Wem in the 1930s - Mrs O'Rahilly

When interviewed in 1996, Mrs O' Rahilly whose maiden name was Thorley lived in Lowe Hill and was an extremely sprightly seventy six years old. Her father will be remembered by many, as he was the town chimney sweep and lent his hand to any kind of work. Her mother ran a sweet shop for many years in Station Road which later became a fish shop. She thinks her mum was the first to fry scallops in Wem, maybe you can remember eating them?

Her earliest memories she recalls were when she lived in Station Road and the noises of horse and carts that woke you up. Early once a week came Mr Reeves who noisily emptied the tin toilets. There were lots of noisy iron wheeled carts clattering down the street. She remembers her mum would go to the auction in late summer and buy a dozen geese, Mrs O'Rahilly helped her mum to herd them home to their back garden. These were kept until Christmas and fed on scraps they also kept the garden grass short. Just before Christmas Mrs Thorley killed and plucked the geese, then gave them for Christmas presents.

Mrs O'Rahilly had four sisters and one brother, she doesn't think they ever had new clothes every thing was passed down or on but she recalls it was the same for most of the people she knew so it was not really ever a problem. It was the same at Christmas, toys were probably second hand but it was such a treat to get presents you didn't ask where they had come from. She believes people were much more honest about the every day things, you didn't lock your door, groceries were left on the step, and children did have the freedom of traffic-free streets.

The only outside contact in the home was an old radio that you had to listen to with an earphone. When the day light lengthened the children were outside playing. Mrs O'Rahilly said she enjoyed putting on a show with her friends. Many hours went into planning and rehearsing then borrowing your mum's clothes to put on a show for your friends. Mrs O'Rahilly and friends had the luxury of a stage, they used the landing stage at the old malting and charged friends a halfpenny to watch.

The first time Mrs O'Rahilly left Wem was when she was about six or seven and the whole family went on a trip to Blackpool organised by the Oddfellows. She thinks the train journey must have taken ages, but she will never forget going to the top of the tower. She believed that the small cars and people below were models, she could not understand they were real. On the return journey the family missed the connection train for Wem and waited many hours to come home on the early morning milk train.

Mrs O' Rahilly said she didn't enjoy school. Somehow it did not interest her, she admits to playing truant, and just going for walks over the fields. In the long summer holidays she and friends would pack themselves some bread and a bottle of water with half a penny of caylie mixed in and maybe a few sweets she had managed to sneak when her mum wasn't looking, then off they went for the whole day to the Aston woods. Sometimes they took an old pram and just played the whole day, no one was worried and they always got back for their tea.

When she was older they moved to Market Street and lived next to Mr Eckfords seed shop. On leaving school she helped her mum in keeping the house for lodgers they took in.

As teenagers the girls would walk around together and eye up the boys, not so different from now thinks Mrs O'Rahilly. A very sad thing about Mrs O' Rahilly's generation is that those boys became soldiers, a lot of carefree young men who went to fight in the great war and sadly some didn't return.An illustration of this is given in the article in the 'Daily Mail' from 1939.

An article in from the 'Daily Mail' dated 29th December 1939 noted that: 'Young men have become as rare as four-leaved clovers in Wem, for 300 have joined the forces. This is a seventh of the entire population, probably higher a proportion than for any other town.'

26-year old Mary Ladwick was quoted as saying, 'Life in Wem had become very dull except when the boys are on leave. There's hardly anything to do. Dances are no good except on leave nights. My boy-friend is in the Air Force and I havn't seen him since the war started.'
Captain Harry Strong, the Labour Exchange manager and chairman of the Urban Council noted that 'There's a big shortage of young men. The rush to join up has been bigger than in the last war. I know of mothers who have 3 or 4 sons in the Forces.'
Mr A Creake, managing director of the brewery said 'I haven't a man left between 20 and 30. I've got 2 sons in the Army myself, and another will probably be joining soon.'

Return to Urban Memories Index