The 1940’s through the eyes of a child – Swimming and fishing

The little girl trailed along behind her older brothers and sisters. They were going to swim in the shallow water of the river Waveney which ran along the bottom of the farm where the little girl lived. There was a part of the river which was free from the thick reeds that grew in the river where the children liked to swim. Further out in the middle of the river was a place the children called “the hole”. The river bed suddenly took a deep dip and the water went from being fairly shallow to very deep. The children were all warned not to wade too deeply in the water for fear of falling into the hole.

The little girl slid down the mud into the water. It was freezing cold and made her gasp with shock. She was quite determined to keep up with her brothers and sisters and so she carried on, wading into the water further and further away from the river bank. The water came up to her waist and her upper body was covered in goose bumps from the cold. Her brothers were swimming further out in the river so the little girl took a step to far and disappeared under the water. She went down and down into the coldness. She could see bubbles floating up towards the surface as she kicked out and struggled. A firm hand grasped her arm and hauled her upwards. She broke through the surface of the water and gasped for air. Joey, her older brother, had seen her go under and had pulled her out. Joey had saved her life that day.

Her oldest sister, Jean, took her to the river bank and dried the little girl on the one towel that they all shared. For a while, she sat on the bank watching the activities and recovering from the cold and the shock. Her older brothers and sisters carried on as usual. There was a ditch that ran across the meadow and emptied into the river nearby. The ditch was built to drain the excess water when the river flooded, which was quite often. The little girl watched her older brothers run up to the ditch and jump in. They sank deep into the mud in the ditch and got themselves covered in mud. When they were completely muddy, and looked like mud monsters to the little girl, they jumped out of the ditch and ran down to the water shouting and screaming. They dived into the water and rinsed off the mud. The little girl was only three years old and she was too young to join in this activity.

Later on that afternoon, the little girl’s older sister set a fishing line which she left overnight. Wendy was very good at this and often caught an eel or two. The eels were a green brown and looked like snakes which was a bit creepy but they were very good, cooked in milk and water in a frying pan and flavoured with pepper. The little girl really hoped that Wendy would catch some eels for them to eat. In the morning, Wendy would run down to the river to see what she had caught.

A couple of swans glided past on the river. They were beautiful, white birds but the little girl was a little bit afraid of them as they were huge in her eyes and she was warned that they could break your arms if you went near them. Occasionally, one of her brothers would find a swan’s nest along the river bank. The eggs were massive and if the boys found a nest with eggs in it, they would flinch an egg for the family’s tea. The little girl’s mother would fry the egg in a little bit of lard in a frying pan. The egg would take up the whole pan and was a real treat, eaten with a bit of salt and pepper.

All these thoughts about food made the little girl suddenly feel very hungry. She was pleased to hear the distant sound of her mother calling, summoning them all home for their tea. Tea comprised of bread and butter and pineapple jam, which was the only jam available. The children were also given a cup of sweetened tea. The little girl’s father was home for tea on this occasion and so the children were not allowed to talk at the table. Children were seen and not heard. As the head of the family, little girl’s father also had a kipper with his tea. Her mother had managed to get this kipper for their father that morning in the village. Kippers were often not available as fishing was very dangerous during the war due to the land mines in the sea and the constant attacks on the fishing trawlers from the air and by submarines.

Robbie and Michael Cheadle are the co-authors of the Sir Chocolate Book series and Robbie Cheadle is the author of Silly Willy goes to Cape Town (coming soon)



59 thoughts on “The 1940’s through the eyes of a child – Swimming and fishing

  1. Another lovely timeless story Robbie. I have loads of similar ones told to me as a child my my Gran (maternal) who came with us to SA when she was 57. My grandfather died when I was six months old and my mom was an only child. My gran used to tell my sister and I tales of life in Birmingham during the war. I must try and remember some of them and write them down. It is time I need. I seem to be constantly on the go with housework, cooking, gardening, helping with homework etc. At night I am too tired to think.

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  2. This is a lovely series Robbie. Really enjoyable and evocative of the period. I think there would look good in collection, better than woven together as a novel. They stand independently as a vignettes – each one so far (I know there has only been a couple) has their own sparking quality and I wonder if they were joined up into a continuous narrative they might loose their sense of self within the larger narrative. Looking forward to reading more.

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    1. Thank you for your thoughts and suggestions, Paul. I have been thinking of keeping each story in the series as a separate piece as you have suggested, almost like a series of memories. I thought I might try to match each experience with a similar one from each generation. I can’t recall another book like that – do you know of any?

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      1. No I don’t Robbie but I’m not the right person to ask. Perhaps it is a question for your wider readership to offer advice on. But for what it is worth, I do think it is an excellent idea. as the reader would start each section fresh and be able to draw out all its qualities and contrast before moving on to the next .

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  3. Great story Robbie. Some of the things in that story resonated with me, especially children sitting quietly at the table being ‘seen and not heard.’ That is how we had behave at my grandmother’s house! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I can imagine that you still get this in England with the older generations. My own mother never implemented it in our home and my own children always have plenty to say. I find that dinner time is our chance to all catch up and hear each others news of the day so I encourage talking.

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  4. Although my father grew up in the north of Spain, it was in a tiny hamlet and he used to recount similar things (he was born in 1937 so the timing is right too). Childhood these days is quite different, especially in big cities.
    Thanks for sharing these fascinating memories, Robbie.

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    1. Thank you, Olga. Your father’s memories of growing up in Spain during the war must have been really interesting. I have never read about WWII from a Spanish point of view. Are you aware of any such books?


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