These are the notes made by Nicholas Butler who interviewed Mrs Munson in the mid 1980s as part of the research for his book “The Story of Wivenhoe”. These notes have been re-typed by Ann Jones from Nicholas Butler’s original notes and posted here by Frances Belsham.
About Mrs Ruth Munson
I came to Wivenhoe on my wedding day 23 May 1931, married Walter Munson. Mrs Munson lived at Hillside Cottage, Queens Rd. Wivenhoe.
What Mrs Munson told Nick Butler
I was asked to go over to Rowhedge, so I went over there and about six Wivenhoe girls started to go there as well. Some mothers asked me to start a Guide Group there. There had been Guides but they had lapsed for years. I think we were registered in 1935. We had a fiftieth birthday 3 years ago.
The Scouts also languished after WW1. We had one Guide company and one Brownie pack. We started the St John’s Ambulance between the Wars. In about 1938. That hall, (the present St John Ambulance Hall) has been all sorts of things. It was a carpenter’s store before we had it. We used to meet in what is now Ken Green’s place. Then we went down into that little hut in Hamilton Road, only a little place. We managed to raise enough money and bought the St John Ambulance Hall. We added on a kitchen and store-room, tea-room. We started up the Cadet Division in 1944. Some girls came to me and said they wanted to learn first aid because the war was on, so we started the Division. It is still going on, it is now boys and girls.
We were married in May and after we were married six weeks, he was unemployed. The men in those days managed to take things in their stride. He and they took jobs because he and they had to take jobs. Suffered from a war injury which lost him the use of his left arm. Jobs: Digging the trenches for the sewer, Sugar beet harvesting….it was too much for him, he wouldn’t give it up. Well, he daren’t give it up. Very happy times. Nobody seemed to be so frustrated as they are these days. There was not the help (ie financial support) in those days. The dole money was very little.
My husband came to Kings Lynn to work, we had a shipyard there (ie that is where I come from)
There was a little Labour Exchange in Alma Street, on the right hand side as you go from the cut. Nearer East Street. Turned into a house, something of a hall, we hired it. I think we got turfed out for it to be turned into a Labour Exchange. My husband had several different jobs. He was a toolsmith by trade. At the beginning of WW2 he got into the Ordnance Depot and was there until he retired.
During the war the school (ie the boys school) was a first aid post and the warden’s room. That was where we accepted all the evacuees, we had a lot, from West Ham, they came early and left early.
I always loved Wivenhoe from the very first time I set eyes on it.
When I first came here there were the two schools. I have taught in both schools. Mr Cater was the Headmaster. Down the bottom was Miss Smith. When Mr Cater went away, she was in charge of both schools.
The boys school closed before the girls and then the junior boys came down with the girls. During the war the children at the boys school must have been taught at Brightlingsea.
This school (ie the Phillip Road School) was not closed until the….I retired when it closed 20 years ago, I didn’t want to give up, I loved every minute of it.
Infant school was built first at Broome Grove.
I think my husband was a Corporal (ie during WW1) He was lying out in a dugout for 36 hours.
Walter Munson used to play football for Colchester before WW1, Colchester Town not United.
Poverty? We had to scrape along, that is why I went back into teaching. I loved every minute of my Guiding and every minute of my St John Ambulance work. We used to do night duty during the war. Small bombs went all the way up the playing fields. A German plane came down at the Cross.
We had air raid shelters in the school playground. One in the playground and one in the orchard behind the school. Infants air raid shelter was nearer Barton’s. Poor little kids had to carry gas masks. A session of fitting them on. Some children frightened. You had a job to get them on, but you had to show them how to get them on quickly.
Holidays at Home week. We had a committee, I was on it. We arranged something for each day. One day there was a fete at Ballast Quay. Two fellows, Tilf Glozier and Sid Green asked if I would black them up and we had one of those barrel organs on a cart. I blacked up too. We went round the village playing the barrel organ. They wheeled me into the baby show. It is amazing what fun you can have out of nothing isn’t it? I can’t remember anything else. We took it in our stride. We didn’t have the heavy bombing or rush to air raid shelters. Our lives went on fairly well. I used to go to the Essex County Hospital on Saturdays from 9 till 2. We never thought we would lose the war, we never anticipated losing, no question of our ever losing.
They took all the signposts down. Our Rangers used to go out on our bikes and invariably we got a bit lost.
I don’t think I ever had a class of less than 40 and I didn’t think much of it (ie I didn’t mind). When I was doing the infants I had about 50. Another class of infants was also in the same room. That other class was about 20 to 30. About 80 infants altogether in the school. Girls only up to 11.
When they closed the Boys School, the junior boys must have come down. Up to seven at the infants school.
And what did they learn? I had the top school infants for a long time. They could read pretty fluently. They could write stories. They could do the four rules in number and money, and besides that they did painting and handicraft. The girls learned to knit and the boys made models. We had religious instruction. We had assembly every morning. The first 20 minutes after assembly we had religious instruction. We had to teach them hymns. I don’t know if they have that now, if they don’t, more’s the pity. We used to teach them little plays and things like that. 75%-80% could read fluently before they went up to the juniors. No sorting out of children with special problems. They started school just before their fifth birthdays.
School dinners after the war came from Great Bentley. They could have free school dinners. Something like 4d in old money. We had to take the dinner money on Monday morning. The dinners were good.
We have several alarms. It varied, sometimes half an hour, sometimes quarter of an hour and you had to keep the children amused in the shelter. They were strongly built. Concrete shelters. We had two at the school. Outside lavatories.
Life (during the war) went on. We just had a few extra things to do. We had to remember to put up the shutters.