Saturday, February 23, 2013

TOP STORY >> Cabot resident recalls youth in wartime Britain

Leader staff writer

Shirley Buller of Cabot can be found at the Cabot American Legion Post 71 on Wednesdays sipping coffee from her Union Jack cup. She bakes sweets for the Legionnaires and shares colorful stories.

Buller recalled what life was like as a child during the Second World War in Britain.

Buller was born in 1938, a year before the war started, in Thetford, England, 80 miles northeast of London. The city was surrounded by Royal Air Force bases Mildenhall, Barnham and Lakenheath.

Her father, Robert Pawsey, was a chief gardener at an estate. He was also a member of the British Home Guard, a volunteer group who patrolled the town in case of a German invasion.

Her mother, Muriel Paw-sey, was a cook at a girls grammar school. She did laundry for a Gypsy for free. He gave her pints of goat milk. Buller had one brother, Derek, who was three years older.

“Everything was rationed. Couldn’t get more than the ration books said for the week. It was rough. We didn’t have much, but we got by somehow. Always had baked bread,” Buller said.

“A two-inch square of hard cheese was quartered for a family of four for the week. It didn’t matter if you had money. On the weekends we’d go out to the countryside and pick dandelions, because you could cook and eat the greens,” she said.

Her dad would find a nest of pheasant eggs. They tasted good, but were brighter in color.

He also caught rabbit, but Buller hated it, because they ate so much of it.

Twice a week, the air raid siren blared and residents had to go to a nearby bomb shelter. At night, they closed the black-out blinds, and blew out the kerosene and gas lamps. If they heard an explosion, they knew better than to peek out.

“Sometimes you’d be in bed. The sirens would wail at 1 a.m. and we’d just spend the night at the shelter. It was nerve-racking. But everybody took care of each other,” Buller said.

Sirens would go off when Buller was at school. Students had to sit and wait in a bomb shelter for the all-clear signal. The shelters held 50 people or more.

Her town was not hit, but Buller remembered seeing bomb sites and building burned in the neighboring towns closer to the military bases.

She remembers seeing the German bombers with the swastika on them and the RAF bombers and Spitfire planes flying. Buller said when a plane was shot down, the youngsters would get the glass from the plane’s windows and make rings out of them.

“There was no food until the Americans came. They brought us Spam. They told us it was specially processed American meat. We thought we had died and went to heaven,” Buller said.

The American convoys would stop and give the British more food, such as canned powered pea soup and bags of powered eggs off the supply trucks.

“Got any gum, chum?” they’d ask the American convoy drivers.

“We’d eat Eagle condensed milk sandwiches. We were glad to eat that and the turnip,” she recalled.

Clothing was also in short supply during the war and rationed. The factories were bombed so they produced no clothes.

Buller said her family got only one pair of shoes for the year. Her dad had to repair her shoes. She said if your foot grew, they would cut the toe out of the shoe so you could wear them.

If you went to school and your feet were wet, they allowed you to take your shoes off and dry your socks off on the radiator.

She said there were no hand-me-downs. Clothing was cut-up and made into other things.

Kids played on the sidewalks. The soldiers would stop and give them stuff. One day a soldier gave her a silk parachute to give to her mom.

“It was a blessing to get a parachute. Teenage girls made blouses and petticoats. My mom made me three to four pairs of underwear,” she said.

But there was a slight downside.

“When you walked to school, the wind would blow up your dress and fill the knickers up with air. (It) felt like they would fly, bloomers, true to their nature,” Buller said.

Her mom sewed button holes and slits into the undergarments, but they still filled with air.

Every Saturday, her dad went to the store and bought War Illustrated, a weekly publication about the war, and to see if any of the local boys were killed. She remembered listening to Winston Churchill on the radio.

“It saved our butt when the Americans came,” Buller said.

Buller remembered the day the war ended.

“Everybody was in the streets. Everybody was happy. Everybody was laughing, dancing, hugging and kissing,” she said.

Buller met her husband, John, an American airman stationed at Lakenheath, in 1959.

They marred a year later and were together for 52 years, until he passed away in 2011. They had six boys and two girls.