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The Day Before Yesterday: 1 - Into A Post-War World

Today we begin the serialisation of The Day Before Yesterday, the autobiography of Gladys Schofield, who was born in a Yorkshire mill town in 1920. She emigrated to New Zealand in 1966, returning to England a year or two ago.

Glady's daughter, Susan Schofield, says: "Mum was born at Golcar, Huddersfield and this is her first book. She took up writing at the tender age of 79, after first writing poems twenty years earlier. She is also a keen artist, taking up oil painting at the age of 69 and winning an award in New Zealand for one of her paintings entitled 'It's never too late to create'.''

Follow Glady's story week by week in Open Writing.

I came into the world the fifth child of a family of ten. The first child, a boy called Harold, was born in 1912, and in 1920 when I arrived, the world was trying to recover from the First World War.

My father was very lucky. He had a job working night shift in those early days in one of the many textile mills scattered around the Colne Valley near Huddersfield.

My father was a sturdy man, not so very tall but quite strong in the arm. He worked as a cloth finisher in his department. This meant when the rolls of cloth had been washed to remove all traces of grease, he had to lift them up, still steaming and damp, throwing them over his shoulder. He carried them to the next process. They were quite heavy and in time told on my father's health.

Any short ends or damaged material he was able to bring home as they were only thrown away. As Mum was handy with the sewing machine, they could be turned, with a little ingenuity, into small garments for a growing family.

He had to walk more than a mile to and from his work, the latter being up hill most of the way. The smoke in the valley seemed to hang there like a blanket some days from the chimneys of at least half a dozen textile mills in the vicinity.

My mother was a country girl, one of six children. She had three sisters and the two youngest were brothers. Jobs were scarce where she lived - going into service to attend to the needs of the wealthy who lived in large houses up and down the countrysid, was one of the few jobs available to country girls at that time.

Mum worked in the kitchen of one such house and learned how to prepare and cook the many different varieties of foods that were available at this time to the well bred. The hours were long with very little in wages, so when she reached nineteen she came to Huddersfield, along with a younger sister called Miriam. Mum was quite dainty with small hands and feet and must have found the busy town quite bewildering after the quiet countryside.

I wish I had listened more intently to the many tales she told me of her childhood, that Florence Nightingale was a distant relative of ours, being her mother's half cousin. Florence was the older of two sisters. No boys were born into their family although both her father and mother came from a large family. They were quite a well-to-do family and as Florence never had an heir, the estates and money went to the oldest nephew. We would sit in the evenings listening to these stories, but I was so young at the time I couldn't absorb everything.

The streets of Huddersfield were full of ex-servicemen, the remnants of the war, some missing a limb, others with shell shock, their bodies shaking all the time. They seemed to be in a daze, each trying to earn a living to eke out their meagre war pension by selling matches or boot laces on small wooden trays they had made themselves, hung by string around their neck.

The country was in a slump when I made my appearance.

I didn't tell you how my mother and father met. I don't know the details myself other than she married my father at the age of twenty-one and not long after we children began to arrive. There was no birth control or family planning. Abortion was back-street and frowned on, and I don't think Mum believed in that anyway.

I don't believe I was very welcome when I decided to put in an appearance in 1920.

I was born in a house very much like every other in this village on the outskirts of Huddersfield. The sunlight didn't reach the windows much, which were few in number. The oven at the side of the fireplace was the main means of cooking but we had a gas jet, a single ring, to boil a kettle or simmer a pan of soup, although this was often done on the hob of the fire (a metal plate running along the front of the fire).

The bedrooms, two in number, were up some stone stairs and closed off from the living area by a door which was closed at night. I still have a memory of this house, although you may not believe me, as we moved from there when I was only sixteen months old. I can remember my father carrying me down those stairs and taking in all the features of the room.


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