Ronald Basil Girdler

1925 - 2017

Helene Girdler

1927 - 2020

Move to Northampton

Shortly after the air-raids had ceased Baroque moved out of London to Northampton and we all followed. All our furniture and belongings were put into store and we moved into board and lodging accommodation with Mrs. Letts in Barrack Rd. Dad had a workroom over a shoe shop in Abingdon Road, and I went to the Notre Dame High School for Girls, a Convent school, this being the only Grammar school which was willing to take an "evacuee". I had never before seen a nun and I was quite overawed by the situation. The Northampton branch of the school had offered accommodation to the Southwark branch and the school buildings were shared between them. It really was very overcrowded but we had to make the best of it. The Hall had been divided with curtain partitions into two or even three classes, and although you couldn't see what was going on in the other classes, you could certainly hear them, In my previous school I had been taking German and Latin; here however, French was taught, and had already missed two years study in this language. I was therefore placed with an elderly retired nun to do an intensive catching-up course. I continued with Latin for a further year but had to drop German altogether.

It was in the convent that I first came into contact with Roman Catholicism. I attended Assembly in which prayers- I remember the Hail Marys- were said and religious homilies were read out. At Religious Instruction classes A was put at the back of the class and given various passages of the Bible read whilst the rest of the class went through the Catechism and Catholic dogma. One Bible I was given had a torn spine hanging on by a thread which offended my sense of tidiness so I tore it off. This action was spotted by the nun in charge of the class who saw it as an Act of Sacrilege and hauled me off to the headmistress. A furore ensued in which my presence was demanded by the Head. Dad could not understand why such a fuss was being made over such an insignificant misdemeanour, but to the Head A Principal Was At Stake. Dad took me to his side and with his arm around my shoulder accused her of giving me "The Third Degree", a phrase I did not understand. It seemed to do the trick however, and nothing more was ever heard of the business.

Time was also given to instruction on Good Behaviour, and I remember the Headmistress of the time, an elderly nun, relating that girls should never allow boys to "maul" them and that if they did, dire effects would result including the appearance of large lumps of rotting flesh which would fall off and somehow would find their way into a trunk underneath the bed! However it was not all gloom and confusing doom, and I made several friends there with whom I kept in touch for many years. I enjoyed acting in the school plays and remember playing Lydia Languish in "The Rivals", and Arabella in "The Barretts of Wimpole Street", These were performed for the parents and Mum and Dad used to come to see them. On the big religious feast days special preparations were carried out by staff and girls. I remember in particular the Feast of Corpus Christi on a glorious day in June in which huge quantities of sweet-smelling flower petals were strewn on the path to the Chapel so that the track was completely covered. I thought it a shame when the priest and his retinue, swinging incense holders, walked along the path and destroyed the beautiful pattern under their feet. I did not go into the chapel but could hear from outside the lovely Gregorian Chant being sung by the choir.

I entered and won both elocution and singing competitions with my renderings of "Ope Not The Gate" and "Who is Sylvia". I enjoyed the music and singing lessons in which Miss Butler introduced us to Mendelsohn, Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart. We were taught Biology by a nun and we sniggered behind our hands when she described the reproduction of the rabbit. I hated P.E. and Games and dreaded the moment on the netball pitch when the captains selected their teams. I was always the last to be chosen and sometimes I was "left over" and was given a netball to practise shooting in the net on my own. I actually became quite good at this, but not surprisingly I never really enjoyed it. Later, in the sixth form, I decided I could stand it no longer so I simply didn't go to the Gym at the appointed time. I was amazed that the teacher was not aware of my absence for some time and I began to wish I had thought of doing this before. One day however she caught up with me in the corridor and asked me why I didn't attend. Was I not well? I said simply that at my last school medical the doctor had said there was something wrong with my heart, which was true-that is, the doctor had said this although there was nothing wrong with me- but anyway I Just didn't like P.E. "You will find in life that you will often have to do things you do not like" she replied. I never again attended a P.E. class. I did not like Maths much either but I never even tried to get out of that!

After a while at Mrs. Letts we moved to a rented bungalow on the outskirts of the town which was a bus ride away from school. Although Northampton was never a target for the German bombers, we could hear the planes going overhead to reach Coventry which was very badly damaged. Occasionally the bombers would jettison their load over Northampton in order to avoid the attention of our fighter planes and make a quick getaway home. Later we moved again to a house in Ellesmere Avenue. Jack would come home on leave from time to time (before he was stationed in Italy), and he used to take Shirley and me out to a cafe for tea, where we had the basic war-time dish of baked beans on toast, Barbara was living in Kit's house In Edgware whilst Kit was away with Joe. She wanted to Join the W.R.N.S., but was unable to do so because Mum and Dad were not British born, so she joined the Auxiliary fire service and worked in their offices.

Hets first Baby

On September 25th. 1941 Het gave birth to the first baby in the family - Linda Jill - who was born in Northampton Maternity Hospital. I remember going to see them with Mum and Dad, but was not allowed in, so I went round to the window of Het’s ward (she was on the ground floor) and saw her through the window. I was amazed to see her looking so fit and well! I absolutely adored Linda and couldn’t believe how tiny she was.

Family return to London

Sometime in 1943, I think it was, Dads firm decided to return to London as once again all was quiet on the Home Front. Mum and Dad had to return to London too, so with the help of Barbara and Het they eventually found a house in Golders Green, at 41, Armitage Road, which was a large 5-bedroomed house on two floors. When they went to the furniture store in which all the furniture had been placed, and for which they had been paying a weekly rent, they found to their horror that the Company no longer existed and that all their belongings had disappeared. They were unable to trace anything at all and had to refurnish the house from scratch. Furniture was very difficult to obtain during the war, and the only new furniture available was known as "Utility" and was of very basic but serviceable design but like almost everything else, was rationed and on a "points" system. Most of the other items were purchased from second-hand shops.

In the meantime I had to return to school in Northampton, and was first billeted with two other girls from school with an elderly couple, (or so they seemed to me!), It was wintertime and very cold and raining. I remember travelling alone on the train from London. It was dark, all the blinds in the train were drawn so as not to show any lights, it was very damp and crowded so that I had to stand most of the way, and I was dreading the thought of what my new "home" would be like. When I finally arrived, I was thoroughly miserable and I went straight to bed and cried myself to sleep. Next morning the house was still cold because the big black range in the living room had not yet been lit. The husband was a railway worker and had to get up very early on work days and usually lit the fire, which kept the one room fairly warm. The rest of the house was (as most houses were in those days) bitterly cold. The two other girls there were in the sixth form and were therefore a couple of years older than I, and we all sat at the living room table to do our homework every evening. The "foster parents" sat by the fireside in Windsor-backed hard chairs, she would knit and he read the newspaper. There was of course no television, so it was very quiet, and every now and then they would offer us a boiled sweet, Unfortunately this made my stomach squirgle and I would sit there in acute embarrassment clutching at my stomach and apologising repeatedly. I learnt to refuse the offer of a sweet. I could not have been there for more than a few weeks before I moved to another family just outside Northampton in the village of Moulton, where I stayed with my friend Mary Johnston.

Mrs. Boaz and her 8-year old daughter were our new foster family. Mr. Boaz was away in the Forces, and we never met him. The house was on the edge of the village and there were fields at the end of the garden. In the summer Mary and I used to sit in the garden and listen to the drone of the tractors on the farm, and the smell of diesel oil still reminds me of those far off hot and lazy summer days. Mrs. Boaz was concerned for our health, and we had to take Sanatogen (a mixture containing vitamins) every day. It was foul, but there was no getting away from it. At home in London we used to have cod-liver oil and malt, which was delicious and we never had any difficulty getting that down.

I was now in the fifth year at school and Mary and I were studying for the Matriculation Exams. I took English Language and English Literature, French, General Science, Maths. Geography, History and Art. In June 1943 we sat the exams, and I passed all subjects except French. I always had trouble with French - I was two years behind all the other girls and had great difficulty in catching up. When I first started learning it I wrote in French to Uncle Eugene who lived in Paris, and asked him to correct my efforts in the hope that my French would improve. He returned my letter with corrections, but there were so many red marks all over the place that I lost heart and never wrote again. Shortly after this in about 1942, Uncle Eugene escaped from Nazi-occupied France and fled to London where he stayed for some time with Mum and Dad. It was his story which I wrote in my English exam as an essay under the title "Escape" which was one of the given subjects. I am sure that it was this essay which gained me a distinction (the only one I had!) in that exam. However, at that time passes were required in all subjects in order to obtain Matriculation, so I returned home to Golders Green feeling very crestfallen, and not knowing what I would do next. Mrs. Boaz wrote to Mum and Dad to tell them that she had made sure that I had worked hard during my stay with her - a sort of testimonial!

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