The Sprig hardly remembered anything before the war started. He had an elder brother and sister, but they were already at school. He spent most of his time with his mother and his nursemaid, Hilda. They had a dog called Button, a wire-haired Jack Russell, chickens and a cow called Molly, but what memories were of his earliest times and what came later was not clear, they merged. It was when things became more unusual that memories were triggered to last all his life.
Austin and June started at the local school, St Mary’s in the town. The village school was a bit rough, having more than 100 children of all ages taught together. At home, Austin was very much the ringleader. He was adored by his parents, being good-looking, clever … and alive. Their first twin boys died soon after they were born. It had been a dreadful shock as it wasn’t known that twins were expected until their premature birth and death. Austin was healthy but, two years later, June was premature and was nursed night and day by Lily (the name comes to mind, I’m not quite sure). When June was teething, she became feverish and, afraid for her life, Lily took a gold thimble and rubbed June’s gum until the tooth came through, when her temperature magically dropped. A few years later, Lily married and moved to Canada. For her 40th wedding anniversary, Russell and June sent her that gold thimble – clearly, she’d forgotten its significance as they received a slightly puzzled and perfunctory letter of thanks.
When the air raids started to come closer, Austin and June, who were at prep school by then, were evacuated. Austin’s whole school was evacuated to Derbyshire and sisters went too, as far as I know. At that time, Sprig stayed home with his parents. One of his earliest memories was of riding his big tricycle in the town. Children didn’t have bikes with stabilisers, they kept their trikes until they could manage a big bicycle. A bomb dropped over on the Common and Sprig was bumped clean off his trike. “I hope Mr Hitler doesn’t do that again,” he said in his solemn way.
The threat of air raids was a worry. The front garden was dug up and an Anderson shelter installed, where little Sprig slept on his own, so he wouldn’t have to be taken out of his bed if the sirens went off. But he was nervous, so a string was run from the front door to the shelter, which he could pull if he woke and wanted his mummy in the night. Pulling it worked the front door knocker; the old horseshoe on the Tudor front door. If there were an air raid, his parents would join him in the shelter.