First Holiday

By Doreen Crowder

In the late summer of 1943, I had been working for a year as a clerk in the Motor and Accident Department, at the Prudential Assurance Co. in Colmore Row, Birmingham, and had been given a week’s holiday. I was sixteen and a half. My cousin Josephine, (always known as Jo) was a year younger than me, and had joined the Pru in the previous February as a typist in the Typing Pool, and she too had been granted a week’s holiday. We thought about this and finally decided to take a holiday away, together, and then had to make the big decision as to where we should go. I did not think for a minute we would have any opposition from our parents, but being wartime knew we probably could not go far.

Miss Webb, in her early twenties, awaiting her call up to the fire service, also worked in the Motor department. She told us she had an aunt who lived in Stratford-on-Avon, who ran a boarding house and she was sure she would be only too glad to have us for a week. We thought this would suit us very well and so Miss Webb arranged with her aunt to have us stay with her for our holiday.

There was no problem as to how we should get to Stratford as the Midland Red ran a good daily service to Stratford, and on the morning we were to set off I, with my Mother caught the Quinton No. 9 bus into Birmingham, and met up with Jo, who had come into Brum on the No. 12 bus from Harborne. We walked to Digbeth and with Mother waving us goodbye, were off on our adventure. I am not sure what we talked about but the day was fine and warm and sunny and we were in very high spirits and in no time at all we were pulling up to a stop in Henley-in-Arden. ‘A 20 minute stop here,’ the conductor called. We were then able to cross the street and buy ourselves one of the lovely Tudor Ice Creams from their shop. It was the only place I had so far found that made really wonderful chocolate ice cream.

My favourite. The sort found in the Neapolitan three flavour ones always tasted scented to me. I had a two scoop cornet and Jo had a strawberry one. They were gorgeous. Most of the passengers did the same, except for one lady who complained loudly at the stop, wanting us to get on and hurry up. She grumbled all the rest of the journey.

We arrived safely at the terminus in Stratford and found our way, plus our cases, to where we were to stay. I do not really remember much about the house; it had a short flight of steps to the front door, and in the dining room, Jo and I were given a small table for two, at the side of a small window overlooking the side garden. About our bedroom I have absolutely no remembrance at all. That week was lovely. The sun shone, and it was warm, an ideal summer break. After we arrived and settled in, we took ourselves off to explore. We found the river, the church and the ferry, on which you could be propelled across the Avon for a penny. We found it very exciting. One thing we did discover was that there were no cinemas open, so for our entertainment went to see three performances of Shakespeare’s plays at the Theatre. We enjoyed, “A Winter’s Tale”, “The Merry Wives of Windsor”, and “Othello”.

The next couple of days were spent visiting all the usual tourist places that Stratford had to offer. All on foot. No guided tours on buses then. But, we enjoyed it all. Shakespeare’s Birthplace, his school, his home and Ann Hathaway’s cottage. On the Wednesday, we were joined for the day by Jean engaged to my cousin Alec, Jo’s brother, and her younger sister Helen. Jo and I, acted as tour guides, showing off our knowledge of all things Stratford and Shakespeare, gained from our few days stay. Just after lunch we met up with four RAF boys. There was an RAF station quite near Stratford, and when any of the boys had free time they often came into Stratford. I am sure Jean was the attraction, as she was older than us and far more sophisticated.

We ended up with the boys hiring a boat, and taking us for a ride on the river. It was a punt, but the boys used paddles, and I am very glad it was a calm quiet day, and that I could swim. The necessity to do that did not arise, but it was a distinct possibility, as when all eight of us were seated in the boat there was only about a couple of inches between the edge of the boat and the water. I remember we went quite a way up the river, then down to the weir, then, back to the boathouse. After that it was ‘goodbye’ as we had then to see Jean and Helen back to their bus and home.

The next day my Mother paid us a visit, just checking we were alright, and that our lodgings were all they should be. She was satisfied, and we had another enjoyable day. No rain, warm and dry. There was one blot on the landscape for me though. I was a bit of a finicky eater and really hated cooked vegetables, only with the exception of potatoes. Imagine then my horror, on the first evening, to be presented with my plate of dinner; some sort of meat, potatoes and, to me, an enormous portion of peas and runner beans, fresh from the garden. My Mother always made me eat a small spoonful of the dreaded ‘other veg’, but this amount was ginormous! Jo saw my face, and promptly hissed at me, “You’ve got to eat them, you can’t leave them”. So I bravely gritted my teeth and did my best. Each night was the same, peas, beans, carrots, cauliflower; all my pet hates had to be consumed under Jo’s eagle eye. After that I did get to like these vegetables, even sprouts, but parsnips and Swedes still are never on my menu. Of course at the start of our week we had to surrender our ration Books to cover our stay, and I remember that most of our meals were really very good.

On the Friday, the last day of our holiday, Jo and I went a bit further afield. We walked to the SONA Canning works, took a path that led to the canal, and walked a mile or so to Mary Arden’s Cottage at Wilnecote. This was the home of Shakespeare’s mother and it was kept up lovely. We enjoyed a good look around and especially liked the garden, where they had recreated Mary’s original Herb Garden.

We set off back to our ‘digs’, enjoyed our last evening meal, plus all the veg, went and packed our things, and were ready for home the next day. When we arrived back in Birmingham we both agreed it had been a great holiday.

PS. This tale has a little twist. Jo had been born in Australia, I was born in the United States. My Uncle Ralph, Jo’s Dad had emigrated in 1922. My parents had gone to the US, a year later. Jo’s family had returned to England when she was 4, and we came back in 1937. Uncle Ralph plus his four daughters returned to Oz in 1946 on the £10 passage. Jo’s brother, Eric, served in the War and married a Canadian girl and lived in Colorado and their daughter Frances was going to visit here in 2009. It turned out Jo, her youngest sister Sadie, Jo’s daughter Penny and son-in-law Bob were also coming here for a holiday and they wanted to meet their younger cousins who were only known by name.

I organised a family get together at our local Church hall, calling it the Green gathering, on September, 12th, 2009. There were about 30 of us all descended from a family of 6 sisters and 3 brothers of the Green family from Bearwood. Most had never met and we had a grand afternoon, swopping pictures and stories and generally getting to know one another. There were first, second and third generations represented, only 2 cousins living in this country could not attend. The first thing Jo brought up was our holiday in Stratford and we regaled as many as would listen, to our goings on.

Ed’s comment - Thank you, Doreen, for sharing this lovely memory with us. Stratford was a big adventure in those days – sadly, not many youngsters today would be satisfied with such a short trip.

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