Below are extracts from a conversation with Mrs Olive Kisiel in the late 2000s.
Olive was born in Brandon, on 8th August, 1926. Her mother came from Brandon and her father, Ernest Goodman, was a Londoner. After her birth Olive was taken by her family to London but returned to Brandon a year later in 1927 and has stayed here almost ever since. The family home was at 11 London Road where her family owned a grocer’s shop, the site was used by an estate agents from the 70s until 2013.
Preceding the war
I spent a lot of my time playing in Stores Street and loved going to school. In fact we played anywhere we wanted and I’m not sure that my parents knew where we were half the time. I remember going down to the railway station with friends, and we would take a bottle of water and a sandwich and have a picnic. It was a good life and we felt safe as there were not many cars. On some Bank Holidays we would stand out on the High Street, Brandon’s main road, and write down the car numbers. Obviously could not do that now because there are so many of them.
Beginning of war
A week before war was declared we were on holiday at my aunt’s in Northampton and I remember that my cousin was in the R.A.F. Reserves and had been called up, so we knew something was going to happen. On the Sunday that war was declared we were on our way home to Brandon in my father’s car and had passed a lot of RAF trailers with long tubes on them, so even though we had not heard that war had been declared we knew almost certainly that it had been.
My family owned a greengrocer’s shop although it had actually been my grandfather’s (Mutum) business and we all worked in there. Me, my mum and dad, my aunts and my sister all helped.
Our shop had to have so many customers registered with it before we could deal in certain items during the war, and so although we sold pretty much everything before the war we could not sell sugar or butter during it, so we carried on selling tinned goods as they were on points. We also sold the vegetables that we grew at the allotments but we could not sell clothes late in the war, however we used to sell underwear like socks and vests and anything else that was not on rations. We sold tobacco, cigarettes and just about everything else, and we carried on selling sweets, that was more in my mother’s department, and we used to get a lot of kids going to school getting their sweets. There was the Co-Op shop next door where a lot of people did their shopping and we also had to register with the Co-Op as well to get our stuff from there.
We had allotments up on the ‘Mount’ and used to go and help out up there and then go around Brandon selling flowers as well … thru’pence and sixpence a bunch! My grandfather grew all the vegetables on the Mount in greenhouses up there and my mother and aunt used to work in the shop while my father and grandfather would be up on the allotment. We used to sell holly wreaths as well for Christmas and these were put on graves, not like today when they are put on people’s doors. We used to have a little barred-gate with a bell on it, so when you came through the gate the bell would ring and I remember a barrel of vinegar underneath the shelf that was in the window.
We also had horses in stables and at one time we had a horse and a covered cart that we would load up and go around the villages to sell stuff, but then the horse got too old and dad got the car. It was a big Jarrett, but then petrol rationing came into force and the car got packed away and later sold off. Then my sister and I would load up our bikes on Saturday mornings with a basket on the front and a box on the back and ride to Weeting labour camp because the men who ran it were dad’s customers. I remember one very icy morning when we were playing on the Market Hill and there were lots of slides and woe betide anyone who wanted to slide on anyone else’s slide! I remember being called away from there to go to Weeting and finished up in Weeting being absolutely perished with cold and one woman told me to come in to warm up. She had a little paraffin stove for me to get warm and of course coming in from the intense cold into the room with the heat caused me to passed out. After all that I still had to get on my bike to get home! We didn’t think anything of it though because it was suggested that we helped out with the business. Even today people tell me that they remember our shop.
We did not have any evacuees stay with us because we had six in our family already. Although at the Methodist Sunday School that I went to I did meet up with some evacuees there and there was a lady across the road that had a couple stay with her and I used to play with them.
After I passed the 11+ I went on to Bury School and had six years there. That was an adventure going on to school because the bus would pick up in Brandon and then we would have to go to Lakenheath, Eriswell, Elveden and then finally on to Bury, and it took over an hour to get us to Bury St. Edmunds. Toward the end of the war they closed the Elveden to Culford road because of troops camped out under the trees near there and so we would then have to travel through Barnham as well.
I was in the girl guides, but that was disbanded during the war and at the beginning of the war we used to go about Brandon and collect waste paper and deposit it at the back of Mrs Clarke’s shop, which we would enter via Lode Street. I think it was roughly where the dentist is now.
A lot of people would come down to the river, locals and troops included, and swim in the water there. I remember me and my friend would go swimming and sometimes cross over to the opposite riverbank and chat to the handicapped Dr Barnardo Boys who were billeted at the Brandon House Hotel.
I was a Lance Corporal in the Girls Training Corps, which was the female equivalent of the Air Training Corps. When the Home Guard carried out their exercises we would often help them by acting as injured casualties or become messengers. My father was crippled, he had a withered leg through Polio, so he could not do anything active but I think he helped Mr Woodrow with the ARP, and sometimes when he came back from these exercises he would say that he had met my Head Mistress. Evidently my Head Mistress and the English teacher had come over from Bury for these exercises in Brandon.
One Army Exercise I remember was when we went to the cinema one Saturday and we were coming back to my house which was only a couple of hundred yards away along the London Road and there was a ‘bomb’ in the road. It was a make-believe bomb for the purposes of the Army exercise and no one could come past it. No one. No pedestrians, no cars, nothing. The road was closed off. We had to go all the way around Coulson Lane to get home.
I used to go once every fortnight to the cinema and you should have seen the queues. Quite literally the queues used to be three or four wide to get in and we used to get there an hour early just to get in the queue, and there used to be a queue that snaked alongside the cinema for the cheaper seats and another queue that went down the Avenue for the better seats. Of course some people did not get into the cinema because they were at the end of the queue, but on Saturdays there would be two shows. I also remember the Indian troops who were based at Weeting and who used to walk one behind the other all the way to the Cinema, just like Indian firewalkers. I used to have a friend who lived near the water works along the Thetford Road and we would go to the cinema and afterwards I would accompany her to her house, and then I would walk back to mine alone. I never once thought about my own safety, and was never molested, and I never felt afraid at all. Even with all these soldiers stationed nearby. Mr Culey, who owned the Cinema, would have a free show at Christmas for the kids and I used to go.
Service men would come into the shop with their coupons, especially the Polish men who would love their “fruu-it”! And when some of them were posted up to Scotland they would send a postal order down to us and in return we would send a box of fruit up to them.
At the Methodist Church Sunday Service some of the troops would come for the singing of hymns and have tea and sandwiches that were laid on by the Methodist minister’s wife. The Church of England Reverend organised a canteen in the Church Institute for the soldiers and the organist at the Baptist Church, a piano teacher, would organise concerts. We also had some of the Indian troops come to the chapel from Weeting, and they were Christians. The Northants Tank Regiment were stationed here too and there were loads of tanks coming through Brandon toward the second half of the war and when they turned sharply around corners their tracks would churn up the road surface. My aunt lived in Northampton and I remember on one our visits to see her she told us of a friend who had a son serving in the Northants Tank Regt and he was stationed in Brandon. He then would often come to my parent’s home in Brandon to have supper with us. Sadly he was killed in the D-Day landings.
I always wanted to become a teacher and I was in teacher training college at Norwich on VE-Day. A few of us girls had been in the city, maybe to the cinema, and we had to be back before 10pm as was the rule. Anyway, on the way back home we heard the news that we had been given an extension, to about 11.30pm I think, and so we girls did a quick turn and went back into the city again and ended up dancing in the streets of Norwich. The atmosphere there was terrific and people were dancing in rings.
After the war
It took a long time for life to get back to normal after the war and I do remember one time when the Co-Op got a delivery of biscuits and these used to come in square tins, anyway there were massive queues at the Co-Op for these biscuits. Then we got bananas, but they too were rationed, and so you could only have so many. I became a teacher in 1946 and spent three years at Hopton and then had seven years off because I got married to a Polish man and raised a family in Brandon. In 1956 I became a teacher in Brandon and stayed in that job for the next 27 years.