Phyllis Maple : The War Years
Rita L. Jacob
Phyllis’s husband, Reginald Maple, had volunteered to go into the navy as soon as war was declared; leaving for Portsmouth in the spring of 1940. After spending some time in Bermuda, he was assigned to HMS Ramilles, a ship that believed to be lucky because it had been blessed by a Maori chief. Reginald was on leave at the time of his wedding in October 1941 but, if necessary, could be recalled to his ship at any time.
During the first years of their marriage, Reginald and Phyllis were often apart for twelve months at a time; being away when his first child was born in April 1944. He returned unexpectedly when Bob was about three months old and Phyllis was visiting friends:
‘I was gone out to see some friends then ‘e got on a bus an’ he come out an’ met me out there … because he wanted to see his little boy ‘e ‘adn’t seen him then he was about I don’t know three months was it ‘e could ‘ave been three months old then’
At the beginning of the war Phyllis was still working at Woolworths; becoming an air raid warden and fire watching on the roof of the Silver Street building. When ‘called up’ she did not join any of the women’s services as Percy thought it unlikely that their leaves would coincide; instead opting for munition training in Gloucester with two other Woolworth girls. While there, she sheltered in the cellar of her lodgings as bombs fell on Coventry:
‘When we were up there do y’ know we heard, all the bombs that were dropped, in Coventry, we heard all those bombs we went down in the underground cellars an’ you heard the ground all shook where all these bombs were dropped up there, but I didn’t dislike it because the countryside was lovely all up through the Cotswolds’
Phyllis returned to Salisbury when Reginald’s parents became ill; then being sent to work in Wellworthy’s factory in Harnham. Here. piston rings were made for aircraft, Phyllis remembering the long hours and the dust:
‘We started all the machines going all across the shop floor was all dust n’ we hadn’t got any dust extractors then n’ so we were allowed to have a half pint bottle of milk a day to counteract, all this dust’
She found the night shifts particularly difficult as army convoys passing along Rampart Road disturbed sleep during the day; often reporting for work half asleep. There was only a forty five minute break at midnight and, as there was no canteen, the women brought their own food and entertained themselves:
‘At midnight, we used to turn it all off … everything shut down n’ you had a break, I know we had a three quarters of an hour, an’ then we’d play an old gramophone n’ then we’d went dancin’ [laughs] for just for the break time, an’ then we were back on’
In the latter part of 1943, Phyllis was pregnant and unable to cope with the seventy two hour weeks; leaving Wellworthy’s in November. At that time, she and Reginald were living with a widow in Rampart Road at Number 32; taking rooms in order to avoid upsetting either set of parents:
‘I lived with a widow lady who was um very deaf that was in thirty two Rampart Road but that was because we didn’t want to upset the two lots of parents my husband’ mother an’ family wanted ‘im to go up there an’ stay when he was on leave an’ my mum wanted us t’ go into stay with her so I thought well if we’ve got a place of our own it won’t upset anyone which it didn’t so that’s ‘ow we got over that one’
When her son was nine months old, however, they moved to a house in Guilder Lane, a property owned by the Municipal Charities. This was to be her home for almost the rest of her life, Phyllis moving into a nursing home shortly before her death in April 2014.