IN MEMORY OF FRANCES FROMOVITCH

Posted: February 28, 2010 in 1. Articles, 6. THE STORY OF FRANCES FROMOVICH

Of all the evacuees I interviewed, Frances was perhaps the one I got to know best as she lived close to me in Nottingham. She described herself as “in love with Mousehole” and was greatly looking forward to the publication of the book, and to the reunion. Tragically she died just six days before the book came out. The story Frances told me is captured in the following extracts about her taken from the book. As will be seen, hers was a particularly poignant story, made even more so by her passing away at the time she did. These extracts were used as the basis of an article about Frances, entitled Evacuees return to Mousehole, which appeared in The Cornishman on 10 June 2010, just before the reunion. Susan Soyinka

 

Chapter 2, The Jewish East End

Living further to the East were the five Fromovitch sisters, three of whom, Frances, Mildred and Irene, went to Mousehole. Like other Jewish families with foreign-sounding names, the family changed their name to Frome in 1942. Mildred describes the hardships of their early life:

‘We were a large family living in Brady Street Buildings. Our father was a tailor. There were seven in the one bedroom flat, no bathroom. Life wasn’t easy, especially for my mother, a very dignified lady. It must have been very hard for her with a big family and the facilities were appalling. But we were happy. One sister, Frances, she was always helping but my oldest sister, Marie, she was always reading, and the other ones were too young to help.

‘When the war started my father joined the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) in Brady Street as he was too old to go into the army. My sister Ada went to a special school in London for handicapped children. She had problems with her back so for a year she had to sleep flat in a long carriage. She was born with a curvature of the spine. There weren’t many toys, but we played and we made up games, as children did in those days. And we just got by.’

Mildred’s older sister, Frances Fromovitch elaborates:

‘We weren’t very rich, quite poor in fact, but we were lucky because my mother made all our clothes, she was very clever. We lived in a flat with one bedroom for the whole family. Two of us slept in the living room in a put-u-up. The others slept in the bedroom. So really we didn’t leave much behind when we left.’

The girls played either in their flat or in the playground contained, like Ted Labofsky’s, within their tenement building, as Frances recalls:

‘We just didn’t do much, played in the playground, went to the library which we all loved, and that was all. This playground was in the middle of all the flats round and often we didn’t need outside friends because we played with each other. There were five of us. We went to the pictures sometimes with one another, the pictures costing thru’pence each and sixpence for my mother.’

And as we have seen with many other children of the time, visiting grandparents was an integral part of the weekly routine, as Frances recollects:

‘My grandparents lived in Aldgate, which is not far from Whitechapel, and we’d go there to visit at different times. And on Seder night, on Passover, we’d go to my grandparents. And the other grandmother lived downstairs, so she lived in the same building.’

The Fromovitch sisters did not attend JFS as it was too far for them. Nevertheless, they had a strong connection with the school as their uncle, Charlie Saunders, a non-Jewish man married to their Aunt Mary, was the caretaker at JFS and lived on the school premises. The caretakers of synagogues and Jewish schools are generally not Jewish to enable them to work on Saturdays, as it is forbidden for religious Jews to work on the Sabbath. The Fromovitch sisters’ connection with JFS, through their Uncle Charlie, was to prove to be important. While many of those interviewed recalled happy childhoods, in spite of their impoverished circumstances, Frances was clear from a young age that she wanted a different life for herself:

‘Although – what can I say? – you don’t have to like where you were born. I never liked the East End and it’s as though I knew about Mousehole. That’s the strange thing. I never liked the East End of London. What is there to like? Rough sort of people, you know, drunk people, which we never saw in our home, but drunk people, little children sitting on the step waiting for their parents to come out of the pub. That was true because we saw it. But no, it wasn’t a wonderful place.’

Chapter  4, The Journey

For Frances Fromovitch, her abiding memory is of seeing soldiers at Newton Abbot:

‘I know we all had haversacks, and probably some clothes and underwear. And when we got to Newton Abbot – I’ve remembered it all these years – all the soldiers were lining up. I don’t know where they were going, but they were standing there, all looking at us and laughing and handing in comics and sweets. These poor soldiers were giving us sweets and comics. So Newton Abbot – where could they have been going? Years later, I wondered how many of them came back.’

Chapter  5, Arrival (in Penzance)

As the train drew near to Penzance, St Michael’s Mount and the whole of Mount’s Bay came into view. At this point there must have been complete commotion on the train as the children stood up to gaze in astonishment at the scene. Some evacuees recall this moment, one being Frances Fromovitch, for whom this marked a lifelong love affair with Cornwall:

‘The journey must have been very tiring. But I remember seeing St Michael’s Mount, and I thought, “It’s a fairyland.” When I said that to my sister Mildred the other day, she said, “Well, it was.” And that’s how it struck me. We all hopped off the train and there were buses there, green buses that picked us up and then we went all along the coastal road. We were looking at the sea, couldn’t believe it. Wonderful coloured sea. And when we got to Mousehole, there was really lovely scenery there too.’

Chapter  5, Arrival (selection by Farmer Matthews)

Meanwhile, the three Fromovitch sisters, Frances, Mildred and Irene aged 13, 11 and six respectively, were having difficulty as they wanted to be billeted together, and when Frances and Irene were finally selected, it appears that they were not the first choice of their new foster father. Here is Frances’s account:

‘When we got to Mousehole we went to the school, I’m sure it was the school, because I remember some village boys sitting on the gate watching us. The villagers had laid on a nice tea for us, sandwiches, cakes and lemonade, I remember, which was lovely. I mean we’d been on the train a long, long time. Then, after tea, we had to wait around for the local people to take us to their homes. We were left to nearly last as they tried to keep my sisters and I together. The first person I really saw was Stella Madron. She was very pretty, the grown-up sister of Edwin, Jimmy and Joey Madron, and she was smiling all the time. I thought “what a nice lady.”

‘But I wasn’t very pleased with how we were chosen, and that’s always struck me because most of the children had gone, and we were still there. I think that they were trying to keep the three of us together. And then Irene and I went with Wright Matthews who lived in a dairy farm on Commercial Road, just before the school. I think we got chosen by him as we were the last ones left. I’m sure he said, “Oh, I wanted another two, but they’ve gone.” I never forgave him. And I put a spell on one of his cows. But we were all right, Irene and I, with Wright Matthews. His wife and his daughter Lenna were lovely. Later on, Miss Oliver would take the three of us which was good.’

The memory of the hurt at being told she was not first choice has stayed with Frances for seven decades. It is quite probable that this was just a throw away line on the part of Wright Matthews, and certainly not intended to cause such hurt. When a child finds herself in such a powerless position, unable to answer back, revenge is often carried out in silence, as when Frances said, albeit tongue-in-cheek, that she put a spell on the farmer’s cow.

Chapter  6, First Impressions

In spite of her resentfulness at not having been Wright Matthews’ first choice, Mildred’s sister Frances immediately fell in love with the village:

‘I thought it was wonderful because of the water, the sea. I couldn’t believe it. I mean when you come from the East End of London to a place like that, it’s magical. I couldn‘t get over it. And we had a good old time on the beach. I think about six weeks before they could get us into the school. They had to work it out, because there were all these extra children. But I loved it straightaway.’

Chapter  7, Village Life (meeting Edwin)

‘I don’t know if I ever forgave Wright Matthews. But his wife was lovely, Lenna, his daughter, was lovely. She gave up her nursing career to stay at home and help her mother to look after us, Irene and me. They fed us, even bought some clothes for us.’

It is extraordinary that one of the villagers should have sacrificed a career to help care for evacuees. Frances helped Lenna and her mother by bathing her sister, Irene, every evening.  This developed into a routine which came to have huge significance for Frances:

‘And when Irene went to bed, I bathed her every night. She was six and I was about 13, see, so I used to bath her. And then they said, “Oh yes, you can go out. Come in at nine o’clock,” which I did. And I raced down the road and Edwin Madron was there on his bike, near the harbour rails. He used to wait for me every day, every day, by the pier. He always liked me. I don’t know why, but he did.’

This was to be the beginning of a youthful wartime romance.

Chapter  7, Village Life (A helping hand)

 

The Fromovitch sisters both helped their foster fathers, as Mildred here recalls:

‘When Mr Warren used to go out and about selling his fruit and veg, and it was holiday time from school, I’d go with him and drive round all day with him; he had a van. And we went once to a farm and the farmer’s wife had made a blackberry and apple tart, an enormous one, on a big platter, and with lovely clotted cream. We had some, it was wonderful.’

Her sister Frances sometimes helped Mr Matthews with his work as a dairy farmer:

‘Wright Matthews had this little dairy farm up near the school. He had his cows and some chickens up there. I used to go to feed the chickens, which terrified me as they were running around my feet as I was looking for eggs. And then I used to serve milk to the locals, and was told if they wanted a pint, give them a pint and a little bit extra, or whatever they wanted in their jugs. I put the steriliser on, fixed it on, wasn’t difficult, I mean, because I was only young. I’d do that and then they’d come in for their milk.’

 

Chapter  7, Village Life (Farmer Mathews cow escapes)

In another incident involving a boat, it would seem that the spell that Frances had put on one of Farmer Matthews’ cows materialised one memorable day:

‘I was on the quay in Mousehole, when suddenly I saw a cow, one they were taking to market, running along the harbour. It ran down the slope on to the beach, with Wright Matthews, the owner chasing after it. When Mr Matthews got near the cow, it butted him in the chest and he fell over on his back in the harbour.’

One of the villagers, Joan Ladner, although much younger than Frances and knowing nothing of the spell, actually remembers this incident. Her grandparents saw the cow running down Dumbarton Terrace, where they lived, onto The Parade, from where it careered across the village and down into the sea, looking as if it intended to swim all the way to St Michael’s Mount. It was then pursued in a boat by the Harbour Master who had to lash it to the side of the boat, with great difficulty, and drag it back to shore. Marian Harris also watched with amusement from her bedroom window on The Cliff as events unfolded in the harbour below.

Chapter  8, At School

 

‘It’s the village life that has stuck with us, going to the British Legion Hall, we enjoyed that, or climbing up Raginnis, all around the fields, seeing the ships come in.’ Frances Fromovitch

Chapter  11, At Play (Edwin)

Feelings of attraction such as the one described by Cyril were bound to occur in such a gathering of young people under these circumstances. Vera remembers liking Watson Trevaskis who sadly got killed in the war and recalls how heartbroken she felt. As we have seen, Frances was developing a relationship with young Edwin Madron:

‘We were sort of innocent sweethearts but no-one knew. His father used to call him Fromovitch to wake him up in the morning.’

For those older evacuees who remained a long time in Mousehole, their friendships with the village children became solidified. Frances counts many of the villagers among her friends, and recalls not mixing a great deal with the evacuees. She certainly must have had contact with other evacuees in the early days, especially when she was still in school. However, she stayed on in Mousehole until the end of the war, by which time most of the other evacuees had left, so her friendships by that time were with the older children in the village.

 

Chapter 13, Departure and Aftermath (return to Mousehole and Edwin’s death)

Frances and Mildred believe they stayed in Mousehole initially for two or three years but then went home. According to Frances’ school report card, she left Mousehole School in June 1942 at the age of 15, somewhat unusually as the normal school leaving age at that time was 14. She then returned to London, leaving behind her childhood sweetheart, Edwin, and believes she worked as a dressmaker for a while. Mildred probably left school the following year, and also then returned to London, where she met her future husband Eric at the age of 15. During this time, their younger sister Irene remained alone in Mousehole, a situation she was not too happy about, though their other sister, Ada, visited her on holiday at one time. Ada later told her sister Frances:

‘I felt so sorry for Edwin. He was standing at the harbour and you’d gone home. I felt so sorry for him.’

When the Doodlebug raids began in June 1944, Mildred and Frances returned to Mousehole, again to Miss Oliver’s, and spent a year working on the land, first at Jack Mitchell’s farm, then later on went to work for Farmer Giles, both near Raginnis Hill. Their tasks on the farm involved hoeing, weeding and picking flowers, which were sent up to London. Frances remembers that they earned 27 shillings a week. An abiding memory for both of the sisters is watching the ships in the Bay as they worked:

‘Where we worked was overlooking the Bay, so as we picked we looked out to sea. It was beautiful. And then we’d see ships come in from somewhere. We were on the cliff, high up, with the daffodils and the violets, and we could see them coming in.’

Mildred remembers that they finally left shortly after VE Day, which was 8 May 1945. She remembers it particularly because, for the first time during the war, the lights were put on in Raginnis Hill. Frances remembers her departure for a very different reason, as she had to leave Edwin for a second and final time:

‘He asked me to stay with him in Mousehole but I couldn’t because of our different religions.’

Having loved Mousehole so much, readapting to life back in London was difficult for the girls, not so much for Mildred, who now had a new love, but certainly for Frances, who found the transition very painful:

‘I didn’t want to go. Because I loved Mousehole. I didn’t want to go to the East End of London. It doesn’t matter even if it was a mansion that we lived in. I wanted to stay in Mousehole. I couldn’t. I suppose we readapted because you have to, haven’t you, you’ve got to get used to it again. That’s the terrible thing. No, I missed the sea, and the lovely water, and the quiet. See, I like it quiet, I could just sit on the pension seat, looking at the sea, and I wouldn’t want anything else. That was enough. I missed the people as well, because I’d got to know a lot of them.’

And of course, she missed Edwin. A terrible tragedy followed which was to affect Frances for the rest of her life. Edwin died in a boating accident in 1951.

‘Edwin drowned. I think he was 24. We were both 24. Well, they went fishing, they had a big boat, the Renovelle, with Mr Madron at the wheel. I read it in The Cornishman, we used to have that. And he was out on his father’s boat, with Jimmy, his brother, and with Joey, his brother, and apparently Joey was washing the deck, and he fell in the sea. And Edwin, who couldn’t swim, jumped in to save him, and Jimmy saw them both. He jumped in and apparently grabbed them both by the hair. I don’t know how he kept afloat, I really don’t, but he grabbed them, got them on deck, but Edwin died. And their parents, they were devastated. Stella, his sister, told me that several young men carried the coffin all the way up the hill to Paul.’

Edwin was a popular young man, and at his funeral the streets of Mousehole were packed with mourners. A lorry was needed to transport the 147 wreaths to the cemetery in Paul. In March 1957, Mr Madron and his family appeared, without Edwin, on the television programme, This Is Your Life, one of the few episodes which Frances missed.

‘I couldn’t go back to Mousehole for 21 years. His death was like a shadow over me, because I’d known him from when he was 13, sitting on his bike. Edwin wasn’t there and I think that was one of the main things, couldn’t go back because Edwin wasn’t there. I loved Mousehole, but for me Edwin was Mousehole.’

Chapter  14, Looking Back

Frances Pomm née Fromovitch

 

Frances became a dressmaker. She married in 1952, having met her husband at the Brady Club. They lived in Mile End for several years, and had one daughter. She and her husband lived in Clacton-on-Sea for 20 years until he died in 1994. Frances started visiting Cornwall again in the 1970s and went to live there after her husband died, first in Budock Water and then in Redruth, though she would have preferred Mousehole. She left Cornwall in 2000, which she feels was the worst thing she ever did, and now lives with her grand-daughter. She still hopes to return to Cornwall.

‘Well, all I can say is that I thought it was wonderful. It affected my life so much that I didn’t want to go home to London, I really didn’t. Something magical there. What could be nicer than seeing that sea every day, and the pier and the harbour. Sometimes you can’t find the words. I could just stand at the harbour for hours, looking. A wonderful, wonderful place and the people were very kind and really friendly.

‘When I left Mousehole it was as though my life was over. I left my heart in Mousehole, that’s all there is to it. I am in love, and I’ll always be the same, in love with Mousehole. I wish I was 13 again.’

Extracts taken from the book From East End to Land’s End

Copyright Susan Soyinka, February 2010

Susan’s books are available on Amazon

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Comments
  1. Elaine Pomeransky says:

    If it wasn’t for Susan Soyinka, my mother’s story would never have been told. I was raised on stories of Mousehole. Even when we moved from the Eastend to Ilford, she wasn’t happy. Her heart was never there, it was indeed in Mousehole with Edwin.

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