YEALM

BY SHEILA LAHR

"A YEALM of long straw is normally reckoned to be approximately sixteen or seventeen inches wide and about five inches thick.....

"This treatment is known as ‘yealming’ and the tight wet bundles of straw, when they are gathered together for thatching, are known as ‘yealms’. the ends of the individual straws in the yealms are made as level as possible."
(from Thatching and Thatched Buildings by Michael Billett, published Robert Hale, London, 1979)

This ‘sorter-biography, a word coined by Ivy Litvinov to mean memoirs which are a mixture of fact and fiction, is dedicated to the following:

My son Mark
My daughters Georgina, Adelaide and Esther
and their children

and in memory of the Our Lady’s Convent Hostel at 97 Attimore Close, Welwyn Garden City during World War Two: I always promised to write a book and dedicate it to the children with whom I had lived for two years!

"Chronos was the god of time of ancient Greeks; a god devoted to devouring his own children, as he multiplied them from the future and swallowed them into the past. A fable of time. A fabulous creature of change...."
(from Time and Lifetime by Dr. R.L. Worrall)

CONTENTS:

Chapter I: BEGINNINGS: I am born into a certain family history

Chapter 2 NEW COTERIES: My birth coincides with my parents’ literary magazine: We move to Fairbridge Road: My Tante fails to take care of me

Chapter 3 MOVING: We move to Muswell Hill: Picture Palaces, Hollywood and my mother: The Slump: Fascism: The writer James Hanley stays with us: the Saving Sailor

Chapter 4 FIRE: How in 1912 my Half-Aunt Flora and her children died in a Portsmouth fire

Chapter 5 CRISIS: A Herne Bay Residential Nursery: The Red Lion Street bookshop: Political Action: The might of the Catholic Church

Chapter 6 CONVENT GAMES: St. Martin’s Convent: Play and rhymes: The Nazis take power in Germany: I am baptised and learn the catechism and also to dissimulate

Chapter 7 CRIME AND PUNISHMENT: We let to tenants - the Dawsons: Ballet and piano lessons: H.E. Bates bases a short story on a court case against my father: My father is sent to prison: My mother takes over the bookshop: Mrs. Weekley, the caretaker of Alexandra Palace does her best to care for us

Chapter 8 DETAINED: I board at the Convent: My defender Marguerite Poisson: I am visited by my Aunt Mary and Cecil: Poems from hymn titles

Chapter 9 IN TROUBLE: My mother makes unpleasant discoveries: Problems in the extended family: My cousin Florrie needs help: Cecil is incarcerated in Colney Hatch

Chapter 10 HOLIDAY TASK: A Haslemere Children’s’ Home: My father suffers his release: east Chaldon, Sylvia Townsend-Warner, Valentine Ackland, T.F. Powys, Malachi Whittaker, Gay Taylor and A.E. Coppard. An unhappy journey home

Chapter 11 ESCAPE: Cecil’s escape. I am a day girl: The Wilsons and Twi: The Spanish Civil War

Chapter 12 HOLDING MY BREATH: Colleen becomes my best friend: Confession, Communion and other religious rites: Girl Guides: The IRA in London: A school stockings strike: Swimming and Roller Skating: Racism: I develop asthma and miss school: I am demoted. A few words on Humility

Chapter 13 THE WILTON ROAD STORY: The romances of the Misses Vernons: Mrs. Sargie and Guy: The Reeves: Old Vinegar: The Pearces: Our shed theatre: I am punished for lying: Visitors: Rhys Davies and a doll’s funeral: Lawrence and Maud Jones: Johanna Lahr

Chapter 14 DANCING AND PLAYING: I try to learn the violin: Ballet School: William Roberts RA, Sarah and John: Memories of T.E. Lawrence: The London Zoo: A visit to H.E. Bates: A paedophile in the bookshop: I run away from a holiday at St. Leonards on Sea: The Crisis - Chamberlain and appeasement

Chapter 15 THE EXODUS: My Bubba is run over and dies: We all sit Shiva: My Uncle Marky the boxer: Miss Stranger and tactical marches: The Nazis invade Czechoslovakia: In Great Britain men of twenty are conscripted: The Hitler-Stalin Non-Aggression Pact: I am evacuated to Preston Park, Brighton

Chapter 16 DARK NIGHTS: the Brighton Convent: Separation: Prayers for the dead and dying: Ted Stone and TB: Dr. Ryan Worrall: I am constantly asthmatic: My hair thins: return to London: The Anderson Shelter: rationing: Refugees and Renate Scholem

Chapter 17 ALIEN: The press spread fear and alarm against ‘aliens’: tribunals are set up: My parents are interned: I become a police evacuee: My father goes on hunger strike in the IOM: My Aunt Mary does her worst: Renate Scholem again: Dunkirk: The sinking of the Arandora Star

Chapter 18 FOSTERING: The journey to the Cotswolds: I must learn to live with the Nouveau Riche: The Library and G.G. Wells: Rationed reading: Cascara: My Aunt Mary again at her worst: St. Clothilde’s Convent: S’il vous plait: Lechlade and Reginald Arkell’s mother

Chapter 19 FLAGGING: Hitch-hiking: County Families: Mrs. Shillan does not like me: I am Death: The school holidays: Miss Moss: The Filkins cemetery and war memorial: The garrets and the ghosts: Lawrence Jones calls upon us and is denigrated: Mrs. Shillan plays the saw: Gwenda Coy: A telegram from my parents: Their release and a poem for my father: I return home to Muswell Hill

Chapter 20 BLITZKRIEG: My parents had returned to a house emptied of furniture and fight for its return: My Aunt Becky has died: Colleen has left St. martin’s Convent: The phony war comes to an end and the bombing begins: Mr. Reeves and our Anderson shelter: Visits to the Nonnenmachers: The artists interned in the Isle of Man: My mother lets to new tenants: Wilton Road is bombed: I am evacuated to Welwyn Garden City: A second bomb falls on Wilton Road

Chapter 21 THE GARDEN CITY: Our Lady’s Convent: I am reunited with Colleen: Billets: I get lost: the school curriculum: The Red Lion Street bookshop is bombed: We meet Bill Howley, GI: I run away from school

Chapter 22 THE HOSTEL: I enter the Convent Hostel: Sister Agatha: The Mongan sisters: The Fletcher sisters: Some of us dodge chapel: Pamela Davidson falls in love: I am in trouble for reading the wrong books: Father Brennan sings: I do not die: I am sent to the Skinners School Hostel: Mrs. Hazer: Eileen Martinelli: Kathleen: I am badly bullied: I return to the Convent Hostel

Chapter 23 LIFE-SAVING: The Welwyn Stores: Poetry: Pamela Davidson again: Messerschmitting: Scrumping apples: Valerie Dundon: Swimming in the River Lea: I help save Pamela Bloomfield’s life: I am sent to the fever hospital: I am once more in disgrace: I go home

Chapter 24 ON TAP: The school dinner strike: My classmates are stricken by adolescent calf love: I become very ill: I return to 9 Wilton Road: My mother’s work on munitions: the Girls’ Training Corps and Madeleine McCormac: ‘Aunt’ Kitty and ‘Uncle’ Rex: Shorthand: Pitman’s College: I make a new friend, Pat Moors: The Youth Employment Bureau: Hamburg is almost wiped off the map

Chapter 25 BAPTISM OF FIRE: I lose my first job due to asthmatic attacks: Oonagh and the library books: I am delirious: More about the Misses Vernon: Celia, a survivor from the Portsmouth fire: Mrs. Sargie and Guy again: The Youth Club: Madeleine’s disappointment: Again I go roller-skating: I join the Civil Defence: Common Wealth: I get a job at the Law Society, Bell Yard

Chapter 26 LOVE, MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE: The Admiralty, probate and Divorce Division: £5 divorces for the forces: The girls in the office: Pat Moors again: Doodlebugs: Ely Place: Lincoln’s Inn’s Fields and Sammy Marks: Going dancing: Ivy Benson’s all-girl band: NO jitterbugging: The GIs: Lyons Corner House: The Norwegians

Chapter 27 HYDE PARK: I leave the Law Society for Insurance: My boss has an accident: the horrors of the Royal Exchange: Pat Moors again: Madeleine lets me down: Community singing: Speakers’ Corner: Prince Monolulu: Sammy Marks once more: Jean: The Hackney Empire: The International Youth Centre, Pont Street: Youth House, Camden Road: I try once more to learn the violin: I obtain a medical certificate in order to change my job: I take a job with a Surveyor and cannot cope

Chapter 28 SOWING AND REAPING: I go with Pat Moors to an agricultural camp: A pilgrimage by bike to Portsmouth, the scene of the fire: Pat and I get drunk: Characters at the camp: a journey to and from the Radcliffe Infirmary which almost ends in disaster: More agricultural camps: Barbara Smith of Walsall: The Laws (previously Lahrs) of Pelsall

Chapter 29 ENDINGS: I work for Common Wealth: Peace breaks out: VE Day: Labour is elected to government: I go to a further agricultural camp and meet with anti-Semitism: The A-bomb vaporises Japanese cities: VJ Day

AFTERWORD: Reflections

NOTES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

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