5 – Gladys the art teacher

1918

In January, Mr John Grime read in the paper that rationing would soon start. Supplementary rations were available for dockers, tramway men, postmen, policemen and other people engaged in war work. 

“Rationing is on its way, Emily,” he said to his wife. “Luckily postmen will have supplementary rations. I suppose that’s because we walk and cycle all day.”

“I’m sure people will now flock to the shops to buy what they can to stock up before rationing starts,” Emily remarked. “Which items will be on ration?”

“Sugar, meat, cheese, butter and margarine,” he replied. “The Food Control Committee has appealed to retailers to ensure fair distribution, it says.”

“How can they do that? There’ll be queues outside the shops,” Emily said.

“Apparently they’ve already fined a lawyer in London for hoarding 296lbs of quaker oats, 516lbs of rice, 134lbs of sugar and 48 lbs of tea,” Mr Grime read. “They’ve also commandeered rabbits. The Government has put 792,000 rabbits in cold storage, probably to feed the forces. I can’t imagine where they got them, there’s supposed to be a shortage of rabbits after the cold winter.”

“Well, fortunately Gladys isn’t a big eater and we’ll have fresh produce from the garden in summer,” Emily said confidently. “We’ll manage, I’m sure.”

“Let’s hope the war will be over by summer. The Americans are now making an impression. When I was on Queens Drive, I saw their troops on the way from the docks to camp at Knotty Ash. Thousands of them marching and in motorised vehicles of all sorts and sizes,” he said.   

The school board awarded Gladys a Free Evening Studentship for Embroidery for the 1918-19 school year. In addition, she took day classes for Jewellery and Enamelling, cloisonné work in particular. Learning new techniques appealed to her because they brought new angles to her artwork. Making decorative art from enamel meant learning to work with copper and glass powder, using the oven to let the coloured powder melt and form a colourful surface. Like most artists, Gladys was never fully satisfied with the ultimate results. The design had to be perfect and the colours on the object just as she expected. Her persistence to achieve a high level of work prompted the school management to appoint Gladys as Assistant Teacher in the Preliminary Department for 3 evenings a week, to help cover the extra work because of the influx of ex-servicemen. They paid her a salary of 10 shillings per evening.

On the morning of Monday 11th November, Gladys went to art school as usual. Her Jewellery class was about to finish for the mid-day meal when she heard church bells ringing joyously. At first she thought it was for a wedding, but then she heard that several churches were peeling. The students looked at one another and their teacher. Then the School Principal popped his head in the doorway and called out triumphantly, “The war has finished! Germany has capitulated. It’s wonderful. School is closed for the rest of the day.”

The students stood, grasped and hugged each other, and the classroom filled with an exuberant hubbub of congratulatory talk. Gladys went to look for Christina and they fell into each other’s arm’s in the hall.

“Let’s go to the town hall,” Christina suggested.

“Yes, people will be gathering there but first I want to go home to see my parents. Will you come with me otherwise we’ll never find each other,” Gladys said, feeling a lightness in her limbs.

On arriving at the shop, Gladys and Christina found her parents peering over the newspapers that had just been delivered. Her father looked up, and by looking at their faces he knew they had heard the news. He said, “I’m so relieved it’s all over. We’ve lost enough lives,” and he embraced Gladys while Mother gave Christina a hand.

“Christina and I are going to the Town Hall. Do you want to come with us?” Gladys asked, looking from one parent to the other.

“I can’t leave the shop,” Mother said. “People will be coming to buy a newspaper.”

“I’m expected back at the post office. But you go and enjoy yourselves. Watch out for the crowds and pick-pockets,” Father added.

The two young ladies took the electric omnibus to the city centre. On the way, the thoroughfares thronged with people, waving Allied flags — the Union Jack, the Stars & Stripes, the Tricolour and others. Colours flew on every masthead and from many a window. Bells were still chiming, steam locomotives and river craft blew their whistles.

Arriving at the Town Hall, the number of people gathered there amazed them. At the docks and munition factories, workers had ‘downed tools’. Schools had a holiday and children ran home, often bearers of the news. The Lord Mayor came on to the front balcony and confirmed the news, “We are at peace”. Jubilant shouting, clapping and merriment followed. The crowds parading in the streets were high-spirited, noisy, song-singing and waving flags. Wounded soldiers were seized upon and kissed in the streets by women, young and old. There were impromptu processions and musical accompaniments. American soldiers from the Knotty Ash Camp joined in and were as jolly as all. Wine and beer flowed freely. 

The next day, the Liverpool Daily Post noted there had been “no excess of drunkenness. It was a day of gladness, but also a day of sadness. Sorrow and sympathy made for quietness, and the joyfulness was balanced by self-respect and self-restraint. Lighting in the streets remained on, allowing crowds to stay out till midnight. The Town Hall was illuminated, and the brilliance was a symbol of the passage from the darkness of war to the light of peace.” 

By Christmas, those that had survived the war were starting to return to Liverpool and sought the comfort of their families and friends. Some were injured, some were suffering from shell-shock and trauma. Most were still abroad waiting for transport back home and sorry they were missing Christmas with their families. Gladys hoped many of the male students from before the war would return. She thought of her pleasant discussions with John Handley and others, and looked forward to meeting them again.

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