Hockey girls left on cold bus

People skating on the river Avon at Stratford.
People skating on the river Avon at Stratford.

Most people in Warwickshire experienced some discomfort in the recent frozen weather.

But, following our article recalling the Big Freeze of 1963, more stories have emerged about how hard people were hit back then.

Joyce Benfield, 82, of Northend, has two memories of 1963. The first is of her husband Bob’s experience as a roadworker. She recalls that he was called into work on Boxing Day 1962 when it started snowing and it stayed until April 5.

She said: “He had to throw grit onto the roads every day. In those days they didn’t sit in a warm cab. They had to go to the gasworks and load all the grit (coal dust - slack) with shovels. Then they stood on the back of the lorry as it moved shovelling the grit onto the road. They were expected to work overtime to get the job done. The roadworkers felt that factory workers were spoiled.

“Bob’s coat was always wet at the end of the day. I could never get it dry overnight. It was still damp the next day.”

Bob died 15 years ago but Joyce is still in Northend, where she has lived all her life.

Joyce’s other memory is of her work as a helper at the village school. The school stayed open throughout the freeze. Most of the children walked to school but the children from nearby Knightcote came by horse and cart, driven by a local farmer’s wife.

Enid Griffin (nee Sheasby), 87, delivered the post in Long Itchington in the winter of 63. She said “My round should have taken about one and a half hours but it took all day then. I delivered to farms and homes on the outskirts of the village. It was hard to get around with my bike and I didn’t get home until 4pm.”

Enid started delivering mail in 1948 and retired in 1986. She has lived in Long Itchington for 66 years.

By the start of February 63 the freeze was into its sixth week.

The Courier reported that girls from Leamington’s Campion High School were made to sit in an unheated coach at the roadside in Lillington instead of playing hockey on snow-bound pitches. They were so cold that they stood in the aisles doing exercises to keep warm.

This unpleasant experience was repeated every week throughout the freeze. Even though the school knew the weather was too bad for them to play, the girls were still sent on the coach.

The headmistress Miss E M Frampton said they had to use the coach, whatever the weather, to ensure that the contract with the coach company was continued. There were also space difficulties at the school.

Pupils at the school said four forms, girls aged 13, 14 and 15, each went to Lillington from 3 to 4pm one afternoon a week. When they had to sit in the coach they answered questions on hockey and wrote essays.

One of the girls, 14-year-old Jeanette Wade of Buckland Road, said: “It’s been very cold and we have had to do exercises to keep warm. “

One parent, Mrs Ivy Day of Princes Street, said she was very angry about it. She said: “My 14-year-old daughter Janet came home shivering from head to toe after sitting in the bus. She’s been off school since then with a bad cold.”

Another mother, Mrs F Gillitt of Willes Road, said: “It is a most peculiar carry-on - absolutely pointless. You don’t send children to school to sit in a bus.”

Mrs Violet Bailey of Buckley Road, whose daughter Anne was among the girls, said: “It isn’t fair on the poor little mites, they could have caught their death of colds.”

Pictured: Skaters on the frozen River Avon at Stratford in 1963