An Ode to Life! By John Tipple
There can be few people in East Meon who have not encountered the delightful smiling face of Frances Childs. Even Bleriot’s exploits pale into insignificance compared with this lady’s decision to take to the skies in Dave Baker’s new flying armchair! She is now looking forward to another flight on her 90th birthday!
What next for this intrepid lady – free fall parachuting with the Red Devils? Abseiling Canary Wharf? The mind boggles, but then Frances and her younger sister Ivy, who sadly died a few years ago, have always demonstrated a willingness to go that extra mile. They crossed the River Meon when it was some four feet deep and fast running, cycled through the Blitz, one always daring the other. When they were kids they even penetrated what is now Denys Ryder’s orchard in search of apples. They also dared each other to venture into the dark mysterious depths of Mr Naylor’s woodland copse at Greenway Lane, later to find that Frances had left one of her boots behind!
Talk to Frances about those days and her exploits with Ivy, and a discerning eye quickly discovers an impish wit and beguiling glint in her eye. This rather betrays her image as a well dressed lady with beautifully coiffured white hair, a picture of sartorial elegance, whose warm friendly smile and hairstyle make her a spitting image of the Queen. In fact she is to many the “Queen of the Meon Valley” and on the 27th January she celebrated her 88th birthday.
Part of the fascination that Frances evokes is undoubtedly the sheer span of history that her life has encompassed. She has lived through and witnessed the Great Depression of the Thirties, the horrors of a world war, the loss of Empire, the creation of the National Health Service, the arrival of radio and television, mobile phones, computers, and the Internet. A period which saw an end to the old social structures, the emergence of a home owning democracy, with the arrival of many professional and retired people from the middle classes in the village.
Her fascinating life provides us with a unique glimpse of what many still believe to be the “good old days” but for many they represented endless hardship and deprivation.
Frances was born in 1922, in the Hampshire village of Warnford, just south of West Meon, but very soon the family moved to Hillhead, Stubbington where they lived until she was four.
In 1926 the family moved again, as her father looked for work, this time in Meonstoke, a village at the foot of Old Winchester Hill, a few miles south of West Meon.
“At five years of age I started at school. My journey entailed walking two miles each way across the fields, since there were no school buses in those days. Mind you, I was very careful never to be late – it didn’t pay to be late! We moved to Old Down Farm near East Meon, where Dad got a job working on old Mr Broadway’s farm. As a result, I switched to the school in Privett, where I stayed until I was nearly nine. In those days we children were all given a slate and a stick of chalk to write with! This time my journey to school meant that I had to cross more fields, through some woods, then onto the main road that led up to the school. In the main I enjoyed school.”
“Then the family moved again, this time to Pond Cottage, at Lower House Farm in Oxenborne. There I continued my schooling at East Meon School until I was 14, whereupon it was the custom in those days for girls from working class families to leave school and enter service. Ironically I went to work at Meonstoke for the same people that my Dad had worked for much earlier, but instead of the warm, loving family atmosphere that I had known before, my employers were sharp, cold and very unfriendly. I was required to live in, my morning starting prompt at 7am, with the cooking of breakfast. Once I had finished washing up and cleared away all the breakfast things, I then had to start scrubbing floors and cleaning. Then it was time to prepare and serve dinner at 12 o’clock. Once again I would wash up and clear away all the cutlery and crockery. In between dinner and afternoon tea I would busy myself cleaning and polishing. My meals were always taken alone in the kitchen. At 7.00 pm I was allowed to retire to my bedroom. Life was hard, the work arduous, and the hours very long. In fact my working week averaged 72 hours. Twice a week I was allowed an afternoon off to visit my Mum and Dad at their home 5 miles away, though I was still expected to be back by 9pm!”
“My wages for the week were 15 shillings a week, or 75 pence in today’s money, and I gave my Mum 10 shillings a week – a lot of money in those days. Ten shillings could buy you a lot of clothes. A jumper typically cost 2/11d, or about 15pence in today.”
It wasn’t very long before my employers’ moved to Brown Candover, about 5miles north of Old Alresford. I was expected to go with them, this took me even further away from Mum and Dad, and being some 15 miles from East Meon, it took me even longer to cycle to and from home. Remember that I still had to be back in my employer’s house by 9pm!
Then things began to change for the worse. The arguments between husband and wife grew more bitter and heated. The atmosphere had always been pretty strict, and officious, but now it was becoming distinctly unpleasant. It wasn’t long before matters reached a head and I decided to leave their service and return back home to live with Mum and Dad”
“When I was 16, I met Jim, my first and only boyfriend. I had a job in Petersfield, cooking in a café. Although Jim was born in the village of Compton, near West Marden he too had moved to Petersfield with his Mum and Dad. He was 17 and worked for South Eastern Farm Milk Lorries. For me it was love at first sight! Jim with his grey-blue eyes and cheeky grin was very good looking. There was a fair in the village that evening, so I seized the opportunity to ask him what he was doing that night. He nonchalantly agreed to join me there and from that day on we were inseparable.”
“With the outbreak of war I left the café and returned home to help my Dad on the farm. I milked the cows and helped out on the farm. This meant getting up at 4.30am in order to start milking around 5 am – most people were still asleep in their beds!”
“In 1942, when I was 20, Jim and I decided to marry. With Britain fighting for her life during the Second World War, Jim had enlisted in the Navy and quickly became a chief stoker aboard a destroyer. For three and half years his ship regularly patrolled the coasts of North Africa, Malta and the greater Mediterranean. Convoy protection in the Mediterranean was essential to the success of the Allied Campaign in North Africa. The British forces, like Rommel’s, depended totally on their supply lines. Yet all throughout his time at sea, Jim’s ship was never put out of action. He finally returned home to Portsmouth in 1945 and was discharged.”
“We set up our first home together at Hill Hampton Farm in East Meon, where we were very happy together. It was here that I gave birth to my daughter Shirley! We lived there for 23 years until Jim got a job in the kitchens at HMS Mercury. We made our final home at Hill View in a bungalow with lovely views across to Park Hill. We both enjoyed gardening, walking and the simple things in life. In 1991, two days before my 70th birthday, and after almost 50 years of married life together, Jim, who had suffered from emphysema for many years, suddenly expired in his chair. Eighteen years later, I still live alone in the same bungalow, surrounded by many friends and many wonderful memories of our life together.”
Frances Childs may live alone, but rarely has anyone ever been so loved and respected by the people of East Meon. Talk to Dr Stuart Christie and a broad smile spreads from ear to ear, even the Chairman of the Parish Council turns out to repair the road or pavement for Frances, such is the appeal of this lady. I even have to make an appointment to see her, such is the demand to see her. Mention her name to Terry Louden, Denys Ryder, Diana Chadwick, or Rosemary Ryder and they all have stories to tell.
Despite having endured many hardships in the earlier part of her life, and suffering her fair share of sadness following the deaths of her husband Jim and her sister Ivy, plus the loss of her beloved Corgi’s (Cindy, Tramp & Brandy) , Frances harbours no ill will. She is known and loved by so many, and today she remains undaunted and lovely and serene as ever!