Memories of Wartime By Biddy Cull (then aged 97)
from notes by Joan Simmonds.
Mrs Cull had been engaged for two years, and the wedding was planned for June 1940, with the banns having been called at St Boniface Church, Chandler’s Ford. It had to be postponed because her fiancé got his call-up papers early, after the fiasco of Dunkirk. However, he had 36 hours leave on Saturday the 24th of August, so the vicar agreed that they could be married on that day.
Many of those invited, including family living away, some in London, were unable to come because she lived in a restricted area. Her Aunt Phoebe arrived at Waterloo Station, to be told she could not travel down to Chandler’s Ford. She insisted she would be going to her niece’s wedding, refused to leave, and said she would stay at Waterloo for as long as it took until they allowed her to travel. So, the authorities eventually relented.
After the wedding with the Battle of Britain raging overhead, and ack-ack guns firing, the wedding photos were taken in front of the church, very hurriedly, before everybody adjourned to the nearby Ritchie Hall, where they had to set up the trestle tables for the buffet meal. Fortunately, the wedding cake had been prepared by a friend, well in advance, with supplies hoarded from before rationing began. After a one night honeymoon Mrs. Cull was left alone when her husband returned to camp.
During the time of her engagement, they had been saving up, and bought all the furniture they would need at Edwin Jones in Southampton, who told them that the furniture could be stored at the shop until they were married. With the advent of the bombing, they were told they must take their furniture from the store. Mrs. Cull had been living at home with her parents, but there was not enough room there to take all the new furniture. However, a friend of hers was living alone because her husband was in the forces and had enough space to take Mrs. Cull and her furniture.
Mr Cull was invalided out of the forces after two years, so they now had to find somewhere to live. They heard from a friend that a house in St. Mary’s Road, Bishopstoke, would soon become vacant, as an elderly man, the tenant there was moving out. They went to see the landlord but were told he wanted to sell it, not rent it, and his agent said they could have it for £400. As Mrs. Cull had been working and saving up they were able to find the money.
When they first moved in, they found the house was in a dreadful state, dirty, needing repairs, and redecorating. No building repairs could be done at that time, except for bomb damage. Their first night in the house they got into bed and one of the legs went through the rotten floor board. A bit at a time they cleaned the house. Friends and family coming to visit were handed tools and told to scrape off some of the wallpaper. They were only able to buy distemper to paint the walls, and this rubbed off easily, so then visitors were told “keep away from the walls.”
There was only gas for lighting and a range in the kitchen for cooking. No bathroom, of course, but they managed to get a tin bath so they could bathe in the kitchen. Some time after this a local plumber offered them a bathroom suite, he had been unable to sell because it was damaged. So, they accepted a bath with a scratch along one side, a wash basin with a chip out of it, and a gas geyser which was dented. It did not matter; they now had a bathroom.
While she was alone when her husband was in the forces, she only had rations for one – minute portions of tea, sugar, margarine etc., and a single egg. Once when she went to cook the egg, she found it was bad, so she complained to the shopkeeper who would not give her another. She decided this was not good enough, she would go to the top man, so she wrote to Mr Wootton, Minister of Food. He replied and sent her a voucher for one egg.
(An article that was published in the Chandler’s Ford Parish Newsletter in October 2010.)
“Lily (Biddy) Morris lived with her parents and was a member of St Boniface church until her marriage. Her family had moved from Swindon when her father transferred to Eastleigh works with the railway. The bridesmaid, then Renee Kelly, now Street, lived with her parents in Chalvington Road, her family having moved there from London because of her father’s position with Causton printers. Renee, who celebrated her 90th birthday this year, now lives opposite St Boniface; she was very moved by her brother Arthur’s name on the war memorial when she and Biddy visited on 24th August this year. Lily says “in June 1940 Ernest and I were all prepared for our wedding at St Boniface, Chandler’s Ford but owing to the loss of so many soldiers at Dunkirk his call up was brought forward, which threw our plans into disarray. He had to complete his training in the Hampshire Regiment before he could have any leave, so we agreed to be married whenever it would be, and this turned out to be a 36 hour leave on Saturday 24th August 1940. Fortunately, the banns had been called earlier, my wedding dress was made, invitations sent, and the caterers booked for a meal in the Ritchie Hall. But when the day arrived, although beautifully sunny, the Battle of Britain was in full force overhead with Spitfires and German planes, ack-ack (anti-aircraft) guns and everyone very concerned. Several guests couldn’t come as this was a restricted area, those who came left their gas masks at the back of the church during the service. The church organ competed with the noise overhead but to us it was a beautiful occasion. Afterwards snaps were quickly taken, then into the Ritchie Hall, where a shock awaited us. The caterer sent word that the waitresses were too scared to come because of the air raids so the firm sent a selection of food in a van and left us to it. Mother and her friends quickly assembled a buffet, with the guests helping put up tables, instead of the sit-down meal we intended. As soon as possible our guests left for the safety of their own air raid shelters, no one lingered! The next day my new husband had to return to camp and on Monday morning I was in my office at Pirelli General, Eastleigh, amazed at what can be achieved in 36 hours. My wedding dress was lent to many friends during the war when needed, one of whom was Bessie Crumplin of Chandler’s Ford, who was also married at St Boniface. We were both very lucky to survive the war and to have 63 years of happy marriage. My dear husband died 6 years ago, and I am now 97 years of age. Only my bridesmaid and I are left to remember that momentous day on its 70th anniversary and we spent a few minutes at St Boniface in remembrance and thanksgiving with my family and then had a meal in celebration.”