Author

Author of The Christmas Village and Return to Canterbury

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Y is for Yes and Z is for Zero

Well, I've made it to the end of the A to Z Challenge, only to be flummoxed by Y and Z. At least as they relate to my theme, which is things related to the novel I am writing based on my mother's WWII experience as an evacuee during Operation Pied Piper.

So, Y is for YES, I have no Y post and Z is for Zero ideas for Z as well! Thanks to all who came by - I hope you'll stop back occasionally to check on my progress with the book.

Happy May everyone!

Monday, April 27, 2015

X is for Xiphoid

Xiphoid means "engraving on wood." There is nothing I could find for X that even remotely relates to my theme, so today, just enjoy the word Xiphoid!


Sunday, April 26, 2015

W is for When Will I Go Home?

When 3.5 million schoolchildren were evacuated from English cities in the first four days of September 1939, they were sent to live with strangers in towns throughout the countryside of England, Scotland and Wales. They went with their schools and teachers, not with their families.

Upon arrival in the towns, the children were lined up and townspeople came by to choose a child or children to bring home to live with them. Almost every account from the children described their feelings of fear that no one would choose them, and they all seemed to think they were the last to be chosen. Of course they couldn't all have been last chosen, but you see this is how it felt!!

No one knew how long the children would be gone, because WWII had just begun and no one knew how long it would last. Well, the war lasted 6 years, ending in September 1945. Many of the evacuated children never returned home during all that time. Parents were asked not to visit the children or bring them home, as it only made everyone sadder when they had to part again. Some kids had a good experience with their host family, others did not. Some were eventually adopted by their hosts.

Regardless, it was a sad time for families all around.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

V is for Vestibular

So this has nothing whatsoever to do with my theme (which is things related to the book I'm writing), but I had NOTHING for V!

So, instead, I thought I would tell you about my friend Arthur Wooten's book, Dizzy. Arthur suffers from a condition called bilateral vestibulopathy with oscillopsia, which is a lot of big long words but basically means it causes you to be very, very dizzy. And it's no joke - this isn't just a little dizzy, it's quite debilitating.

Arthur, who is an extremely talented author, playwright and humorist, wrote this wonderfully funny and touching novel about a Broadway star who develops this condition. As in all his work, Arthur is able to find the humor in the tragic and his message is always ultimately uplifting.

He wrote the book in part to call attention to this and other vestibular diseases that can cause so much anguish for those who have them. Please check out his book Dizzy and other works on Amazon. Just click on the book title:


BY 
ARTHUR WOOTEN

Thursday, April 23, 2015

U is for Uniforms

When my mother attended the Liverpool Blue Coat School for Orphans and Fatherless Children from 1937 to 1940, they were required to wear really dreadful uniforms for church, special occasions and anytime they went off the school grounds (which wasn't often.).

When we visited the school in 2012, they were dedicating a new school flag and two current students donned the uniforms for the event.

Here they are:


Aren't those uniforms dreadful??? We asked the kids what they thought of the uniforms and the young man said, "It's awfully ITCHY!!"


T is for Thetis

H.M.S. Thetis was built in the early days of submarines. In 1939, it was being prepared for the expected war with Germany. Less than a year after her initial launch in Liverpool, the submarine was lost in a terrible accident. 99 sailors aboard as well as several civilians were lost when she sank on June 1, 1939.


H.M.S. Thetis was towed to the coast of Wales and  grounded at Traeth Bychan beach on the very day that England went to war with Germany. It was only then that the bodies aboard the submarine were recovered and buried in Maeshyfryd Cemetery in Holyhead, or sent home to be buried by their families.

A memorial service is held at the cemetery every June.

The sinking of the Thetis will somehow factor into the book I'm writing about my mother's evacuation to Wales in September 1939. I don't know how it will yet, but ... somehow ....

Read more about the tragedy HERE


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

S is for St. Marys and St. Nicholas Church

Saint Marys and Saint Nicholas Church in Beaumaris, Wales is a medieval church in a medieval town. Beaumaris is a small town on the Isle of Anglesey North Wales. The church was built in the 14th century. It holds a number of tombs, including that of Princess Joan of Wales, who was the daughter of King John of England and who was married to Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Wales.

When my mother's school was evacuated to Beaumaris in 1939, they attended this church Every Sunday, the students paraded through town in their Blue Coat uniforms, marched into the church and became the church choir.












Tuesday, April 21, 2015

R is for Rules

At the Liverpool Blue Coat School for orphans and fatherless children, where my mother was a student from 1937 to 1940, there were lots of rules. (See B is Blue Coat School)



Boys and girls were strictly segregated
Boys and girls were lined up - separately of course - by height, and marched into the dining hall or to the chapel
No talking during meals
No talking to, smiling at or waving to a brother (if you were a girl) or sister (if you were a boy)
On Sundays, when mothers were allowed to visit, no hugging goodbye
No leaving the school grounds unless as part of a formal outing

Discipline included gating (being kept in) or caning (being whacked with a cane). Even minor infractions met with discipline.




Monday, April 20, 2015

Q is for the Queen's Guards

If you go to London, you really can't miss heading for Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the Queen's Guards. Melissa says that when she went to England at the age of 15, you could walk right up to the guards very close to the palace. But that's changed due to all the concerns about security. Now you have to watch from behind the iron gates. And instead of rifles, the Queen's Guards now carry automatic weapons. That's a little sad and a little scary.

Still, it's a great show and not to be missed. Here are photographs from our recent visit. We got there very early so we were positioned right behind the gates.

The palace behind the gates:



Me outside the gates









Friday, April 17, 2015

P is for Pied Piper

Operation Pied Piper is the name of the secret plan developed by Winston Churchill to keep the children of England safe should the country go to war. The plan called for schoolchildren in the cities to be evacuated to the relative safety of the countryside because it was expected that the cities would become targets for German bombings (which they did).

During the first few days of September 1939, 3.5 million English schoolchildren were evacuated. My mother was among them.

You can read more about Operation Pied Piper HERE

Pied Piper is also the name of the novel I am writing that is inspired by my mother's experience.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

N is for Naughty

The Liverpool Blue Coat School for orphans and fatherless children was a very regimented and strict place when my mother was there in the late 1930's. Minor infractions were met with punishment that might include caning or "gating." Caning meant to be whipped with a cane and gating meant to be kept in when the other students were allowed out.. Of course, kids will be kids no matter the environment, and many found ways to have fun and be a little Naughty.

But remember, this wasn't a boarding school for BAD kids, this was a school for POOR kids. In most cases the childrens' fathers had died, or else they had been called up for military service. The mothers often had several children and had to work to house and feed them, so it was a blessing for those families to be able to place a child in the school, even though the child being placed may not have thought so! It was very regimented and the kids hardly ever went off the grounds. Former students from those old days often referred to their time there as "my incarceration."

The top favorite Naughty activity at the Blue Coat School, which was attempted by many but accomplished by few was:

CLIMBING THE CLOCK TOWER



Well come on, who could blame them! You'd want to do it too, wouldn't you??

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

M is for Menai Strait

When Mom evacuated with her school to Wales in 1939, she was sent to the town of Beaumaris. This is a lovely little town on the Isle of Angelsley, situated on the Menai Strait, which separates Wales from England.

In an essay she wrote in 1940, Mom describes looking across the Menai Strait from the home where she was billeted for 10 months. Here is an excerpt:


"I should now like to tell you something about my life in the very small town of Beaumaris. In the summer time we used to play games on the stretch of green grass before my home. We would take long walks through the beautiful Welsh countryside. In the morning, we would rise early enough to swim in the icy waters of the Strait, or pick blackberries while the dew was still upon them.


Winter time for us, and throughout England, was long, cold and dismal. We did our homework by the light of a paraffin oil lamp. Fortunately for us, our home possessed a large library. In that room, we spent many winter hours reading famous old novels and plays. At night we used to sit by the dining room window and see the silvery moon crested on the snow-capped mountains, or see them reflected in the calm still waters beneath."

In 2012, my husband and I visited Beaumaris. Here are a few pictures of the Menai Strait from our time there:

The view from Beaumaris across the strait to the mountains my mother spoke of.


Along the strait on the Beaumaris side. My mother's home was in the further set of townhomes on the left.


That's me, filling my pockets with shells on the small beach near the pier. My mother likely walked this beach in 1939-1940 as well.



Monday, April 13, 2015

L is for Llanfairpwlgwyngil-go-gery-tyn-silo-so-go-goch.

Llanfairpwlgwyngil-go-gery-tyn-silo-so-go-goch is the very long name of a very small Welsh town. It may possibly be the longest name of a town ever, anywhere. In the essay my mother wrote in 1940, in which she describes her evacuation from Liverpool, England to Beaumaris, Wales, she mentions her train stopping at this junction. Here is the excerpt in which she speaks of it:


"We passed through miles upon miles of smoky towns: Liverpool, Birkenhead, and Chester, then small towns and villages, and finally we reached green fields and meadows.

As it was still September and summer was not yet over, the sun was with us too, and looked resplendent, shining on the winding brooks which we passed on our way.


The latter part of our journey consisted of a train ride around the feet of many mountains, in between which lay a stretch of water known as the Minai Straits. It was on the edge of this Strait that I was to make my future home. I always remember stopping at a very small Welsh junction the name of which caused us much laughter, for there were thirty-nine letters in the name. It was Llanfairpwlgwyngil-go-gery-tyn-silo-so-go-goch."

K is for Kiss Them Goodbye

...And try not to cry.

That's what millions of English parents were told to do with their children during the first few days of World War II.

After Germany invaded Poland ion September 1,1939, England and France joined the conflict. Having anticipated the likelihood of war for quite some time, Winston Churchill developed a plan called Operation Pied Piper. This plan called for children of school age to be evacuated from the cities to the countryside, under the assumption that major English cities would become prime bombing targets.

Over the next three days, 3.5 million children were put on trains to towns in the English and Welsh countrysides. Most were evacuated with their entire school.

Parents were told to act as though the children were just going off for a holiday; to kiss their children goodbye, act cheerful and not cry. This was so as to minimize any feelings of anxiety the children might feel at being sent off.

No one knew how long the children would be gone. The kids were told it was just an adventure. But the parents knew differently - they knew that the children might not be allowed back for a long time. So it is a tribute to their spirit and patriotism that most managed to hold their tears and their fears inside as they watched the trains pull out of the station, taking their kids to live with people they didn't know in places they'd never been, and wondering if they would ever see them again.

Here is an excerpt taken from the Operation Pied Piper website, describing just one moment during the evacuation:

"One mother in London, after watching her own two children march off, saw two tots leave a line and rush up to a policemen standing in the middle of the intersection, holding traffic until the children had passed. “Bye-bye, Daddy,” they said. The policeman looked down, smiled, and said, “Now be good, kiddies.” The children then got back in line. As they did so, the mother saw tears rolling down the policeman’s cheeks."

H, I, J Quickie Catch-up

It threw me too offtrack losing our wifi all this week, so I'm doing an extremely quick H, I, J post and then we'll get back on track with K!

H is for Hipkiss

Miss Hipkiss was the name of a teacher at the Liverpool Blue Coat School for orphans and fatherless children when my mother was there in the late 1930's. I think Miss Hipkiss was also what they called a Matron - someone who lived at the school (it was a boarding school) and oversaw the girls. The school was very rigid and strict and Miss Hipkiss ruled with an iron fist.

I is for Incarceration

Which is what the students of the Blue Coat School call their time there.

J is for Just

As in I JUST GOT NUTHIN' FOR J, so let's move on to K!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

G is for Gertrude and Gwendolyn

My grandmother's name was Gertrude. Mom's name was Gwendolyn. G is also for Grandma, which is what we called my grandmother.

Grandma was, at best, a very difficult woman. Really, that's putting it kindly. Like us all, she was formed by early experiences and my understanding of that gives me some compassion for her. But our overall experience of Gertrude was that she was emotionally volatile, selfish, narcissistic and unkind - no wait, cruel - especially to my mother.

Gwendolyn, my mother, had a sad childhood. I don't think she ever felt that Grandma loved her. Even when Mom was a grown woman with her own family, Grandma constantly belittled her. But in those days, people were taught to "respect their elders" - no matter what! So while I felt like Mom should have given Grandma a piece of her mind and maybe even the boot, that was not how it worked for my mother.

Gertrude is a major character in the book I am writing that is inspired by Mom's early life. This is where a writer gets to have a little fun - we get to bring life to characters that may or may not be reflecting the personalities of people we've known who have wronged us or those we love. It's a bit of writer's revenge. It's also a chance to rewrite events the way we wish they had played out....

I hope you will look forward to meeting both Gertrude and Gwen in my story. Here is a picture of Grandma (Gertrude) with Mom (Gwen) that was taken in Liverpool England. It was likely taken just around the time that Mom entered the Blue Coat School - so 1937.


I know, I know. Grandma looks like a perfectly lovely person. But it's just a photo.


F is for Four Green Edge

When my mother was evacuated with her entire school from Liverpool, England to Beaumaris, Wales on September 4, 1939, she was "billeted" with an elderly woman in her home overlooking the Menai Strait. Billeted simply meant "housed" or taken in by hosts who agreed to have a child or children stay with them.

WWII had just begun and no one knew how long the children would stay. In some cases, evacuated children stayed with their hosts the entire length of the war. Some were even eventually adopted by the families that took them. For some children, it was a good experience - even a wonderful one. For others, it was not. Not all hosts were kind - many treated the children like servants and some were abusive.

My mother was fortunate - her time as an evacuee was, I think, one of the happiest of her life. Her host was named Alice Ridsdale. Miss Ridsdale was an elderly maiden lady who lived in a large, lovely home with her maid, Harriet Carter.

The house they lived in was called Four Green Edge. Here are photos I took of the home and its setting in Beaumaris, when my husband and I visited there in September of 2012.

GREEN EDGE



Green Edge is a row of townhomes facing the Menai Strait. Number 4 is the white door just right of center.

FOUR GREEN EDGE



THE VIEW ACROSS THE MENAI STRAIT


THE GRAVE OF MISS ALICE RIDSDALE AND HER SISTER EDITH


Monday, April 6, 2015

E is for Evacuation

On September 4, 1939, my mother was one of almost three million English children who evacuated with their schools from cities to the countryside of England and Wales.  The evacuation was part of a plan by Winston Churchill to move English schoolchildren to safety if England entered the war against Germany. On September 3rd, Germany invaded Poland, England entered the war and the evacuation plan was implemented.

The following is an excerpt from an essay my mother wrote when she was 15, describing those events:


EVACUATION by Gwendolyn A. Simm

I awoke early on the morning of September 4, 1939, to the realization that today I was to set out on a new adventure in life. I was to be evacuated to a place I had never seen before in my life; it was Anglesey, Wales. I was to live with people I had not even set eyes on before.

At 10:30 a.m. on that same morning, three hundred other children and I were assembled on the platform of Lime Street Station, waiting for our train to arrive. Among the many crowds of people waiting there, I noticed little children with luggage labels tied to their coats as identification cards, clinging closely to their mothers’ skirts. Others were happily awaiting their first train ride or perhaps their first journey away from the smoky towns. The whistle blew! Slowly the heavily laden train steamed out of the station – midst many wavings of handkerchieves and good-byes.

We passed through miles upon miles of smoky towns: Liverpool, Birkenhead, and Chester, then small towns and villages, and finally we reached green fields and meadows.

As it was still September and summer was not yet over, the sun was with us too, and looked resplendent, shining on the winding brooks which we passed on our way.

The latter part of our journey consisted of a train ride around the feet of many mountains, in between which lay a stretch of water known as the Minai Straits. It was on the edge of this Strait that I was to make my future home. I always remember stopping at a very small Welsh junction the name of which caused us much laughter, for there were thirty-nine letters in the name. It was Llanfairpwlgwyngil-go-gery-tyn-silo-so-go-goch.

We arrived at our destination, which was a town called Beaumaris, late in the afternoon, and were taken to sit on the waterfront while some were taken to their new homes – billets, as they are termed. Being fortunate, I was in one of the first groups to go. An old-fashioned house right on the waterfront, in which an old lady and her maid lived, was to be my new home.

The Liverpool Lime Street Station - present day

View across the Menai Strait from Beaumaris, Wales



Sunday, April 5, 2015

D is for Dormitory

From 1937 to 1940, my mother was a student at the Liverpool Blue Coat School for orphans and fatherless children. It was a boarding school whose mission was to give poor children a quality education.

The girls boarded all together in one giant dormitory that was really just a vast, broad hallway spanning one end of the first floor of a building to the other. Single beds with simple bedspreads lined each side of hall, with large, unadorned windows above. There were no bureaus - each student was given a locker to house their minimal possessions.

When we visited the school in 2012, we learned that what had been the girls' dormitory building was no longer part of the school. It had been sold off and made into private condos.

Here is a picture of the outside of the girls' dormitory - which doesn't look much different from the outside than it did when Mom was there:



To see what the dormitory looked like inside - this link will take you directly to a photo of the inside of the girls' dormitory as it looked in the 1930's. The photo is on the Brotherly Society's website: The Dormitory

After you take a look, come back and tell me how you would have felt had you just been left off alone at the school and been shown your new "bedroom"!





Thursday, April 2, 2015

C is for Castle

When WWII started in September of 1939, my mother was a student at the Liverpool Blue Coat School for orphans and fatherless children (see previous post for more about the Blue Coat School). 

On September 4, 1939, she and her schoolmates were evacuated en masse from Liverpool to Beaumaris,Wales for their safety. They were among roughly three million English schoolchildren who were evacuated in those first days of the war.

I'll say more about the evacuation and Mom's experience in later posts, but today's post is C for Castle - specifically Beaumaris Castle.

Beaumaris Castle is pretty cool because it was never completed! So it looks like a ruin, but it's not really a ruin - it's just unfinished. It was the last and largest castle built by Edward I (Longshanks). Construction began in 1295, but the king was losing control over Wales and running out of money, so the project was abandoned around 1298. The castle was left in its unfinished state, and so it has remained.

Here is a link to a website about the castle: Beaumaris Castle

My husband and I visited Beaumaris in September 2012 because I wanted to see the place where Mom lived during her evacuation. Beaumaris is a sweet village on the Menai Strait. Its Main Street, lined with shops that were in existence when she was there in 1939 - 1940, leads right to the castle.

Here are some pictures of the castle from our visit in 2012:







View into the town of Beaumaris from the castle wall








Wednesday, April 1, 2015

B IS FOR BLUE COAT SCHOOL

The Liverpool Blue Coat School present day

In October of 1937, my mother entered the Liverpool Blue Coat School for orphans and fatherless children. She wasn't an orphan - her mother was alive, living in the U.S. and working as a governess. Her father had left them when Mom was eight, and they didn't really know whether he was alive or not. A few years earlier, Grandma had sent Mom to England to live with relatives, but when she turned 12, Grandma enrolled her in the Blue Coat School.

The school was founded in 1708 by Brian Blundell, a master mariner, and the Reverend Robert Styth, with the intention of providing a sound education to poor children.

The school was very regimented and strict. Discipline for even minor offenses at times included caning. Students marched in and out of the dining hall and to the chapel, always organized according to height. All the students were boarders. Boys and girls were strictly segregated. Dormitories were long and wide corridors lined with single beds. The students rarely left the grounds. Former students refer to their time at the Blue Coat as their "incarceration," but at the same time, most express appreciation for the high quality education they received.

On Sundays, special occasions and on the rare occasions of leaving the grounds, the students had to wear uncomfortable wool uniforms that looked like this:

Add caption
Wouldn't you love to get to wear uniforms like that??

The school is located on Church St. Just down the street from the school is Penny Lane - yes, the Penny Lane of Beatles fame. In fact, John Lennon's father, Alf, was a student at the Blue Coat School in the 1920's.



When Mom entered the Blue Coat School, she had already been abandoned by her father and felt abandoned by her mother and other family. She was a shy American girl in an English boarding school, which made her feel different and like something of an outsider. It is the time between her entrance to the school in 1937 and her exit from it in 1940 that are the inspiration for my next novel.

Today, the Liverpool Blue Coat School is no longer a boarding school and no longer a school for poor orphans and fatherless children. It is now a school with limited, highly competetive admission and a top academic record.

In 2012, my husband and I visited the Liverpool Blue Coat School, where we were treated with the utmost kindness by several "Old Blues" - alumni of the school who collectively manage the affairs of the Blue Coat Brotherly Society. This association assists former students and their families, and was of tremendous help to me when I was trying to find out more about my mother's time there. Although parts of the school have been modernized and even sold off, the significant older structures such as the chapel and the bell tower that were there in Mom's time remain.

Here are some photographs from our visit:


My husband and I at the Blue Coat School, with the chapel behind us.

The front door of the school. The door is huge, but right behind me is a very small door within the door, which you have to duck through to enter. Above it is a sign that reads MIND YOUR HEAD.

The girls' dormitory, where Mom lived, was sold off and is now private condominiums.

This is what you see when you walk through the main entrance to the school.

Inside the chapel