BIG READ NOSTALGIA: ‘Growing up in Portsmouth was tough, but it didn’t do me any harm’

Jim Spurrier
Jim Spurrier
Day of Dance was celebrated with the ancient English tradition of Morris dancing in Portsmouth. Picture: Duncan Shepherd

Morris dancing Day of Dance in Southsea – picture gallery

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Born in Portsmouth in 1929 during The Great Depression, JIM SPURRIER recalls the hardships his family faced as he grew up: the enforced separation from his mother, his time in a children’s home and his naval career. But the 88-year-old, of Mallard Road, Milton, remembers most of it fondly

I WAS second oldest of six children (three boys and three girls) and we all lived with my parents at Temple Street in Portsmouth.

Jim's mother Freda

Jim's mother Freda

My father was a First World War veteran and could not get work, only casual work which did not bring much money into the house.

He did jobs here and there in all weathers and was 45 when he became seriously ill and died leaving a widow and six young children.

Because he was not in regular work my mother was not entitled to a widow’s pension, so she had virtually no money coming in.

My father was a Roman Catholic, my mother a Methodist. Because she was a Methodist she contacted someone from the National Children’s Home and Orphanage (NCH&O).

Jim Spurrier

Jim Spurrier

After writing letters and having conversations with officials from Portsmouth and Newton Hall at Frodsham, Cheshire, they told my mother they would take four of the children into the children’s home. This would leave her with two children, the oldest and youngest. This was a very distressing decision my mother had to make.

The day came when we said our goodbyes to our mother as we boarded the train with one of my mum’s older sisters. She came with us as far as Waterloo station. Being very young we did not know what was going on.

We arrived at Newton Hall and me and my brother were introduced to Sister Florence Walkalett at John Fowler House, who was in charge of all the children.

After Charles and I settled in we had a good look around and eere amazed at what we saw. There was a lovely big circle, the children’s houses, a hospital, a chapel, admin block. We looked at each other and knew we were going to like it.

Jim's dad Chris Spurrier

Jim's dad Chris Spurrier

I thought there was something about the place, as if there was an invisible word saying ‘welcome’.

I will always remember the big poster hanging in John Fowler House. It was of Jesus with children around him, and on the poster were the words ‘suffer little children who come unto me’.

That poster will always remind me of the four-and-a-half years we spent at Newton Hall. I shall always treasure them.

Mr Snell and all the staff gave the Spurrier family a good start in life. As you get older you appreciate the good work the NCH&O has done over the years.

But while we were there the Second World War started.

My mother was worried about us with all the bombing going on around the Liverpool and Mersey areas. She was going through the same trauma in Portsmouth.

She had been bombed out twice with the loss of all her belongings from both houses.

She was at her wits’ end, but then her luck changed.

She met a fellow who had been offered a job as a carter on a Wiltshire farm. He asked my mother if she would like to go with him as his housekeeper. His name was Percy.

My mother liked the idea of moving to a safe haven away from the bombing, so she agreed. Percy knew she had two children with her, but he did not know she already had four others in a children’s Home.

After a while my mother told Percy and asked if he would be willing to take her four other children with them to Wiltshire.

He thought about it and finally said it would be all right if she arranged it with the children’s home.

So we had to say our goodbyes to all the wonderful sisters who had looked after us for all those years and all our friends.

To be honest we did not want to go. We were very sad. We loved it at the home.

Mr Snell drove us all the way to Wiltshire to meet my mother. He was our hero.

Our house was a thatched farm cottage – a bit primitive – on a farm in a village called Ogbourne St George.

We settled in and went to the village school and joined the church choir for morning and evening services.

We gradually got used to country life and loved it – especially the animals and wildlife.

Village life was exciting for me and my brother Charles because of all the army camps around us. There were tanks, lorries, guns and soldiers driving through the village. What a lovely sight for a couple of young lads.

My mother was finding it hard financially as she was only getting a farm labourer’s money, so she had to seek advice from a welfare officer.

She mentioned her six children and he asked her how old were the two oldest boys (me and Charles). He said he could get we two boys into a training farm for boys in Kent.

My mother agreed and we left the village we loved.

So we said our goodbyes again and away we went. The name of the boys’ home was Mr Fegan’s Homes.

The first one we had to go to was at Stony Stratford in Buckinghamshire to do our schooling.

Charles and I were not impressed – from the outside it looked like an ancient building. It was depressing, but we settled in after a while.

We were issued with our clothes which consisted of grey serge short trousers, shirt and jacket, no underclothes, and black boots. The discipline was quite harsh – all the staff were called masters and woe betide anyone who misbehaved. The punishment was severe. I am talking from experience (twice). But it did me no harm, I turned out a better lad for it, certainly in later years when I was ready for service life, which came in 1947 when I joined the Royal Navy.

When I became 14 I was transferred to the farm at Goudhurst in Kent, but my stay there was short-lived.

I had only been there three or four months when a flying bomb was brought down coming over the hop fields.

It hit the corner of our dormitory and some of us were injured.

My injury was a three-inch piece of tapered glass which embedded itself in my right ear. I was lucky as I was fast asleep at the time. But when I came to my bed was covered in blood and glass.

No one else was in the dormitory. I managed to get down the stairs, but that was it, I did not know any more until I came round in hospital. But I survived to do other things.

But again, it was more trauma for my mother.

She was so worried about me that she wrote to Mr Fegan’s Homes to ask them to send me back to Wiltshire to be with my family, which is what they did.

My mother welcomed me back. It was good to have me on the farm because I was 14 and eligible for work on the farm which meant more money for my mother. I enjoyed every moment working on the farm. I would not have missed it for the world.

It was now 1945 and the end of the war and my mother decided she would like to go back to Portsmouth.

So we packed our clothes and personal belongings and made our way there.

It was sad for we children because we loved the village people and village life.

When we arrived in Portsmouth my mother sorted out schools for my brothers and sisters and I got a job in Portsmouth dockyard.

I was there for about a year when I decided to join the Royal Navy.

It was 1947 when I enlisted for seven years, seven very happy years.

I travelled the world, mainly the Far East and Middle East. I spent two-and-a-half years

n the Far East and took part in the Korean War – that was an experience.

I came out of the navy in 1954, decided to get married and had three children and now I have three grandchildren whom we adore.

My wife and I have now been married 64 years.