Added 1285 days ago. 8 October 2020

In June we launched a competition inviting you to share a tale from your past. We were overwhelmed by the 282 responses we received, all of which brought a smile to our faces. 

A huge congratulations to our winner, Margaret Chatwell!

Choosing the winner wasn’t easy, and we would like to say thank you all for sharing your amazing stories. Margaret's tale, 'A Sweet Story', is the story of a memory, a memory of long ago, mid 1940s to be exact, post-war years - the years of rationing! 

A Sweet Story

My friend Beryl and I were playing hopscotch on the pavement outside our houses. I should explain that we lived in a terrace of eighteen houses, alongside a railway line, with a similar terrace on the other side of the line, a longer terrace which housed our local grocery shop.

That morning as we played, a lorry suddenly turned the corner loaded with large fat paper bags and bundled on down the terrace. We knew what the driver didn’t, and that was that he had got the wrong terrace and it was a dead end! There was nothing for it but to reverse back up the terrace, which of course he did, but on the way he hit a bump in the road. The tailgate dropped down, and one of those large paper bags fell off and burst open. Beryl and I stared at the bag and at all the white sparkling stuff spilling out all over the road. Sugar!

Piles of that sweet, rationed luxury just there for the taking. Whether the driver knew or cared I don’t know, but he didn’t stay. We rushed in to tell our mums and by the time we emerged with a variety of containers, we found that we were not alone. Almost every front door in the terrace had been flung open and everyone was out wielding whatever containers they could lay their hands on in a hurry: basins, bowls, jugs, vases, baking tins, etc. Not  only that, but  the neighbours too had emerged in whatever they were wearing at the time, from wrap around pinnies and curlers, to dressing gowns and slippers. 

That silvery, sparkling pile of sugar (rationed remember) disappeared in next to no time, until there was nothing left but gravel and the occasional sugar crystal scattered here and there.

Indeed, I remember for some time after picking bits of gravel and tiny dead twigs out of the sugar bowl, but did it matter? NoIt was free unrationed sugar - who cared? We certainly didn’t. Although I do wonder what Health and Safety would make of it today. 

It rained that evening and by morning all trace of that ill-gotten pile of glittering sweetness had been washed away in the night, but for the residents, life was, for a while at least, considerably sweeter


2nd Place:‘Billy on a Bus’ by Mrs J. Sykes, Derby

The year- 1941; I was 10 years old and we were two years into that dreadful war. We lived on the very outskirts of Nottingham- my friends all said I was so lucky to live in the country! We kept goats, chickens. Rabbits, a cat and a dog. One day a Billy kid was born- white, beautiful, and hornless. We had arranged for our next Billy to go to a friends who had a farm at Burton Joyce, some miles away from Nottingham. He and I had become such good friends, my parents decided that I should take him. We had no car and so I was to travel by bus.  

A lead fixed to his collar, we set off for the bus stop. Two people already waiting when the bus arrived, the conductor didn’t know what to say. He demurred but finally allowed us to go upstairs. All heads were turned as we reached the top- his feet clattered loudly on the metal steps. He thoroughly enjoyed the attention. After a while, we left the bus and crossing two roads, we stood waiting for the Trent bus. The bus arrived and this time the conductor was rather more difficult; "you can’t bring ‘that’ on to my bus". My eyes filled with tears. I have to take him to the farm, then the conductor on the 28 let us on his bus. Now wanting to be out done by a corporation conductor, he said “go on upstairs then he’d better not make a mess!” 

Once again, a loud clattering as we climbed the stairs, as all the passengers turned in curiosity. We sat on the back seat and quite a number of the passengers came for a closer look and to fondle his ears. Again, Billy took it all in his stride and sat contentedly on my knees. Deep down, my heart was breaking. I loved him and how I was going to miss him. His warm greetings when I came home from school, our games in our garden- he would bring a ball to me just like a dog.  

The bus stop at the bottom of the farm field was reached; folk all called good-bye and the conductor with a grin said “I am going to have quite an audience when I tell folk about this. Thank you for cheering up everyone”. We left the bus and began climbing up towards the farm.  

I shall never forget Billy and the day he and I travelled together by bus.  

3rd Place: 'End of the War' by O. Tribe, Southampton 

Everyone was happy. The war was over. My mother woke me up one night to see the street lights! Out came the bunting, red white and blue.  There were to be Victory celebrations in London. Dad doffed his Bakers hat and apron, stuffed our pockets with penny buns,(we always had buns, if nothing else) then off we went on the train. 

There were crowds and crowds of people. I’de never seen anything like it! “Don’t let go of my hand” he said. I hung on for dear life. Trafalgar Square was mad with laughter, singing; shrieking; dancing. We surged forward with the crowd, swept along, down the Mall in the direction of Buckingham Palace. Somehow we edged to the side into St. James Park. 

Suddenly, there were police around us! We were pressed back to make a pathway. Dad thought someone must be ill, needing a stretcher. There was a shout from further up! “It’s the queen! Queen Mary!  Make way! Make way!”  Sure enough, the Old Queen Mary, mother of our King George 6th was walking towards us. She was regal, wearing her famous toque hat and fur coat. She had left the Palace to walk among the people. 
She stopped level with us. Reaching out her hand she caressed the cheek of the little girl standing next to me. I gazed up into her eyes. Seeing the tears running down her cheeks, I gently stroked the sleeve of her soft fur coat. A moment never to be forgotten

Much later, mucky and tired we sat in the train going home and munched our squashed buns. “Mum! Mum! I’ve been to London. I saw the Queen. I met her, I did. I did.” 

I am old now, so I know the message the dear Queen conveyed as she looked into my eyes. ‘These children are our future. We fought the war for them. They will be free to build up our nation again’. 

4th place: 'German Pen Pal' by J. Ackerley, Eastbourne

I am 85 now and 70 years ago I was a 15 year old schoolboy. German was the foreign language taught at my school, and this was my favourite subject, which I studied with passion, and gained high marks and distinctions. I cannot say the same about my other subjects at which I achieved only average marks. Having studied German for more than 2 years I yearned for the time when I could come face to face with a German to practise conversation. Little did I know that I was in for a pleasant surprise! 
The German teacher entered our classroom holding high a piece of paper: “I have here a letter addressed to this school from a German boy asking that it may be given to an English student willing to become a pen pal and willing to make exchange visits, anybody want it?” My hand flew up with great velocity. The teacher gave me the letter. 

The letter was from Karl Heikämper who lived with his parents and little sister Renate in the town of Lingen in North West Germany. I replied immediately and a rapid exchange of letters followed. We arranged to make exchange visits the following year during the school holidays. Karl would stay with me and my family for 4 weeks, and I would go to Germany to stay with him and his family for 4 weeks. After frequent exchanging of letters, the time for travelling was upon us. Karl arrived having travelled by train and ferry. Karl and I enjoyed each other’s company, and Karl was able to improve his English. We did a lot of cycling together. But soon his time was up and it became time for us both to travel to Germany by ferry and train.

Both Herr and Frau Heikämper did not speak English which was to my advantage. Herr Heikämper conversed with me for hours and took me out to various places and introduced me to many of his friends who were all so very friendly towards me, and Frau Heikämper cooked large meals for me to give me, “dicke Backen,” (fat cheeks). When my four weeks were over I wanted to go again, and wrote to ask if I could go again the following year. They readily invited me and I went again, and again the year after that, and later I travelled around Germany independently, and always went to see them and sometimes stayed the night. 
Postscript: Many years later I said to my wonderful wife, and to my equally wonderful two young sons, that we should take our Beetle, Frame tent on top and go to Germany and visit Lingen where I had such happy times. I did this and was so proud and happy to show off my very own family. 

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