Holy Trinity Church

Anglican worship in Geneva

Musings from Hugh Pettingell – today and the war years

Dear friends,

 Today Switzerland almost comes back to normal. Classroom teaching will
resume and children from France will be allowed to return to Swiss
schools.  Restaurants and bars will open as will all shops, markets,
museums and libraries. Grocery stores have been open all the time and
are well supplied. Surgeries and hairdressers are already open. Rubbish
collections for the larger household items which have been to some
extent curtailed have been resumed.

 The cafes have to have tables two metres apart with a maximum of four
people per table (family groups are excepted) with no one standing. The
owner must ask for contact details from each customer – although
customers are not obliged to give the details – in case there is any
problem. Face masks are not obligatory but recommended and the elderly
are still recommended to stay indoors.

 I am fortunate in that I can walk around the gardens twice a day. The
weather has been extraordinarily rain free although half the walk can be
in the shelter of the building and the rain when it has come has been
light so that has not been a deterrent. Today it is pouring down!

 The church has broadcast services and other programmes. The local Grand
Saconnex council rings me from time to time to make sure that I am ok
although I have fortunately not had to avail myself of their services. I
have a code so I know the call is genuine! In the letter they sent me
they offered to do my shopping, walk my (non-existent) pet, empty my
rubbish and provide me with meals!

 A restriction that has affected us is the closure of the border with
France which means the shops with their cheaper products are not
available. Geneva is surrounded by France and all the local hills you
can see are in France so with the closing of the border the surrounding
countryside is not accessible and CERN has closed its croquet club.

 Following from the VE reminder someone has asked me for my memories of
the war and so if anyone is interested I will add a postscript of things
that come to mind

 Love to all,

 Blessings

 Hugh

 The war years

 My parents separated in the mid 1930’s and we left Hull and went to
live with an Aunt in Barry, Glamorgan whose husband was a merchant navy
captain. My first vivid memory of the war was the announcement over the
radio of the commencement of hostilities. . I also vividly remember the
severe disappointment when we were no longer able to get caps for our
toy guns!

 Germany started to bomb the ports and both Hull and Barry were heavily
bombed. My aunt’s house was up the hill so not in the target area.
After the all clear was sounded my brother and I would go down and look
at the bomb damage. We were never afraid only curious. American soldiers
arrived and used to let us bounce tennis balls into circles in which
they had placed bent over chewing gum and if we hit the gum out of the
circle we could keep it.

 The bombing made our parents afraid for the family and they reunited in
Leeds. We moved into a three bedroom semi detached house in Gledhow. We
were five in the family at that time and when the billeting officer came
round looking for accommodation for soldiers who had come back from the
war he said we did not need to offer as we were obviously full. My
parents however wanted to do their bit so two soldiers came and lived in
my parents’ bedroom whilst we children slept downstairs. One of them
kept in touch with my mother for many years afterwards. There was no
bombing in Leeds. A stray bomb hit the museum and another the market but
that was all. Meantime London was being heavily bombed. Father had got a
Morrison shelter in the dining room which was a large steel table with
wire surrounds. There was a plea from London for the shelters and so our
shelter went to London. We did not have an Anderson shelter in the
garden as many of our neighbours did so we children slept under the
dining table downstairs.

 There were many building sites in course of construction which had been
abandoned. One near us was called Harts Bros. The walls were there and
the roof but the interior was a shell. Upstairs there were the joists
but no floor boards – an ideal playground. We wanted to play on a site
in our road but the woman next door to the site shooed us away. There
was no traffic as petrol was rationed and so we used to play cricket in
the road. General rationing was of course in place and was taken for
granted but I understand that meant a well balanced diet and there was
always the black market for extras. There was no domestic refrigeration
so things could not be kept. No washing machines either and no
television! My uncle was a wholesale butcher and occasionally I was sent
on the train to visit him with an empty bag. I would also go down to
town for the government concentrated orange juice and cod liver oil
which came in flat medicine bottles. If someone was ill I would go to
the Doctor’s house. In the porch was a row of bottles and I would collect
the one with my family name on. There was no NHS so the doctor had to be
paid for. This meant that often consultations were done over the phone.
If one of us had had a common childhood ailment the doctor would say to
my mother that she knew what to do and so avoid a visit.   

 We walked to primary school and all the teachers were ladies. One day
we got excited when the head announced a new teacher was coming called
Mr Noon. Our excitement faded when we discovered the name was Miss
Denoon. I recall the last banana was auctioned off and raised ten
shillings.

 I started at the Grammar school in 1943 and used to go on the bus every
day which meant going into town and out again. The young teachers had
all been called up and so many of the teachers who had been retired had
come back to teach. School meals are legendary but in the town hall they
did dinners for a shilling so when we could we went there.

 My father who was 39 when the war started was in a reserved occupation
and was also in the Observer Corps. He spent several nights a week
plotting aircraft in the town hall basement. Mother used to make him a
Cornish Pasty for his supper and one night he forgot it so I had to take
it. The observation room was closely guarded and no one was allowed in
but I said I had my father’s supper so they let me in. As you can
imagine I was fascinated. Father did not know that I had managed to get
in – which he thought impossible because of the tight security – and so
waited outside for me in the cold and was in a furious temper when he
found I was there all the time.

 Woodbine cigarettes came to the shop in boxes of 500 and were sold
individually. We used to buy five in a paper bag (they were very cheap)
(for our father!!!!) and smoke them ourselves. In the blackout the roads
were completely dark so we could not be seen when we were smoking in the
street! My father had a cigarette machine which dispensed ten Players
Navy Cut for sixpence and twenty for a shilling. The machine was
refilled when it ran out. My niece was horrified when I mentioned that
her father John and I smoked as children. Mother used to give father’s
cigars to the tradesmen so he little realised that John and I also
helped ourselves and mother got the blame! We also smoked his pipe using
his Baby’s Bottom tobacco! ‘Smooth as a baby’s bottom‘  it said
on the tin.

 We all had gas masks in card board boxes and although we practised
wearing them we (thankfully) never had the excitement of using them.
Father had a superior one in a canvas shoulder bag.

 By a strange coincidence I was in Barry once again when the war ended
and I and remember the public rejoicing there in the public square. I
was at my aunts recuperating from a very serious diphtheria like
infection ( I had been inoculated against diphtheria so it could not be
that!) –it was called a hemolitic streptococca if I remember correctly
– which had laid me up in St James hospital for several weeks.