I arrived in Battle in 1939 with my mother, Joan Gunn, at the age of one year, to live with my aunt and maternal
grandmother. My grandmother, Mabel Balfour, and aunt Hope (Susie) Balfour ran a tea shop at No. 18, Upper Lake,
called Elizabeth Ann. They lived upstairs and we lived at No. 19, next door. The houses backed onto Harbord’s Yard,
reached by a passageway from the road. Several families lived there at the time - Richard and Bessie Buckman and
their children, Mr, Buckman’s father, and Mrs. Charman with granddaughter Denise. As I grew up, there were a
number of playmates, especially the oldest Buckman girls; their father was away in the army.
Our garden was in two areas surrounded by crumbling walls that had once been part of the Abbey property. I have
some photos if you are interested. It was in one of these areas that my mother unearthed the Roman Jug.
The houses were very old and timbered with low ceilings. The kitchen, off the passageway, had a flagstone floor
and there was an unused well behind the house. I have memories of cooking with my granny who made delicious
cakes despite the rationing, that were served in the shop. Many of the customers were soldiers from a nearby camp
who liked the homely atmosphere and cooking. Some of these, including several from Canada, became quite good
friends to us.
Across Upper Lake were a row of low old whitewashed cottages with deep window embrasures, sometimes full of
geraniums. These backed onto a farm at the top end of Marley Lane. Mrs Alice Mepham lived in one of these
cottages and on many days took me out for walks in the woods and fields around. I remember playing in woods full
of bluebells in the spring and gorse and bracken on an autumn walk behind the Abbey. Sometimes Mrs Mepham and
I would hunt for mushrooms on the farm. I have a special fondness for mushrooms to this day! I kept in contact
with her until her death . Her grandson, Spencer, still lives in Battle.
There was an air raid shelter down the garden which, luckily didn’t need to be used as it was quite damp inside. I do
remember when a bomb hit Mrs. Tickner’s stationary store in the High street and she, sadly, was killed. That night
we all went under the stairs to shelter and all the glass in the windows was broken by the blast. After an air raid,
when the signal gave the All Clear, you could pick up shell casings and silvery strips of paper which had some use to
confuse the planes at night. One night a German “Doodlebug” was hit and crashed on the farm. I can remember
going to see the crater and I kept a piece of metal from it for many years - in fact, my son once took it school for
“Show and Tell”!
You could also hear the large guns from the coast if the wind was right. I liked looking at the maps in the
newspaper with my grandmother who patiently explained what was going on. She had been a governess in Berlin
and knew Germany and spoke German well.
My Aunt Susie was an Air Raid warden and set off at night with her helmet on when it was her shift. She was very
small in stature and used to get teased but she was very committed to doing her job to help keep us safe. Luckily
they were never really in action.
We briefly had two evacuees from London but they were older and preferred to return home rather than country
living. Otherwise the war touched us very little and it was a good place to grow up; the grownups had to worry
about rationing and short supplies of everything but we were lucky to have fresh eggs and milk from the farm.
Toys were ‘hand - me- downs’ or home-made; books were usually second hand, sent to me by an aunt who lived in
London throughout the Blitz. It was she who encouraged my lifelong love of reading.
There were a few trips to Hastings to the dentist and as a special treat; there was a large store with there was a
pony-sized rocking horse to ride on when you had bought new shoes! I got my first pets- goldfish- in a pet shop in
what was the Old Town.
I attended school at Netherfield and went there by bus. It was run by a woman called Miss Scudamore and the
school was in her house so it was quite small; the lessons I remember most were geography and maps as well as
bible study when she told us great stories. I learned to skip at school recess time and to dive under the classroom
tables when the sirens went off.
My mother’s ‘war work’ was assisting to plant and care for fields of tomatoes on a farm owned by the Duncan family.
I went with her on many occasions and played with the farm children. We had great freedom - as long as we
remembered to always shut gates behind us! Other people I remember were the Holme family and daughter Anna
who went to school with me; Pamela Dean and her mother who had a small farm where I learned to milk her Jersey
cow and collect eggs, and kindly Dr. Wood. There was also the builder, Mr. Thomas, who was called after storms to
repair fallen roof slates. A close friend of the family was Miss Norman who lived at a wonderful address: Pepper in
Eye Cottage, Powdermill Lane! We never found out the story of that!
Other memories are Battle church decorated for Harvest Festival; we children all had small baskets of fruit,
vegetables or flowers which we marched up and left at the chancel steps. The Chequers Hotel on the corner of
Upper and Lower Lake was where my aunt stayed when she visited. I also have a child’s weight chart from John
Russell. Chemist and Optician, 74 High Street, Phone 93!
My father was a doctor in the Royal Navy, stationed in the far east. Sadly my mother heard in 1945 that he had not
survived one of the prison camps. She decided at that time to go to Canada to his parents in New Westminster and
we left Battle in 1946 for an amazing trip by sea and train to the west coast of Canada. My grandmother and aunt
stayed in Battle until 1948 and then came to join us in our new land.
I have been back to Battle twice since we left, in 1958 and again in 1964. Of course there were many changes but
despite the wartime stress it was a good place to grow up. I know I was very lucky.