Peter Sumner who grew up in Warwick saw that the Courier has been carrying a series of memories of life in the town during the war, and got in touch with Unlocking Warwick, the volunteer group who are collecting personal stories and posting them on this website.
Peter is too young to remember the war himself, but has clear memories of his mother, Dorothy Sumner née Gardner, telling him various family stories, some related by her father, Arthur Gardner. The Gardner family lived at ‘Cliffe View’, 23 Lakin Road, from 1935 to 1968.
“My mother and father both worked for the County Council in Shire Hall. That’s probably where they met. When WW2 broke out, my mother, at the age of nineteen, joined the WAAF and was assigned to an Operations Room at Bentley Priory in Middlesex, travelling each day on the train from Warwick Station; she told me how there were lots of people sleeping on the tube stations. Her job was to type up the daily operations reports. She told me that on one occasion she was astonished to bump into The King and Winston Churchill walking down the corridor.
“My mother would talk about how strictly the Warwick ARP wardens would enforce the blackout. A man with a long stick would rap on the windows and shout if he could see a crack of light. They said the German bombers aiming for Birmingham and Coventry would use St. Mary’s tower as a guidance landmark, so it’s understandable that Warwick had to be completely dark. After a night of heavy bombing in Birmingham, my grandfather went looking for one of his brothers whose home had been bombed. He went round all the mortuaries fearing the worst, but eventually he found his brother alive in hospital in Solihull.
The Gardner family would regularly take in injured soldiers. The house in Lakin Road stood between the station and Warwick hospital and sometimes the hospital was overwhelmed with casualties arriving by train. I used to love visiting my grandparents’ house in Lakin Road. It was close to the railway line and the whole house would shake as the great steam trains would come pounding past. But the house was solidly built and is still standing! If anyone has photos of Lakin Road and Woodcote Road in the forties, fifties and sixties I’d love to see them.
“My grandfather, Arthur Gardner, had served in the First World War with the Royal Engineers in France. There was a curious story about how the family acquired an unusual lamp. As the Germans were retreating in some haste, in one abandoned trench Arthur found a beautiful oil lamp with an alabaster base standing on a table. He took it to an officer to ask if he could keep it, and got a terrible telling off. “It could have been booby-trapped, you idiot.” But after he had calmed down, the officer gave permission for Arthur to have the lamp – if he could get it back home.
My grandfather took it to pieces and carried it in his kit bag all over France. He once said to me, ‘Wherever I went, the lamp went with me!” Eventually he managed to get the bits posted home in biscuit tins. My grandmother took it to Wylie’s ironmongers in the Market Place, (now a tea room), and they put the lamp back together. They were so pleased with it and where it had come from they displayed it in their front window during the rest of WW1. It is now standing on a table in my home, and it reminds me of the hard times my parents and grandparents had to endure in both world wars.”
Peter Sumner was talking to Rick Thompson, Secretary Unlocking Warwick.