Vivid childhood memories of wartime Ipswich on 21 September 1940, when a German parachute mine landed in Cemetery Road, during the Second World War, from Joan Pettit of Felixstowe. The mine landed in Wright’s stone mason’s yard at the corner of Suffolk Road and only partly exploded, badly damaging twenty-six houses, and blast damaging another 150. A decision was taken to explode the bomb rather than risk defusing it. At 8pm on 23 September, a huge explosion, far greater than expected, blew a creator 25 feet deep, with seventy-five houses destroyed and hundreds damaged. First Joan recalls growing up in the town during the 1930s with some local shop names and some old prices. Joan writes. “I came to live in Cemetery Road, Ipswich, in February 1936. The town then had trolley buses and the County Hall was still called “The Old Jail”. Shops included, The Home & Colonial, International Tea Co. and Walkers grocer’s shops were next to each other at the top of Upper Brook Street, Ipswich. Also in the town were Liptons, Maypole, David Greig, and Sainsbury's with shops in Tavern Street and Westgate Street plus classy Ipswich grocers, Limmer and Pipe. Butter and margarine were patted up to be weighed from large blocks with wooden spatulas. Biscuits were displayed in big square tins and weighed out as needed. Broken mixed ones were sold cheaply. Bread was in ½lb and 1lb loaves for two and a halfpenny and four and a halfpenny. Milk was three pence a pint in summer and three and a halfpenny in winter.
Sugar and dried fruits were weighed up from sacks into carefully folded thick blue paper. Stewing beef cost four and a halfpenny per pound. Sausages were four and a halfpenny a pound for beef and pork six pence. A fish and chip shop on corner of Suffolk Road and Tuddenham Avenue sold fish at two, three and four pence apiece and chips by the penny worth.”
“Draught beer, at the off-license on the opposite corner, was four pence a pint and you took your own jug! Woodbines cigarettes were five for two pence. Churchman’s No1 from the machine on the station were one penny each! Milky Way one penny, Mars two pence. Average wages were probably only two pound twelve shillings. Nothing in Marks and Spencer’s was over five shillings (5p). I remember buying my first outfit for work costing five shillings for a lined woolen skirt, two shilling and eleven pence for a jumper, three shillings and eleven pence for sandals and various “undies” all for £1 and the Guinea Shop opposite, supplied a top coat for one pound and shilling.”
“We had an outside loo with no light and no bathroom. Bathing involved lighting the copper, transferring the hot water to the zinc bungalow bath, brought in from outside, and later emptying it into the sink with a round bowl with wooden handle. We had a gas stove and gas lighting, which served us well during the war. The electricity often failed but I can't remember the gas even going off.”
“I spent my last four school years at the Northgate Grammar School, Ipswich and hated it. It wasn't a patch on my former school in London. In 1938 the boys were brought over to dig trenches at the bottom of the girls' playing field for air raid protection. Then Neville Chamberlain came back from Munich waving his "Peace Treaty" and the trenches were filled in again. In 1939-40 we shared the school with Ilford High School. They evacuated to Ipswich and lodged with local folk. We had fun that winter tobogganing in Christchurch Park, Ipswich. While at school we had a crash first aid course. It even took in lying out of dead and assisting at a birth! I left school in July 1940 and the next term Northgate evacuated to Leicester.”
“It wasn't easy finding a job first then. I couldn't wait until my exam results came out as my sixteen-shilling orphan's allowance had stopped and mum's widows' pension was only eleven shillings and six pence, both per week. I started in the wages office at Ransomes Sims and Jeffries, receiving fifteen shillings for one month, then seventeen shillings and six pence, for two months and up to £1 at three months. National insurance was one shilling and two pence. Eventually all the younger males were called up from the office and the females were classed as 'reserved occupation' as were men in the 'works'. This was because RS&J were making tank parts etc. Threshing machines were then still made of wood by carpenters. For the war effort we had to work an extra hour a day 8.30am to 6pm instead of 9am to 5.30pm. We were paid extra and gradually the wage was quite good. The month of January we could volunteer for stocktaking from 6-9pm. We had a free tea in the director's dining room. Their cook was able to make quite a decent cake, an added treat in those rationing days! The shortage of sweets hit the young harder! I remember dear old Ma Zagni of Peters ice cream company in Rope Walk, Ipswich keeping the occasional chocolate bar under the counter or us young girls. I queued in Woolworth’s once for quarter pound of boiled sweets and they were horrible!”
“When the air raid siren went we had to troop down to the shelters. The elderly gents loved the opportunity to play crib and the ladies knitted, read or chatted and often had a singsong. A favorite was "Who were you with last night". We had "Worker's Playtime" on the radio in the canteen at lunchtime. Percy Edwards worked in the Plough Works and used to contribute sounds with bottles and saws. He hadn't perfected his birdcalls in those days. One highlight was a visit by Gracie Fields.”
“I will always remember the night the land mine came down in 1941. The siren had gone at about 3am I think, so we came downstairs. Instead of going straight to the Anderson shelter in our tiny back garden, we made a cup of tea. We were still indoors when we heard a clanking noise overhead. There was a "whumff" as it landed over the road from us, next to Wrights Stonemasons. The jangling attached incendiaries flared up; but the mine didn't explode. Within an hour the police were around with megaphones telling everyone to evacuate. A Mr. Smith had a pork butcher's shop in Blanche Street and his parents lived near us and were supposed to share our shelter. He came down from Tuddenham Road and took us all to his house. Then breakfast-time mother and I moved on to her sister's in Belvedere Road and the bomb disposal team carried out a controlled explosion of our house. We stayed here for a few days, and then we were allotted a little two up two down council house in Hilton Road in Priory Heath Estate. Normal rent was thirteen shillings a week but as we were bombed out we only paid half. We moved back nine months later when repairs had been done. Ours was one of the worst damaged houses that were repaired and many were demolished. Yet the bill was only about £80 paid from the war damage compensation fund. Our front iron railings had been taken long before then and they were never replaced. My bedroom ceiling came partly down again but luckily on the foot end of the bed! Wartime food was a challenge. We made scrambled egg and sponges from the dried egg with a little marmite to flavor the egg. One friend used to put liquid paraffin in her sponges!”
“South Africa used to send us treats. My favorite was tinned apricot conserve, jam with whole apricots! One friend's mother acquired a tin of pineapple juice and she cooked a marrow cut in cubes and soaked it in the juice to make “pineapple chunks”.
“Whale meat was tasteless looked like veal. Hospital food was terrible in wartime. We all had to report for emergency training. I learned to use a stirrup pump and practiced crawling through a smoked filled shed. By 1945, I was married to a soldier and pregnant, I was excused these duties.”