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Home Rita's Story Schlesierland Irene Thibault David B Jones - Chindit

Rita's Story

'Home'

I could not see a way ever to be able to return to Wroclaw.  Our longings and memories were locked deep inside our hearts.  It was easier for me.  I was young and could look upon it as an adventure.  The only hardship I had suffered was hunger, thirst, and sometimes no bed for the night.  My mother on the other hand, had felt much pain.

My father had an accident and died in 1933.  It was hard going trying to bring up a family on her own.  She refused help from the state, so she took in sewing.  With a borrowed sewing machine, she would sit from dawn till dusk, so that we would not go without.  Her reward would come when people remarked how pretty and well-behaved her three little girls were.  In our home, my mother's word was law.  She was very strict, but also very kind.  Her greatest fear, after her husband died, was, that if any of her children were found misbehaving, the authorities would come and put them into care. She strived hard to make a good living for us.  Bit by bit, she saved to buy her own sewing machine.  Instead of renting one that would never be hers, she bought one on hire-purchase.  I remember how her face lit up the day the collector called for the last payment.  I missed not having a father very much.  I could not even remember what he looked like.  On many occasions, my mother would take us to his, and my grandparents' graves.  I believe I could still find them, although the visits didn't mean so much to me at the time.  I could not have known at the time, the heartache that my mother must have felt.  I sometimes think she took us there to show our father what pretty little girls we were.

In 1971, my mother died, and I'm glad I was brought up to believe that when we die, we once again meet all the loved ones who have gone before us, and now my parents are once again together, looking down on us.  It sort of makes me want to behave myself, because I wouldn't want to disgrace them or their memory.  Perhaps it was my father who gave me the strength to help my mother through those trouble times.

Since my return to Delligsen from the Red Cross in Berlin, things had taken a turn for the better.  Two new shops had opened.  One grocery, and the other a Post Office.  The people of the village said that they had never had a Post Office before.  They never needed one.  A factory opened, making mattresses and seats for cars and lorries.  My friend Rita and I applied to get work.  Long strings of metal were wound onto spools, and we had to plait them to make into frames for seats.  They were oily, and by the end of the day, so were we.  It was hard on our hands too.  We were paid piece-work, so we worked hard, and our pay at the end of the week, too, was good.  In the towns, dance halls and cinemas had opened.  Our nearest town was about five kilometers away.  It was easy enough to get there, but not so easy, after a night's dancing, to walk home again.  There were about eight of us girls who could not resist going.  We laughed and talked all the way there, and the time soon went.  The only thing against us was the curfew.  We still had to be home by 9pm.  If you were caught out on the streets after that time, you were quite likely to find yourself locked up for a month.  When you are dancing, there is no time to watch the clock as well.  We were young, and, for a very long time, having some enjoyment.  It became our weekly outing.  One night we decided to risk a lift home.  The plan was that one girl would hitch a lift while the others would hide behind the bushes until a car stopped.  I was chosen to do the hiking, since I'd had more experience than the rest.  I was willing, and so it was decided.  It was midnight, and very dark, when I saw headlights coming upon me from behind.  Hoping that it was not the Military Police, I put my hand up.  The girls were well covered.  The car stopped. It was a limousine.  I opened the door and asked the driver for a lift to the next village.  He said "Hop in baby".  I could tell he was American, so I turned to where my friends were hiding and shouted "Hop in baby!"  They came running, and piled in, one on top of the other.  The driver must have got quite a shock, but he drove off quietly to the music of our laughter.  The main road from Hamburg to Munich ran alongside our village.  He stopped to let us out, and he must have been very relieved to see the back of us.  Later on, we had dances in the village, so that saved a lot of travelling.  The refugees had brought new life with them.

One day, my friend Rita and I, went to see a fortune-teller.  We had heard he was very good.  When we got there, Rita lost her nerve, but I went in.  We sat in the waiting room, and when the door opened, she and pushed me off my chair.  I went in with a big smile, and sat down.  He sat down, and took my hand without a word, he looked at it long and hard.  "You will go abroad, marry a dark man and have three children".  He took the money I offered him, and together, Rita and I left.  Outside, I couldn't stop laughing. I said to Rita "Africa, here I come".  I explained to her what the man had said about going abroad and marrying a dark man.  "Only in Africa could I find one" I said.  Now she laughed too.  I didn't fancy Africa, so I suggested to Rita that we go to America.  She thought it was too far, but I persuaded her and off we went to the Employment Office.  The lady we saw was friendly.  I did all the talking.  "We want to go to America to work", I said.  "How old are you?", she replied.  I told her we were both aged 20.  She explained that this undertaking was financed by the Government and that we needed to be 26 years of age to be accepted.  If we were younger, then it was more likely we would get homesick, and the money for our journey would be wasted.  This refusal for me was a great insult as I no home to be sick for.  Neither had my friend for she also had come from Breslau.  Then she told us that Britain would accept us.  My friend nodded, so I nodded too.  We would have to sign up for two years.  My friend shook her head, but I nodded again.  We only had a choice of working on a farm or in a mental hospital.  My friend sat down looking ill, but nothing could be said to change my mind and I accepted the forms to be filled in.  Guiding my friend to the bus stop was like leading a blind person.  She thought I was mad.  I told her that if we didn't like it, we would find a way of getting back, even if I'd have to wash dishes en route to cover the cost of the ticket.  About twenty years later, we talked about this very subject.  Remembering my words she said that she would not have gone, only she knew I meant what I said and I really did.  We filled in forms, had medical inspections, answered questions to the point of extreme embarrassment like did we have VD or are we a one-parent family or have we ever been in prison.  To ask such things was shameful, but I understand much later, quite necessary.  We waited to see if we would be accepted.

Only two weeks went by when our summons arrived.  I was shaking with excitement; never giving a thought to the fact that neither of us knew a word of the language.  The first week in July, we were to travel to a collective camp in the north of Germany.  We packed a few belongings and set out early one morning.  We never were a family for making a big thing out of goodbyes.  I told my mum I was off, and that I hoped Günter would soon return home from Russia.  Mum waved to me from the bedroom window.  I think she had a lump in her throat for she never said a word.

Arriving at our destination, we were met by officials and taken into the camp.  It was large with girls everywhere.  In fact, about 500 from all walks of life.  Some adventurers like myself, some seeking a husband and others like my friend, already homesick.  We stayed just a day or two.  On the eve of our departure, we all assembled in a large hall for a fun evening on our last carefree day in our homeland.  Some girls were natural performers.  They dressed up and made funny speeches.  We rocked with laughter.  We sang one minute, modern songs, the next folk songs reminding us of far away places.  Everybody joined in and we danced the night away.  At assembly the next morning, the housemaid told us that of all the girls that had passed through, we had been the happiest of the lot, and that she hoped that we would be good ambassadors for our country.  A lot of girls from Berlin were among us and they knew how to enjoy life.  That might have made the difference.  We had a group photograph taken for a magazine and the headline read "Going to England to Earn Money For Our Bottom Drawer".  I resented that, because in my case, nothing was further from my mind.  I just hated the thought of marriage.  To me it meant a chain around my neck, and lost freedom.

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