45. Reminiscences from Janet McGraw, nee Smith

This time the article about Witham’s past is written by a guest writer. She is Janet McGraw (nee Smith), who lives in North Carolina in the U.S.A.  She is on the photo, second from the left on the back row, dressed as the holly and the ivy.

A Christmas group in about 1949, at Chipping Hill School, Church Street The children are said to be: Back row: Ann Goodchild (fairy), Janet McGraw (nee Smith, author, holly and ivy), David Snowden (Father Christmas), Margaret Cross (nee Mead, plum pudding and custard), Janet Thurston (Christmas cracker), Peter Scott. Front row: Michael Pavelin, Michael Woolnough, Alan McElrea, Brian Worship, Colin Shute
A Christmas group in about 1949, at Chipping Hill School, Church Street
The children are said to be:
Back row: Ann Goodchild (fairy), Janet McGraw (nee Smith, author, holly and ivy), David Snowden (Father Christmas), Margaret Cross (nee Mead, plum pudding and custard), Janet Thurston (Christmas cracker), Peter Scott.
Front row: Michael Pavelin, Michael Woolnough, Alan McElrea, Brian Worship, Colin Shute

“I was born Janet Rosina Smith on April 17th 1942, in the “Nurses’ Bungalow” in Collingwood Road (number 46). Until about the mid fifties, times were very hard, with ration books and serious food shortages. I left Witham as a young GI bride in 1963, to follow my husband Danny to our new assignment in the USA. We also travelled the world with the USAF. Finally settling in North Carolina, for the past 36 years. However Witham still remains in my heart as “Home”. I’ve made as many trips “Home” to visit my loved ones, friends and the Old Town as possible. She brings me comfort every time I see her!!

My mother Gladys Smith/Wade moved from a condemned house in Powers Hall End, to a brand new house in Cressing Road (no.125), when I was just a few months old. Those houses were kindly built by Witham Urban District Council around the end of the War years. My mother remained in the same house for the rest of her 89 years. (about 57 years altogether). She was a real character, she never knew a stranger, always making everyone smile or laugh. A pot of tea was always brewing to welcome anyone who happened to pop in for a visit. The radio played and we’d sing along with her to the latest and best known tunes of the 50’s & 60’s.

It would be so very cold in the winter months,  I can remember the window in our bedroom would sometimes be covered in frost many a winter morning, we’d scrape a small round hole in the frost to look outside to see if snow had fallen; if it had, we’d be so excited that the bitter cold room didn’t matter anymore.

Then we’d go outside and play in the snow (no fuzzy warm clothes to cover us in those days, bare legs with socks n’ shoes). Finally we’d succumb to the bitter cold, when our limbs turned blue and purple from the cold. Into the house we’d go where Mum would warm us up with a nice hot steamy cup o’ tea!! Shoes would be lined up in front of the coal fireplace, to dry, eventually turning rock-hard from the drying leather.

In the summer holidays, the old water tower at the top of Cressing road was a favourite landmark for me. We spent many happy hours and days near there having picnics, picking bluebells and making daisy chains, fishing for tadpoles in our jam-jars tied with a string for a handle. Great memories of Summer holidays!!

The haystacks in the farmers’ fields across the road from our house also became our playground. We’d imagine them as Castles or Forts, where we’d fight off the cowboys and Indians, or become Tarzan swinging from the branches of the trees. We’d scrump apples from the farmers’ orchards when our tummies would rumble. We wouldn’t go home until the street lights came on, or our Mothers called us to come home for tea.

Friday night was bath night. We had a brick copper lined heater in the corner of the kitchen. They’d fill up the copper with cold buckets of water from the sink, (they burned broken bits of wood, or anything, even old shoes to heat the water). Once the water was heated they’d carry it to the bathtub in the kitchen, where we all took turns.

Chipping Hill Infant school was a wonderful school. One of my memories is of the crates of small bottles of milk, issued by the government, that would be delivered free to the school door each morning. During the cold winter mornings, the teachers would bring them indoors, where they’d place the small bottles on the radiators around the classrooms (which were heated by the very large black wrought iron “Coke burning” stove just inside the door.) Such a wonderful warm mid-morning snack was enjoyed daily.

I have so many great memories of growing up in a small town where everyone knew each other. In our neighbourhood every one was poor, but we didn’t know or care.”

A version of this article appeared in the Braintree and Witham Times in June 2015

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