Bombs dropped in the borough of: Brent
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Brent:
- High Explosive Bomb
- Parachute Mine
Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:
Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:
No bombs were registered in this area
Memories in Brent
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by vernon (BBC WW2 People's War)
Recollections of 1940-1;
I remember the late summer of 1939 as warm and sunny.
My parents and I had spent two weeks in August, as usual in the Isle of Wight. On the ferry returning to Portsmouth there were a large number of servicemen on board, singing and all very jolly. My Father, an ex-Royal Marine was disturbed by their numbers and seemed very grave afterwards.
The school holidays were not over but upon return to Dollis Hill in North West London we found that visits to school were planned; at eight years old I was in the Junior school and would be “evacuated” with my school but without a parent. A couple of times we all assembled in classes in the playground and once we marched, with much note taking and watch consultation, to Cricklewood station a mile away.
Then it was the 1st of September. We took our tiny cases and gas masks in their cardboard boxes to school. Then amid much crying of children and parents, who were made to stay when the crocodile moved off, we walked again to the station. This time we encountered an astonishing sight for there we joined masses of other children from all over the district. Some had come by bus but many, like us, had walked. It was the day of the great evacuation.
My love affair with railways was well developed and this just redeemed the departure as I often watched trains pass our house but only travelled on an express annually.
We arrived at our first destination, Bedford and soon were lead to the market where seemingly vast numbers of children from 5 to 15 were already present. Many more arrived in the hours following. The cattle market was chosen for it at least had the possibility of keeping us in classes and schools. The plan was to transfer several classes or even a whole school to a village or town. There officials had arranged for us to be billeted with local residents. This was firstly voluntary but if sufficient offers were not forthcoming compulsion was available.
Transport was scarce. All available busses were hard at work all dealing with the flood of “immigrants". For what reason I do not know we were held a long time before being moved. It was a hot day and very wearying. A tough time for the organisers no doubt — toilets in constant use, children sick and trying not to cry; nowhere to sit except when we were ushered to benches where lunch was doled out; WVS? Not bad I do recall.
It seemed that many of the recipients of children had realised that a huge diversity of candidates was on offer. Thus a farmer who desired a strong lad or a well to do lady wanting a no-trouble little girl
made their way to the city and the person in charge of the group was only too glad to see a local face who could lighten their load. Having been allocated a number of evacuees but not specific children the villager would then choose one from the flock and drive off with their prize! By the late afternoon our numbers were diminished and we boarded the bus for the village of Oakley . There, in the village school, a similar scene was enacted. Ladies would enter with the paper giving the number of pupils that authority determined that they would have to look after and soon, after a short chat with the supervisor, they left with one or more children. Certainly our teachers, who were of course still with us, had some say especially as far as keeping siblings together. Those left sat in the corner of the room worrying. I was lightly built and quite shy, nearby was a small and sickly looking lad and two tiny 7-8 year old girls quietly held hands. It seemed likely that those left as darkness gathered might end up in the less desirable and un-welcoming homes. But fortune was with us. The supervisor walked us a few hundred yards to the local pub. The landlady made us welcome saying that she was too busy to come and pick us up. The next weeks were the happiest days. There was not a lot of accommodation available so we were put in a very large room with a huge double bed. Top and tail was the plan and all seemed on an even keel. We played it the beer garden where there was a newt pond and swing. We had room in the suite to read or play and the food was good.
School was in the afternoon, the locals having classes in the morning. The landlady made sure that we washed and were indoors by her timetable but mostly left us alone. The small lad had been a neighbour of the girls and I recall that we played well together. One girl cried at night with homesickness — I think we all did- but mainly we happy. We visited the river, watched the harvest, explored the village and met other friends at school.
Postcards were issued on the second day for us to send home. They checked our addresses and I wrote that I missed home and family but the teachers were looking after us and that the billet was great, better that I and parents had expected in fact. I think that we wrote as a class exercise each week but I wrote that all was satisfactory too soon.
The blow fell after about two weeks later. An inspector from some organisation [county billeting officer?] called at the pub. The landlady said she was so pleased that her little charges were happy that with hind-sight she would have planned to show the officer a slightly different picture. As it was unexpected she showed it as it was. Big mistake. The inspector was a very large lady, self important and looking for trouble. Unimpressed with the idea of a pub from the outset she looked for problems and found them. Pond, river nearby, unsupervised play. The bedroom was the clincher. Horror. Our cosy world fell apart. She took the crying girls off to the far side of the village immediately threatening to return in an hour. It was dark when she did and despite the landlady’s protestations we set off struggling with all our belongings, gas mask and some food packed up by our hostess. The harridan had a bicycle which she rode ahead in the gloom; we straggled behind for about a mile. There, at other end of the village we arrived at a row of tiny cottages. She quickly introduced me to a large family and left with the sickly lad looking more wan that ever. The well meaning but overworked mother tried to make me welcome but as I was such a contrast from the family resentment was obvious. Taken to an attic room which I was to share with their 15 y.o. middle son who worked in the fields nearby I was appalled. The mattress was straw filled and crackled. Later I realised that it was also alive with bugs. I saw little of Billy, probably a good thing for after the novelty of teasing a small white faced stranger in their midst the family mostly ignored me; The children with thinly disguised contempt.
I never saw my erstwhile bedmate again and was told by the teacher that he was moved to the next village……?
School was still in the afternoons but instead of walking with a group of friends from the pub and the nearby houses I had to make my own way through a different part of the village. Much poorer and with many children it had few evacuees. It became an frightening walk, probably more in my perception that in reality, passing groups of the local children who had completed their morning lessons. My later letters were never posted but one brief note saying all was well was sent by a teacher.
My interest had always been trains. My Father fostered this and sometimes took me to the London mainline stations to watch the arrival and, more exciting, the departure of the countrywide expresses. The cottage had a long garden which ended at the top of a deep cutting. The four main line tracks of the old Midland Railway, then LMS, ran below. Frequent long coal trains taking London’s main supplies ran the Nottinghamshire pits and were balanced by equally frequent empties. The fast main line was used by expresses to the midlands and points North. Local trains were seen too as they were the main form of transport except a few local buses. Troop trains were beginning to appear.
Every evening it became my habit to leave after the frugal, and to me very unpalatable, supper to sit on the fence and watch this steam hauled procession. It was often very late before someone noticed as they were going to bed that I was still there. I do not know if I made notes or collected numbers in the classic manner but as it was soon dusk and then quite dark I doubt it. I did however soon get to know the frequency of different types of train.
I conceived a plan. The local station was a couple of hundred yards away. A reconnaissance showed that it would be simple to be on the platform but out of sight when the southbound local stopped soon after the evening meal. As it was only ten miles and one stop to Bedford; I could be in the station there in minutes. A semi- fast London bound train was due soon after that which made a suburban stop at Cricklewood on the way. If I was accosted en route to Cricklewood and having no money surely they would contact my parents if I gave that address. I knew the way home from the station.
The first part went well but on Bedford station I was spotted as I sat in a dark corner of the platform and soon I confessed to a local address. The official [railway policeman?] handed me over to the local bobby at Oakley station and I was back at the cottage before I was missed!
One day, on my way to afternoon lessons a group of local lads taunted then chased me. I later claimed that I was pushed but it could have been that I tripped in panic. I ended up in a ditch unharmed except for grazes and thousands of nettle stings. No doubt I ran to school crying. A well meaning teacher fetched the gentian violet and dabbed this heavily all over me. This contrasted nicely with the iodine on the cuts and my scratching the bug bites.
My parents were distressed that the letters had dried up. We had no phone of course, neither I presume was there one at the village school. My Father tried to get information whilst at work but the few officials left in London were awash with paperwork. A message came from my teacher that I was OK. This did not satisfy my mother. Against Fathers advice and all the rules after about ten weeks she came to visit. Multi coloured and having lost a great deal of weight I must have been a sight. I do not remember the scene but was probably kept out of it; the upshot was a return to London by train and a visit to the doctor. This was to witness the weight loss, head lice etcetera and to counter the expected visit from the police as keeping a child in the city was an offence.
A few weeks later I was taken to stay with an Aunt & Uncle in Eastcote, a neutral [no evacuation or reception!] area. There I remained until the summer of 1940 when a few classes were reopened in Cricklewood [why- in time for the battle of Britain?] . Regrettably I destroyed my Mother’s record of the year when she died in 1956. It listed the time of every siren “alert” and “all clear” in a ledger with notes such as: n/a no activity; fighters high; large plane low; bomb in park at 2am; bomb nearby front window broken; and Number 23 in our road flattened by bomb, all dead. Some days there were several entries.
My Grandmother lived with us and in her seventies travelled miles by trolleybus at 6 am to start work.
My Father had a heart condition and was stopped digging our Anderson shelter. The hole full of water and corrugated iron remained all the time we were in the house looking like a small bomb crater.
When the blitz was upon us a small bed made up for me on the floor in the low area under the foot of the stairs. When, frequently, bombers or the whistle of bombs were heard all three came and crouched in the higher area where my Father had put additional prop timbers as additional support for the staircase. It was a small house and this felt very crowded, after seeing the destruction of nearby homes we were all frightened.
In 1941 the admiralty moved more of it’s staff to Bath my Father among them. We soon were in a Somerset village and a different life. Although the bombers seemed to follow us with raids on Bristol and Bath the village was left alone. After the latter raid I helped Father walk round the city checking on the state of his staff; few had phones. By then I was very lucky to be attending the City of Bath School — a delightful location with fond memories and gratitude for an excellent job done by my teachers. The bonus was a daily ride by train to the city this time with a ticket.
Contributed originally by super-powton (BBC WW2 People's War)
As promised here is the first extract from Bob's Diary, covering January and February 1943.
At home with Dave. Came back in evening and visited “Royal George” in Tottenham Ct Road. Good pub!
A dance at Regent St Polytechnic. Met Winnie — unfortunately! She clings like a leech — will have to be firm.
Saw Mickey again, patched up quarrel. Not a bad kid, but a stupid temper.
Started off with good meal at Elephant and Castle, then decided on the “Swan”, at Jack’s recommendation.
Went to “Swan” at Stockwell with Dave, Mac and Jock. Got tight, but respectfully so!
Xmas Eve. “Swan” at Stockwell. A.F.S. named Betty Ashford. Very good evening.
Xmas Day at Bushey
Very quiet, but — well, restful!?
Boxing Day. Dance at Oxley Parish Hall.
Girl named Elsie Roberts. Engaged — No Date!
Came back to Borough. Xmas mail from Snooty, Yvonne, Deborah, Ida, Dorothy, Mrs Blythe, Mickey, Betty. Answered all mail and wrote to Elsie Roberts.
Back on the course — Valve Theory again — Mech Eng. Dance in evening at Regent St Polytechnic. Date tomorrow with Betty.
Saw Betty. Went to Balham saw Walt Disney’s “Bambi”. Letter from Mickey.
Looks like being an interesting course — in the evenings!
Another boring day in Laboratory. Went to YMCA for a shave in HOT water, then on to Salvation Army place in Guildford St — good place.
New Years Eve. Little or no work done in Laboratory. Theory was an excuse to sleep ready for a late night.
Went to Regent St Polytechnic with Betty, Dave, Joe, Wally. Went out to “Cock Tavern” and celebrated on Scotch Ale. Later on went to Piccadilly Circus and at midnight was on the Yank Station. Crawled into the billet at 2 o/c. Was not caught . Wonder where we’ll be this time next year.
Went to S.A. Russell Sq. and met Sandy there. Had the now famous steak and chip supper. Still learning nothing new about Radio!
Weekend pass. Went to Leicester Sq. with Betty, saw “Geo Washington slept here”. Very good. Got home by taxi about 2 o/c
Was home, and slept until 2 o/c! Dorothy and John came to see me. In the evening went for a walk with Betty. Quite a nice evening! P.T. tomorrow — wince!.
Saw Betty and went to Odeon. Saw “Pied Piper”. Very good film. To our disgust we had the old PT Instructor back. The swine! Radio course is a farce!
“Scrubber” got nasty and now we have extra pickets to do! Was on guard — caught smoking — so charged. Read Kitty Foyle. Letters from Betty and Mickey.
Wrote to Mickey, telling her it was no use continuing seriously . Another letter from Betty. Saw Betty in evening and went to “flicks” seeing “King Arthur was a Gentleman”. Awful film. Phoned up Mother. Broke again, pay parade just in time!
Bought “Foundations of Wireless”. Received membership card from Queensbury Club. Went to flicks and saw “A Yank at Eton”. Pretty poor film.
Practical dem. of Blocking Osc at Theory period, had use of logs and 2 during maths. Learnt something for a change! Letter from Ken at Grimsby. Final letter from Mickey! Saw Betty in evening.
Went to see “Rookies” at Leicester Sq Theatre with Dave. Met a chap named Mike O’Callaghan. Amusing chap. Got his Tel. No. On guard tomorrow!
Heard that Tom Melling was at Wandsworth. Got a great scheme for bringing Tom, Ida, Betty, Vera, Dave and Mike together at Stormont Road on Tuesday.
Went to “Majestic” at Clapham with Bettie. Saw “Big Street”, pretty poor film. Got back my autograph book. Phoned Mike and Mother. Letters from Sturge and Deborah.
Went to Stormont Road, Clapham, with Dave, Joe and Gary. Met Vera and Gladys again. Tom and Ida did not turn up. Left message asking them to be there on Thursday.
Went to Balham with Betty saw Noel Coward’s “In Which We Serve”, a really grand film. Wrote to Deborah. Jock and Mac put something in my autograph book. Was told I was more than £2 in credit, which is good news, but suspicious, as I was about £3 in debt when I came here. I won’t quibble however! Started on Cathode Follower in Theory!?
Went to “Stormont” and saw Tom and Ida, first time I’d seen Tom for a year, and Ida for seven months. We covered our activities during 1942 in odd snatches between dances. No letters.
Started our “Mid Term Break”, it consists of three days. In the afternoon during theory, we started on a crossword puzzle and Radio simply never entered into the question!
Spent the afternoon wandering around Charing Cross Road trying to stop myself buying books. I succeeded! Saw Betty in the evening.
Didn’t feel so well, so just lazed around and went to bed early. Was kept awake most of night by terrific gun barrage. Jerry was over as a reprisal for our raiding Berlin last night.
Saw a grand film, “My Sister Eileen” starring Rosalind Russell. Another air raid alert but nothing happened. People were obviously expecting an air raid the Underground was crowded. Yanks don’t like air raids!
Expt. In Lab. on Squezzing Oscillator. Went to Stormont in evening with Dave. Met Tom who gave me my autograph book back. He managed to get Eddie Bamborough’s autograph.
Another air raid midday. Jerry bombed a school killing 34 children, 26 kids are still trapped. 4 Radio Mechs killed at Lewisham. Tubes are crowded once again just like the London blitzes of 1940.
In the evening saw Betty, who looked pretty tired having been up two nights on duty in air raids. I hope Joan is OK.
Saw two pretty good films, “Date With An Angel” and “Sin Town”. Newspapers were of Russian victories again.
Again to the flicks, this time with Sandi. Saw two awful films, top film being “Somewhere I’ll find you”. Theory is becoming increasingly boring — its crosswords for me now not Radio!.
“Flicks” again! Saw Betty and went and saw “The Major and the Minor”. This film was very good. Maxie and Maurice turned up amongst new chaps. Started Boxing Gym this morning.
Spent day with Dave and Sandi. AFT: Went over Houses of Parliament. EVE: Comedy Theatre. Saw play called “Murder Without Crime”. Very good. Finished up dancing at Queensbury Club. Very interesting and enjoyable day.
Went home in morning. Couldn’t get to Queensbury Club by 4.15 because of fog, so missed Dave and Sandi. Went into club with Bolton and Win, his girl friend. Saw broadcast of Geraldo, followed by a film. Finished up at the Gordon Club (WVS) Victoria.
Met two girls, Paula and Eileen, during afternoon break at College. In the evening met Betty and went to Odeon at Clapham and saw Diana Barrymore in “Nightmare”. A good film. More American, 8th Army and Russian victories.
Walked, via Waterloo Bridge, to British Columbia Club, with Maxie and Sandi. Walked from there to Queensbury Club, too crowded there, so we went into the “Tartan Dive” of the “SUSSEX” a Youngers pub just off Leicester Sq. Back by tube from C.G.
Was caught in bed after Reveille, fatigues in the evening resulted! Had a letter from Ken in Egypt, his brother is wounded, must visit his wife whilst I’m in London. Main item of news is that Churchill met Roosevelt in Monaco. End of the war in sight? Decided to apply for R.A. commission when I return to New Holland.
In evening after fatigues, Dave and I visited the “George Inn” near London Bridge, an historic pub frequented by Charles Dickens.
Saw Betty and went to the Curzon Mayfair to hear a performance of the Middx Regt. Band. A violin solo of “Intermezzo” was good, rest was poor. From there to Queensbury Club. Told Betty I couldn’t see her again.
Went out with Sandi, Dave, Maurice and Maxie, first to the “Clarence”, then on to the N.F.S. dance in Southwark Bridge Road. The only interesting part of the dance was obtaining a date with a girl named Bobby for next Tuesday.
With Maurice to central YMCA, from the L.Sq Theatre and saw “ARABIAN NIGHTS”. Very good film. From there to a hamburger meal at B.C. Club, from there to Queensbury Club where I met Diana and made a date for tomorrow at the Queensbury Club..
Went home in morning, had airgraph from Jim Kilpatrick. Missed Diana at Queensbury Club, so went in alone and saw Jack Payne and his band. From there to Covent Garden, where I met Stan Turner and finally found Diana and friend Joyce. Quite a good evening. Date Tuesday. Letter from Dorothy.
Dave was taken into hospital, probably with flu. In the evening went to Trocadero with Sandi and saw “Wake Island” a pretty realistic film, rather spoilt by too much Yankee ballyhoo. Feel pretty rotten, might report sick tomorrow.
Met Diana at Sloane Sq. and went to the Gaumont, Chelsea. Diana goes on leave tomorrow, made arrangement to ring her up when she comes back Monday week. After leaving Diana went to Stephens Club, Westminster. Got a hell of a stiff neck!
Went to Gordon’s Club and met a red-headed South African WAAF named Denyse — with a “y”! Made a date for Friday. The dance wasn’t bad but floor space was limited. Had a letter from Joan saying she’d fixed up with Foyles about my books. Good work! Wrote to Dorothy. Joe and Wally Brown contributed to my autograph book. News of the week: Stalingrad taken by Russians: Churchill in Turkey. U-boats still a menace for ships crossing Atlantic.
Was on guard at the billet. Read “Mr Norris Changes Trains” by Christopher Isherwood, a mediocre story of pre-war Berlin. Everybody talking of their post war plans as though the war is finished, me included!
Denyse had to go to Scotland on a driving job, so I went to the YWCA for the dance. Saw Charles, Maxie, Maurice and Joe there. Maxie and I met two ATS girls named Joan and Olwyn. Joan works at the War Office, comes from Sheffield. Made a date for Tuesday, Hyde Pk Cnr 7o/c with Joan.
Weekend pass. Dined at Gordons Club with Maxie and Maurice. To Victoria Cinema to see Judy Garland in “Me and my Gal”. In evening went dancing at Seymour Hall, Baker St. Then straight home. Dave came out of hospital.
Met Dave, Maxie and Maurice at Queensbury Club. Saw Rawicz and Landauer play “Warsaw Concerto”, also Pat Kirkwood, Geo. Formby, Jack Warner, Hal Monty, Gwen Catley, Geraldo, Maisie Weldon, Carol Gibbons. Smashing show. Finished up at Russell Sq. Canteen.
Phoned Denyse. Went with Dave and Maurice to E&C. ABC to see Errol Flynn in “Desperate Journey”, an impossible film, but quite entertaining. Finished up having supper in the YMCA on Waterloo Stn. Letter from Tom Melling.
Phoned Denyse and home. Air raid sirens early morning, another school bombed. In the evening met Joan at Hyde Pk Corner, walked to B.C. Club, then to Queensbuury Club, where we met Ted Fielding and Audrey, his sister in the WRENS, and Sid Bolton and Alvina his girl.
To Gordon’s Club with Sandi, Dave, Bolton and Fielding, had a really good meal, then went upstairs to the dance. Denyse wasn’t there, her Corporal told me she was on another three day drive. Air raid sirens around tea time. Question asked in the House by Emmanuel Shinwell about food supplies, Churchill’s answer was that we are now drawing on our emergency supplies. Apparently this U-boat menace is indeed a menace!
Dined at Gordon’s Club with Maxie. Maxie and I met Joan and Olwyn at Victoria and went to the dance at Streatham Locano. Quite a good dance hall, but much overrated. Joan’s a nice kid, seeing her again tomorrow. Wrote to Tom.
Letter - 15/- from Foyles. Answered mail. In evening met Joan and went to British Columbia Club, from there we walked to Queensbury Club. Saw Bolton and Winifred there. Dave, Maxie and Maurice were also there. Seeing Joan again Tuesday.
Dined with Maxie and Maurice at Gordon’s Club. Met Sandi & Dave in the Strand and went with Sandi to Wyndham’s so see the play “Quiet Weekend”. Marjorie Fielding was excellent. Finished up in the canteen in the Crypt of St Martins.
Dined at Gordon’s Club with Sandi. Met Dave, Maxie and Maurice at Queensbury Club. Show was compered by Helen Drew, Paramount Film Star. She’s great! Geraldo and his band were there as usual and several big stars. Show followed by “Who Done It” with Abbott and Costello. Very funny. Supper at St Martins.
Phoned Joan. Went with Dave and Sandi to Union Jack Club in a frantic effort to swot up 10 weeks work in ten minutes, because of our final Exam tomorrow. Studied 10 minutes, then fell asleep reading short stories!
Went with Sandi to see “Thunder Rock” starring Michael Redgrave. A finely acted film, which leaves something to think about. People in the Elephant & Castle obviously didn’t understand it, and so chatted throughout the film. Went to Waterloo YMCA for supper.
Went to Gordon’s Club with Maxie. Met Joan and Olwyn at Victoria and went to the dance at Rochester Hall, Bayswater. Prizes for fancy dress — has this war really been on 5 years!?
Heard results of the final examination taken yesterday. Ouch! I certainly paid for my 10 weeks of painting the town red. But it was worth it. Starting on 14 days leave tomorrow, during which I’m going to live every minute as I expect to go abroad.
Arrived home in temper after carting my kit through London and accidentally hitting 90% of the population with my steel helmet! Spent a restful day reading “The Barber of Putney” by Beachcomber and “The Bride wore black” by John Drummond.
Spent afternoon in Charing X Road, firstly buying “Mrs Miniver”. Met Joan at Hyde Pk. Corner, went to B.C. Club where we met Maxie, Maurice and Oliver. From there to Queensbury Club. Came home by way of Liverpool where I went to YMCA for supper.
Dined at Gordon’s Club with Maxie, Maurice and Oliver. Went with them to Metropole and saw “Happy Go Lucky”. In evening went with sister Joan, Ron and his family to a dance at Winchmore Hill. Bought book by H.G. Wells. Wrote to Ken and Dorothy.
Met Joan at Victoria. Dined at Gordon’s Club. Went to Broadcast show at Queensbury. This was followed by a better show by the Pioneer Band. Explained the “Mr Hyde side of my personality” to Joan who seemed rather shaken. Nicely though!
Visited Elsie, Ken’s wife, and took her to his mothers. Saw Albert who is now a Cpl in RAF, Peggy and Derek, now young man and woman, how time flies! Wrote off to Ken and told him of evening. Bought “How green was my Valley”.
Joan’s birthday. Went with her, Mother and Ron to Wood Green Empire and saw “The Gestapo” a show. Ernie Lotinga is not funny! Sorted out Joyce’s letters for salvage, they make interesting reading — now!
Dined at Gordons Cub, met Denyse who has injured her arm. Met Maxie, Joan and Olwyn at Victoria and went to Streatheam Locarno. Edhibition dance by Alex Moore and Pat Kirkpatrick. Supper at St Peter’s, Victoria. Goodbye Joan!
God knows what New Holland or at the best Grimsby will seem like after this course and leave. I shall apply for an RA Commission, volunteer to go abroad, all at once when I get back, if only to keep things moving!
Met Denyse at St James Park. Went to Gordons Club, from there to Tott. Ct. Rd to see “Squadron Leader X! a fine film with Eric Portman. Afterward went to Gordon’s Club for evening. Deny is rather an interesting conversationalist.
Met Albert at B.C. Club, went dancing at Paramount, Tea at American Eagle Club. In evening went with Albert and his family to dance at Hornsey Town Hall, Met Babs, a friend of Peggy’s. Made a date for tomorrow. Slept night at Mrs Guryones.
Met Babs at Wood Green. Went and saw “Nine Men” a really great film. Babs is only 16, but 16 with a difference! Good luck the girls of 16 didn’t know damn-all when I was 16, a matter of 6 years ago!!
Gran and Grandad came in morning. Joan was ill. Made a few bargains selling old books and pre-war stories. Read “Winter of Discontent” by Gilbert Fontane. In evening went down to see Mother at B.O.
Contributed originally by marionclarion (BBC WW2 People's War)
It was wartime when I was born in October 1942, so I was only 3 years old when the war ended, yet I still distinctly recall the pride and the pleasure I felt whenever my father returned home from his exercises with the home guard in his neatly pressed khaki uniform, shoes and belt, buttons and buckles all highly polished (sometimes to my delight I had been allowed to help him with the polishing beforehand). I would stand smartly to attention, saluting correctly, the way he had taught me, the long way up and the short way down, exclaiming loudly as I did so,
"Salute Captain Daddy".
At that time we lived in Potters Bar, Middlesex, which my parents considered to be rural and safe enough so that I did not have to be evacuated.
My father and the War:
A research chemist, my father was in a reserved occupation and so was not called up to fight with the forces, but he was happy to serve as an officer in the Home Guard, specialising in teaching others both first aid and how to save people from gas attacks.
After my father died in December 2000, I felt very proud to find this letter from his commanding officer amongst his papers, written when his Battalion split up in December 1944, as follows :-
56TH ESSEX BATTALION HOME GUARD
2137, 2306, 2494
70 HIGH BRIDGE STREET,
29TH DECEMBER 1944
REFERENCE NO. 56 ESX./H.G.?3…….
Before we finally stand down, I would like to convey my appreciation of the help which you, like all other officers, have given me during my period of command.
In many ways we have had to overcome greater difficulties than have other battalions.
We started late which entailed a rapid expansion to catch up with older units. We have lost large numbers of trained officers and men to the regular forces and on re-direction to other industries. Several times we have had to carry out thorough re-organisations including formation of an L.A.A. Troup. And our operational role has constantly altered, by progressive stages, as we became more efficient and better armed.
All of these facts have meant much extra work for officers, both in the matter of keeping up-to-date in military knowledge and in administration.
Yet, with very few exceptions, there has been no faltering of purpose; and the spirit of co-operation has enabled us to rise above our difficulties and to stand down as a Battalion, which is second to none.
Without the loyal support of all officers this proud result could not have been achieved.
I hope that our Association will enable us to keep in touch with each other in the future. In the meantime, I wish you all good fortune, wherever you may be.
Signed (?) E. W. Chansfield
Being Chief Chemist at a firm in the fledgling plastics industry and involved in research, especially focusing on phenol-formaldehyde resins and foams, my father put his inventions to good use for the war effort, for example creating a method of coating the containers full of equipment, food and supplies to be parachuted down to the troupes abroad, (the MOD needed to solve the problem, however, that these containers were being destroyed on impact, splitting into fragments, their contents wasted, strewn and scattered all over the countryside - they needed the containers to be lightweight yet strong enough to resist and stay whole) — my father applied his skills to solving the problem and invented a suitable coating ..... these new, coated containers were so strong and water-resistant that, after safe delivery, they could even be used like onoe-man rafts or coracles upon the water.
Another of his coating inventions helped the air force in the tropics. The problem here was that, until then, the glue used to hold the Mosquito aircraft together, whilst completely satisfactory in Europe, was dissolving in the high heat and humidity of the jungles and the planes were literally falling apart on the ground. He invented a new type of “glue” so that even in those adverse conditions the layers of wood of the plywood frames plus their covering substances no longer fell apart.
His materials were also crucial to the success of the bouncing bombs, designed by Barnes Wallis and used by the "Dambusters" to destroy the hydroelectric dams in the upper Ruhr in 1943. The problems were that the spherical metal bombs became dented on impact and would not properly bounce but if the metal was thick enough not to dent, the bomb became too heavy for air transport. My father devised a liquid resin, which was used to fill the hollow metal spheres (built to contain the explosives and detonators) which on curing and drying in huge ovens solidified to produced a light, impact resistant foam, thus when dropped, on impact the bombs kept their shape and were able to bounce as required.
Some more recollections of mine :
I recall with far different emotions the sounds of the bombs passing overhead during the war before exploding nearby. Although I was never actually involved in any bombings, for very many years after the war had ended I continued to have dreadful nightmares that a plane would drop bombs specifically on our house! Throughout my children’s childhood and even nowadays, at firework time, I always avoid bangers, chiefly because I hate the loud explosions, I think because they remind me of wartime bombs.
The wail of the siren before an attack was a terrifying lament that signalled us scurrying into the Nissan shelter in the garden or in really bad weather under the Anderson Bed in the living room. I really disliked my “siren suit” because it had a loose bum-flap at the back, closed by buttons that were both uncomfortable to sleep on and let the draughts in, but to be fair one could go to the toilet without getting undressed. My only comfort in wearing it was that my mother used to wear one too.
On a train journey to Manchester during or just at the end of the war to visit some friends, my mother gave me a journal to look at and I still remember the feel, the smell (the taste) and the colours of it. It was a glossy illustrated magazine with soldiers on the front cover, an orange-red-golden glow all around them as fires from dropped bombs burned nearby. When clearing out old papers in our loft after my father had died, I found that very magazine and it was just as I had remembered it.
Friends of ours used to keep chickens in their back garden, so during the war we saved all the kitchen scraps, sometimes cooking them to a pulp, sometimes raw (potato and carrot peelings, outer cabbage leaves, old bread crusts and other kitchen leftovers) and every few days my mother and I would walk down the hill to their house and feed their chickens. In return our friends gave us the luxury of one egg a week, which my mother always gave to me. In times of rationing eggs were hard to come by.
On one occasion, in spring, when hens lay most plentifully, my parents managed to buy several eggs at once from the market and planned to conserve them by using Isinglass, a type of pure gelatin, which my father had obtained through his chemical suppliers at work, but it was very smelly, (probably from being made of the swimming bladder of sturgeon and other fish from the Caspian and Black Seas), so they were reluctant to use it.
Instead they acquired some waterglass from the chemist’s (liquid sodium silicate) which they diluted with boiled water and placed into large glass jars, into which they then gently plunged the precious cargo of eggs, topping up the jars to the brim. So that the levels of waterglass solution would not drop, they melted sealing wax around the jar lids to keep them airtight. In theory sodium silicate works by sealing the eggs and should keep them fresh for up to a year because the alkali is supposed to retard growth of micro-organisms by forming a protective shell. When my parents tried to use their preserved eggs, however, something had gone horribly wrong, the clear liquid had turned to a milky jelly and even before breaking open their shells, the eggs stank with the unmistakeably strong sulphuric stench of rotten eggs.
My father then decided to experiment by inventing a protective coating for the eggs from mixtures of resins and hardeners that would both prevent air entry and toughen the shells. He succeeded in this, but then needed a hammer or a chopper to open the “strengthened” steel-like shells and the contents became totally inaccessible and unusable! More precious eggs wasted!!
I remember once when we visited my grandparents in Varden Street in the East End of London, the magnificent spectacle of seeing what seemed like millions of barrage balloons filling the sky. The seemed to go on forever and ever, parallel rows of grey oval bodies, becoming increasingly like tiny dots and minute specks in the distance.
On another occasion, whilst visiting elderly friends of my grandparents, Mr and Mrs Bristowsky, (despite the wartime frugalities, she managed to make the most delicious Cinnamon Balls I have ever tasted in my life), we watched the bright afternoon sky from their kitchen. They stood me on the draining board of their sink in front of the window so that I could see; she held on to me so tightly (so I would not fall) that I felt I was suffocating, (and she had a lot of hairs on her chin that felt rough and itchy to my young cheek). We gazed in admiration whilst hundreds of parachutists practiced their descents seemingly over and over again. Quite why they were doing this over the East End of London I am not at all clear.
Contributed originally by hemlibrary (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the Peoples War web site by Hertfordshire Libraries working in partnership with the Dacorum Heritage Trust on behalf of the author, John Greener. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
I was born (1st June 1937) and grew up in Edgware, Middlesex (Queensbury, to be precise). Our address was 7 Millais Gardens, Mollison Way, Edgware. Edgware was right on the edge of London then - a sizeable sprawl of the mid-thirties house building explosion. Miles of, mostly terraced (Bauerhaus influenced) , wide windowed houses occupied by respectable upper working class families with aspirations. I think that most were quite happy in their brand new easy-to-run houses in the leafy suburbs - and then came the War.
My childhood memories consist mostly of always going to sleep with searchlights continously passing across the wall and the distant sound of bombs dropping and gun fire. During the day barrage balloons all across the sky and how nice and cosy and almost homely they looked. Air raid sirens and the feeling of dread they produced in your stomach. Of course, the legendary air raid wardens yelling “Put that light out” which infuriated my mother and she used to have angry rows with him. Funny green tape criss-crossed on the windows of underground trains (it was still there in the mid-50s). Air raid practise at school - this consisted of crouching under wash-hand basins until it all went away.My mother found out we were sheltering under these basins at the teacher’s direction and every time the air raid warning went off, she used to run round to the school and take me home.
I grew up in an extended family of extrovert and batty people - I was the only child in a family of eight of us - my sister was twelve when I was born so was almost grown-up. We had two adjoining mid-terrace houses - my Mum and Dad, my sister and I in one house and my mother’s two sisters and their husbands in the house next door. The women had bitter arguments and there was always one sister who was not speaking to another sister but they all had very strong loyalty to each other, bonded together by the horrors of growing up in the Camden Town slums at the beginning of the twentieth century. They all idolised me and whenever one of them found a treat in the shops - either over or under the counter - it would come my way.
When the air raid siren sounded we went en masse to the shelter in the street which was very damp and always flooded but Mum and her sisters decided that it wasn’t very healthy in there and the neighbours were doing unmentionable things to each other which they didn’t want me to see. Therefore we had three Morrison shelters - one for each family. I suppose by then it must have been about 1942.
My sister was eighteen in 1943 and was “called up”. She had the choice of going into the ATS, training to become a nurse or becoming a bus conductress or working in a factory. She chose to join the ATS. She hated the idea of being a nurse or going into a factory and Dad said he wouldn’t allow her to be a bus conductress because they were all tarts (he drove a no. 13 bus!) So then there were just Mum and Dad and I and the cat to sleep in the Morrison shelter.
One night (I think perhaps in the Autumn of 1944) the air-raid siren sounded and we moved into the Morrison to sleep. We were fast asleep in the middle of the night when there was a terrible red flash and flames racing up the wall and I screamed “Mum, we’re on fire”. Immediately after the flash came the noise of the doodle-bug crashing into a house round the corner. It has always seemed as if the reflected flash of the fire came first and then the sound of the bomb. I think Dad must have called out “Is everybody allright” . My mother was screaming hysterically. I was crying because the cat wouldn’t come in that night and I was convinced he must have been killed in all the devastation that seemed to be going on outside. We were right under the window and all the glass from these wonderful wall-to-wall curved Bauerhaus windows blew in. A big lump was chipped out of the piano.
My Dad said “If I have to put up that bloody front door any more I will go mad”. Uncle Ern next door rushed out to see if everyone was allright and cut his bare feet to ribbons on all the glass on the floor. Then there was the sound of fire engines and water hoses and the fire seemed to be all round us. A man kept running up and down the street screaming “My wife is dead. My wife is dead”. I don’t remember any more about that night but I found our cat Sandy hiding in the garden the next morning quite unharmed. That day or maybe several days afterwards I can remember standing in the pouring rain holding the hand of one of my uncles and looking up at our two roofs with all the tiles missing. Some Irishmen were scrambling about trying to fix tarpaulins on the roof and I can remember asking “Will it be allright” and the uncle said “Oh yes I’m sure it will be quite soon now”.
My Dad drove a no.13 bus from Hendon, through Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus and across (I think) Waterloo Bridge. He used to come home covered in soot from all the fires he had driven through and once stopped just before a huge bomb crater somewhere.
One night I couldn’t sleep. It must have been deep in the winter because I can remember feeling desperately cold. My dad was in the bathroom having a bath and when I heard the door open I called out “Dad, I can’t sleep. I’m so cold”. Dad’s hair was sticking up in spikes (like a punk) from being washed. He said that when he was in the trenches he used to wrap the blanket right round the back of his neck and tuck it in tight. I still do that now with a duvet and it does work.
My dad and Uncle Ern and Uncle Fred used to go fire watching in the flats across the road. They used to sit there all night playing cards and smoking and drinking brown ales. One night they must have all fallen asleep and one of them must have left a cigarette still burning - it set the flat alight and they had to run round to the ‘phone box and call for a fire engine!
My sister who was a good looking girl, came home on leave from time to time with various boyfriends who were in the Services. She also had several American boyfriends but they always seemed to be killed in Europe. She was also engaged to a boy called Frank Ritchie who was serving in the Navy - she used to work with him in a butcher’s shop in Burnt Oak before the war - I think he was the owner’s son. He was killed the day after the war finished. He was in a jeep with a gang of American soldiers - I guess they were celebrating the end of the war. The jeep crashed and he was killed. My sister was devastated and I don’t think she ever really got over it.
Uncle Ern’s sister Gwen was going up to Glasgow to join her sister. My mother was having a sort of nervous breakdown - it’s her nerves they used to say. They all decided I should go up to Glasgow to be away from the bombs and to give Mum a break. We had a nightmarish train journey up there. The train was tightly packed and I think we had to sit on our suitcases for the whole twelve hours it took to get there. The lights kept going out and the train kept stopping while the bombs were dropping. One of the soldiers on the train kept bringing us cups of tea.
I can remember when we got to Gwen’s sister’s house (the sisters had six children between them) she pointed to the Morrison shelter which was full of kids and said “You’ll have to sleep on the top. You can see there’s no more room in there!” I decided I wasn’t going to like it there. Then they made me take cod liver oil before I went to bed and also to drink Ovaltine made with water - Mum always made it with milk at home. So I thought I don’t like it here. I’m going to make such a pest of myself that they’ll send me home. So I kept crying and saying I was homesick and wanted to go home. I used to listen to them talking when I was supposed to be in bed and very soon they were saying “We’ll have to send her home. She’s a horrible child”.
I was there for a month so I did quite well really. I had a great time playing with the children though. I think I did the journey home on my own and the whole family was there (apart from Dad, who was driving his bus, I expect). I had in a month acquired a very strong Glaswegian accent and my mother burst into tears and said she couldn’t understand a word I said.
We used to have wonderful Christmasses. Somehow, between them all they used to produce some wonderful food and lots of drink, despite wartime privations. We always used to have a chicken - a real once a year luxury then. The men always used to do a “turn” for Christmas night - once they each had a sand covered tray which they danced on, doing what they imagined were Egyptian type gestures, copying a comic music hall team whose name I have forgotten. They also loved dressing in drag and larking about. It was their proud boast that we were always the last people to still be celebrating in the whole street and we used to take great delight in doing the conger down the street and all singing very loudly just to wake the neighbours.
When I was a bit older my sister and I rehearsed some duets ( the only song I can remember now is “Sentimental Journey” - I did the descant, I think) to sing at the family Christmas party. During all of this Aunty Vi would sit in the corner, occasionally sipping a small sherry, looking very disapproving, and knitting furiously!
We were always quite hungry - there just wasn’t enough food in the shops most of the time. I think it was during the war that my mother brought home some whale meat. She didn’t know what to do with it so I think she just fried it. It was quite disgusting. Like eating very dense, very fishy liver.
Early in the war Mum and Dad decided to keep chickens. I regarded them as my best friends and used to sit in the hen house talking to them for hours. My favourite one was always pecking me. The smell of potato peelings stewing for hours was quite horrible but we did get fresh eggs - worth their weight in gold then, although they always seemed to be going broody and we had to leave a china egg in the broody one’s nest, which was supposed to encourage it to lay. When one of them got too old to bother any more, Mum used to keep nagging my Dad to ring its neck which he hated because they kept running round the garden even though they were dead.
One day, amazingly, a duck flew into the garden. I fell in love with it immediately and christened it Donald, of course. On my birthday we had a special meal with this rather strange meat . I remember thinking that it was Donald but that I’d eat it anyway and then look for him in the hen house and if he wasn’t there, I’d make a big fuss and cry a lot to show how upset I was.
I can remember going to the Victory celebrations and being carried high above everybody else on Uncle Fred’s (he was quite tall) shoulders.
That’s about it. My Dad and my uncles died many years ago. My mother died aged 95 living in an almshouse in the Hertfordshire village where I now live. My two aunts are still alive and living in care homes in Clacton-on-Sea - they are now 99 and 97.
Contributed originally by Wymondham Learning Centre (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the BBC People’s War site by Wymondham Learning Centre on behalf of the author who fully understand the site's terms and conditions.
I was born in November 1926 and was almost thirteen when the war began. We lived in a small house in East Acton, near Wormwood Scrubs in London — my father and mother, myself, and my three sisters. My two older sisters, who were sixteen and almost eighteen, went to work in factories. My father, who was about forty-one, had been in the army in India and was in the Territorial Army. He was called up at the start of the war. Later an Irish girl doing war work came to live with us. I think one of my sisters might have met her in a factory. The house was always full of girls during the war.
My younger sister was only seven and was evacuated to Oxford. Because she was so young I went with her. We boarded with a young couple with a baby. The wife was a wonderful cook and the food was lovely. She made delicious lardy-cakes.
I don’t remember how long I stayed in Oxford, but I remember seeing some of the wounded from Dunkirk laid out on the lawns at the front of one of the Oxford hospitals in 1940. A sea of blue hospital uniforms. It’s a sight I’ll never forget.
My younger sister stayed in Oxford but after some time I went back to East Acton, left school and started work. My first job was as tea boy and general dogsbody in a garage where my father had worked as a mechanic. I was paid 16 shillings and four pence for a five and a half day week. I learnt to drive there.
The Germans were bombing London. An Anderson shelter was built in our garden but it leaked badly and was constantly flooded. The interior was concreted so often that in the end it was too small to be any use and we didn’t bother with it. We got used to the bombing. They say you can get used to anything, don’t they? When the doodlebugs first started coming over we’d hide under the table, but the bombs didn’t stop my older sisters from going out and having a good time. There were dances in every pub and in many factory canteens, and they’d be out nearly every night. I used to save up my clothing coupons for them in return for cigarettes or other things, like butter- I can’t stand margarine. I often went to visit a friend in Harlesden and had to walk home — buses stopped at 9 p.m. It was a long walk through an air raid, but I just kept going. We never used Underground station shelters because where we were the line ran mostly above ground, where there were none.
Shortages are what I remember. Our family hadn’t had a lot before the war, when my father was often out of work and my mother skinned rabbits and washed jam jars in factories to keep us afloat. But we didn’t need a lot — not as much as people seem to need today.
Most factories had good canteens selling good solid British food very cheaply — better than you could get at home. There was a good British restaurant on the estate at East Acton selling the same. We were pretty well off for food, really.
Eventually I got work at Dubilier, a factory making electrical transformers.
I joined the Home Guard when I was at Dubilier. We trained in the factory canteen, using rifles with no bullets. The use of the rifle was demonstrated with blanks. In fact I never saw any ammo when I was in the Home Guard. One Saturday evening we went on an exercise in Hanger Lane, some of us positioned with our empty rifles on the balconies of the flats having cups of tea with the tenants while we hung about waiting for the “Germans” to arrive.
I was also a firewatcher. We’d work on a rota, usually two of us watching from the factory roof for fires started by incendiary bombs. If we spotted a fire one of us would run down and alert the fire-fighters.
It wasn’t easy changing jobs during the war — you had to get permission from the Ministry of Labour and were only allowed to move from one type of war work to another. I managed to transfer to a better-paid job at an aircraft factory on the North Circular Road, making Mosquito bombers and parts for Halifax bombers. Lots of girls worked there.
When the bombing got bad I left and joined a building firm that worked for the “Flying Squad”. It was good money. When the doodlebugs started coming over in earnest teams of men, many Irish, would go wherever they were sent to clean up the mess and put tarpaulins up to make places watertight as fast as possible. We went all over London.
My team was called out when a London bus fell into a bomb crater when a bomb landed immediately in front of it. I don’t know whether anyone survived. Heavy machinery was needed to haul the bus out of the hole.
While I was working on the roof of a place in Kilburn, three storeys high, I slipped. I slid down the roof on my back, digging my heels into the tiles to try to stop myself. My feet hit the guttering, which gave way, and I fell off the roof. I landed on a huge pile of broken tiles that had been tossed off the roof, and they broke my fall. If they hadn’t been there I’d almost certainly have been killed. I was sent home for the day. I must have been bruised, but I had no broken bones.
In 1944, the year I turned eighteen, I was called up, so for a while my father and I were both in the army, though we only saw each other once on leave during the war. I was put into the Grenadier Guards. I was given a warrant for railway travel and sent to barracks at Caterham in Surrey, where everyone went for initial training. I remember the jazz trumpeter Humphrey Littleton, who was also in training in the Grenadiers, playing in the NAAFI. It was winter, and we were made to gallop around in the snow in our vests and shorts to toughen us up. I was already pretty tough, as I’d had a hard life. Some of the men probably suffered more than I did.
After initial training we went to Windsor, where there was more marching and running around in Windsor Park, and night training on the river. Then to Minehead in Somerset to practice landing from barges — doing the opposite of lemmings, trying to leap out of the water and up cliffs.
Then we were sent to Scotland, near Hawick in the Borders. There was a German POW camp there and one of our duties was to guard it. It wasn’t a big camp — about two hundred or so prisoners. Hawick was a small place and there wasn’t a lot to do for entertainment. There were Polish soldiers stationed nearby. There was a regular hop in the village hall, and there were lots of fights with the Poles over girls. I didn’t get involved in any myself. One of my mates had an auntie in the town and when we had leave we’d visit her, and she’d give us some homemade cake to take back to camp. The grub was good in Hawick. We had good porridge with sugar.
Sometime after VE day in 1945 we were sent abroad. We were given seventy-two hours embarkation leave in London. I stood for eight hours on the train from Carlisle to London with all my gear, and then had to travel all the way back to Scotland with it before being sent down to ship out at Southampton. I don’t know why we couldn’t have been sent to the port from London. They talk about red tape today, but there was a lot more of it then.
We went on an old, rotten French tub, the “Champollion”. The food was foul. A battalion of South Wales Borderers travelled with us and we organised boxing matches with them for entertainment. We thought we were headed for the Far East, but we ended up at Haifa in what was then Palestine. Of course we weren’t told why, but later we thought that probably the atom bomb had been dropped on Japan while we were at sea, and we had been diverted.
Although the war was officially over there was still trouble in Palestine, which was being flooded with Jewish refugees. Palestine was under British mandate and the British were attempting to limit Jewish immigration because of protests from the Arabs. At one point we were called out to back up the Red Caps in an incident with a ship full of illegal immigrants — men, women and children - that had been refused entry into Haifa. Some of the refugees jumped overboard, others refused to leave the ship. The ship was rusty and conditions on board filthy. They were all taken off. Some of them had to be dragged. They were stripped and sprayed with DDT to delouse them and taken away to detention camps.
We thought the local Jews were friendly, until two British Sergeants were taken out of a bar by members of the Stern gang and hanged in an orange grove. The gang, led by Abraham Stern, were Zionists extremists who objected to the British administration. We never had any trouble from the Arabs.
I got dysentery in Palestine. It just struck me down. I was out of the Regiment for three months, and my weight went down to seven stone. I was at a convalescence centre outside Haifa. There was a horse-changing centre nearby and I learnt to ride a horse there. Camel trains ended up there as well — it must have been a staging post, because we’d see hundreds of camels milling around on the beach overnight and they’d be gone next day.
In the winter of 1947 I was given leave. I was sent home by what was called the MEDLOC route, on a US Liberty ship via Port Said to Toulon in Vichy France, where we stayed in a transit camp for three days during which we were forbidden to have any contact with the locals because the Vichy regime had collaborated with the enemy. It must have been someone in the camp who made the postcard containing my photo in a rose-wreathed heart, which I sent to my mother. We then travelled across France by train. It was bitterly cold. I’ve never been so cold in my life. The train stopped at Lyon or Dijon, where German prisoners served us food. They were better off than we were. They had tins laid out in which they were collecting foreign coins, and were selling cigarette cases made from old mess tins — beautiful filigree work.
I eventually got a boat to Liverpool and was demobbed at the end of 1947. I was twenty-one. I was given three months demob leave and then I had to find a job.
Contributed originally by WMCSVActionDesk (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the Peoples War site by Anastasia Travers from CSV Action Desk on behalf of Ashley Leather and has been added to the site with his permission. Ashley Leather fully understands the sites terms and conditions.
1st and 2nd parts of Starborad Watch were stationed in the R.N.Barracks at Chatham. We were on weekend leave from 12 midday Saturday to 07.00 hours Monday. There was insufficient time to travel to my home in Ossett (West Yorkshire) so my pal Jeff Clements whose home was in Annerly (London suburb) invited me to go home with him. On arrival his mother immediately informed us there was a rumour that the Glen Miller Orchestra might be passing through London on the way back to an American airbase. The destination and time was not known but she thought that the Hammersmith Palaise seemed a likely venue.
After tea we duly set forth, I hadn’t a clue which direction I was travelling, just trusted Jeff to lead the way. People were gathering in small groups so the whispers had travelled far and wide. Eventually a large coach (American style) was seen approaching. A band with instruments at the ready soon piled into the Palaise and straight onto the stage. With their attractive vocalists and their overcoats still on, it soon began to feel like a Wembley football crowd.
No sooner had the orchestra struck up with ‘In the Mood’ I grabbed the young lady standing beside me and pulled her quickly onto the floor with the words ‘come on girl lets make history’. ‘Wha Eah’ (typical cockney girl) she replied. We only managed to dance once around the floor but it was of no consequence. We had danced to the music of the Glen Miller Orchestra. I said to the girl ‘stand still where you are and don’t attempt to move off, you won’t get on the floor again.’ Dancing was now impossible due to the increase in crowd. Within 45 minutes the Orchestra waved the crowd goodbye. I dragged the girl to the nearest exit and we were able to watch the Orchestra mount the coach steps one by one with a smile and half salute/wave from each member.
I believe this route of the orchestra was a deliberate attempt to raise people’s morale. On reflection, so much for the slogan ‘careless talk costs lives.’ I was pleased to think that my impulse to pull a young lady onto the dance floor had given her an experience to talk of for the rest of her life.
Contributed originally by robert beesley (BBC WW2 People's War)
On arriving at St Johns Wood, I reported to the duty N C O and he wrote my name down in the register. Then a Private took me to a billet, here I found another N C O, that had arrived earlier. We got talking, none of us knew each other. Then we were given some food to eat. None of us left the camp that evening. During the evening there were more N C O's and Privates arriving at our billet.
The next morning we were all paraded, and we were then informed that we had to do a six week refresher course. Over the next few weeks, we did all of the basic training such as rifle, map reading and everything that you learnt when you joined the Army.
After we had completed the training and passed out I had a weekend pass , which I used to go and visit my family. Then we were posted to other camps. Myself and eleven others were all posted to Hookwood in Surrey, which was a Royal Ordanance Store Depot. We unloaded all of our kit and was taken to the Dining room and given tea. The cook was A T S and there was five Italian Prisoners-of-War sitting at the top of the table and they were talking. Three of the N C O's went to the table and found out that they had been Prisoners-of-War in Italy. They could speak the language so they started speaking Italian, but two of them moved away and it nearly came to punch up, but it was the woman cook that stepped in to calm things down.
There were some Ordanance group also working there and also civilians work, we never saw much of the Captain. He was always with a A T S Driver. Nearby was an
R A F Aerodrome, which is now called Gatwick Airport. We spent our evening in the pub with the A T S. It was Christmas 1945 and we had leave. All of the N C O's had a chicken to take home for Christmas, but I cannot tell you how we won them?
On returning back from our Christmas leave, the N C O started to get demobbed at one or two at a time. I spoke to Captain Gardener about signing on for 2 years, that was 1946. As the N C O got demobbed, we had a party at the Pub. Next, the A T S returned to Guildford in Surrey to the A T S camp. The R A O C were to move to another camp. I was to take some stores from the Quarter Master's store and travel by road to Colchester in Essex. We arrived on the Tuesday afternoon and unloaded the stores. The Quarter Master Sergeant told us to put it into a large room and gave us the key. He then said that after we had finished doing this, to hand the key back to the storeman.
I was shown my billet and unpacked my kit. Then on the Wednesday I reported to the Quarter Master, he told me to lay out the stores to go to Hookwood for checking.
On Thursday afternoon I again reported to the Quarter Master, got ready to hand over but he said to leave it until the Friday. As the storeman had been working with me, we checked the stores together and he agreed that everything was in order and then signed the document. I also signed the document and handed the key to the storewoman. Next morning, the Quarter Master
said " I check the stores and then take them off your hands". At 10.00 a.m., the Quarter Master approached me stating that some stores were missing. I said to him "Bull, it was all present yesterday". he replied to me "Not now it isn't, then report the thief to the Company Commander"
I was told to report to office, Quarter Master was stating stores stolen. The Company Officer turned to me and said"What do you have to say?" I replied "All the stores were present and correct yesterday when I locked up" He then said "What proof have you?" I then handed him the C/O my document which had been signed by myself and the storeman. Also stated that they key had been handed to the storewoman. I then said " Call in the Special Police. The C/O replied "No need for that" That was the case closed and shut. Two months later, having gotten to know the other stores across the way, they told me "You know those stores that you had lost earlier, they were in our stores. I asked them who had brought them to them and the reply that I got, was the QUARTER MASTER!
C S M Simpson spoke to me about transferring to R A O C as a driver. I thought about it for two days. I then approached the C S M to sign my document and within the week I was in the R A O C. I took a driving test, which I passed.
One Friday in September 1946, the Sergeants Mess was robbed of cigarettes, tobacco and spirits. On the Saturday at 12.00p.m. I was on my way to the station with others when two civilians stopped me. They asked me what I had in my back pack and I told them that it was none of their business. They then showed me their documents and they turned out to be Special Investigation Police. So I opened my pack, out came a Army boot, I was asked why I was taking this home, I told them, to give them a good clean. I asked them why had they stopped us. One of them said had we not heard and we did not know what he was talking about. But it was the news that the Sergeants Mess had been robbed. I could have turned round and said to the "Try the Quarter Master, he stole my stores" But I thought better of it so I held my tongue!
It was 1947 and I had put in for an Overseas posting. I got the posting and I was then sent to Feltham in Middlesex,I had 7 days leave. At hat time, my wife had run off with an R A F Sergeant to Scotland. On my return, after my leave, at 6.00a.m., the draft for Germany came through. So I boarded a train to London, once in London I had to go across town to King Cross station. I waited there until 3.00 p.m. and then boarded another train for Hull up North. On the Monday, we boarded a ship for Germany. It arrived in Hamburg in Germany on Friday. We spent the weekend in Hamburg and we found the Germans were friendly. On the Monday we boarded a train which was to take us to Dusseldorf, When we arrived there a lorry was waiting for us so we got aboard. There were twelve of us. Off we went, along the way, the men were being dropped at different places. Everyone had got off except there were two of us left. When we stopped again, both of us reported to the Office. It was 145 Vehicle Park and I learnt that my other travelling companion was called Private Barr and he was Scottish. He went to the Quarter Master's stores. I just clicked my heels until Major Hurley read my documents and I was told to report to his office. He asked me questions such as "Was I a Prisoner-of-War?" I replied "Yes"."Can you speak and understand german" Once again I replied "Yes". So to se if I was telling the truth, he sent for a German to test me. This German had worked in the camp and he tested me and said I was alright. The Major then told me to report to the Special Police Unit in M I R. On arriving,no on was at home. The home address British Occupation of Rhine (BAOR). That afternoon I met Justeward N C O and Felix Kaufman, who was half Jew. He was the interpreter, he spoke to me in German, I replied, he then said "Are you Polish" I said "No" He said"Ex Prisoner-of-War good". Another interpreter was Alex, whose Father was English and the Mother was German. He had served with the German Air Force but he was not to be trusted by Felix.
My Mother wrote to me to tell me that my wife was going to have a baby, so I then made enquiries about obtaining a divorce.
Our duty was to recover War Department stolen property. We would check vehicles for wheels with loose nuts then we would lay in wait, at night. Nine times out of ten, we always had a result. When we visited places on information obtained, it more or less always led us to an arrest and trial. We made road blocks on the Autobahns where we would stop lorries or cars. One night, we stopped an Ambulance, the Police said "No Ambulance". I stopped the vehicle and what was inside was a cow and two German civilians. This was going to be a German Police case. The Mayor, had given us a free hand but it was only the Mayor that received our weekly reports. We received documents from the Mayor. Whenever we needed food or accommodation for the night at Army or Military, this was always available to us. We would always give them a telephone number so that it could be verified and that was that. But we never ever got freedom of the barracks. In the short time that we had been in operation, we had recovered quite a number of tyres and one vehicle. Saturday evenings were spent at the Cafe Belton which was in the town of Wermelskirenen. Here the Off Duty Officers and wives and other ranks would socialise with the Germans. The lads would be after the girls and when the cafe closed there would be no transport home, so they had to walk home. Christmas was nearly upon us. The lads had a good time with us that year. Officers and senior ranks waited on tables and after lunch, you could do as you wished. On the eve of the New year, there was one great party which was held at the Cafe Belton
Contributed originally by Michael McEnhill (BBC WW2 People's War)
A cold smack of rain across my face held me in check after I had scrambled onto an old Valor stove and pushed open the metal framed window of my boxroom in order to catch a final glimpse of my mother, as she cycled to work.
She would be rounding the corner of St.Botolph's Church now, with its glassy- sharp flintstone wall, making for the square of staff houses, dubbed 'little Moscow,' with their bleak, depressing entities. When she had passed these,I would be able to make her out, as if almost in miniature; she would cut on to the old cinder track, little more than the sweep of a scythe wide.She would have to be aware of the shifting cinder bank for under a deluge of rain the back-wheel would slip fast, sizzling into the ploughed field alongside and she would likely be up-ended. A farrago of noise would break out.The dropping of bombs by German aircraft would resonate through the night even from as far distant as London.The crow-black sky would be illuminated by brilliant searchlights issuing out of a wide brimmed base, as broad as Nelson's column, but reaching much higher still, seeking out enemy planes. Anti-aircraft fire would break out, peppering shells up above, whenever an aircraft was glimpsed, to blast and puncture it, bringing the 'eagle' down with an almighty bang.These camouflaged gun emplacements were dug in around the country hedges and scattered amongst the poplar trees, which dwarfed the hangars of the hospital.
With her nurse's navy cap pressed firmly down over her head and matching rainproof coat buttoned into place, she would crouch low over her handlebars, as she faced into the wind, pedalling so hard, the cornfield would, as it were ,part waist-high, and she would appear to ride above the damp ,dusky brown ears of corn, like a jockey in full flight along the rails of a racecourse.
As the night pressed into her half-hours journey to work at Middlesex Colony, near St.Albans, she would be increasingly aware of the intense activity in the hedgerows, the giant rods of light pin-pointing the gathering dark, the silver-white lights making a pin cushion above, while flabby, grey, barrage balloons with wires from their bellies, cheese-cuttered the sky, dragging for planes, and creakily holding the earth to the sky.
She would now virtually disappear from sight pedalling furiously into the middle distance like a stick figure bent and ricketty, into the curtain of smoke and smell of cordite,to disappear out of view. Some nights her path to work was so lit up by a full moon and drifts of stars. I am sure she felt protected and safely covered under this nightly galaxy of pilgrims.
Whatever the night, before she set off, she made sure to pep-up her bicycle batteries by putting them on the range, (by taking the cold and damp out of them appeared to restore their energy and boost the light, for during the winter months a cold battery soon became a worthless dud)
It seems that the mind stretches back to those days with ever more clarity as one gets older; one is more able to sharpen one's focus, almost like adjusting a television or computer screen.
My mother was never one to fuss over her own safety for she had an indominitable spirit. However, she never ceased to hurt me, when, departing for work, she would say: 'I have to put my boys to bed'.
That would sting my elder brother and sister too, but even so, we were all aware that in the war, life had to go on, in some way, and that there were others, even more deserving,- in need of individual help and support.
She would be leaving what maybe could be described as a normal household during the war years to enter what has been called a 'world within a world.'
Different rules applied in this world wherein the mentally handicapped were attended too.
The first charitable homes for what were called the feeble minded( a term used as late as 1978,in a golden jubilee handout)were founded around 1890.The less afflicted were often looked upon as either lazy or wicked.The certification of large numbers of these so-called feeble minded together with a need for economy, led to the advocacy of large institutions with a population of up to two thousand patients.
The foundation of the Eugenics Society in 1909, followed soon after by the Mental Defficiency Act of 1913, expressed the belief of many that the segregation of the mentally handicapped was esssential. Increase in the the birth of the defectives would thereby be prevented and society would receive the protection which it requested against the likely dangerous consequences of having the mentally handicapped living in their midst.
(One has an uncomfortable feeling, looking back to those times, regarding the segregation and dispossession to be employed with the inmates of the institutions, and at the same time hesitating to draw any comparison with the German experience or policy employed with such unfortunate beings,understanding that to be essentially a policy of brutal extermination)
With this support the policy was enthusiastically implemented of building large institutions in isolated country areas where land was cheap to purchase.The Mental Defficiency Act of 1913 came into operation in 1914, but the outbreak of World War 1 held up the services it engendered.
(Paradoxically,it was after the termination of this war that the land on which First World War aerodrome hangars remained was made availabe for sale)
Thus it was that in accordance with majority opinion in the community, Middlesex County Council in 1928 purchased the Porters Park Estate, so named after Roger Le Porter, the first owner, who took possession in 1340.The land thus acquired became the site for both Shenley and Middlesex Colony, the latter designed to house 2000,patients.
On October 25th,1928, eight male patients, mainly high grade feeble minded adults were admitted to what was known as the Hangars Certified Institution.'-of course the name being adopted on account of the three hangars which were survivors of the aerodrome on that site in World War1.They formed the nucleus of the foundation.During the 1930's the name was changed to that of Middlesex Colony since the authority was at that time the County Council of Middlesex.
(The word 'coloney' according to Faucault came into use in the Middle Ages with the formation of leper colonies.Later on 1st April,1950 the name Harperbury was assumed when the majority of my mother's work had been completed.
In her early days at the hospital she worked from eight-o-clock at night, until eight in the morning, with maybe an extra night thrown in as overtime. She was paid three pounds a week, and she felt she was in clover when her wages were raised by half-a-crown a day. The hospital at which she worked was built in 1928, on an old aerodrome site, four miles from St.Albans City. At that time it was ostensibly set up for the care and protection of the mentally handicapped in the community but its primary aim was to be an institute for the prevention of the increase in the disabled.At that time the wards and gates were kept locked permanently.
As a qualified nurse my mother had to be well turned out. A light blue one piece uniform was enfolded by a white starch apron. She also wore a hard, rigid collar not unlike a cleric's, but gold studded and unjoined at the throat, also white starched cuffs and cap. And of course thick dark stockings and sensible shoes.
A fair sized chrome whistle and a master key on a chain to a belt around her waist completed her ensemble.
At this juncture it would be well mention the Regulations appertaining to this work, for they call to mind the spirit and tone equally noted in relation to the Poor Law Institutions and the Prison Service. For example, the loss of a key by any member of the staff was to be met by summary dismissal, twenty minutes being allowed to vacate room and leave hospital premises. This example highlights the fear on the part of society as a whole to the importance of custodial care for the mentally handicapped and one of the factors in the establishment of mental subnormality hospitals.
There would be up to seventy patients on her ward and she had to cosset and comfort them as best she could.The dormitory was so crowded that it was said that one could cycle over all the beds. At that particular period in the care of mental patients, times were bad; there was not the financing of the hospitals to the extent of today. They were indeed a tragic looking set of patients young adults removed from their own hopes who suffered from immense medical problems along with being mentally deffective some would be highly disabled.They would be hard put to manage the ordinary affairs of life their toiletting and hygiene, diet and excercise all these things and more had to be catered for.Many in the social climate of the time would cast them out as lepers.Yet it was for these same people my mother was dedicated to and fighting for.Ironically while the war was raging on the Western Front some part of Hitler's philosophy was indeed set on doing away with these same poor infirm and crippled folk in order to create an Aryan master race. We were to understand that the Jewish race along with gypsies, and the suppposedly less genetically endowed members of humanity were to be killed off, which augured badly for such institutions as the Colony.
Indeed, many people in those days were in awe of them, so frightened by their appearance that they were shunned like lepers.
Shambling about, they dribbled from both their noses and their mouths. Their hair was hacked off to prevent lice and they would congregate in corners like latter day punks. Cringing and gawkily awkward with arms and legs threshing about they were custodially subject to strict rules and kept under a regime of the hospital, which was more akin to that doled out to prisoner's-of-war. We can consider now with the benefit of hindsight these poor vulnerable souls were in much need of human kindness and real time professional care. They had been variously categorised as suffering from Mongolism, Down's syndrome, Schizophrenia, Epilepsy, and all kinds of ailments which the outside community was not prepared to countenance. Truth to tell your emotions were distinctly put out of joint when encountering them for the first time having been told scare stories of various hair raising types and having been painted pictures of inordinate abhorrence about their so-called mongol like features at this time.
One can venture the opinion that the nurses had it none to easy either for they were working in a heavily defined pyramidal structure subject for the most part to a largely male management. Thus when care and succour was being called out for there was a rigidity and strictness employed by the regime which was not you could consider appropriate for highly sensitive young adults. That's not to say that some discipline was not called for in the majority of cases it could be overdone. I call to mind going to see 'The Miracle Worker' in which Helen Keller a greatly disturbed young woman featured.In the long run with a reasonably amount of discipline and human kindness she recovered.Today we have overactive or so-called hyperactive patients who treated with tolerance,understanding and discipline can make good.
With the benefit of hindsight it can reasonably be assumed that the war-time strict regime had a detrimental effect on the patients. This regime had a hierarchical basis with a Dr Beasley as male supervisor, at its head.It was said that when he did his medical rounds the nursing officers fled in all directions. He it was as the chief medical practitioner who determined a boundary line around the hospital to keep the female and male patients segregated and,it was to be many years before mixing of the sexes was tolerated. Indeed, it is only in the last few decades that I have known a couple from the Colony get married and happily to say, have kept this relationship stable for a reasonably long period of time.
However, there was a surfeit of human kindness in the hospital, a charity that my mother with her abundance of maternal warmth amply supplied.
My mother would look after her charges throughout the long night. She would soothe any temper tantrums, quieten down and contain those with uncontrollable rages and reassure the sufferers of seemingly endless epileptic fits.
On occasion an air raid siren would shrilly cut through the incessant babble of the dormitory. It would then be time for my mother to usher her patients down the long corridors and into the dark, damp, musty brick shelters for safety. They would shuffle and sway out into the courtyard sideways and back on their heels like ill-kempt prisoners-of-war emerging into the early mist of the day.
When the all clear sounded she would redress them all the best way she could. They would wear ill-fitting old Grandad type shirts, a jacket and trousers nearly up to their knees. There was a small smile on their faces for the little they got. The whites of their eyes would fix on your face and the pupils tip back to the cast of their brows.
After a breakfast of porridge they would go to work at various therapy departments such as shoe-making, tailoring, carpentry and upholstery.
On her nights off work, my mother attended to the safety and care of her family with the same love and tenderness.
It was the time of the notorious V1 and V2 rockets,so-called Doodlebugs or flying bombs.Then the air was alive with the unremitting hum of these weapons, seeking out targets in London. Unfortunately for us, they did not always reach their destination. Air-raid patrolmen, ARP's would flash their torhlights in windows with irritable cries of "Put that light out!' A fellow in our road was thought to be a spy for a chink of light showed through his black-out curtains. He was promptly marched down the stairs of his own house with a bayonet levelled at his back and called all the names on earth.
Coincidentally, it was some time after the war that my father's brother Jack who worked at Harwell, the Atomic Energy Research Establishment spent time as a scientist looking into the workings of the V1 and V2 rockets.
Often there would be a shattering whizz and the house trembled as a bomb began its fall. Deafened, groping and praying hard, we would emerge from under the stairs. The plodding hum of the German bombers continued, then a rocket overhead cut off its engines, a paralysing silence followed as its deadly cargo rushed to the ground, heartstopping. We snuffed out the candles and made a dash for the Anderson Shelter.
As we were being carried in blankets by mother and father, a splinter or sliver of burning hot shrapnel glanced my arm. A further bomb would shiver the darkness, dust would rise at our feet, everything was a blur, and the shelter would seem to stretch and float an inch or two. Then in the grim surroundings, mother attended the scorch to my arm and it soon faded away.
If that were not enough to frighten mother and father a landmine was caught suspended by its filigree of lace and parachute straps on a high, royal oak tree above the wood, not far from our house. Just a brush with the ground and our street would have disappeared.
How my mother managed used to be a mystery to me, however, with the passage of time it has become clearer.
Being born in 1908, in Donegal, Ireland, she had experienced extreme poverty and hardship as a child (in comparison with the young children, today). Her difficult upbringing enabled my mother to equate more closely with the neglect,hurt and injury suffered by the mentally handicapped in the community before they were taken into the care of Middlesex Colony.
This in turn enabled my mother to bring up her own family in very difficult circumstances and at the same time to battle away for those less fortunate in society.
In retrospect, my mother felt she was privileged to be in at the birth of the hospital. To be there at the start and to influence the attitude to the disabled in mind and body and ensure the hospital's further development gave her great satisfaction. In point of fact as a 'pioneer nurse' she lived to see the evolution of Harperbury Hospital from its raw beginnings. She experienced great joy in its transformation. The original aircraft hangars for work therapy have given way to the world renowned Kennedy Galton Research Centre into sub-normality.
Behavioural modification and Makaton sign language is now practised along with art and music therapy. She was able to witness the retreat from a harsh policy of segregation of the sexes to the faltering but positive steps of full integration in the night-time socials and dances held for all.
My mother never boasted of her achievements but I know she is secretly proud of the contributions she made to help those in adversity when she worked at Harperbury Hospital during those dark years of the war.
Contributed originally by sarahbateson (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the Peoples War website by Sarah Bateson on behalf of John Dyer.
I was 11 when the war broke out attending Wembley Hill School and often when the registar was call there would be no answer and someone would say 'he was bombed out last night sir'.The school had a direct hit one night just before I was 14 so that was the end of my education.I started work learning plumbing with R.J.Audrey of Kilburn Park Road.One of my first jobs was at Euston Fire Station,I would cycle there from Wembley in the blackout.The crews often worked through the night and would fall asleep on the floor still in their wet uniforms.Another job was at either Caledonian School or the Brecknock installing a sinks and slop hoppers for a mortuary.I often saw the bodies coming in,some had to be hosed down,there were mothers still clutching babies.Everyone had to have a post mortem.The school was still open and the children played in the playground around a pile of clothes from the
bodies.The mortuary attendants coped by being comedians and casual but when I was sent for the sandwiches and tea and gave them brawn they,not surprisingly threw it back at me.They used to try and frighten me with their tales of blood and gore.I also worked at Northolt Aerodrome which was a fighter command at the time.One airman crashed landed and his plane went 15 feet into the ground,I can still see the rescuer's tears when they dug him out.I stole some dark chocolate,a rare treat in the war,but unbeknown to me it was to keep the pilots awake on missions,I didn't sleep for a week.I was still just a kid witnessing unimaginable horrors. About 1940 the IRA bombed the reservoir supplying the water for the cooling station for the Bakerloo Line,it didn't do too much damage but all Wembley had to be evacuated.An aerial torpedo bombed the Grand Union Canal in Wembley where it goes over the road in a viaduct.It caused terrible flooding and many people lost their lives in Tokington Avenue,where I lived.They were drowned in their garden Anderson shelters.I did lots of war damage work in London and I was on a roof in Finchley Road when I saw the doodle bug hit the London Zoo.I worked at many British Restaurants which were subsidised by the government,you could get a good meal and a cup of tea for a shilling (5p).Well then my war began and I was called up and did my initial train ing at Whitby,I enjoyed that as I was trained to be a dispatch driver and had the moors to ride on.Although I had seen some terrible things I was still quite naive.One day,whilst queuing for dinner at the old Metropol Hotel,which was now our canteen,wanting to light my cigarette I asked a girl in the queue if she had a match.When she replied 'yes my face and your a**** I was quite shocked.It was VE day whilst I was there but I can't remember any celebrating,infact we were all quite disappointed we wouldn't be in the war.I was sent to India and had a wonderful tour of the country by rail,I witnessed the beginning of the riots in Calcutta and saw the British Flag come down over India for the last time.I can't leave India without mentioning Curly.He was an ol d soldier who couldn't read or write,he had no teeth but a lovely head of hair.He had lots of girl penfriends and he proposed to them all.We would write the letters he dictated and he even included samples of material for the wedding dress.He would sit on his bed roaring with laughter at the replies saying 'read it again kid'.He received lovely food parcels which he shared among us.If we went out in the evening we had to take condoms with us whether we wanted to or not.A very upperclass officer used to say to us 'if you don't go out with a pecket,you'll come back with a pecket'.I was then sent to Japan with the occupational forces,we had to guard the officers who were considered war criminals.The Japanese civilians were so polite and humble in defeat it wa s impossible to imagine the atrocities they committed.They were starving when we arrived,it wasn't the bomb that finished the war it was the starvation.We had to escort the prisoners to Singapore for the war trials.They were kept in the hold of the ship.One soldier closed his eyes in the heat for a moment and a Japanese officer threw himself on the soldier's fixed bayonet,the blade went through his throat.There was a big enquiry but I don't know the outcome. That was my war and all before I was 21.
Contributed originally by Irene Currington (formerly Gilham) (BBC WW2 People's War)
The outbreak of war
I was married in August 1938, the year that Chamberlain came back from seeing Hitler in Berlin waving his bit of paper saying that he had assurances from the fuehrer that he would not invade neighbouring countries. The Prime Minister declared “Peace in our time”! We believed him because we wanted to, but many of us had serious misgivings about the trustworthiness of Hitler. There were reports filtering through about the appalling atrocities being perpetrated on the Jews and other groups, such as the Jehovah Witnesses, gypsies etc. The SS (Storm Troopers) came into being straight away and they instigated a reign of terror and the introduction of concentration camps — places of hell!
Our fears were realised in 1939. My husband and I, who lived in Middlesex, were in Cornwall when the news came through on the radio. Chamberlain was announcing in gravest of voices that Hitler had not kept his pledges and had that day invaded Poland. Therefore he said that England was now at war with Germany!
Petrol rationing came into force immediately, and had it not been for our farmer host who filled up the car we would not have managed to get home to London in the car. We were fearful about what the war would mean, and we drove back in a state of anxiety. As the “blackout” was compulsory straight away, I remember finding blankets to cover up the windows. They were totally ineffective of course, and the next few days were spent finding an efficient method. The Air Raid wardens came round each evening to check that there was no glimmer of light. Car headlights had to be masked so that the light was directed downwards. Signposts disappeared in order to confuse possible invaders.
A few days after the declaration of war, the air raid sirens went off, which caused a great deal of panic as we did not know what to do or what to expect. We took ourselves downstairs to the flat below knowing that the excellent sound proofing meant that there was 6’ of concrete above us.
Nothing much happened then for the next year, except for the issue of gas masks for everyone including babies — ominous in itself. By law we had to carry them with us at all times.
My war effort
It seems unthinkable now that in those days, once a female teacher married, they were unemployable, except for when they were needed for a bit of relief work every now and then. Thus my teaching career came to an end only two years after qualifying. I tried to do all sorts of other things to help the war effort. I think the first was answering an appeal for people to write ration books. I duly reported to the Town Hall where there must have been 200 souls all writing away. When the bell went for tea break I had only one address to finish, so I did it. To my amazement a union representative came along and said “unless you put your pen down immediately I shall call the whole room out on strike”. It seemed an odd reaction to a vital war effort! I did not go back to that job.
Next came on appeal by the manufacturers for people to pick rose hips to make into the much needed rose hip syrup rich in vitamin C. We could not make it ourselves because we didn’t have sufficient sugar. I took a few children with me and we picked the hips till our hands were sore and scratched - we had pounds and pounds. I took them to the depot where we had been told to go but they would not accept them, in spite of all our remonstrance. I’m afraid that unbeknown to the children, I had to throw them away.
Then there was a request over the radio for people to entertain the serving men with perhaps a meal and a bath. So down I went and said to a rather severe lady at the Citizens Advice Bureau that we would like to entertain the troops. We had an anti-aircraft emplacement two miles away. She told me to sit down whereupon she asked me whether I sang or danced. I said “No” and asked “Does it matter?” “Well what are you going to do for the men?” she asked. Rather weakly I said “give them a meal and a bath” and felt her unconcealed disdain. Considerably discouraged by my contributions to the war effort I wondered what to do next.
Now came the emancipation of women in the teaching profession. With many men serving in the armed forces, women were badly needed and were compelled to go back to teaching. They were assured a permanent job and were never henceforth excluded.
I was sent to a large modern primary school and by now the bombing had increased. Two things remain in my memory. When the sirens sounded in the daytime, it was my job, as the youngest member of staff, to run and lock the two gates some one hundred yards apart. This was apparently to stop the parents getting in, which seemed strange, since locking the parents out also served to keep out fire, police and ambulance services. The children were all ushered into the underground shelters. They were long and narrow with the children sitting side by side on the long seats. Teaching in those circumstances was limited in the extreme, and there is no doubt that the education of children suffered very much at this time. Air raids increased steadily and the next move was to evacuate children and pregnant mothers. I was very involved with it and I find it very difficult to write about it. It was quite one of the most harrowing experiences of my life.
On a very cold, dark, wet November morning, we assembled at a main line station. The children, aged 5 to 7, about 30 in number, were brought by their weeping parents, They carried gas masks round their necks, little suitcases cases and had name labels pinned on their coats. Neither we, the parents, nor the children were allowed to know where we were going. The poor little mites, were bewildered and frightened. The parents, though grief-stricken, were certain they were doing the right thing for their children. They were also fearful that they might not see them again if anything happened to them in the raids. So it was a very sad little gathering on that cold, cheerless November morning as we set off on our journey to the unknown.
When we arrived in the dark, at the little Welsh mining village that proved to be our destination, it was foggy and drizzly and cold. The black-out meant that there was complete darkness — not a good start. We were assembled in the school hall where the local people were waiting to take in the children. Quite a few had already been spoken for, but for the remainder it felt a bit like a cattle market. “That one looks strong”, said some locals. Finally all but eight had been selected, among them a brother and sister, the brother had a protective arm around his sister, strongly declaring that they were not to be separated. In all the confusion no one had told them that the Director of Education was offering a home, so all was well with them.
Then came the tragic business of taking the remaining eight little children to find somewhere for them. This meant knocking on doors and asking if it was possible to take a child, all this in a very foggy, drizzly night. Eventually all the children were housed and we teachers went to the only hotel in the district and spent the night, too tired to talk, almost too tired to eat. But it was not yet all over. In the morning we had to go round to all the billets and check that all was well. The village people were kind — the houses, although small were warm and welcoming. (We city dwellers had had a great shortage of coal for some time, but the miners did not have the same difficulty.) Not all the homes were equally suitable: we were appalled to find some children sleeping in outhouses, on mattresses spread on stone floors, the huts unheated. So we had to start again knocking on doors to find better accommodation. Finally we managed it but found it emotionally draining. I made up my mind that if I had children, I would prefer to keep them with me, even if it meant all perishing together.
Illness and the Blitz
When I returned from the evacuation, I was greeted with the bad news that my young, previously athletic and fit husband had contracted TB and had to go to a sanatorium in Bournemouth for an indefinite period. He had been troubled with a bad cough for quite a long time. Bournemouth seemed a million miles away. Because of the bombing he would not let me stay on in our little home and I moved to Epsom Common to stay with family, but I felt that I had lost everything, and it was so very difficult to visit him. There were no drugs for T.B. and the only treatment was either to collapse a lung or give constant fresh air. My husband said there beds were wheeled onto the veranda, which was open on two sides, and many a time they had to brush the snow off their beds! This lasted from November to March. In the event, he did not have to have the lung collapsed. I am happy to say that he finally came home completely cured and had no other trouble with T.B. for the rest of his life. We were able to set up a home again, living then in the same place for the next twenty years.
The house where I stayed at Epsom was on the common and therefore safe in terms of air raids. However, as the house was high up we could see the raids on the London area. This was a spectacular and terrifying sight: we saw the explosions, the fires that were caused and even gasworks going up in flames. We knew that the loss of life was huge. It was dreadful to think about. Later, when I moved back to London I myself was in the midst of this mayhem.
Rationing and a new baby
On the home front, food and clothing, rationing was in force. Fresh fish was not rationed and the price was controlled so we were able to get things like turbot and halibut. (After the war I was not able to afford turbot and halibut.) We found dried egg particularly unpleasant. We were being urged to “dig for victory” and any ground that was in any way suitable for cultivation was made over for this: gardens, parkland and any waste ground. Every housewife had a large store of Kilner jars, and as soft-fruits and vegetables came into season, they were preserved in the jars in a weak solution of sugar and water (sugar was rationed). The jars were sealed and put into the oven at a very moderate heat for a controlled time. We were very proud of our jars all ready for the winter. Runner beans were salted in stone jars. Onions, cauliflower, gherkins and tomatoes were all preserved. If we could save enough from sugar ration, we made a limited amount of jam — a rare treat. Bread was not rationed, so it was usual to have one slice buttered, one with margarine and one slice with jam on unbuttered bread.
We got very adept at making a can of Spam go a long way. This was to supplement a meagre meat ration. We made Spam fritters, fried Spam and dried egg, Spam hotpot, etc. Oxtails and offal were off ration, but it meant standing in one of the very long queues. Imported fruit, such as grapes and bananas, almost disappeared. I well remember queueing for one and half hours for three bananas, which I took home for my little daughter. She would not touch them!
From 1941 there was rationing for canned meat and vegetables, followed by canned fruit, condensed milk, breakfast cereal and biscuits. Each person was given an extra sixteen points a month and these could be spent at any shop that had the items wanted. Then follwed was clothes rationing which was very hard on new mothers like me. I was able to buy only twelve towelling nappies when I had my first baby in 1943. By saving up coupons for material I made nightdresses, vests, dresses, rompers and knickers.
For adults, clothes rationing gave its limitations. Law stipulated that mens' suits were allowed only three pockets, three buttons and a set trouser length. A woman's nightdress took six coupons, a man’s overcoat sixteen coupons, a ladies dress eleven, underpants four, pyjamas eight. We were given only sixty coupons each per annum, so I am afraid all our underclothing in particular got shabbier and shabbier. “Make do and mend” was the order of the day. We were encouraged to make new clothes from old materials and I remember making several skirts out of old curtains. I was not knitter but those who were unravelled old jumpers and knitted the wool into something else. Like the other young women, I drew black lines down the back of our legs to pretend we were wearing stockings. These were imposable to get until the Americans Forces arrived.
There was a great deal of sharing and bartering with coupons, so that for instance, a bride might have a wedding dress, although some girls were very clever at making parachute silk into wedding dresses. Little mishaps became of unreasonable importance. I remember managing to pick up a remnant of woollen material just enough to make my little girl a skirt. She was very pleased with it, but to my horror, while I was out of the room, she cut a hole two inches square in the front of it. I was devastated.
With baths we were exhorted to have no more than five inches of water in order to save fuel for heating, and as many as possible in the family were to use the same bath. Our poor old daddy got the short straw, but he never complained.
Also affected by rationing, were goods like furniture, as wood was very scarce. As people couldn’t replace or repair their homes they also grew shabbier as the war went on. Utility furniture was designed to use as little wood as possible. This was relaxed somewhat for newly weds and civilians who had lost everything due to bombing. Utility prams were dreadful — just boxes on four small wheels and were real bone shakers. On this front I was very lucky, and I bought a beautiful pre-war Marmet pram second-hand for five pounds from the nurse at the nursing home. It was “coach-sprung” and in excellent condition and I was the envy of all my friends. I used that pram for both my babies and then passed it on to another grateful mother. The police advised certain procedures in the event of a daytime bombing raid while out with the baby. This was to remove the baby from the pram and put him or her in the gutter and lie on top, thus shielding the baby. Fortunately such a contingency never occurred! The only time I was really frightened was when the V2s started, because there was no warning and no sound until they landed and exploded, causing a great loss of life. When that started I was preparing to evacuate to the country with the first baby. Mercifully, the allies invaded and destroyed the launching pads.
And so the days and years passed, the war taking what would have been our carefree twenties. We lost a much-loved brother in law in Tripoli, killed in his prime.
The Japanese raid on Pearl Harbour brought America into the war. Our captured troops were subjected to a treatment so savage and cruel by the Japanese, it was unbelievable. We’d had Germany inflicting evil and horror on millions for years. It always amazed me that the two nations of Germany and Japan with perhaps the greatest artistic cultures in the world could indulge in such bestiality. The dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the USA and UK made my heart feel like a stone. I was walking alone and heard the news coming from one of the radio shops and I remember saying out loud “God, what have we done? What have we released?” Certainly it stopped the war with Japan, but a new dread came into the whole world for posterity.
Youngsters have said to me “didn’t you feel frightened?” The answer is yes for about the first two weeks, but you can’t live in constant fear indefinitely and we developed a kind of fatalism, got up and went about our lives. There was such a great feeling of community with everyone lending a hand, particularly when people were bombed out. Physically we were trimmer and healthier as a result of the limited ration, but God preserve us from another World War in spite of the fact that man-kind does not seem able to work things out without killing one another.
I am now eighty seven years and disabled and I never expected to live so long. There are many times that I feel great sadness when I survey the world our brave boys fought for.
Appendix with acknowledgements to Lichfield Libraries Archive Department.
Food rationing per week per person:
1s.10d meat (the equivalent of 7.5 p)
3 pints of milk
1lb of jam every month
1 egg or packet of dried egg every two months
4oz bacon or ham
Contributed originally by BBC Scotland (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Nadine from the People’s War Team on behalf of Doreen Mackie and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
1939, I was part of a team involved in keeping track of the number of enemy ships, aircraft and any other warlike vessels to be seen around Norway and as far south as the French coasts.
I was based at the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit in Wembley, Middlesex and was one of the C shift — three shorthand typists, employed in the task of taking shorthand dictations from archeologists, explorers and geophysicists, who had been called up into the RAF for the purpose of examining photographs, in order to assess the enemies strength and perhaps their purpose of intent. One of the interpreters had during the 1930’s reached the then highest point on Mount Everest and another was the late Glyn E Daniel, the archaeologist, later Emeritus Professor at Cambridge, and famous broadcaster in the erudite television quiz programme “Animal, Vegetable or Mineral”.
Often we would work all night; sometimes we would come in for our shift duties, only to find that due to bad weather the aeroplanes had been unable to take off, or the deterioration in the weather had precluded any photographs being taken. Then we would be able to get some sleep. I remember a very small, stuff room with no window and a mattress on the floor — called a biscuit — where we were able to relax for a few hours.
The photographs were interpreted in a special metal protected room and the Intelligence Officers would sit before a Swiss-made Wild photo-geometric machine, which would make prints to distort the images — to compensate for the errors in alignment of the aeroplane with the ground — and study the different types of craft and enemy activity. They would dictate the results of their observations to the secretaries who would be expected to transcribe in quick time for the reports to be sent out by special delivery to the Coastal Command, Bomber Command, the Admiralty etc...
Typing the correct spelling of the locations dictated to us took considerable concentration, as errors were severely frowned upon. We typed on waxed sheets (mistakes amended by most noticeable red ink) and then rolled off on a Gestetner Duplicating Machine which hungrily used up many tubes of a black inky substance.
ST. NAZAIRE - General Shipping
There has been no significant change in the Port since 15.12.40
One M/V 400-500ft and a tanker 300-400ft have departed from the BASSIN DE PENHOUET, 1 motor patrol craft and a few small craft have left the BASSIN DE ST. NAZAIRE. There has been no evidence in these photographs that ST. NAZAIRE is being used as a submarine base.
When the bombing increased in Wembley we moved to Danesfield Court, Medmenham, Buckinghamshire, near Marlow to a stately home built in the style of The White House in Washington. It certainly was very grand, surrounded by beautiful terraced gardens. We secretaries boarded out in nearby cottages and enjoyed the respite from the bombing. After a while, all civilians working in the RAF were expected to join the service. Some of us did go into uniform while others went their own several ways into different war work. I myself was directed by interest to Cheadle, Staffordshire, where I was secretary to a coal-mining office. Here obsolete machinery around the disused mine was being dismantled to provide iron for the war effort. Before the cage was removed, I persuaded the Colliery Manager to take me down to the coal face, 375ft underground where I hacked loose a piece of shiny black coal — which I still have!
Contributed originally by epsomandewelllhc (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was 9 years of age when the war started. I was in church with the Brownies on 3 September. We had only just settled down when the Vicar said that he had been told to send us all home. It was just after 11 o'clock when Chamberlain had made his announcement that we were at war. At the same time there was a false alarm and all the air raid sirens went. We filed out of church and I noticed many people kneeling at prayer.
As soon as we got outside we were told to run as fast as we could to get indoors. It took us about 20 minutes to get to where we lived, and every time we stopped some passers-by would tell us to run. I got home and sank down in the kitchen, quite exhausted.
My mother had gone upstairs where my grandfather was in bed and had said to him: "I don't know what to do. War has been declared, there's an air raid on, and Pam's out". He said: "Don't worry. She's in church, so she'll be all right", little thinking that we would have been turned out.
For some weeks we were unable to go to school. Apparently workmen had started to dig underground shelters on the school playing field, but had struck water, so they had to build brick shelters above the ground.
After some weeks those of us who would be taking the 11-plus the following year were allowed to go to school for one half-day a week.
The school was used as an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) post where men and women were on duty all day, waiting for the siren to sound and being on the alert for any bombs that might fall. There was a complete blackout. We had to have heavy blackout curtains at our windows as well as our ordinary curtains, street lights and car lights and traffic lights were dimmed, and air raid wardens would go round the houses and if they saw so much as a chink of light through a curtain they would knock on the door and tell us to draw the curtain properly.
Every man, woman and child was issued with a gas mask because it was expected that the Germans would use gas against us. The masks were rubber, tightly fitting round the face, with some sort of substance in the lower part which would enable us to breathe. For small babies there was a large mask which covered their whole bodies.
For the first few months of the war life went on much the same. There was a large barracks where we lived and suddenly there many more man - and women as well, which was something new - being trained for the Army. Anyone who had a room to spare was asked to have a soldier or AT (Auxiliary Territorial which was the women's service) billeted on them. Many of my friends' families did this, but we didn't at first because there were already five of us living in our house.
Rationing didn't begin to bite until the beginning of 1940. Every man, woman and child had a ration book which was marked out for every week of the year and items like meat and dairy products and sugar were strictly rationed. The amounts per person were:
1/2d (about 6d) of meat.
2 oz bacon
4 oz cooking fat
4 oz margarine
2 oz butter
8 oz sugar
2 oz cheese
1 egg (if available)
3 pts of milk
Some other items like jam, tinned fruit, dried fruit, jellies, soap, sweets, were on points. You had a certain number of points and you could use them on any of these items until you had used them up.
Coal, which most people used to heat their houses, was also strictly rationed and I remember my mother having a furious row with the coalman because he said he hadn't any coal for her and my grandfather was seriously ill and there was no way of heating his bedroom.
One day I had taken a large ball like a football to school with me. As I was coming out of school with my friends one of the man on duty at the ARP post signalled me to throw it to him. Soon we were having a game with the ball, but after some minutes we realised that someone was shouting at us and saw that our Headmistress was standing on the other side of the fence. She told us to go home at once and we did. the next day in assembly she told the whole school that she had seen "a sight that I hope I never see again - some girls playing netball with those men out there". I as the owner of the ball had to own up and was told to keep it at home in future. To this day I can't understand what the fuss was about. It wasn't as if we were teenagers who might have been flirting with the men - it was all quite innocent, but that's teachers for you.
As 1940 wore on we realised that things were getting very serious. Norway and Denmark were invaded, then Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg, and the final disaster of the fall of France.
In August the Blitz began. My father was on holiday from work, but there was no question of going away. We were discouraged from travelling, and anyway most of the South Coast was covered in barbed wire. We had gone out for the day and were just getting off the bus when the air raid siren sounded. I said "But we haven't got our gasmasks". Although we were supposed to take them everywhere with us, most of us had got blase about carrying them and left them at home. We got home without any further alarms, but I felt very frightened, expecting a bomb to fall at any moment.
From then on there were constant air raids. School was often interrupted by the sound of the siren and we would have to go immediately to the shelter. We were told to get together a tin of essential food and a first aid tin in case we had to stay for hours at a time in the shelter. Of course, we ate the food, usually within a few minutes of going into the shelter. Lessons would continue in the shelters. Sometimes we weren't able to go to school at all - once a land mine had dropped near the school. My father was in the Special Constables, so was often on duty in London all night, and we didn't know until he arrived home if he was safe.
Many families had what was called an Anderson Shelter, named after the Home Secretary of the time. This was made of corrugated iron and was put in the back garden. It had to be sunk some way into the earth, and was fitted with bunk beds. We didn't have one because my grandparents were too infirm to climb into a shelter, but when the bombing got serious we moved out beds downstairs. My grandfather had died by that time, so my grandmother and I slept together in the front room while my parents slept in the back room with a large mahogany table pulled over them. We now had a soldier billetted on us and he slept upstairs.
In November 1940 five bombs were dropped in our road. My father was out. I had been in bed, but couldn't sleep because of the noise, so had gone into the dining room with my mother and grandmother. There was a heavy thump, and crash of glass, the light went off and then came on again, and then all went quiet. My mother went outside and said that there was a fire down the road and I said "Was it just in incendiary bomb making all that noise?" Then someone came knocking at the door. It was an air raid warden who said that a mine had been dropped and might go off at any minute, so we would have to leave the house. My mother said: "But we've nowhere to go" and he said that we could go to a Rest Centre, a place, usually a local Hall where people who had been bombed out could go. She said:"But how can we get there? My mother can't walk" and he said they could send a car for us. Then she said: "But my husband is on his way home from work. He won't know where we are" but he said that they could leave a message for him at the ARP post.
Soon a car came along and we got in. We were taken to a local church hall where we were shown into a room with one camp bed and several chairs. Soon some neighbours of ours arrived. while we were settling down my mother was trying to telephone some of the places where my father might be, but the lines were affected by the bombs and she couldn't get through. She said that I had better get to sleep, so I settled down on the camp bed. Some time later I woke up and asked where my mother was. My grandmother said: "she's just gone outside for a little while". Almost immediately my mother appeared with one of the neighbours. She told me that my father was dead. He had been making his way down our road when the bombs dropped. He had been blown down an alleyway between two houses just ten doors from our home, and had been killed instantly.
Some time between his body being found and his arrival at the hospital someone went through his pockets and took all his money, including his pay packet which he had just drawn. My mother would say afterwards that this hurt her more than anything else.
The next day we went to stay with my father's sister at Southall and stayed there for a week until the land mine had been removed and made safe.
From then on our lives were drastically altered. My mother's pension was quite inadequate to cover our needs, so she had to go to work full time. My grandmother died a year after this, so I spent many lonely hours at home on my own. I would stay at school until the last possible moment to put off going home to an empty house and I dreaded the school holidays and Saturdays
Contributed originally by MARJORIE PEARSON TOOMER (BBC WW2 People's War)
Mechanical teats or udder bliss!
Expectations of a pending war loomed on the horizon one year prior to the actual outbreak on Sept. 3rd 1939. In 1938, being 18 years old, I knew that my “call-up” was inevitable and having been born into and living the first 8 years of my life within the atmosphere of a Cavalry regiment background, it was automatically assumed by my parents and myself that a female section of the army would be my choice.
However, the months went by and in June 1939 it was again expectations of war and I became aware that the Women’s Land Army were recruiting and that one recruiting venue was in a private house not far from where I was living with my parents in Ealing, West London - so along I went and duly enrolled. What a change of ideas on my part - especially as I’d been scared of cows until an incident cured me of that fear. Although my father had finished his army career by then, we were living in a country location near an army garrison and in order to catch my ‘bus’ to take me to Grammar School 7 miles away - a walk of a mile from my home along a route also taken by cows making their way between milking shed and the grazing fields. We didn’t coincide until one morning - when they must have been either early or late and oh what horror, what was I to do? The answer was simple as in those days one wouldn’t consider missing one’s bus and being late for school. There was no choice even though no cowman in sight to provide confidence, so a question of braving it, holding my case of school books and lunch box close to my side as a shield, trembling somewhat and walking in amongst the cows, being bumped into by one and another of them until at last I emerged ahead of them - where upon a huge sigh of relief escaped my lips and fear miraculously fell away. Talk about feeling like a conquering hero(ine) and surprised at being quite safe. Maybe an ulterior motive of meeting a boy from my schooldays who I rather fancied and a desire to return to country living was the reason for joining the W.L.A. - although I was happy in my office job at Head Office of Gregg Publishing Co./Schools in Russell Square, London and the travelling by tube train Monday — Saturday was no burden. A couple of weeks after the war started I was instructed to go to Oaklands Agricultural College near St. Albans, Hertfordshire for 4 weeks training where I met up with several other W.L.A. trainees and kitted out with our uniforms - Breeches, short sleeved Aertex blouses, knee length woollen socks, Wellington boots, sturdy lace up shoes, long sleeved pullover, dungarees and jacket, thick riding style short overcoat, gabardine ‘mac’ and felt hat plus tie and badge. Underwear was our own. The first evening was in classroom where the Principal explained the various courses: Dairy - which included hand milking and various jobs in the cowshed, plus young bullocks and also the piggery: Poultry: Horticulture. We were given a choice and yours truly the only one to opt for Dairy etc. so the Principal asked for a volunteer to keep me company and only one girl offered. Next morning it was up early to start in the cowshed at 6.00 a.m. and learn to milk - not with a real cow but a contraption consisting of a make believe udder filled with water and fitted with valve controlled teats - this set up was slung from a cross beam between wooden uprights. What excruciating agony in fingers, wrists and forearms in trying to “milk” the water into the pale clasped between one’s knees whilst sitting on a three legged stool. This agony lasted for 3 or 4 days and oh what a relief when the pain subsided as one became proficient at milking and then transferred to a real cow. Utter bliss by comparison with the wooden cow, although that didn’t have a tail to swish and catch one’s face a stinging blow - however, all part of the job along with swilling clean the cowshed floor afterwards. Then off to feed the pigs and clean out their pens and take about 6 for a walk! Yes that’s right, preparing them for a show ring apparently - I cannot remember whether young boars or gilts. A couple of land girls and a pigman, each with a light stick, just used to guide them along the track. Another job was to go, armed with a halter, into a field of young bullocks, catch one and proceed to take it for a walk also - “in a string as though with racehorses”. This was for the benefit of a documentary film being made at the time. Mine would insist upon trying to push me into the hedge and one had to be tough to prevent that happening but I had my foot trodden upon which resulted in me repeatedly losing, regrowing and losing a toenail for many years afterwards. Never mind, all part of the course! In spite of it all - such a difference to London office life and I took it all like a duck to water and was rather surprised at the end of the 4 weeks to hear the lady supervisor tell me that when she first saw me, didn’t think I’d stay the course - must have appeared pale and willowy I suppose. Rather on a par with my Father who had said “I’ll give you three months and that will be it”. Apparently he’d worked on a farm for a while before joining the Army - but that was way back about 1900 when conditions would have been much harsher. To round off the 4 weeks I was thrilled to be asked to stay on an extra week-end in order to help in the show ring. How important I felt, leading a heifer or two in front of prospective buyers. Then it was down to earth with a bump from near perfect conditions to the reality of the usual farm conditions of those days when I was sent to one near Potters Bar in Middlesex and had ‘digs’ with a family on a new housing estate nearby. After paying the stipulated ‘digs’ money and insurance stamp - you were left with the princely sum of 6 shillings per week. Two incidents stand out from this posting - having ‘a go’ on the bottle washing machinery — thinking that it would be much better than milking. Once was enough for me - this shed was open to the elements on one side, it was November, the bottles and the water so cold as one removed them from the moving belt into crates. Soon became stone cold from head to toes - ugh! The other incident was when detailed to stand almost at one end of a longish passageway between two rows of cattle pens in a large shed — wave my arms about and deflect a young bull into one of the pens whilst a cowman was driving it from the other end. Hair raising to say the least. Once again, as in the experience with the herd of cows in my school days I ended up unscathed and not trodden down. I was happy enough in my work here but did want to get into the area of my latter schooldays in Hampshire and found an advertisement for a W.L.A. girl - milking and general farm work in a village close to that location and moved in late January 1940.
Hides, shrapnel and romance!
Everything about this new job was a great improvement even though hard work and I did soon meet up with the boy afore mentioned! a bonus indeed and by now a young man of 20 and still working his apprenticeship and not yet called up. So romantic - I remember it well - being busy washing the pails etc. in the dairy and being brought a letter which turned out to be a Valentine card and having been in the same form for 4 to 5 years, I recognised the handwriting. How did the sender know I was there? via another boy from our form whom I’d bumped into inside the Post Office a week or so earlier when I’d cycled into Andover on my free Saturday afternoon and who had obviously relayed the fact to our mutual schoolfriend.
The next year passed happily with varied farm work - milking being the main one and various unforgettable incidents - two of which could have been very serious but thankfully fate ordained otherwise. A bomb, one of several meant for a nearby airfield fell exactly where my boyfriend and myself had been sat on our bicycles at the driveway entrance gates to the farm chatting away after an evening at the cinema. The village air raid warden had come along and asked my boyfriend to help him remove an airman who was blind drunk and lying in the middle of the road some quarter mile away. We said Goodnight and went our separate ways - boyfriend to help with the airman and on then back to Andover and myself to the farm and bed. Before I had undressed there was such a lot of noise, the room shook and crump, crump --------bombs. My first experience and I didn’t know whether to dive under the bed or what. The noise died away and I ran downstairs again to join the farmer, his wife and the cowman. The cows were in a field close by so the men went out to investigate. Two or three were killed outright, another one or two had to be humanely shot and the remainder were brought into the cowshed. Next morning before milking we were picking bits of shrapnel out of their hides. The other incident was when I thought it would be a good idea to clean the gulley between the two sloping roofs of the cowshed, so put up a ladder and as I was about to step into the gulley, the ladder slid away and me with it. Landing on the concrete yard I didn’t stop to see if I was hurt - disentangled the foot still on a rung, jumped up and ran straight through the cowshed - obviously reaction to shock. Thankfully no-one was around to witness my ignominy and I pulled myself together but abandoned the original idea and found another job to get on with. Goodness knows how I didn’t break a leg or worse. On another occasion the wind changed direction and blew flames from a bonfire in my direction, resulting in singed eyebrows and hairline.
During these 12 months I’d met and become friendly with the land girl on farm just a couple of hundred yards along the road. She hailed from the Isle of Wight, but became homesick and returned there and I took her place as I’d become friendly with that farmer and his wife - their son and daughter were attending the school I’d been at and I lived in the farmhouse en famille. The farm that I’d come from belonged to someone termed “gentleman farmer” who lived in the large country manor with farm and parkland. My first ‘digs’ there was in the farm bailiff’s house, occupied by a bachelor and his sister-in-law with her young son, she acting as housekeeper and whose husband was in submarine based on Malta - after a couple of months she was able to join him out there and then an older housekeeper was employed who didn’t stay long so I was moved into the ‘big house’ having a large pleasant bedroom in the attics and meals with the cook/housemaid.
High fashion in the rain and fire watching duties
I spent another 12 months on this second farm in the village but unfortunately developed milkers neuritis and had to give up milking so was sent to a market garden at Staines, Middlesex. However, life continued to have it’s incidents whilst still on the farm - one dark winter’s morning, milking alone in the cowshed, with a hurricane lamp in the feed bin when the door opened and all I could see were three tiny points of light - I was petrified as there was always the fear of enemy parachutists - but then a disembodied voice announced that “George couldn’t be milking as he were bad”. It was the boy’s father the carter from another nearby farm and the points of light were from his hurricane lamp hidden inside his overcoat and the light coming through the button holes!
The market garden was nowhere near as interesting as farm work and the animals but one can usually find compensations. I could be with my parents every week-end as it was not all that far from Ealing-and travelled using tube to Hounslow and bus from there to Staines. There were about 10 W.L.A. girls here in addition to ‘civilian’ men and women who lived close by. Our first day was spent mending wooden boxes - used for packing vegetables - armed with hammers and nails. I don’t remember anybody missing a nail and hammering themselves. We were billeted in various houses close by - in pairs as I remember. Work was varied according to the seasons. Potato planting and harvesting, frozen brussel sprout picking, trying to get swedes out of the ground and resorting to kicking them out, indoor and outdoor tomatoes, indoor and outdoor flowers, washing carrots in a special contraption. On particularly wet days, it was the fashion to tie sacks around our shoulders, waists and legs on top of all our other clothing in a vain endeavour to keep dry. Then there was fire watching duty on a rota basis in pairs - using the shed cum office which contained two large old sagging armchairs and a tortoise stove with a limited supply of fuel for it - plus fuel for ourselves in the shape of thick slices of cheese and thick slices of bread which we toasted on the stove - delicious to ever hungry land girls and washed down with cocoa. We dozed in the armchairs in cosy comfort until the stove burned low and then to ashes and we’d wake feeling decidedly chilly. The owner told us to look to ourselves first if incendiaries were dropped as, with all those glasshouses around, it would be lethal to attempt any heroics with water buckets and stirrup pump. Luckily nothing nasty happened but we were glad to be in pairs on this duty. One memorable occasion during my twelve months here was when our area social overseer had received a consignment of clothing from America - known as ‘Bundles for Britain’ and invited us to her home in Laleham, Middlesex for a social evening and to distribute the clothing. We were able to choose a garment in order of length of service. I had my eye on a warm full length coat lining - probably sheepskin - but was pipped at the post by a girl who had enrolled about a week before me and she too had her eye on that garment. However, I came next and chose the next item of warmth - a two-piece ski suit made from a thick blanket type material which was just my size. Another year had passed and my father’s prognosis of 3 months had turned into 3¼ years! Reason for leaving? Marriage - to the “boy” from my schooldays.
I’m still in contact with the “girl” I met at the market garden — and shared those “sagging armchairs and tortoise stove” on fire watching duties.