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A Shout From The Attic: Sweet Coupons

...I got my first pair of clogs that year. How I loved the ‘clip-clop’ they made as I walked on the sandstone flagstones that paved old Huddersfield. They were particularly impressive on the cobblestone roads. The glorious summer of 1947 was paid for by the atrocious winter of 1947. It snowed froze, snowed again, and froze again. The snow froze so hard that it was possible to walk on the surface of the piled up snow. Wearing clogs with clog-irons fitted caused impacted snow to collect under the clog, often raising it to a height of a foot. I walked tall that winter...

Ronnie Bray recalls the austere years of wartime and its aftermath.

The war's greatest impact on my young life was sweet coupons. These were on a sheet that had to be removed from the food ration book.

Most of my sweets were bought from Gabriella’s Milk Bar in Trinity Street just bellow the park gates. Mabel seemed to have worked there forever. The request, “Can I have some sweets off next month’s coupons?” was always answered in the affirmative. That was my first brush with consumer credit. Threepence would buy a quarter pound of the best sort of sweets.

High living was a Vimto with ice cream in it taken at one of the three or four round tables inside. The best seats were right inside against the far wall by the electric fire, especially in cold weather. Light, bright and cheerful always, and ice cream cones could be had for a halfpenny! The same sized cones now are sold at prices that make me blush.

Gabriella’s ice cream could be bought from one of their street vendors. They had a relation called Tony who used to push a barrow around from which he expertly dispensed ice cream cornets, wafers, and his own simple, charming kindness. Their ice cream was delicious. They also had a pony-drawn ice cream cart, elaborately decorated with a tent top surmounted with gold balls. What a splendid sight it was. Their factory was opposite the back of our school on Bow Street.

The war affected our play - almost directed it. We played at soldiers; rather we played at war. Some of us would be German soldiers and others would be our brave British lads. The Germans were always capturing the Britishers and treating them very badly to make them talk. We knew all about Germans and Nazis. The propaganda machines of Great Britain and Hollywood were in perfect working order. Naturally, we could put the war behind us by going to the pictures, absorbing the story and characters like blotting paper and spilling out onto the evening streets of Huddersfield firmly in new personas. How much gore was spent on the steps of the Huddersfield Library and Art Gallery from Errol Flynn’s machine gun, Robin Hood’s true flight arrows and Flash Gordon’s ray guns (do ray guns spill blood?) will never be known.

When the air raid siren on top of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Drill Hall further down Fitzwilliam Street sounded its doleful tune, we all got up and went down into the cellar. As a young child, I tried to sleep in a chair, but was disturbed by the constant buzz of conversation that went on in hushed tones. After a few tries at sleeping in these conditions, I asked that I be allowed to stay in my bed near the stars in future air raid warnings. Permission was granted and from then on Adolph Hitler disrupted my sleep no more.

Comics were full of the war; newsreels were all dark screens, blinding flashes, and noises of far-off explosions. I recall wondering what they would find to put in newsreels after the war. Complaints about any kind of austerity were greeted with, “There’s a war on, you know!” Allotments were at a premium as people dug for victory. Dot-dot-dot dash was paint daubed on many a doorpost to remind us of our purpose. Houses boasted “Stirrup Pump Here ” in case of incendiary attack. We did not have a stirrup pump so we had no mystical sign. I felt deprived.

Of course, I did my bit in the war effort - well, almost. A book drive was launched when I was about eight or nine. We were briefed at school with the information that we would obtain badges of rank according to the number of books we collected. Paper was in short supply since the raw materials were largely imported. The ranks ran something like one to ten for a private, fifteen for a corporal, twenty for a sergeant. Armed with a jute sack (the black plastic bag was not even an idea then) I went out collecting. I did the top half of Fitzwilliam Street, Wentworth Street, part of Trinity Street and Greenhead Road as far up as the Rifle Fields. I got enough books to achieve a major rank and a coveted cardboard badge with real printing, but I never got the badge. Instead I got a library - I kept the books. I still find it difficult to part with a book.

I remember the Rifle Fields roadway being constructed. It would be about 1947, the year of the brilliant summer. Huge chunks of sandstone were used as the foundation before the smaller stuff was put on and compacted, ready for the asphalt topping. What a summer that was! I was twelve and immortal. I got my first pair of clogs that year. How I loved the ‘clip-clop’ they made as I walked on the sandstone flagstones that paved old Huddersfield. They were particularly impressive on the cobblestone roads. The glorious summer of 1947 was paid for by the atrocious winter of 1947. It snowed froze, snowed again, and froze again. The snow froze so hard that it was possible to walk on the surface of the piled up snow. Wearing clogs with clog-irons fitted caused impacted snow to collect under the clog, often raising it to a height of a foot. I walked tall that winter.

As for going short of food, I do not think that ever happened. We always had enough and some to spare. Sugar was the only problem I noticed. We got something like a pound of sugar each week per person. Each of us in the house had an old round coca tin with our name on it and we took our sugar from there. The lodgers took ‘mashings’ to work with their packed sandwiches. A mashing was a teaspoon of tea mixed with an appropriate amount of sugar wrapped in a strip of newspaper. The lodgers’ mashing sugar was taken from their tins. Sometime one's tin would seem to have a lower level; of sugar than previously remembered. This shortage was taken in stride without comment. Sugar for cooking was never an issue. Nanny never made deserts or ‘sweets’ as we called them. She didn’t make soups or starters either. I got so used to a one course-meal that I still make them 99% of the time.

War souvenirs were in plentiful supply. Bullets were all over the place. Most of them spent. Pete West got one from somewhere that looked unused. We poked it down a crack in the back steps of the West’s house in bath street, nose first, held a poker to the percussion cap and struck it hard with a hammer several times. Nothing happened. German badges were abundant, as were cap badges of British and not a few foreign and Empire forces. From somewhere - swapping was common trade for schoolboys - I got a German officer's dress sword. In my attic bedroom two cultures met. From another disremembered source I got a three-foot long piece of round wood and decided to convert this into a baseball bat with the sharp-edged sword. After a few tentative hacks to narrow the handle, I risked a heftier blow. The upward thrust struck one of the exposed attic beams, deflecting the blade backwards and downward cutting the top of my shoulder to the bone. Blood flowed like a stream. I staunched the flow with a bottle of iodine that I just happened to have to hand and fixed a shirt over the cut. The scar is visible to this day, a memory of childhood ignorance and enthusiasm.

Melvyn Stansfield told me that he had the cockpit of a Messerschmidt fighter plane. He arranged to meet me near his home to show it me and arrange a swap. I waited for long hours but he didn’t show and the cockpit was forgotten. Disappointment is an inevitable part of childhood. I had already experienced worse disappointments.

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