Wright Family Album

Doris' memories - Wokingham 1935-1941

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I was attracted to Wokingham the very first time I walked up from the station. For the first time we were settled, neither in suburbs nor the country, but in an old country town with a small town hall at its heart. Crescent Road was a residential road just a few minutes walk from the centre, about ten minutes walk from the parish church and a quarter of an hour from the station. Trains were fairly frequent and took 1 hours to get up to Waterloo. Reading, seven miles away,  was in the opposite direction, with a good bus service there.

I now came to live at home and commute to King's College. Mummy got the doctor's permission to nurse Elizabeth at home and the back sitting room was turned into a bedroom for her and she could be wheeled outside onto the back lawn on fine days. It was a heart wrenching moment when Mummy came and woke me up to tell me in tears that Elizabeth had died in the night. A number of relations came to stay for the funeral and I spent the night next door with Dr. and Mrs Rose - such kind neighbours.

We had other kind neighbours. Our favourites were the Molloys who lived the other side of the road. Lieutenant-General Molloy was retired and his wife an extremely relaxed lady, both making us always welcome. They had a very pretty daughter, about our own age, who volunteered to teach us - Basil, Hugh and me - ballroom dancing in their sitting room. I think Hugh had a very soft spot for Diana. In September 1938, when war was in the offing, everybody was issued with gas masks and General Molloy asked me to accompany him on his patch to go round fitting people with these gas masks and showing them how to use them.

Other friends in the neighbourhood used to invite us for tennis parties in their gardens and suchlike family entertainments. The Grand Dame of Wokingham was a Mrs Corfield, a very sociable lady who lived in a large house on the outskirts of the town where she often held cocktail parties for her many friends. One day she got up a party of us to fill a coach and take us all to London for lunch at Claridge's Hotel, followed by a matinee at a theatre. I can’t remember what the play was. In the summer of 1938 she invited me to go to Scotland with her and her daughter, a girl of my own age, dull and podgy with hardly a word to say for herself. We were driven up to and around Scotland by their chauffeur, staying in hotels in various places. I particularly remember the Loch Awe Hotel and going with Mary on the Loch rowed around by a man with a beautiful, wrinkly, serene face, we two sitting in the back of the boat trailing fishing rods. All we caught was one large pike which looked very fierce lying in the bottom of the boat snapping its sharp teeth at us.

I didn't travel back home with them because I was due at a Youth Camp at Barmouth in Wales and was put on a train in a sleeping compartment. It meant being woken  by the Guard at 4a.m. to change trains at Crewe. I was amazed how busy Crewe station was at that time of the morning - almost as busy as a London street.

King's College - friends, Kennaway Hall Staff, Youth camp at Barmouth

These summer youth camps were introduced to us by Gordon and he drove Basil and me to our first one at Monkton Matravers in Dorset near Swanage. The following two years they were held at Barmouth, then had to be given up as war was threatened. We loved these Youth Camps. Over a hundred of us slept in bell tents with two large marquees for meetings, services and meals. They had been organised in the first place by a very active vicar called Scantlebury for youth clubs in Bournemouth and Southampton churches. Max Warren, famous in missionary and church circles, was the first padre. I principally remember him as having to spend a lot of time in a deckchair because he was suffering from T.B.

Our Wokingham house was large enough to have family and visitors to stay at various times and Mummy was so hospitable that she welcomed everyone. Auntie Nellie and Uncle Kenneth stayed with us when Elizabeth was still living and Auntie Nellie kindly gave her a wireless set. It was a largish one and Auntie paid for it by hire purchase, the first time that had ever been done in our family and a practice that most people of our ilk frowned upon. Saving up for the item should be done first; but of course, in Elizabeth's case, we realised that saving up for it first might have been too late. Uncle Kenneth, who was a great music lover, drove a carful of us older ones to a concert at Queen's Hall conducted by Sir Henry Wood. On the way there he was driving quite fast along a long straight emptyish main road along the side of Heathrow Airport when unfortunately a car needed to turn right and Uncle couldn't stop in time to prevent a bump. Luckily we weren't delayed long enough to make us late for the concert.

Our cousins Eileen and Nora (Clark) came down every now and then. Eileen was teaching music at St Michael's and Nora training as a nurse at St Thomas's. I brought my three friends from King's College down one weekend and Basil often came down with his Weymouth College and St Thomas's friend, James Richardson. The two of them would sing naughty medical student songs to us. We always enjoyed James's visits because he was so full of fun. On one occasion he was helping clear up the tea things and enjoyed himself eating all the burnt cake sultanas left on people's plates until Barbara came in and said, 'I've sucked all those'! On another occasion he was making toast for breakfast under the gas grill but forgot to keep an eye on the slices and they got so badly burnt that he rushed out of the back door to put them in the dustbin, first putting new slices under the grill. By the time he got back they too were burnt so he repeated the exercise. If Mummy hadn't come down to see what was going on he might have got through the whole loaf! And medical students are supposed to be some of the most intelligent in the land!

Dick Shepherd, our cousin, was an almost permanent fixture when he was a horticultural student at Reading. He and Basil were great pals. I mainly remember him for fiddling with the wireless and forever rattling keys around in his pocket.

Doris Mr Gritz & Jackie When I got my degree in 1937 Daddy gave me 1 which I spent straight away on buying a little black and tan puppy. We had all been so fond of our previous manchester terrier, Pip. This little fellow we called Gritz. In the summer of 1938 I finished my teacher training but didn't manage to get a teaching job for the first half term and as Mummy and Daddy were out in N. Africa Gritz and I went to stay with our dear Auntie Dennie and Uncle Tom in Leeds. I gave Auntie strict instructions not to get into the habit of feeding titbits to Gritz at mealtimes and when I caught her slipping a bit of cake down below the table I said, 'Auntie!' and she said, 'But I cant help it. It's his eyes'. Walt Disney's 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' was released at that time and Auntie and I loved it so much we sat through it a second time round. At half term I started teaching at St Brandon's school for clergy daughters in Bristol so I took Gritz to stay in Cardiff with the Shepherd family as my parents were still abroad. The last day of term Gritz was put on a train in the guard's van for Bristol, with a muzzle on - quite unnecessary of course, but regulations. It was great to see the little fellow again. Then the next day I took him home by train and bus to Wokingham.

Doris, Mr Gritz and Jackie (the cat)

In September 1939 our school was evacuated to the Bishop's Palace in Wells. We Staff had to go back early to get everything settled in and what a horrible term that was. The palace was freezing cold. The large stone hall had only an open fire to warm it and that was always smoking and we weren't brilliantly fed. I shall never forget the contrast of arriving home after it and walking into our cosy sitting room with a blazing fire and the family sitting round drinking tea and eating cake.
At the end of the summer term three of us younger staff gave in our notices determined to do some sort of war work. The other two went to work in War Departments and Janet, my particular friend, was sadly torpedoed at sea on her way to work in America. I became a Red Cross nurse and went to work at Bisham Abbey, near Marlow, the home of a very well-to-do lady called Miss Vanssitart-Neale (now the national sports centre) until being called up to the Royal Naval Hospital in Chatham in the summer of 1941.

Life at Bisham Abbey was a doddle. Three of us V.A.D.s arrived at the same time and as there were no patients we were each put 'under' a member of staff. One was in the kitchen under the cook, another under the butler and learnt how to wait at table. I was put under the head housemaid and, besides a little light hoovering and dusting, had to help make Miss Neale's bed, wash her hairbrushes every day and turn down a corner of her bed every evening! No food rationing there. We lived off the fat of the land as there was a home farm which supplied all the milk, butter and so on which was needed. The lawn bordered the Thames so we used to get out a boat from the boathouse and enjoy ourselves on the river, my King's College rowing experience coming in handy. Another joy was the Library. Some of the ladies living nearby used to pop in occasionally and one of them decided I ought to be educated in drinking spirits. We met at a local pub and she treated me to two gin and its. The bicycle ride back was extremely wobbly but, thanks to petrol rationing, there was no traffic on the roads.

On the Thames at Bisham Abbey

After a couple of months some London bomb invalids arrived so our proper, but very gentle, nursing began. All I can remember about that was being on night duty and having to go down to warm drinks in the kitchen made gloriously warm by the bank of Aga cookers along the wall.

With only David spending school holidays at home, Barbara being now in the Land Army and milking cows on a farm in a nearby village, the rest of us either abroad or having only short leaves, the parents could give up the large Wokingham house and, as a temporary measure, go and live with Granny and Auntie Bessie.

Doris' reflections on school and college   Doris' reflections on her war years

Basil's memories

David's memories

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