Hello, my name is Brenda May, and I was a small child at the beginning of the second world war.  Like many older people I have an amazing number of memories locked up in my memory box, and the following was sparked by an innocent question during a telephone conversation with my daughter during ‘lock down’.  The subject of back to back houses was brought up.  “do you know what a back to back is” she asked.   “yes I do” I replied and proceeded to tell her how I came to visit one in the 1940s and learned lessons in life at the same time. This is my story.

Aunty Daisy was my mother’s cousin and a kinder sweeter lady would be hard to find.  She was soft and gentle and I never had to eat anything that I didn’t like at her house, which was a major hurdle for me as I was a very fussy eater in spite of it being wartime when food was not plentiful.  For all these reasons I loved her and felt very comfortable in her company.  So, at the age of ten or eleven having visited her many times with my mother I asked if I could visit her on my own.  I assured my mother that I knew the numbers of the two busses that I had to catch, the bus stops and where to get on, and off, and I headed off feeling very grown up.  After leaving the second bus I had a short walk to my Aunt’s, on the way I remember passing a gang of workmen, they all looked very forlorn and wore sack like jackets with POW written in large letters across the back. Although I’d never seen them before it didn’t take me long to work out what the letters stood for.  I hurried past them but they weren’t interested in me, they were hard at work digging up the road with a hefty gang leader looking over them.  

Aunty lived in a beautiful old farm house, it stood on it’s own overlooking Cippenham Village Green.   Aunty’s house had a flag stone floor, a massive inglenook fireplace, and a large bowed window.  In the window stood a magnificent rocking horse on a stand which I loved to ride on.  But my favourite was a very old dolls pram, I can see myself now pushing it around the green utterly content, I loved dolls and prams and we didn’t have either at home, I used to dress my teddy up and pretend she was my doll.

My dear Aunt had three daughters but sadly two died when they were small children and after a time because she wanted more children she decided to adopt a baby boy and called him John, about a year later she had another son of her own and called him Norman.

One day I was asked to take a parcel to a relative who lived in one of a row of cottages that ran down one side of the Green.  I was invited in and taken through to a back yard where to my astonishment a number of women were stood at a row of sinks washing their clothes, on the other side of the yard stood another row of cottages the occupants also sharing the sinks.  That was my introduction to back to back housing.  Until then I had always assumed that everyone had running hot and cold water, and a bathroom, how wrong I was.

As I left the lady gave me one hen’s egg, making it clear that it was for Norman.  I came away feeling very sad that one little boy was favoured more than the other and how unjust it was.  I was one of four children and brought up to believe that everything should be shared equally, if there was only one apple it would be divided into four and there was never a fuss.

In that short visit I was made more aware of a number of things; that I was growing up and could be independent, but that also the humiliation the men wearing the POW jackets must have felt taught me to respect others. The humbleness of how some people have to live, even now, through no fault of their own, and the injustices we sometimes encounter through life.  To be kind costs nothing, and a smile can lift spirits.

Good luck, and keep safe.

Brenda