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Joyce

 

What if we say my very first memory would be India... riding... a pony?

I was horse mad. My brother had a pony called... I had Snowball and he had… Piebald! It’s a fact… I think… It could be right. You can pick out the dead flowers. I know I always loved the horses.

My father was in the army... oh my own India!

I remember the house… and I remember that I had an elephant and my brother had... a toy elephant... and my brother had a toy horse... I remember how they sat at the bottom of the stairs. Goodness knows but that must be 85 years ago! 1923 I was born... I can see it very clearly... my elephant on wheels.

I came back to Scotland, and there were no more elephants. I came back from India when I was three and a half.

I went to my aunt in Bexhill on Sea... she and her husband had four or five children of their own and they decided that they might as well run a school… all very casual. It doesn’t seem quite right.

We did our lessons on the pavement outside by the road... roller-skating lessons and so on. Tony took over as head after his father... he had one leg... yeah… he was wounded in World War Two... I think. His leg was made of steel... there was a swooshing noise when he walked along the corridor... that’s right. He used to take off his leg and use it as a marker for the bowlers run up. Tony was… all four children were athletic... good at skiing. And he was a brilliant cricket player… not so popular on the tennis courts, because he left dents.

I left school and went straight to Bart’s... I think I went to Bart’s to do my training and I was still training when the war started... thrown in at the deep end you could say. By that time my father wasn’t a spring chicken... he was a billeting officer and he was in the home guard... he used to be called out all hours to find a place for this person or that person... there was one big family... this is in huts just outside of Luton. He taught the east end children how to ride.

I was boarding at Bart’s, so there was no rest. Casualties... hundreds of them... we were on duty all night... I remember they brought in some off of the trains at Waterloo. It was chaotic... they... we were in Bart’s when the incendiary bomb hit the main station. The firemen used to pick up the bodies in frying pans… what was left of them.

I was in it all… ‘On duty’ they said... they said we could finish and go off… well, we all looked so bedraggled. I know I was shattered. There was nowhere to go off to! Where would we go? It was all coming down... the casualties on meat trolleys from the meat market… somewhere near London Bridge... I don’t know. My first memories are horsey things. My father... I adored him… I’m trying to remember something… I was down there. I had my own pony called snowball… the elephant and the horse... one each.

I remember all the dead horses in the street near the meat market. 

My father… oh, an awful thing happened to him... I wanted to be out of it. Father was a military man, but he... he spent a lot of time with the military... The city pop of a champagne cork and he’d dive for cover. Strange to say he was in the home guard... I remember they brought in some injured men… I said, “I don’t think it’s my Dad”. It wasn’t a bomb it was some equipment... gas… there was some connection... a spark.

It was what people called blast lung. He was found sound asleep on the back of his father’s horse. I lay right down on the ground and cried.  I was in my nurse’s uniform. I suppose we looked shattered... I muddled through my life after father died... yep... that’s right... he used to deal in common knowledge... at least in my family. 

I remember a nun brought in… somebody told me that I’d got to get this nun undressed... she’d been badly injured... I hadn’t got a clue… seeing the bombs coming down... central London… we were blitzed every single night... I remember one night a nun was blown right off the tree. She was killed in the end. A bomb blew head off… time after time... three times before she was 19. I suppose people somehow… it’s pushed to the back who came through and who didn’t. It was total luck.