Lotte Moore, memoir of a WWII childhood
Profile by Bridget Osborne
Lotte Moore is a woman on a mission. At 82, in the time she has left to her she wants to tell as many primary school children as possible about her experience as a child during the Second World War and the bravery and sacrifice of the wartime generation. She didn’t start publishing books until she was in to her seventies, but has now published nineteen books, mainly children’s stories. Her book ‘Lotte’s War’ was first published in 2016 and has been adapted as a theatre production. Lotte thinks there is a special bond between the very old and the very young and was delighted to see her story retold on stage to a young audience at the Tabard theatre in March 2018.
Lotte’s War on tour
Lotte has already appeared at some 80 primary schools reading from the book and making a presentation with her husband Chris on what life was like as a child during the war. They lay out the weekly ration of one egg, 4oz sweets, 2oz butter, 12d worth of meat (one chop or its equivalent), one piece of bacon, one piece of cheese and the delights of tinned food such as Tapioca, and try and explain what it was like to live on rations. They take the children back to a time before fish fingers and burgers, before mobiles, computers and television to a time when most people didn’t own a fridge and entertainment meant books or music. They show them a gas mask and Chris does a neat rendition of the sound of a doodlebug.
The book is a very simply written, factual yet personal account divided up into five sections. ‘Before the bombs’ describes an idyllic country childhood spent playing in fields, chasing the donkey out of the living room for eating candles and listening to stories in front of a log fire. In ‘The Barrage Balloons Appear’ and ‘Leaving Home’ she remembers being taken to a boarding school in Hertfordshire at the age of five without understanding why and crying herself to sleep in the dormitory. In ‘Living Through the War’ she talks about coming back to London, seeing bombed houses, experiencing the black out and air raids and beginning to understand what ‘war’ meant. ‘The Fighting Comes To An End’ covers the end of the war – ‘My best memory was running to Dad as he walked through the gate without his uniform as I then know the war was over and he would be staying home.’ It’s a great book for explaining the Second World War to a child, especially with Lotte retelling the tale in person.
Hobnobbing with Churchill and friends
Lotte is the granddaughter of writer and politician A.P. Herbert, a friend of Winston Churchill’s, and was used to parties and dinners with famous people from childhood. Sitting in the spacious living room of her Georgian house on Hammersmith Terrace looking out at the river, she recalls Boat Race parties and a swimming party at Chartwell with Winston Churchill as an old man floating in the pool. Her brother Jeremy, oblivious to the importance of the supine figure, dived underneath him, prompting a panicked yell from her mother: ‘Don’t drown the Prime Minister’ as the capsized statesman and her brother splashed about.
Lotte has suffered all her life from feeling rejected by her mother, a sorrow not helped by being sent away as a wartime evacuee and as the oldest child of three seeing her place filled by her siblings. It was her grandmother Gwen, whom she adored, who took her as a teenager to see Margot Fonteyn on stage, sparking a passion for ballet, and who supported her through training at the Royal Ballet School and a career with the Royal Opera Ballet. She was present when the great prima donna Maria Callas was presented to the Queen. As she sank slowly into a curtsey her tight-fitting black dress split right down the back. “With fury she flounced off stage, uttering angry words in Italian, leaving the Queen with outstretched hand, a little shocked at such temperament”.
Writing in the family
Her grandfather was a prolific writer of books and musicals and an Independent MP for Oxford University, who fought for many liberal causes, including reform of the divorce laws, the ending of entertainment tax on books and the introduction of the Public Lending Right. He was wounded at Gallipoli in the First World War and Lotte showed me the hip flask, with the bullet hole right through one side and lodged in the other, which saved his life. Her father also, John Pudney, wrote about 60 books: novels, children’s stories, biographies and poetry. His wartime service was in the RAF, as a Squadron Leader flying reconnaissance missions over Germany. He wrote the well-known wartime poem For Johnny.
Do not despair
He sleeps as sound
As Johnny underground.
Fetch out no shroud
And keep your tears
For him in after years.
Better by far
To keep your head,
And see his children fed.
Evoking a different time
Lotte has lived by the river on Hammersmith Terrace for 60 years, and her anecdotes about her own career as a ballet dancer and actress are strewn with famous names, from opera singer Joan Sutherland, who called her a ‘bitch’ when she upstaged her by knocking over a prop just before her aria, to Roman Polanski, who directed her in a vampire movie. She displeased him too, by catching her dress on a nail and ruining the scene by rising out of her grave topless.
She talks a mile a minute, about her childhood, her family and the war. Her memoir ‘Snippets of a Lifetime’ recalls a particular era and social strata, with casual references to ‘pink gin’ and visiting Hever Castle to stay with Lord Astor, but also the Swinging Sixties when Spike Milligan was among the tenants in her flat and “many well-known directors, actors film assistants and writers came to wild parties” including John Hurt, who she describes as “green with alcohol” on one occasion. Nor is she shy about talking about her abortion or sharing a lover with actor and director John Schlesinger. She talks in a very animated way, evoking a different era, creating a frank and colourful picture of how life used to be.
Lotte’s War, published by Urbane Publications, is available from Waterstones and online from Amazon.
If you’d like Lotte to come to your school and talk about Lotte’s War, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar
See also: Cavendish School holds WW2 party