Susan E. (née Chown) Little

Susan E. Chown was born in 1939 and during her wartime childhood she lived with her parents in Bishopsmead, East Horsley. She married in 1968 to Robin C. Little.

The source of this narrative is as follows:

WW2 People’s War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC.
The archive can be found at https://www.bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar.

Contributor: Susan E. (née Chown) Little
Article ID: A3757610
Contributed on: 08 March 2005
Archive URL: https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/10/a3757610.shtml

Themes : East Horsley, Bookham, air raids, sirens, rationing, Auxiliary Fire Service, VE Day.

Childhood Memories of WW2 in Surrey

I was born six months before war broke out in 1939. I had an idyllic childhood in a Surrey village but, as I grew up, I became acutely aware of the war. Early memories of blackout curtains, air raid warnings, searchlights and droning enemy aircraft stand out. East Horsley, where we lived, was on the German bomber flight-path to London. During air raids, we could hear the siren clearly, three miles away in Bookham. At night, when we heard the siren, our family went down to an office from our top floor flat, and I was carried in a blanket. We sat it out down there, until the “all clear” sounded, and I could sense the relief as we climbed upstairs to bed. Later on during the war, with increased fear of bombing, beds were moved down to the basement of our shop, where we slept every night.

My father was not called up into the armed forces, due to a physical disability. He joined the Auxiliary Fire Service and served with the Horsley unit, which used a wooden garage near the railway station as its headquarters. I remember the hut was fitted out with bunk beds and I am told that it was unheated and had no running water nor a toilet. During the war, this requisitioned hut was occupied as a dormitory, in turn, by two members of the unit on night duty.

My parents ran a grocery business and had a shop in the village. Food rationing was strict in those days. Many of the rationing measures imposed by the Ministry of Food were implemented by the grocery trade. I saw at first hand how rationing was carried out in my parents’ shop. Customers were registered with a grocer and collected their rations weekly. Some weeks when the ration of, say, butter was meagre, it was issued fortnightly to the householders. Lard, butter and margarine was smacked up by hand with a pair of wetted wooden pats and the large blocks of fat were weighed out carefully into portions to ensure the week’s supply went round all the registered customers. Likewise sugar, tea, eggs, cheese and bacon were shared out. Other goods bore ‘points’ value: it was a complicated business selling products as well as counting out, cutting up and collecting the points coupons from the ration books. Harvest rations were supplied on an Emergency Ration Card. One summer, my father and I delivered harvest rations on the shop errand bicycle: I sat in the big wicker basket on the front. We took cheese, butter and tea to farm workers, who were cutting a field of corn with a binder machine and stooking the sheaves of grain.

My parents kept hens. Householders were allowed to keep twenty-five hens before eggs had to be sold to the Ministry. The egg supply was fairly steady and there was boiling fowl to supplement the meat ration. Rationed balancer meal was obtained from the Ministry of Food office in Millmead, Guildford. The birds were fed on boiled kitchen scraps and potatoes, to which the meal was added to thicken the mixture.

Another addition to the family’s meat supply was rabbit. My parents reared a couple of rabbits for the table from time to time. Otherwise rabbit was available from our butcher, off ration. ‘TIBBAR’ was the notice that he placed in his shop window when he had any rabbits for sale.

There was a field near our home where my father grew vegetables. I remember visiting the farm, as we called it, with him when he was digging, planting and cutting produce (potatoes, brassicas, peas, carrots, leeks etc.). He usually cycled there and I sat behind him on a sort of pannier rack and cushion, holding onto his jacket tightly. One day at the farm, I saw strips of silver lying on the crops. They had been dropped by the Germans as radar deterrent.

My father drove a Ford 8 van during the war; mainly for his grocery deliveries. The van was a commercial vehicle with a ‘C’ Licence displayed on the windscreen: the licence was issued with commercial petrol coupons and the fuel was dyed pink. Although the family had motor transport, a journey had to be legitimate for business, so we were not free to go far afield in the van for fear of being stopped by the police and checked.

The Ministry of Food’s rationed orange juice and cod-liver oil, sold in small, rectangular glass bottles, were distributed on Friday afternoons from the garage of a lady who lived near Sheepwash Pond. I didn’t really like either of these products but children were encouraged to take a daily dose of each.

Behind Bishopsmead shops, an area of land was requisitioned for the construction of pre-fabricated concrete air raid shelters. A local builder diversified into this trade during the war.

Daily life was influenced by the war effort. Village activities were centred round “Keep the Home Fires Burning”, “Dig for Victory”, rationing, make do and mend, hand-me-downs, mutual help and sheer survival. Economy measures were part and parcel of my young life, as were the BBC News bulletins on the wireless. When the news came on, a serious hush was observed in the home. I used to ask, “what will the news be when this war is ended?” The reply was, “We will hear about little boys being tossed by bulls”.

I have a clear recollection of the joy everywhere on V.E. Day. Children had only known “the war”, so we were curious about the future when it ended. On V.E. Day, bunting and union flags were hung out along the parade of shops. Everyone had bunting tucked away, little coloured cotton triangles on white tape. My parents had their bunting stored under the shop display window, almost in readiness for this great day. Everyone was so happy.

Susan E. (née Chown) Little via Dundee Central Library
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