Some memories of my early life
by Beryl Seel (née Porter)
I was born on February 11th 1923 at a Nursing Home in Brunswick Square, St Paul’s, Bristol.
I was my parents’ second child, their first born son Raymond Richard was born September 4th 1921, he unfortunately suffered from encephalitis; his condition was never explained or talked about in front of me. Gordon Alexander followed on October 30th 1925.
We lived and were brought up at 14 William Street, St Paul’s until the day I married.
I was a very shy child and was quite scared of my mother who believed “children should be seen and not heard.” My father was a lovely man but mother dominated him as well.
Granny and Granddad Hewlett, mother’s parents lived with us and I spent a lot of my time in Granny’s room, they were a delightful couple and I felt very relaxed in their company. Before she married, Aunty Daisy (mother’s sister) lived with us, she was great fun.
Granny was loved by every-one and was always being called out to help neighbours with problems, she had no medical training but she diagnosed all the children’s rashes, was sent for when a death occurred in a family, and once cut down a neighbour who had hung himself. When I reached my teens she would take me with her, but only to the minor incidents!
The three of us children went to St. Barnabas School. At every playtime I had to look after Ray because school staff would not be held responsible if he should fall and hurt himself.
I became a Brownie as soon as I was old enough and was very proud of the badges I earned, sewing each one on my sleeve as I was awarded them. I then moved on to the Girl Guides and soon became a Patrol Leader, When the Brownie Tawny Owl left to get married I was asked if I would take her place, I spent many happy years helping to train the young Brownies.
I loved sport and played in the Netball and American Ball team, I was also in the swimming team travelling to other schools to take part in Galas. I gained my Bronze Medal at 13 yrs of age, and was mentioned in the local paper for dragging a stupid non-swimmer out of the pool, she had jumped off the spring board.
I was 16 yrs old when war was declared, I clearly remember that Sunday morning waiting for the Prime Minister’s announcement. There was Mother, Father, Granny, Granddad, Ray, Gord, Uncle Will, Uncle Ted, Basil (my cousin) and me, all eyes glued on the radio. The adults muttered things like “That’s it then” and “Oh God! Here we go again.” They all remembered the first war.
Dad was appointed Deputy Chief Warden, we had a telephone installed, and I went around with him when he fitted baby type gas masks. We started a shelter in the crypt at our Church and gave out refreshments during Air Raids. People came to the shelter every night to start with, but with no aircraft activity everyone went back to their normal way of life. Things started to change when the German planes were over Bristol bombing on a regular basis; we had our windows blown out. I remember Ray refusing to get out of bed during air-raids and worrying us sick. One bomb went through the church roof to the crypt, we had to evacuate everyone and take them to surface shelters but some lives were lost in the rubble, some were my friends.
The Wardens Post and our house were always full of activity and we had some dishy Messenger Boys coming and going. Gordon, my younger brother joined them, so my social life improved. Although black-outs and air-raids dominated the early 1940s we went dancing in a group and enjoyed ourselves, and one Messenger lad, in later years, became my husband.
I was due to be called up at 18 yrs, but mother said I should join the local Fire Service which would make me exempt from being called up for the Armed Forces. Dad had to contact the Fire Service to enroll me as a volunteer. I hated it and was quite shocked at the goings-on; I was so innocent then, what a sheltered life I had led!
Meanwhile, my best friend Doreen Oliver, who I had met when I joined the firm of Printers and Bookbinders called J. W Arrowsmith at the age of 14 yrs, decided we would join the Women’s Forces. She was born the year before me and would be called up on her 18th birthday so we decided we would volunteer for the WAAF so that we could stay together. Mother was horrified and said NO!!! She persuaded Doreen and me to take the option of working in an Aircraft Factory first, then if we didn’t like it we could transfer to the forces.
We reluctantly agreed and after 6 months in an underground aircraft factory at Corsham, near Bath, the Government changed the system we couldn’t transfer. Doreen and I spent almost 4 yrs doing 12 hour weekly alternating shifts, day and night underground, and hating every minute of it.
We arrived for night shift one Friday to find that the “powers that be” had decided to close the factory down as the aircraft engines consistently blew up on testing. We were all ecstatic; no work was done that night.
Doreen and I immediately contacted our old boss at Arrowsmiths who then applied for our release, so we were out in no time. It was absolute heaven living a normal life again, going to the cinema, theatre, and dancing, especially when the boys came home on leave
My Messenger boy friend joined the Army on the 8th of January 1943 we wrote to each other practically every day and we became engaged on my 23rd birthday. Mother wasn’t at all happy with the news, as I had not told her of our plans, I knew she would nag and put obstacles in our way, which she did. Anyway, Fred was told he must provide decent accommodation and new furniture for her daughter and we shouldn’t marry until he was demobbed.
Accommodation was very hard to find in those days and furniture, furnishings, and clothes were all on coupons so it took a couple of years to get everything organized We found two nice rooms in Campbell St for the first year, then moved into a flat in a house bought by a friend of Dad for his newly married son, that was in Richmond Road, St Andrews.
Our eldest son Nigel was born while we were living at the flat and our second son Adrian followed two years later.
We then moved to a house in Henbury, where in 1956 our daughter Elaine was born, our happy family was now complete.
The children were a great joy to us, we had some good times, also infuriating teen-age times.
We are very proud of our three children. Nigel worked hard and passed his 11 plus exam for a place at Bristol Grammar School, then to Warwick University.
Adrian qualified as a Registered Mental Nurse at Glenside Hospital then moved on to Bristol General Hospital, finally he went to Barrow Hospital where an accident resulted in a hip injury, preventing him from continuing his nursing career.
Elaine went off to Guys Hospital, London and trained as a Nurse; after qualifying she moved to Princess Margaret Hospital in Swindon.
We had quite a few road traffic accidents outside our house because of the bend in the road; I did my best with my Girl Guides First Aid knowledge, but realized I was out of date. So I joined the Red Cross to get up to date. That was 1960, and I remained a member for 34 yrs, I qualified in First Aid, Nursing, Mental Health, Psychology and Physiology. I spent many hours on duty, met a lot of people, and when Fred joined a few years later he took over the Henbury Detachment and organized First Aid Courses for the general public. I moved over to the young cadets and trained them in Nursing and First Aid, many of them went on to become nurses. In 1993 Fred and I were each awarded the Badge of Honour for our work in the Red Cross.
One day in 1966, I was asked by a friend if I would like a part-time job. I knew she worked at the school for deaf children and wondered how I would cope. Anyhow I went along to see the Headmaster, he told me he was aware of my Red Cross training and would be happy if I would accept the position of Classroom Assistant with responsibility for medical room duties. I was very happy working at the school and stayed until I retired 21 yrs later. I had a great party with loads of presents from children and staff, and still keep in touch with them.
We have been blessed with 7 delightful grandchildren; Nigel and his wife Clare have two sons, Alex and Adrian. Adrian and his wife Anne also have two sons, Matthew and Simon. Elaine and Michael have two daughters and a son, Jennifer, Sarah and Christopher.
Here is my mother's diary of their ill-fated cruise on the Saga Rose.
Here are some of the many blog posts featuring my mother in her later years