Great Grandad was born in 1912, not long before the Great War. He was too young to remember much about it of course, but he didn’t recognise his father until he saw him again in 1918 on his return.
By all accounts his father had a terrible time in battles like The Somme and Passchendaele. I’ve seen photos and the odd film of those battles and I just can’t imagine how awful it must have been. GG’s father suffered from shell shock and trench foot and apparently it took him a long while to get over his experiences. I suppose we call that post traumatic syndrome these days.
Despite this and the fact that his father was in ill health until he was 10 or 12, GG had a pretty happy childhood by all accounts. He had 2 older brothers and 2 older sisters, then 2 more boys were born in 1919 and 1921. So it was a full household and everyone had to take their share of the work.
They lived in the countryside near Yeovil and GG’s father returned to farm work. He had a worker’s cottage, so that wasn’t very big. Only two bedrooms for 2 adults and all those children! I just can’t imagine what it must have been like to have so little privacy, but they seemed to be happy.
GG told me how cold it used to be in the winter. No central heating in those days of course. They had a coal fire in the living room and that was it. Makes me cold even thinking about it. But I suppose they were tougher in those days, they had to be.
GG used to play on the farm when he was little, but by the time he was 9 or 10 he had to start working to help the family. He would have time off school to help with the harvest, like all the country children, and all year round he had lots of chores.
It was the job of GG and his brothers to keep the fire going all winter. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds because they had to collect firewood to get the fire started each morning and the coal stack was some distance away from the house, so that had to be carted in too. They had some sort of wooden cart to use to transport the coal, which they piled up outside the back door so the fire could be topped up during the day. Then every morning they had to take out the ash and sprinkle it on the garden or in the field next door.
The girls had to help around the house. GG told me how the housework was so hard. No fitted carpets or vacuum cleaners then. Floors had to be swept every day and the rugs were taken out and beaten each week. There was no washing machine of course, so all the washing for 9 people had to be done by hand. That must have taken hours. I’m glad I grew up in the 1990s when we had all the modern conveniences.