I last wrote under the heading of ‘The Family Story’ back in 2007, so it’s not surprising that I can’t remember whether or not I told any particular story. I pulled together all the family anecdotes I could think of under this category – at the time, I was thinking of having them written down for my children and grandchildren but my blog friends enjoyed them too.
I can hardly believe I forgot this one …
My mum, Jane, was nearly 16 when the war broke out, having been born in November 1923. It wrecked her education, as a London school was evacuated to Weymouth and used her school and the text books in the afternoons, so she left school the next summer and went to secretarial college. Once she reached the age of 18, she didn’t want to be called up into the Forces so she volunteered for the Land Army. If you want to read about any of it, you can look up old posts in the ‘nostalgic’ box in the sidebar.
There was a Prisoner of War camp somewhere nearby and Italian POWs were sent to work on the farm. They were cheerful and hard working men, apparently, and their rations were much better than those of the natives. They downed tools mid-morning every day and brewed up cocoa, sweetened with raspberry jam (which was never seen in England, when there was sugar for such a treat as preserves, I think that plum and apple jam was more usually the thing). They generously shared the cocoa with the English farm workers and everyone became pretty friendly. Jane was young, only 19 or 20, with curly brown hair (people said she looked like Deanna Durbin, if that gives you a picture) and she was a very hard worker. As I’ve said in a previous post on the subject, she prided herself on working as hard as any man and she was not there to feed the chickens and squeal at the sight of mud or a field of mangold-wurzels to harvest.
One young Italian was particularly charming (though most young Italians know how to charm: it’s in the blood) and one day he spoke to her earnestly and nervously. He’d been watching her admiringly for some time; she was knowledgeable and enthusiastic, a born farmer. She was also very pretty and he had fallen for her in a big way. He asked her to marry him. They would return to Italy once this wretched war was over, his parents would love her too and they would live on the family farm, which he would inherit in due course – he would look after her and make her happy.
Yes, he’d seen she was a jolly good worker and she was, indeed, very pretty and unaffectedly friendly (and no flirt – to the end of her days she would charm men but never led them on. She, like I, genuinely liked men and treated them as friends, not potential boyfriends).
She assured me that she was kind but firm, and let him down gently; and had to forego the morning cocoa after that because it was too awkward. But think – I could have been Italian!