Immediately I felt I was back in the year 1937. My first, happy memory of life is at two and a half years old, tucked up in a small, low bed in my “night nursery” on the top floor of Netherstowe House. Through the closed door I could hear music playing softly on the gramophone as I drifted off into sleep
I remember very vividly Nana pushing me in a large black pram along the country road near Netherstowe. She would sing “Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer Do,” to make me laugh. In the evenings after I went to bed Nana sat in the “day nursery” next door, sewing, or ironing my dresses, and she would always play music on the gramophone. Nana loved Noel Coward’s songs, so I learnt the words to many adult songs early in life, such as “I’ll See You Again”.From the age of three years old was allowed to wander around the spacious gardens and countryside surrounding Netherstowe House, by myself, or with my stepbrother Peter, who was eight years older than me, when he was home from boarding school. Soon after we arrived at Netherstowe Peter saw something floating down the stream that ran through the garden, and on close inspection he saw it was a large sack, with the head of a tiny black kitten poking out of the top, the only survivor of a family of five kittens and a mother cat. Peter named the cat “Tattibogles” (scarecrow) but he was known as “Puss Cat”. He was my constant companion, and never complained when I dressed him in my doll’s clothes. He enjoyed going for rides in my doll’s pram. On Christmas Day in 1940 I was given a child’s size nurse’s uniform to dress up in. From that day I saw myself as a nurse, and Puss seemed to enjoy being my patient, with his leg wrapped in bandages.
During the entire time we lived at Netherstowe, life for me was perfect in every way. Wendy, the daughter of a Royal Navy officer and his wife, lived next door. At least once a week my best friend Chad Coussmaker, whose father was a Church of England minister, and Tim Street, whose father was an Army officer, would come to play in the very large garden at Netherstowe, where I had a playhouse made of wood., and I would host “tea parties” We would make sure that we were always at the edge of the railway tracks just after Noon to wave to the engine driver of the “Royal Scot” train – one of the highlights of our day when he waved back to us.
My parents returned to live with us in Netherstowe House in 1939, when my father was ordered to supervise the training of new recruits in the 1st Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment at Whittington Barracks in Lichfield. At that time he was a Major. He had a faithful, young Army “Batman” who was wonderful, and taught me to ride a bicycle. (Sadly I do not know how to spell his name, but it sounded like “May-chen”.)My father was seldom home, and my mother kept busy with Red Cross and Mother’s Union volunteer work. During the day time I only saw my mother occasionally, when she called Nana and I to go in the garden to learn about planting flowers, or to cut the grass, sometimes in the afternoons. At five o’clock every evening I would be bathed and dressed by Nanny, and I was taken to visit my mother in the spacious drawing room (lounge) and we would listen to “Children’s Hour” on the radio. My favorite part was “Said The Cat To The Dog.” Then I would return to the Nursery, and be in bed by 7:00 PM. My mother changed into a long dress every evening, and would come to the nursery to hear my prayers and say goodnight, before returning downstairs for dinner. In early September 1939 I remember Nanny taking two days off to visit her parents in Reading, Berkshire. My parents had to look after me in the evenings, which was very unusual. I missed Nana very much, so as a special treat one evening I was allowed to take a bath in the large bath in the bathroom near their bedrooms. I remember how white everything in that room was, except for the black and white tiled floor. Then we all sat downstairs in the lounge, and snuggled up on the couch. Although half asleep, I remember hearing a news report – a recording of Neville Chamberlain announcing on the radio that the country was at war with Germany. Early the next morning I crept into my mother’s bedroom and sat on the floor at the bottom of the bed wrapped in an eiderdown, pretending I was the news announcer Alvar Lidell, and repeating the Prime
Minister’s speech over and over again. My parents were amazed that I had such a retentive memory at such a young age.
The Second World War did not affect me at all. We kept chickens and ducks at Netherstowe, and had a huge kitchen garden, so were never short of food. We were never afraid, and would go off into the countryside to play, with no problems. Chad and I walked to a preschool on our own, down country lanes. The little school was owned by two spinster sisters, who were very strict, and I tried extremely hard to be a perfect student because Chad told me I was like his sister, and he was looking after me, so I HAD to behave.One of the highlights of our life during those years living in Netherstowe was the very formal wedding of a daughter of the Bishop of Lichfield and his wife. Chad was a page, and I was a flower girl. I had been to the Cathedral many times, and was very happy to be “on show” briefly – sprinkling rose petals in front of the bride. Bishop Edward Sydney Woods and his wife often came to tea at Netherstowe, and I was allowed to attend the tea party for about five minutes, to perform a dance or sing one song. The elegant, imposing Bishop and his friendly wife loved me as if I was a grandchild, and Nana and I stayed at the Bishop’s Palace on more than one occasion. The big treat was walking past shops in the city; an amazing change from country life.
My parents gave some glittering dinner parties at Netherstowe, and young officers were invited when they first came to Whittington Barracks. One invitation was sent out by my father, with the caption “to meet my eldest unmarried daughter.” I can imagine the young men were NOT happy when a very outgoing five year old appeared at the top of the main stairs, and made an entrance into the dining room, but they treated me as if I was a princess, and I was overjoyed by the attention.
Because my parents had lived overseas for many years, when we moved to Netherstowe almost all the furniture, china and glass my parents amassed was bought at the famous Winterton Sale/Auction Rooms in Lichfield. In 1940 my father was promoted to Lt. Col., and was put in charge of training A.T.S. In August 1941 it was necessary for us to move to an apartment in Whittington Barracks. I remember feeling very sad leaving our lovely Netherstowe House for the last time. Looking out of the back window of our large car, seeing the removal van arrive, and knowing that all the furniture would be going into storage, I knew it was the end of a happy chapter in the stories of all of our lives. Wendy moved about the same time, and Chad and family had moved away a few months earlier.
My friend Chad became a padre in the Church of England foreign service, and he is now a Canon. I trained as a nurse, specializing in pediatrics. Although Chad and I only ever met three times in our adult lives we have remained friends all these 70 years, writing annually to each other from whatever part of the world we lived. It is amazing to our friends that we remember that part of our childhood. I never returned to visit Netherstowe House. Maybe one day I will have the opportunity. I like to think the spirits of Bobby and Puss Cat come out at full moon, playfully chasing each other across the grass. If there are any ghosts there, they are all happy ones.