Second youngest of nine children, I was born on 26 August 1918 at home (Feltham Farm, Bourton, Dorset) and was baptized [Church of England] in Silton Church. According to some family lore my name was apparently chosen for me from that of an Australian land girl. My Godmother, Cicely Dauncey, was the Commandant of the Land Army Girls. Though I was christened Cicely Mary, I was normally called Marie, Cicely being my Godmother's name.
I lived in the same village that I was born in until I was about 4 1/2 years old. Since I was a delicate child: thin and fair-haired, quiet and shy, I was sometimes called 'Mouse' by my brothers and sisters. In my childhood I was called 'Marie', by German PoWs who worked on our farm.
At the age of 4 1/2 I went to live with an aunt and uncle because my mother was expecting her youngest son, David (1923-2009), and she was not well. I lived with them until the age of eleven. Uncle Joe and Aunt Marion had a son, Henry (1918-2006), of about the same age as me. They wanted a companion for him. The two of us became great pals, getting into all kinds of mischief. Since I was brought up with Uncle Joe's son I routinely played with Meccano, trains, etc. and had bicycles, scooters, and the like. I still remember one of my favourite childhood toys was Teddy Tail of the Daily Mail One of my sisters had made it for me but later I had to give it up to the Thanksgiving Children's Service at Newick Church. Childhood games included card games, ping-pong, table tennis, grass hockey, cricket and rounders. I suffered most of the usual childhood diseases but often got them later than most children as I was not exposed to many other children when I lived at Uncle Joe and Aunt Marion's Oaklea Warren home.
As a child I do not remember getting special treats from my parents but I did not resent growing up without the things some of my friends might have had. I attended church regularly but routine work still had to be done. Valentine's Day was not celebrated in our family. Easter was mainly a religious occasion but I sometimes received an Easter egg in my teenage years. We did not have Halloween in England but Guy Fawkes Day was celebrated with big bonfires, fireworks, etc. All monies collected went to charities. For Christmas, as small children at home, we hung stockings at the end of our beds.
There were no celebrations at all at Oaklea Warren because Uncle Joe was a Quaker.
I did not go to movies until I was about ten years old [tickets then were 6d to 1/3d]. I often listened to radio. TV was not available until about 1939. At about age five I started learning piano for several years but I did not continue after a couple of years. I had a children's magazine at Oaklea. I rode a bicycle for many years. I tried skating but my ankles were very weak. I periodically went to Brighton or Purley rinks for skating. My usual mode of travel was bus, train, walking, or pony cart.
When at home I attended Sunday school [Church of England] at Silton Church. At Oaklea we all went to morning church and, in the evening, we all collected around a piano and sang hymns. At school there was a devotional half hour from 8:30-9:00 every morning and scripture was a requirement course.
My very first childhood homes were West Country farm homes. They were working farms and, with our big family, we would usually only have relatives, rather than friends, visit us. Sometimes my older sisters had parties but we younger children were not invited to them. There were no neighbours really close by other than my grandparent's and a few other relative's homes. After work at home in Sussex House my family usually relaxed by a fire in the dining room or, in the evenings, in the drawing room (living room).
As a child I sometimes found life at Oaklea a bit scary because, on windy nights, the ivy rustled noisily outside my windows. I was not allowed to bring friends home for visits. One only visited Uncle Joe and Aunt Marion by invitation. Children went downstairs only to say goodnight to the grownups. Grounding meant being either sent out of the room or being sent to bed. My discipline, when required, was being sent to bed. I did not question whether it was fair. At meals we children only spoke when spoken to. There was always a silent grace at meals. Everybody stood behind their chairs before the meal commenced.
At home the cooking was done on wood-burning ranges (Agas). At Oaklea they cooked using electricity. Food was generally stored in a cold pantry.
We used regular English china at home but they had some lovely hand-painted china sets at Oaklea. At home we had milk from our own dairy farm. At Oaklea we had bottled milk delivered from Uncle Joe's big Iford farm. Uncle Joe also retailed milk at Norbury, Hove and Wallington.
For many years at Oaklea the power came from a generator. At Sussex House, in the early 30's, there was line power but they had lamps and candles too. Our homes were heated by fireplaces in various rooms. Most of our bedrooms were cold at times so, in winter, we placed feather duvets over our mattresses to keep warm.
Water was piped in from a spring at Sussex House. It was heated in the kitchen or furnace. To do our laundry Mother used a wringer washer but clothes were air dried on a line, a tradition I carried through to Westwold. At Oaklea there was always plenty of water and there were several bathrooms. Although at all my homes we had indoor plumbing, there was always an outside outhouse for use by the outside workers.
At Feltham Farm there was no phone. At Sussex House there was an ordinary phone. At Oaklea there was an old-fashioned, two-piece phone (Newick 25).
Our farm homes were mostly left unlocked. Latches there were mainly sliding wooden latches. At Oaklea they used regular locks on their doors.
There was a big vegetable garden at both Sussex House and at Oaklea. Mother looked after the flower garden but the farm workers did all of the heavy digging. There were always birds around. At Oaklea there were bird feeders in the veranda. Nests were nailed to big birch trees throughout the garden. Blue Tits and Nuthatches flitted around the house. Dovecotes were located in one area of the garden. Our yard was bounded by fences and hedges.
I was given an allowance periodically but I had to work for it. It was very little money and what I received I used for presents and necessities. Father always bought sweets each week. Sometimes we also bought a few sweets or bakery items ourselves to share while walking back from the village. I only worked at home or helping our relatives except for a summer holiday when I was 17 when I spent the summer looking after children boarders.
At home we had a pony and a springer spaniel as pets. The pony, Joey, was eventually sold. Don, the dog, met with a tragic accident but he was old by that time.
My best friends growing up were my sister Kaye and a girl named 'Ellie May'. My sister Kaye and I shared a bedroom at home until Kaye left at 17 to train as a nurse. In summer months I usually went to the seaside with Mother or a relative for a week or so. I occasionally went to Young Farmers, Hunt Balls, etc. with family members. I only started dating in my late teens as mother was quite strict.
I got my driver's license in my late teens. I was taught to drive by various people (friends) but I did not have a car until I came to Canada. I did not smoke or drink as a teenager. I went into nurse's training at age 19-20 at Princess Alice Memorial Hospital, Eastbourne, Sussex. As a nurse I lived in the nurse's residence.
Since I had a governess until age 11 my first real school was a small private school where I went until I graduated. It was a four-story brick building. The principal was the head mistress and owner of the school. The school had long tables and chairs rather than separate desks. There were no lockers, just room for coats, hats and shoes at the back of a room.
The courses and the ages were separated into classes. Each class had about 10 students. I enjoyed my math class the most and my French class the least. I did not take music and, although we all had to sing, I did not have much of a voice.
There were a variety of student types: year-round students, term students, weekly students and day pupils. I boarded weekly at the school in Tunbridge Wells because my home was at Cowden, Kent, about 10-12 miles from school. I was a boarder so stayed at school Monday-Friday but went home for weekends. I travelled to school and home again by train or bus. Lunch at school was a hot lunch served in the dining room.
All students at our school wore uniforms 'either dresses or gym strip' in navy blue. We wore black hats in winter or white Panama hats in summer. Because the school required us to wear uniforms I did not worry about clothing 'trends' as some of the young girls do today.
Report cards were sent to parents a week or so after school ended in the summer. School required, and expected, a lot more discipline and respect from all pupils than there is in our era. Teachers meted out punishments. If I misbehaved I usually apologized at bedtime. Mostly I wrote out lines but once I was sent from the room.
I was an average student and not particularly popular. There were no real organized sports at school but I played tennis, grass hockey, went to a community pool on Mondays in summer, and sometimes watched a professional cricket game. Occasionally I won awards at races at summer picnics at end of summer term.
Once I finished school I returned home to assist my mother for a couple of years before traveling to Princess Alice Memorial Hospital (PAMH), Eastbourne for my nursing training.
Mother was Florence Eugenie Jane (nee Harris) Roberts (1880-1952). She was a strict disciplinarian but she and I had a good relationship. My mother suffered from appendicitis, heart problems and hypertension. My mother eventually died of cardiac failure aggravated by cholecystitis. Mother was Church of England and she is buried in Felcourt Cemetery in a plot next to her husband's future grave. I helped put moss and flowers down all sides of her freshly dug grave. There was a packed church and a lovely service. Mother was loved by family and was truly respected in the community. I had difficulty accepting her death.
When Mother cooked she was a very good cook. She mainly entertained for relatives. She loved, and was skilled at, gardening. Her one hobby was showing poultry and she was a frequent winner of contests. She also raised all white poultry (2000 hens, turkeys, ducks, geese and Guinea fowl). She looked after seriously ill members of family.
My father was Robert Mathias Percy Roberts (1876-1956). He was about 5' 8" - 5' 10", had dark hair, a mustache and a muscular build. He was kind and hard working but sometimes a bit quick-tempered. He left most family discipline to Mother. I was not really close to my father but wish that I had been. He adored his wife but we did not see him show it much. The only times I saw him as emotional and ready to cry was when his son, David, was shot down in the war and again when Mother died.
David, who had volunteered for the Air Force, was shot down and was a prisoner of war. He was wounded, but before we heard he was a PoW at Stalag Luft 3, it was a dreadful ordeal, just knowing he was missing, but Mother felt he was safe and was very calm. She said that David had come to her in a dream and so we waited until the news came.
Father was generally healthy in life though he had a hernia that he kept in with a truss. Once he had a brick wall fall and crush his feet badly. The doctors wanted to remove his great toe but he refused to have it done as he knew he needed it for better balance and stance. He had a badly gashed face once but I did not find out why.
My father was Church of England. He finished school and had excellent penmanship. He could draw well and he could have had great artistic ability but never had the time to pursue it.
He learned, by apprenticeship, to be a butcher but, when married, he was a dairy farmer and a miller. Mother did not wish to marry a butcher. During WWI he had two farms and two grist mills. He was well liked in the community and was politically conservative. Though not a real handyman he could cope with many things. Life was hard work for my parents, but Mother, a busy person with her poultry-farmhouse, and Father, worked long hours. Father got up at 5:00 am to get the milking done with a very small but willing staff. Sometimes he kept the Mill going 24 hours per day to grind other people's corn. ... The Mill was a water-powered wheel which filled the water buckets on an under-shot wheel.
Father died at age 84 and had no wish to live after Mother died. He is buried at Felbridge Parish Church Cemetery in a plot beside Mother's grave.
Mother and Father were affectionately called 'Muz' and 'Pop' by us. They had met at Manor Farm when Father was vacating it and Mother's family was moving into it. Some of the Roberts Family (my Great Uncles) lived at Manor Farm, Silton. The Harris Family moved into part of the farmhouse from their home at Purse Caundle, [Bowden], Dorset. Poor Grandpa and Grandma Harris moved farms in February with snow to the top of the hedges and with just horses and wagons for the job! The two families were both large ones'13 children in each. Father was then a boy of 15 and Mother was 12 years old when they first met. Although they had their share of troubles with finances, fires, illness, etc. over the years I would judge that their marriage was generally a happy one.
Although I lived at home at times I do not think that I did much with my parents. Mother took us to the seaside sometimes. We did not socialize much other than with relatives and a few close friends. My parents did not dance but Mother sometimes went to a whist drive at a dance. They usually traveled by car or bus. Pops loved his grandson, Andy. Mother was good with children.
My maternal Grandmother was Susanna Judith (nee Parsons) Harris (1851-1928). I called her Grandma. Like most grandmothers of that era she had lovely curly hair, which she pulled up into a tight bun. She wore long dark dresses and black button-up shoes.
I only came to know her while I was a small child so I do not remember much other than that she was fairly quiet. I remember that I enjoyed seeing her. On visits to her home I was looked after by sundry aunts and uncles. My maternal Grandfather Harris died before I was born. He had been a farmer. Grandpa and Grandma raised 13 children and they resided only about a mile from my parents.
Grandpa Roberts, my paternal Grandfather, was a widower with three children by his first wife [Rose Parfitt] who had died. Later Grandpa Roberts had married Mary Ann Victoria Percy (1842-bef. 1920), daughter of the Reverend Percy at Silton Rectory. They had 13 children together. When first married they lived at Card's Farm, Bourton, Dorset.
I had wanted to be a nurse from a young age and was able to pursue that as a career. I stayed with a Mr. and Mrs. Bygraves for about two years during my nursing training but I also stayed in the nurse's residence part of the time in training.
During the Second World War, I was working in Eastbourne at PAMH. One day, when I was on Crowden Ward, a young boy was admitted with pyrexia of unknown origin. I spent a lot of time with him trying to bring down his temperature and make him comfortable. The next night I was on the same ward and the same sponging, etc. continued. When the weekend was over the doctors gave the boy a good many tests, including sputum and blood. The following night his bed was empty. I discovered he had been sent to a TB sanatorium where he died a few days later. Before TB drugs had been discovered tuberculosis was usually fatal. My exposure to this lad's TB later came back to haunt me.
The Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) regiment was stationed in Eastbourne at the time and I happened to be the nurse-in-charge of a ward of wounded soldiers during the war. One of my patients was being visited by Benjamin B. Buhler (1918-1955), a Canadian soldier on leave in Britain. Ben met me during one of his visits and decided then to pursue me. On our first date Ben arrived in uniform.
The hospital had a dating curfew. One had to be back by 10 pm. We were allowed an 11 pm curfew only one night a month. So on our first date we just talked. Wartime prevented much in the way of social events but we went to dances, movies, on walks, and had a meal out periodically. Much depended upon the nightly air raid sirens as this was wartime. I worked as a nurse for about four years before I got married. Once married I was not allowed to work. The policy in Britain at that time was that married nurses were not allowed to work in British hospitals. (That policy was changed during the war).
My parents liked Ben and he asked Pop's permission to marry me. We did not celebrate our engagement. Showers were unheard of in wartime England. We were married in April 1943 in the Parish Church by the church rector in East Grinstead, Sussex. There were no wedding attendants. Father walked me down the aisle. Ben wore his uniform. I wore a cream linen dress and a navy hat. In England at that time the only wedding rings allowed were 10-carat gold bands so that was the ring I was married with. There was only immediate family at the wedding: mother, father, brothers Henry (1913-1987) and David (1923-2009), Ben, and myself. Our reception was held at home where we enjoyed a cooked dinner with family. My sister Doris (1908-1952) prepared the lovely meal for us all. My future mother-in-law, Susana (1880-1958), had sent the wedding cake from Canada as there were no coupons for extended rations in England in those days. A wedding photographer, 'A. Connold', had promised to come but, due to wartime conditions, he never made it there in time. We had a delayed honeymoon in Scotland. I followed Ben around to several of his PPCLI postings until he went overseas but my mother then asked that I return home to assist with her care. I stayed at home until I eventually got passage on the Queen Mary to Canada in 1946.
With the war ending in 1946, the HMS Queen Mary was used first to bring the soldiers back and then to transport the war brides. I was to leave from Southhampton when peace was declared. I had to check with a doctor in Tunbridge Wells to see that I didn't have TB. I went to get the OK from the old doctor but he was busy in his garden so we just talked together for a while.
When we were told to go to London in order to get to Southhampton, Kaye came and helped me. My brother, Edward (1911-1989), got a horse and cart the day before and we took the luggage to the train station 1.5 miles away then stopped at Uncle Alban's [Alban Edward Harris (abt. 1896-1984)] to say goodbye. Next day early Andy and I left'many tears from Mother and Pop.
In London we had to go to a horrible place overnight. Once we were allowed in we had soldiers guarding the doors. Next morning early we were taken to Waterloo for a special train, which took us to Southhampton and the Queen Mary liner. It was good to be able to walk around. I was in a room with a bathroom and two tiered beds. A porter resided in a room nearby and he had a ladder to assist anyone needing it to get up to the top bunks.
The next day, after boarding, we went through the English Channel. It was the Queen Mary's last sailing and she served as a war bride's transport ship. Once on the Atlantic it took us four days to get to Halifax. There was a very choppy storm on the third day. All windows were shut and I felt very seasick but Andy insisted we go for a banquet at all meals. We arrived safely at Pier 21 in Halifax. Once there I enjoyed watching other war brides meeting their in-laws for the first time.
From Halifax Andy and I traveled by train. Ben met us at the Winnipeg, Manitoba station. We stayed in a hotel for several days and visited Plum Coulee to meet some of the Buhler family (Mennonites who spoke little or no English). We had a lunch with Ben's brother, Frank (1910-1988) and Mary (nee Dyck, 1921-2013) Buhler, at their place. I felt I had a fairly good relationship with my mother-in-law, Susana (1880-1958), when I met her in Winnipeg. However, my father-in-law, Abram (1869-1946), was terminally ill when I visited and that was the only time I ever met him.
Andy was not very well ' too much stuff in the train that, due to war rationing, we didn't have in England. A few days after visiting the relatives we all got back on the train and travelled to Sicamous where we overnighted in a hotel full of mosquitoes. Andy and I, badly bitten, next day caught the train to Kelowna (on a different track). At Kelowna Mrs. Kenneth Young met us in a truck and drove us to Okanagan Mission and a nearly finished cottage on their farm. Ben, Andy and I went to Young's for a Sunday meal. Mrs. Young was a really good cook. We all settled initially in Okanagan Mission for about nine months (July 1946 to April 1947) before finally moving to Westwold, BC.
Ben and I had discussed having children before we were married. When I became pregnant I returned to my Mother's home at Sussex House. Shortly afterwards Ben's regiment disappeared. They were up in Scotland training to travel by sea to Malta and no one was to know if, when or why, since the German navy was always watching the English Channel. Ben arrived safely and landed in Italy to fight up the east side; the American troops were fighting on the other side of Italy until Italy surrendered.
I was very pregnant in August while living at Sussex House. I had a doctor in Tunbridge Wells and had made appointments to have my baby at a nursing home there when it was due. My sister, Joy (1901-1967), happened to be at home at that time too.
On August 12th Joy and I got up at 5:30'6:00 am to get all the available mushrooms we could in our fields so we could sell them in Tunbridge Wells or London. Harold Hicks, one of the farm workers, had a wife who was always trying to get out before us so we had to get out there early. While we were still picking mushrooms, I started having pains so Joy panicked and called a taxi. We arrived at about 7:00 am in the middle of an air raid. About 1:30 pm I was in full labour. Staff eventually called the Dr. but he was not at home. He was taking his two children to a promised film. After trying to delay the birth, the nurses eventually put a message on the cinema screen for the Dr. to come immediately. Andy was born at approximately 5:00 pm. I required eight stitches (four internal and four external) after the delivery. Joy went back home but had some adventures on her way there.
Andy was given a baby crib in my room but he was soon taken downstairs because the air flights overhead were getting worse. I was told to get downstairs by myself if I got scared.
Mother and Kaye, who was working in Kent and Sussex, both visited me next day. After one week I brought Andy home. There were lots of air raids that fall so I often had to put him under the kitchen table for safety.
Two of my family members (cousins Edwin (1928-?) and Rachel (nee Coward) Harris) lived in my first childhood home at Feltham.
When peace came in 1945, my parents, who lived at Sussex House, were feeling the strain and began thinking of retirement. The farm could not be left to my brother, Edward, the eldest son, as it meant him having to pay an income to my parents for them to live on and, at the time of their death, Edward would have to pay the rest of the family their shares of the Estate.
In May 1947, I [Gladys (1904-1984) ] received a letter from my father saying that he had sold Sussex House and that Edward and Harold Hicks (our faithful man who had come from Dorset with us and lived in Sussex House Lodge with his wife and son) were staying on, Edward as Manager and Harold as general helper to the new owner. By the end of June, my parents had moved to Silton, Felcourt, East Grinstead, to a bungalow with a large garden, which became their pride and joy. When people asked where to get off the bus at Felcourt, the driver said, 'You will see a beautiful garden just before your stop. What a credit to all their hard work! Later, Sussex House was sold again and bought by [Sir] John Mills, the actor. Edward still ran the farm but Harold died suddenly from a heart attack. I believe after some years, the Mills sold Sussex House and Edward went to Hill Place in East Grinstead to help [William] Nanscawen Broad ' and after he died, Edward, who had bought a very pretty house near East Grinstead, took a post at Godstone. He retired there.
Father and Joy lived on at Silton until about May 1956, when Father died. Silton was Joy's and Glady's. Joy stayed there until after a burglary decided her to sell and move to Brighton with Kaye, who was Matron of the Brighton General Hospital at the time.
Uncle Joe passed away suddenly in 1962. Oaklea was eventually divided up and sold.
I had happy memories of all my childhood homes.
"I am very glad I had you all. I love you. I am afraid I asked too much of you at times. It can be a very lonely life at times. I have had some really good friends which I really appreciated."