Alice Maud Richards After Frederick
Portsmouth 1932- 1945
So after twenty three years of marriage, and at the age of 52, Alice found herself alone. Well, not alone - her children had grown and were all living at home still when Frederick died. Leslie, Nora and probably Kathleen were still at school, but Olive and Freda were out at work supplementing the family income, and Kathleen soon would be. I vaguely remember also that my aunt Freda said that they took in lodgers to supplement the income - so maybe the B & B idea did happen in a different sort of way.
Was Alice devastated, or was it a release? If Frederick had been suffering for a year it could not have been at all easy, and so when he eventually died it must have been, at least in part, a relief. All of the parents were now dead, so there would have been no support from them, but I believe the brothers and sisters were close - I certainly remember her two sisters May and Flora, so there was probably practical if not economical assistance from them and my aunt speaks of Edith as well. And then Frederick’s sister Ellen was also living not too far away and was in close contact with the family. I think the children were sent to her house whilst Frederick’s funeral took place. In those days, children were not expected to attend funerals.
So life went on, the children grew and gradually left school until the war came to Portsmouth. And did it ever come to Portsmouth. Being a huge naval base - probably the main British naval base, Portsmouth was one of Nazi Germany’s premier targets. Nora was still at school and her entire school was evacuated to the country. Olive married in 1938 and had been living in London, but she returned to Portsmouth to live with the family whilst her husband was away at sea (he was in the Merchant Navy). Curiously, for the times, Olive had no children until the middle of the war. But she too was evacuated with all the staff of the office in which she worked, to Haslemere, where I was born. That’s me in the photo at the top of the page, with my mother behind me and my aunt Freda at her side. This must have been taken near the end of the war or maybe even just after. Kathleen also married during the war - a Yorkshire soldier, and so she too left home, travelled the country but eventually ending up in Leeds. Freda joined the Wrens and served all the war in Portsmouth. Leslie by now would have been apprenticed at the Dockyard and beginning his career as a draughtsman. So there was always someone to keep Alice company.
What do you do I wonder, when the house you own is totally destroyed? Were they insured? How did insurance companies keep going with the number of claims they must have been faced with in the war? I saw somewhere that the government gave you £75 to buy clothes and food - but this would hardly have bought a new house and not much food or clothing. I guess if you owned a house you owned the land, so that would have some value eventually, but this was not of any practical use. In sum I have no idea whether my grandmother owned the houses she subsequently lived in or whether she had to rent. I suspect rent because I have a very vague memory of a rent book.
And then it happened all over again - this time to the house in Orchard Road, Southsea.
“In January 1941 there was a night raid and a bomb dropped on the street corner which blew off the roof so then we moved to 57 Gladys Avenue, North End.”
This was apparently a huge air raid that left 171 people dead, 430 injured and over 3000 homeless - including my grandmother and her family. Where were the family sheltering? In the cellar again? Or in an Anderson Shelter in the garden. The house in Gladys Avenue certainly had one, as I remember seeing it as a child. Although shelters were supposed to have been dug into the ground, I think the majority, like my grandmother’s were above ground - really just a makeshift shelter away from the main house. I suppose it was less to fall on your head than a whole house if there was a close hit.
And besides the family, there were soldiers who were billeted to live at 57 Green Road. Until, that is, Green Road was bombed - the picture above is of Green Road after the bomb had dropped. My uncle describes the scene: “57 Green Road was bombed on 7th August 1940 and we moved to Orchard Road, Southsea. For some reason I came back from London on that Saturday, 7th August, getting into Portsmouth Station about 6 pm (after a day out or a longer holiday?) and walked through the streets toward home filled with glass and rubble. When I got to no. 57 it looked alright from the outside but the inside was a mess. There had been an air raid at about 4 o’clock and a bomb had dropped between us and the house in the next street. Everyone was shaken obviously after being in the cellar when the bomb dropped. We all stayed with Aunty May and Uncle John at Sultan Road for about 3 weeks until mum found a house in Orchard Road, Southsea, which was close to the railway line (about 200 yards).” My grandmother did not speak about it much, but I do remember her talking about it with some humour, mentioning a hat that had been lost. In retrospect at least, she seems to have taken it in her stride but it must have been unimaginably frightening, cowering in the cellar, wondering if your last hour has come as everything falls around you.
A recent trip back to Portsmouth demonstrated quite clearly how the centre of Portsmouth had been more or less flattened. Armed with a list of streets in which our various Portsmouth ancestors lived - particularly in the central Kingston/Fratton kind of area - and hoping to find the houses in which they lived, all we found were streets and streets of new houses and council estates. All completely rebuilt. In that raid of 10 January 1941 the Guildhall was almost totally destroyed - just the outside walls remained - or some of them - as the picture sat the top of the page, and to the right here, testify. Churchill himself came to view the devastation.
The picture at left is of King Street, one of Portsmouth’s major thoroughfares after the air raids, I think it amply demonstrates the kind of destruction that took place. I cannot imagine living in that sort of environment, and yet people did - indeed I did, although I was as young as the small child in the photo at left, and unable, probably thankfully, to remember that far back. For my grandmother, raised as she was, in somewhat gentler times - when war, although horrific, mostly took place elsewhere, it must have been stressful seeing your children off to work every day in the dockyard - prime target that it was - wondering whether they would come home again at night. I’m sure her Salvation Army upbringing stood her in good stead, and no doubt encouraged her to lend a helping hand when she could. The Salvation Army would have been on of the main organisations offering help and no doubt she joined them in their efforts. And the grandchildren who had started to arrive. Who looked after them?