Rhoda Woodward Tribute 4: “Memories are made of this”

All my dancing days were during World War II. I had been asked to act as partner by our tap dancing teacher to some young men that wanted to learn ballroom dancing early in 1939. I was only 14 at the time and was longing to be old enough to go to real dances and to wear an ankle length dreaa as everyone did at that time.

It was just as well that I had had those lessons as my first dances were in our local hall. We were at war and we had soldiers stationed in our village. There was no shortage of partners, all wearing army boots. So it was very necessary not to make a wrong move.

Clothes were becoming scarce, yet somehow we always managed to look nice. I had some white suede sandals; when they got marked I dyed them maroon and when they got shabby I polished them with black shoe polish. With help from our local cobbler, new soles and heels kept them good for quite a few miles of dancing.

I worked in a corset factory in Banbury and word soon got round when Boots or Woolworth’s had a new stock of make-up and we could hardly wait for lunch hour to see what was left. Silk stockings would be carefully examined on the “seconds” stall to find a pair where the flaws did not show as they were only half coupons, Blouses, skirts and dresses were made out of all kinds of unusual materials.

Along with some of the girls from work I biked to dances in surrounding villages; we were country lasses and the blackout did not worry us unduly. Our cycle lamps had to be half covered so as not to show too much light, and of course we had to carry our gas masks. The high spot of the week was Saturday nights at the Town Hall: the floor was like glass and we could just glide around. In the village halls they used boracic powder, soap flakes or talcum powder on the floors; it worked, but made our shoes a bit slippery. Or out on a bombing raid

As well as the soldiers there were quite a few airmen, as there were several airfields within a few miles. Sometimes there would be a regimental or R.A.F. band, but mostly they would play gramophone records, Victor (remember “Slow,Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow”?), Joe Loss and Glen Miller – in fact, all the leading bands of that time.

Dances in those days were very romantic affairs, though often tinged with sadness. Music brought memories of those far away, the lad you were dancing cheek to cheek with could maybe within a few weeks be sent on active service. This was especially true for me when in 1943 I was sent to work in the N.A.A.F.I. on several R.A.F. camps.

However, we were young and through it ALL WE Waltzed, Tangoed, Fox Trotted and Quick Stepped. We formed lines for the Palais Glide and wandered around singing the Lambeth Walk and Underneath the Spreading Chestnut Tree, We learnt the eightsome reel and other highland dances when we had a Scottish regiment stationed with us, and to jive and jitterbug when the Americans came.

Whenever I hear some of those old melodies – “I’ll Get By”, “You’ll Never Know”, “Deep Purple”, to name just a few, I can imagine myself back in that sea of airforce blue, the revolving ball reflecting the colours of the landing lights they always fixed up in each corner, and hear the faint strains of the last waltz.

I never did get to dance in a long dress, but “Thanks for the Memory”.

Rhoda Woodward

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