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Visitation Convent Bridport Contd

A Memory of Bridport

We soon got back into the routine and before long the summer holidays came along. The last day of school was a big event. That morning we got eggs for breakfast. That was so, when we got home and our parents asked what we had for breakfast we said, we had eggs.  That was the only time in the entire term we got eggs.  I used to dream of a meal, where I had a large plate of a dozen boiled eggs. That to me was a feast. The reality was every morning for breakfast we had lumpy porridge and a slice of bread and butter and a cup of tea. We were made to eat the porridge whether we liked it or not. The trouble was the porridge had large lumps in it, which was so awful that in attempting to swallow them I kept drinking large mouthfuls of tea with it. The result was, I threw up all over the table. Sometimes for lunch we had boiled tripe. In a restaurant, tripe is served with sauces and wine, we got it just boiled, tripe is the lining of a sheep’s stomach and is totally disgusting to eat.  Teatime we had bread and jam and a cup of tea. Unlike Oliver Twist, I cannot ever recollect asking for more. Candy or sweets as we called them were rationed. Our allotment was 5 small sweets a week. Ice cream was virtually non- existent and certainly did not exist at school. We had to wait until we got home and even then it was scarce. Our biggest benefactors later were the American army and their generous nature. They handed out a lot of candy to the kids during the war. We received a parcel once a month from mother. This was a big event, normally the nuns would keep whatever candy we were sent and dole it out over a period of time. Except that one time I got to open the parcel by myself and kept all the candy without the nun’s knowing about it.  I could not believe my good fortune and to be sure that the nun’s did not find it I ate the whole lot in one gorgeous binge. That was the good news, the bad, was I threw up six times during the night and Sister Philomena kept me in bed the next day completely puzzled at what was wrong with me. I never told her the reason.

When you are a child you tend to just accept things, since you have really no reference point to evaluate them from a broader perspective.  Only in later years are you able to do so. So this aspect I am going to relate of the convent’s policy has always bothered me. While we were boarders, we were not called by our Christian names, not even by our surnames, but by numbers.  Each boy was given a number and that was how he was referred to. My number was 2 and my brother’s number was 39 and at meal times we sat in numerical order, we were not allowed to speak during meals. The boy I sat next to for six years was # 1 his name was Tony Pomeroy; for some reason, I cannot seem to remember, who was the boy who sat to my right #3. I think his Christian name was Raymond.
In the latter part of 1940 and early 1941 the air raids started. I was not in one of the bigger dormitories but in a smaller room at the top of the convent adjacent to the chapel. This room housed up to five beds and a curtained off bed for one of the nuns, Sister Philomena. We went to bed at 8:00PM and every night I heard the sisters singing the evening vespers. Regularly on the dot of 10:00PM the air raid sirens would go. Sister Philomena would get us up and we would walk down the stairs to the ground floor main hall and sit along the wall on the tiled floor, until the all clear usually about two hours and then troop back upstairs to bed. We still got up the next day at the same time. One night we had a particularly bad raid. Though Bridport it self was not a industrial target, what often happened was that the British night fighters would attack the German Heinkels and Junkers 88 bombers and they would turn to flee across the channel, releasing their bombs indiscriminately across the countryside. They killed a few cows that way, also a few people. The siren had gone off and Sister Philomena took everyone down stairs as usual, except for one person, me! I was partially deaf in one ear and I always slept on my good ear so I would not hear anything. That was not a good thing to do that particular night.  Anyway I woke up because there was a lot of noise.  The anti aircraft guns, they were called ack ack guns, which were located on the hill opposite the school were blasting up at the bombers, the searchlights were lighting up the area and I looked around at the beds and found them all empty.  I remember getting up and walking down three flights of stairs lit up by the searchlights.  The look on Sister Magdalene’s face when she saw me coming down the stairs was a study, when she realized I had been left up there.

Kids have a penchant for getting into mischief no matter what. We were so closely monitored 24 hours a day, you would think that it would be impossible to get into real mischief. Well one kid did and paid a heavy price for it.  We went for a walk one Saturday to Bothenhampton Downs.  When we got there, we were allowed to roam about and play for an hour or two. There was an army dump adjacent to where we were playing. One of the boys named Victor Travers climbed over the fence and apparently picked something up and brought it back to school. The next day it had been raining and we were playing inside.  The rain stopped and the nuns shooed us outside. I was the last one to leave and was standing just outside the door leading to the playground. As I stood there holding a pack of cards in my hand, I noticed a group of boys huddled together at the top of the playground. Suddenly there was a loud crack and for a moment I thought it was one of the farmers shooting rabbits on the hill opposite. One of the little boys detached himself from the group and ran towards me, from a distance I thought he was laughing, when he got closer I saw that he had no hand, he had blown it off with the detonator he had found in the army dump. One of the sisters with great presence of mind grabbed him and put his arm in a tourniquet, it probably saved him from bleeding to death. Later one of the nuns went around the playground picking up pieces of finger bones and flesh. Victor Travers for that is who it was later came back to school with a metal hand.

A memory shared by Howard Johnson , on Jan 9th, 2009.

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