RETURNING TO LEICESTERSHIRE
My father came to see me at auntie's a few days after. By then I had found a job in a factory where a school friend I saw told me to try. I was now nearly 14 years old.
My father told me to give auntie what she wanted for my board and lodgings and, as he thought I knew as much as he about buying clothes, I was to look after myself. He then went back, away from Leicester, to where he was now living.
I think God must have been guiding me, because I was taught how to work a sewing machine, and I was paid so much for each dozen. For a while I never earned more than the amount I was to pay for my keep, but I gradually got quicker and several older girls working near me helped me.
I was happy at my aunt's, Mary Elizabeth Lester known as Lizzie. She was my mother's sister and was very loving. She already had the care of my young sister Nora since mother died. She had a daughter, Agnes, of her own too, whom I grew to love as a sister.
My aunt was not a healthy person - always needing a doctor's care - and she would be given a permit for a fortnight at a convalescent home at Swithland just outside Leicester. These permits were granted to a person whom a doctor thought needed a change and could not afford to go on a holiday as some better-off folk did.
It was on one of these occasions that I went to live at a neighbour's house for a fortnight (this neighbour thinking that this would relieve my uncle of some household tasks). A Catholic friend had my young sister for this period. However, before my aunt came home again the neighbour had talked with my uncle about my staying to live with her, again to relieve auntie of extra work. Uncle thought it a good idea and I didn't have any choice.
So here was another home for me to get used to. I was earning more money now - getting more experienced. I was working in the "making-up" room of men's and women's underwear. We were paid so much a dozen, so I worked hard to be able to pay my board and perhaps buy some clothes and go to the Cinema once a week.
The lady with whom I was now living worked at what was called the "Public Slipper Baths". Her duty was to turn the hot and cold water on for those who paid for a bath. There were many homes in those days without a bathroom and most of us went to these baths. We paid so much for the bath and two clean towels.
I used to do some household chores for my landlady some evenings and I was told that if I did her ironing first I could go to her for a bath. This I did not have to pay for. I did not know until I had been doing this for some weeks that the towels she gave me to use were the cleanest she could find out of the "dirty towel box" where other folk deposited their soiled towels on their way out. Now because of this I caught a horrible skin disease called Scabies. I had it very badly over the lower part of my body.
My landlady was expecting a baby and so did not want me around with this complaint. She wrote to my father to tell him how she felt. My Dad was at a loss to know what to do with me. However, a friend of my mother who lived in the village where Dad lived said that if I was a good girl and did as I was told, keeping to my own towel, etc., etc., she would see me (or was it Dad) out of this trouble. I came into town twice a week to see the skin specialist. I walked 5 miles to town. There were no buses then. I used to nip up town to see my aunt but I remember I didn't ever go to see the person I had lived with and who really had let me down. (I wasn't at all afraid of walking the 5 miles to town. Raping etc. wasn't ever heard of then).
I was fifteen weeks absent but my job was kept open for me. When the time came for me to get back to work -my skin trouble having then quite gone - my Dad contacted another friend of his and again I was to live at someone else's home.
Up to this time I was going to church regularly as all Catholics do, taking Holy Communion regularly after weekly confession.
My Dad met and married again in 1916 to a person younger by about twenty years than him. She, Miriam Louisa Salisbury, was single and was a cook at the hall in the village where he lived. I learnt years after that my Dad had told her she needn't have any of his family. They were all three of us housed somewhere. Maybe his new wife did not want the responsibility of a ready-made family. They did have one child, Mary, of their own a year or so after.
During this time I had lived for two years at Rugby at another aunt's, Mary and Thomas Lester. Here my elder sister Florrie joined me after living in Coventry and working on munitions. She then met an Australian soldier, Joseph Peacock, who was going back home, the war now being over. They married here in 1919 before both going by boat to 'Aussie'.
After she had gone I longed for Leicester again. I am made that way. I got terribly homesick, without a home that was really mine. My Dad's work had brought him back to live in Leicester, and he persuaded my stepmother to have me to live with them.
My stepsister Mary was born about a year after I went to live with them, and sometime after that I met the boy, Frederick Bembridge, I married four years after.
Gertrude Lester c1920
(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)
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