“These are my memories……
I was at Calgarth school, one of the first children to go there when it opened in 1942. My dad, James Brownell, was one of the bricklayers who helped to build both the school and the bungalows on the Calgarth Estate. We lived in one of the first bungalows to be built, and we were surrounded by the Shorts Flying Boat factory hostels, which were built to house the factory workers. We had some good times in the big hall on the estate (dances etc.). That’s where I learnt to dance. They had ENSA concerts for the workers – we used to sneak in!
We had come to Calgarth to escape the bombing in Liverpool during the Second World War. We loved living on the estate, set in such a beautiful part of the world, and there was a wonderful community spirit. As children, we made the most of it all – walking up to Troutbeck, swimming in the Lake, playing in the woods and picking bluebells and daffodils. It made for a very happy childhood.
When the factory closed after the war, all the hostels were empty. What used to be a hive of activity went dead for, it seemed, a long time. Then all the lights went on – buses arriving late at night. Next morning, we were all excited – couldn’t wait to see what was going on. We saw the Boys queueing up to get some clothes. The clothes were not new, they were donated by the Jewish community. The Boys came out of the clothes room fully dressed, some of them having arrived in prison-like striped clothes, which went straight into a big dump.
One day, the Boys “borrowed” some bikes belonging to the locals – one of the bikes belonged to my brother.
Word got around that help was needed in the canteen kitchen on the estate. My mother applied, and started work in the kitchen. I think she wanted to be a cook, but she was given a job washing up. So she came into contact with the Boys, who helped carry the dishes to the kitchen.
My mother, in her early life in Liverpool, worked for a Jewish family. She had picked up some words from her boss. She didn’t know the meaning of these words, but they were swearwords. She would come out with these words and the Boys would go into fits of laughing. She knew she was swearing, but she didn’t know what she was saying. The Boys would say, “No, Muzzer” (Mother?). It never seemed to us that they were sad, but then again, we were still at school.
Sometimes, some of the Boys would come around to our house. My dad had fought at Gallipoli in the First World War and the horror of that war had never really left him – he was very deeply moved by what these children had gone through in the concentration camps.
At night, I would sometimes help my mother in the kitchen with all the washing up. The Boys would congregate around her so much that we were a bit jealous of all the attention she gave them, but she had this wonderful sense of humour and could make them laugh. They had a concert one evening and we were all invited. My mother put a sheet over her head with a torch underneath the sheet. She got someone to put the lights out and she walked amongst them doing this singing and dancing routine and making ghostly noises. It was so simple, but they all loved it – they were all kissing her and hugging her. It must have reminded them of their own ‘muzzer’ as they would say it.
At the weekends, when I was still at school, I would go and help to make the beds at The Knoll, a big house halfway down to Bowness, where I think the Boys’ carers would go for a break.
I remember one time when it was a Jewish fasting time and they built a tabernacle and a lot of prayers were said. One of the Boys told me he had not been fasting, he had been to a hotel in Windermere for some food because he had promised himself that he would never, ever, ever go hungry again. I thought at the time it was a grown-up thing to do…….”