (40p) per week. This together with the dole money of twenty-six shillings and sixpence (£1.32½) a week we had to manage on. In fact we managed very well; there were many people with large families much worse off.
1922 Uncle Bill came to England again from America. He was appalled by the post-war conditions he found here. He persuaded Gertrude (his adoptive sister) and her husband, Edgar Horwood, who was a skilled carpenter to follow him back to the USA where there was more work with better pay. They took their three-year-old daughter Irene with them to Pittsburgh the following year 1923, to live in a bungalow having central heating, bathroom and an ice box (the fore runner of the refrigerator). This was a tremendous improvement in the living standards then prevailing in rural England; mains electricity took another thirty years to arrive! The bungalow was next door to Uncle Bill Rogers house.
Later in 1923 Granf’er Hamilton died leaving us in the house on our own. We were now able to start planning, with some enthusiasm, to joining Gertie and Edgar in America. Arthur Montague, with his wife and daughter Betty, were keen to rent our house from father on our departure. Arthur took over the running of our garden in 1923 in readiness to moving in but on the understanding that, should we not be able to go, he would relinquish all claims. Fortunately for him we were able to sell up most of our belongings and leave for the United States in the following November.