Saturday, 11 March 2017

Letters to Germany ........ from Derby in 1947

Union Street near Hope Street, late 1940s

What did my grandfather do on a muggy Monday evening in 1947?

Well there were plenty of cinemas in the town but I doubt that he would have bothered with a film.

Alternatively there was the pub of which there were lots more within walking distance of Hope Street where he had lived with my grandmother for over twenty years.

But while he liked a drink Monday was some way off from pay day so on that Monday evening of October 13th he took to writing a letter to my grandmother who had left for Germany the week before.

It was the first time they had been apart since they returned to England in the early 1920s.

This was the first of a number of letters he sent during that October. They were full of the ordinary things that happen to couples, a mix of gossip, local news and the mundane trivia which kept grandmother in touch with a familiar world.

Nana and granddad mid 1930s
Uppermost was the story of how the Corporation had “made a fellow give up his bungalow under the Town Planning Scheme” for a pittance only to allow a local Councillor to move in after it had been renovated. There were also the usual references to the weather and the comings and goings of relatives, friends and neighbours.

But it was food that featured most consistently through the letters. There was the Sunday meal of “stewed steak with peas and onions, stewed apple with the top of the milk bottle for dinner and bread, cheese, tomatoes for tea,” along with the references to the absence of sausage meat and the promise to try and get hold of some coffee to send to Germany.

It is easy to forget that food was still rationed and that during 1946 and ‘47 this had been extended to include bread and potatoes. Apple crumble that mainstay of school dinners and quick puddings had evolved in the war. Due to strict rationing the ingredients needed to make the bases of pies contained too much flour, fat and sugar while a crumble mixture used less.

On the Sunday he had met up with my mother and passed over her ration coupons before returning home to trade some of the family food. “Mrs Rushton brought me some tea, sugar and margarine which was traded for eggs.” Despite this he still managed “bacon eggs and toast for breakfast” on Sunday, all the more remarkable given that eggs were in such short supply and that the weekly allowance of bacon per person was just 113 grams [4oz].

Amongst all the trivia came a more serious note. Away in Germany something had gone wrong. It is not clear from his letter but it is enough to know that he “thought it was a rotten thing to happen” and he asked that grandmother “give my expression of sympathy to Liesel,” and pondered on what could be done.

Mrs Bux, one of my great aunts, date unknown
“It is only a suggestion of course, but would it not be possible for her to come over here, under this foreigners Scheme, perhaps work at Cleanese or somewhere and live with us.”

The scheme which had begun in 1947 was a Government response to the need to find workers for essential industries, including agriculture, coal mining and textiles.

They were recruited from the millions of east Europeans who had been ripped from their home to work for the German war machine.

Now as they languished in Displaced Persons Camps across Germany and fearful of returning to what were
Soviet controlled areas, they were offered one year contracts to come to Britain. They were known as European Volunteer Workers and it was this scheme that grandfather pinned his hopes.

It seemed to come to nothing. Liesel remained in Germany and grandmother returned. But it would be to a changing landscape. Her daughter, my mother had moved to London, and my grandmother would within a few years exchange the two up two down in Hope Street for a fine big house in Chellaston and grandfather would retire.

Picture; Union Street near Hope Street, late 1940s, from the collection of Cynthia Wigley, my grandparents, mid 1930s, and one of my great aunts, in Cologne, date unknown, from the collection of Andrew Simpson

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