Bombs dropped in the ward of: Ealing Broadway
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Ealing Broadway:
- High Explosive Bomb
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 Ealing Broadway
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by Herts Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
This is Mr D Barkshire's story; it has been added by Herts Libraries, with permission from the author, who understands the terms and conditions of adding his story to the website.
Part One — In Prison as a Conscientious Objector
Having been a member of the Peace Pledge Union since its inception, when the war started in 1939 I registered as a conscientious objector. I was 27 years of age at the time and into my confident, rationalist period. In due course I received an appointment to attend before a tribunal to have my conscientious objection tested. These tribunals were always of a standard type with a legally qualified Chairman, either a barrister or a retired judge; a member of the working classes, generally a trade unionist; and a member of the employers’ organisation, the CBI. My tribunal application was refused.
Then, after I had refused to attend medical examinations, a very pleasant police constable appeared on my parents’ doorstep with a summons for me. “You are a very silly chap,” he said. “You might very well fail the medical examination.” I said to him, “That really isn’t the point”.
In Wealdstone Magistrates Court the clerk read out the charge — ‘that you were ordered to attend for a medical examination for army purposes… How do you plead? Guilty or not guilty?’ Full of my own confidence I said “I admit the facts mentioned in the charge sheet but I feel no sense of guilt”. “Take him down for twelve months” said the magistrate, so I was taken to the cells beneath the court and in due course a police vehicle, popularly known as a Black Maria. Eventually we arrived at Wormwood Scrubs prison — actually quite a nice location because if you stood on a chair in your prison cell, as I did, you could look over the open meadowland of Wormwood Scrubs.
Now the first thing that happens as a prisoner is you are taken to see either the Governor or Deputy Governor who reads you the rules which you must obey and these include the fact that you will be prohibited from holding arms for five years after the end of your sentence. I didn’t feel this a terrible loss, I must say. After that I saw the Chaplain — always, of course, the Church of England Chaplain — in this case a very pleasant chap called Tudor Rees. He said to me ”you know many men have spent useful times in prison. John Bunyan wrote wonderfully well in Bedford Prison”. I suggested that Voltaire was the better for having the freedom of Europe in which to write. Well, we shook hands and I was taken then to the showers.
You may have had a good bath that very morning but you are still pushed into the shower. You are thrown some grey flannel underwear and clothes. A pair of grey flannel trousers and a grey flannel coat. You are not measured for it to any extent so when taken to your cell you may be quite a comic sight actually, with trousers halfway up your leg or like concertinas around the ankles. But you do have a chance during your stay in prison to improve this garb because in the wash house during the week prisoners quite frequently change their clothing with the chap in the adjoining shower to find a better fit. Some look comparatively smart, with clothes that fit their frame.
For the first six months I was in Solitary confinement. The only time I was out of the cell was when I was released in the morning to clear the po and to wash. The cell was small with a hard bed and a flock sort of mattress and a couple of blankets, a table and a chair. There was a bell in the cell to ring if you were in dire trouble. In theory a warder should call and unlock you and deal with the problem. In practice, I heard from other prisoners, this did not always work out.
On the first day some porridge was passed in to me and I could only eat perhaps a quarter of it and the rest was taken away. But by the end of the week I was eating everything that was given to me. I remember that, perhaps about 6 O’clock in the evening you were given a small cob loaf and there would be no more food for the day. Even though hungry, I always put that cob up on the shelf by the window for a little time before I started eating it, so that I wasn’t absolutely starving in the morning.
Anyway, a special workshop was set up for conscientious objectors. Their sole enterprise was the production of mailbags. Newcomers were given a big ball of black wax and a whole skein of thread. They had to run the thread through the wax to coat it. This was done for a week or two, perhaps a month, then you moved on to the sewing, stitching pieces of hessian to make the mailbags. The next pressing job was collecting up the finished bags. Finally, if you were lucky, you were given the job of handing round the cut pieces of hessian and the wax to men who did not come to the workshop but stayed working in their cells.
After six months you came ‘off stage’ and this meant that not only could you take your meals in communion in the main hall but you were allowed out for some hours in the evening where there were games available, chess and drafts and what-have-you. I was not very fond of board games but I remember how nice it was to lose a game to another prisoner because it made him happy. That suited me very well.
Either every week or month, I can’t remember now, you were allowed either a visitor or a letter but not both. I generally chose a visitor because, although I had not then joined the Quakers — the Society of Friends, I had very strong contacts with Maurice Rowntree. Before going into prison I used to visit his house every Friday. I was visited frequently by Maurice and by John Lord, another Quaker, who was a member of the Golders Green Meeting.
One good thing about prison is that there was time to think, time to read. I had taken in to prison with me, J W Dunn’s ‘Experiment with Time’ and I remember Maurice Rowntree asking me, when I came out of prison at Christmas 1942, whether I had made any progress on it. Well I had, but right then the big thing as far as I was concerned was that I was out of prison. Now it was time to do something more useful.
Part Two — The Volunteer Relief Service Unit
After my stint in prison for being a conscientious objector I went back to the Volunteer Unit in Poplar where I had previously been working at weekends. There I found that quite a few of the members were working as nursing orderlies for terminally injured ex-servicemen of the First World War at a residential nursing home in Ealing. This establishment was run by one of the nursing orders of the Roman Catholic Church, the Sisters of St Vincent. I worked there from the beginning of 1943 until after the end of the war.
There were times when one felt extremely low and extremely sad. I remember going in, the first day I was there, to feed a badly injured man. Feeding him was very difficult. I almost dropped the plate of food. After, I went straight into the kitchen and sat down, right out. But I was soon back doing everything.
Another memory I have of that is the time when I had the job of laying out, after he had died, one of the patients there who had an awfully badly damaged back. I can’t describe it. And for about seven days after it was as if I didn’t see any sunshine at all, it was so awful. But apart from that I enjoyed the work there and the company was definitely good.
As part of the relief service unit at Poplar, I took round buns and tea to the people in underground shelters and also tried to find accommodation for those who were bombed out of their homes. We all of us knew what accommodation was available, where church halls were, where the vacant property was. Our unit was based in Plimfole Street, Poplar, in the first floor and basement of a bombed out Baptist Chapel. I remember that one of the members of our team was a very good pianist and he liked Chopin sonatas particularly. By great luck there was a grand piano on the stage in the basement of that old Baptist church and there he would sit down after he had been on his rounds and be perfectly happy.
The First World War was a war fought on the same lines, really, that had been in use over centuries. And those men who were not willing to fight because they were conscientious objectors were regarded as criminals. Indeed, many of them were sent abroad under armed guard and on one occasion a number of them were lined up, blindfolded and stood ready expecting to be shot, though they were not, in fact, killed. (The record of that I read in a book dealing with conscientious objectors of the First World War.) During the First World War a procedure of “cat and mouse” was regularly employed: a man who did not attend for a medical was given a year’s sentence. Out he came to receive another appointment for a medical examination and in due course he was back in the same cell within a month or so. England wasted a large proportion of her mankind in the First World War.
In the Second World War a better culture prevailed and those who did not take part in military endeavours were still used in hundreds — Bevin’s boys, those who worked on the land, some in my position who voluntarily took up relief work.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by hyacinth1 (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was exactly one year old when the war broke out on 3rd September 1939, for my birthday is on 2nd September. My parents and I were on holiday in Hastings, but my father insisted that we return immediately to our home in London. We lived in the top floor flat of a house in Ealing, but rumours that the Germans were about to start bombing raids on London persuaded my father to look for what he believed would be safer accommodation, and we soon moved into a rented ground floor flat in the same borough. This was the only home I knew for the next twenty years.
Of course, I cannot recall my father being called up, but by the time I was three or four I was aware that he was in the army, and that when he came home on his very rare periods of leave, I had to forsake my place in the double bed I had been sharing with my mother, and was relegated to a camp bed in the sitting room. I never understood why we could not all three have snuggled up together!
My father was in the REME (Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers) and was based at Aldershot. He was never involved in actual combat, but just after the war ended, he was stationed at Bielefeld in Germany, and I can still remember his shocked reaction to the conditions he found there. When he was eventually demobbed, he came home with some bars of plain chocolate in his pocket, and a dreadful blue serge 'demob' suit which he wore to work every day until the seat and elbows shone like glass. He also brought with him some exercise books in which he had meticulously recorded everything he had been taught about engine parts and tools. I have these books still, and they are an object lesson in draughtsmanship and penmanship. He had shaved off his moustache while in the army, and was most hurt when my mother did not notice until several months later.
As I was an only child, my father's absence meant that mum and I were thrown very closely together. Money was extremely tight, and mum had to take on cleaning jobs in order to make ends meet. She was also trying to look after her aged and infirm parents at the same time, so it is not surprising that she was sometimes a little fraught. At one point, things got so bad that she was forced to use the services of a pawnbroker, but had nothing of value, so resorted to taking the spare sheets and blankets to his shop in return for a few shillings, until she could redeem them on her next pay day. She always told me that we were going to the laundry, but, even at that young age, I was not fooled. I was taken to the houses where she 'did' in an old pushchair, and was always told to, "Sit still and don't touch anything," while she swept and cleaned and polished. To this day, I have a horror of seeing women on their hands and knees, and have always vowed never to ask anyone else to do my housework for me. The only thing I could do to relieve the boredom of these long hours was to take books out of the shelves and try to read them. I date my love of books and reading from that time.
It was while mum and I were coming home from one of these jobs that we had our first encounter with a doodlebug. You could always hear these dreadful things coming from a great distance, and you knew that as soon as the engine cut out, they would drop like a stone and do untold damage to whatever they fell on. Those few seconds between the final splutter of the engine and the crash as the rocket hit the ground always seemed like an eternity, and then there would be a deep sigh of relief that you had again managed to escape, followed by an immediate pang of guilt because you knew that some other poor soul had probably just been killed. In this particular day, my mother was pushing me as usual when the familiar throb was heard in the distance. Although I was so young, I knew very well that this was a noise to be frightened of. A few yards away, there was an iron gate which led into an alleyway, which seemed about the safest place to be, but this gate was very narrow and very twisty, and mum could not get the pushchair through it. In a sudden panic, she picked me up and practically threw me over the gate, leaving the pushchair to roll into the gutter. I was not hurt, but I was very scared, because she was scared, and by the time she managed to ease herself through the gate, we were both in tears. Of course, by this time the doodlebug was miles away, and we never did find out where it dropped. Once it was clear that we were safe, mum summoned up all her dignity, took me by the hand, and sauntered nonchalantly over to where the pushchair lay on its side in the road, as if this was something she did every day.
A doodlebug did actually fall in Ealing, at a later date, only about two hundred years from our flat, and I recall mum flinging herself on top of me as the thing droned over our roof, spluttered, went silent, then dropped with the most almighty crash. Our windows shook, but the house was undamaged. There was a huge hole for several years afterwards where the rocket had fallen, where cow parsley eventually grew in profusion and the local children played football. Several shops were demolished, and three people were killed.
I do not know why I was not evacuated. Perhaps I was too young, or perhaps mum simply couldn't bear to let me go. Money was scarce and rationing was rigidly applied, but I do not remember ever being hungry or cold. The points system seemed to me quite fun, and I used to enjoy counting out the different coloured little slips in the ration books - so many for a tin of condensed milk, so many for two eggs, and so on. We were registered with a butcher, as everyone had to be, who always had a notice in his window saying 'No offal today'. I did not find out what this mysterious substance was until long after the war was over, and was very disappointed. There was great excitement one day in our neighbourhood when it became known that the local greengrocer had just had a consignment of bananas delivered, the first since the outbreak of war. Mum grabbed me and we joined the queue which had already formed outside the shop. Eventually, we were allocated our ration of two bananas, and when we got home mum gave me one, watching me with an expectant smile as I bit into it. I hated it, but even then was perceptive enough to realise that she was very proud of the treat she had managed to obtain for me, so I forced it down and told her it was lovely. I have disliked bananas with a passion ever since.
We had a Morrison shelter in our living room, which was nothing but a sheet of galvanised iron placed over the dining table, and what looked like thick chicken wire hanging from it. It was like a little private prison, and we were supposed to crawl into it and sleep there every time the air raid siren sounded, but it was often too much trouble, and we just relied on good fortune to get us safely through the night. We had also been issued with gas masks, but the smell of the rubber made me feel sick, and I refused to try it on.
I think it was in late 1944 that mum was rushed into West Middlesex Hospital with acute appendicitis and underwent an emergency operation, and I had to stay with our neighbours a few doors away. While mum was in hospital, a bomb dropped nearby, and she told of the casualties who were brought into her ward, many of them with serious wounds or burns. Because of the sudden need for beds, she was discharged earlier than she should have been, and was quite weak for some time afterwards. A few months later, I was admitted to what was then the King Edward Memorial Hospital (it is now a multi-practice medical centre) for a hernia operation, and was in for ten days. I fretted all the time, worrying that my home or my mother would be blown up. The doctors told mum that I would have to return in six months' time as they had discovered I had another hernia on the other side. Sixty years later, I am still waiting for that second operation.
I started school before the war ended, and well remember how frequently our lessons were interrupted by the air raid siren and the need to decamp to the concrete shelters in the playground. To us young children, this was all rather an exciting game, and we huddled together in the darkness, lit only by a few naked bulbs, while our teachers tried their best to keep us amused with songs and stories.
Naturally, my view of the war was very simplistic, and I understood only that our country was fighting this evil enemy somewhere many miles away. To me, it was merely a question of who could kill more of the other's people, and at the age of about four, I remember asking my mother how many more Germans were left. She said mildly, "Oh, only about six, duck," and I was perfectly satisfied.
I was six when VE Day came. I came home from school to find a single Union Jack stuck outside the house, and when mum told me the war was over, all I could think was that dad would soon be coming home for good. Rationing and shortages continued, of course, for a good few years, but it was worth putting up with the deprivation simply to know that you could go to bed without the fear of being bombed out while you slept.
Then came the unexpected result of the 1945 General Election, and little Mr Attlee was suddenly Prime Minister. I did not understand the implications of the overwhelming Labour victory, but knew that my parents had voted Labour and that they were rejoicing in their own quiet way. My particular war was over, but, in many ways, it was only just beginning for many others. We knew several people who had lost husbands or brothers or sons; my own Uncle Henry had only just made it back from Dunkirk, and was affected by the experience for the rest of his life. My Aunt Jennie's husband had been a navigator during the Battle of Britain, and was never able to settle down to a normal civilian life. These men were casualties of the war as surely as if they had been shot or wounded, but the consequences of this most appalling conflict were hidden from a child of six, whose only lasting scar was an aversion to bananas.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
Contributed originally by David West (BBC WW2 People's War)
Chapter 1 - Call-up to Northampton
On the 5th of January 1943 I was notified that I was to report for duty in the ATS. I was not surprised, as I had signed on at Southend some time before.
On the 15th of January, my brother Victors friend, Peter Savill and my mother travelled with me to Euston station to see me on the train to Northampton, where I had to report to No1 ATS training centre. We were met at Northampton by army lorries, which took us to the centre. I do not remember too much of Northampton.
It was a very cold January that year with snow on the ground for most of my three weeks training. I had chilblains on my feet and trying to break in new army shoes was very painful as there were parades, PE and marching everyday. My first breakfast was kippers, not quite what I was used to at home but when you are hungry you eat. I did go into Northampton once to look around and marched one Sunday to Church Parade but cannot remember the name of the large Church we were in. Training was mainly learning the dos and don’ts and regulations of army life and being assessed as to where I would be posted.
Chapter 2 — Posted to Greenford
I was posted in February to the RAOC (Royal Army Ordinance Corp) camp and depot at Greenford Middlesex. The camp was a short distance from the depot and we had to march to work each day. The camp itself was quite nice, we were in Nissan huts, I suppose about twenty girls to a hut. They were cold in the winter months, there being a coke stove in the middle of the hut. The depot was originally a factory owned by Heinz 57 Varieties, before the Government took it over. There were army and civilian personnel working there, the buildings were all numbered, some were offices and some warehouses. I worked in 409, which was an office. Major Bush and RSM Dumbleton were over the army personnel and Mr Melhuish supervised the civilians. We were all a friendly crowd and worked well together. Our main job was to issue stores to various places in Europe, India, Burma and Africa and to make sure that everything was available in the warehouses; it was interesting work.
Two civilians I remember were Mr Doughty and Jimmy Peach. Mr Doughty lived at Greenford with his son and daughter-in-law, he always seemed to have a supply of peppermints. I was invited to tea at his home one Sunday with a friend and we were made very welcome. After the war he visited my home at Lodge Lane and later after I was married came to visit me at my new home at Chadwell St Mary.
We had all our meals at the cookhouse in the depot; on the whole they were not at all bad. Sometimes when we were on night work and there were air raids. The air raid shelters were concrete, above ground and not very comfortable. Being near to Northolt aerodrome we were a target for the Germans. They did bomb the airfield and on one occasion dropped a land mine on one of our warehouses. It was quite frightening; there were casualties, but not anyone that I knew.
My old school friend Phyllis lived at Hanwell, not far from Greenford and my friend Ivy and I were invited to visit her home for a meal. It was lovely to see her and her parents but travelling was dangerous then, as you never knew when there would be an air raid. On one occasion we went to a dance at Ealing and there was an air raid, the military police took us back to camp.
I remember once, we had been on night work; we went back to camp to sleep and later that afternoon my friend Ivy took me to visit her home at Holloway London. Her mum made me very welcome and gave us a nice meal. We had to go back to camp early in the evening because we were working again that night.
I took Ivy home with me to meet my parents on a weekend pass. She also met my brother Vic who was home on leave; after that first meeting she came to see Vic and they later married and she became my sister-in-law.
In July 1943 I heard that my boyfriend Charlie would be speaking on BBC radio from Calcutta. Although I was working in the depot, I was given permission to walk back to camp and listen on the radio there, it was lovely to here him.
I was put forward for promotion and went before a selection committee of officers but declined the offer of a stripe. I could not imagine myself giving orders and I didn’t want the extra duties an NCO had to perform or to be moved from my friends. When we were unable to get home at weekends we would go into Harrow and on one occasion saw the film star, “Richard Green” live in, “Arms and a Man”. On another occasion, when we were coming home, Joan Creagh, Ivy and I accepted a lift to Park Royal station from some Americans in a jeep, it was a case of “hang on to your hat”, but it was a laugh and kind of them. Sometimes on the journey home there would be a raid and the train would stop at the nearest station. I remember this happening at Mansion House station and having to get out and wait; you never knew how long a journey would take. On another occasion the three of us came home on a weekend pass and decided to travel back to camp early on Monday morning instead of Sunday evening. Joan, who lived in William Street Grays, spent the Sunday night with us, so that we could get the first bus to Upminster. This we missed by a few seconds and had to run all the way to Grays station from Lodge Lane. The porter at Grays station practically threw us in the compartment and we were still out of breath when we got to Barking but we did get back to camp on time.
On January 20th 1945 Ivy and Victor were married and I had seven days leave. I missed her after she was demobbed.
Chapter 3 — move to Donnington
I had another leave in April 1945 and was then posted to Donnington Shropshire Section 92 E Company ATS Camp. Audrey Hale, who was also at Greenford, came too, along with other girls from the depot. The camp at Donnington was mainly a men’s camp and we were crowded into Nissan Huts with very little room but later we were transferred to a new housing estate. This was luxury, there were orderlies to keep the houses clean and we only had to worry about our own personal things. I worked in an office on an industrial site the army had taken over and once again there were civilians too and I made many friends. We were about eight girls to a house and we were all good friends, Irene, Audrey, Dorothy, May, Doris, Joyce, Rene and myself. Whilst posted here at Donnington I attended a Housewifery course, I enjoyed this very much; we were shown how to do everything in the home from window cleaning, polishing, washing-up, cooking; everything you would have to do in your home. We finished the course by cooking a meal. I passed and did get a certificate but cannot find it now. I did get to meet Billy Wright, who played football for Wolverhampton Wanderers; his desk was in front of mine; he later married Joy out of the Beverly Sisters. I could only get home on a long leave as my army pay was 26/- (£1.30) and it would have taken all that for my fare. So on weekends Audrey and I went to Wellington, Shrewsbury or Derby and stayed in YWCA. Audrey had two maiden aunts who lived in Birmingham and we had a weekend with them, which was very nice, on the Sunday we went to Church in the Bull Ring.
In December 1945 when Charlie came home from Burma, I borrowed Dorothy Stapleton’s engagement ring and pretended I was engaged, in order to get twenty-eight days compassionate leave.
Audrey met her husband Sam at Donnington. They were married in August 1946 and I was one of her bridesmaids.
I enjoyed my ATS days and in 2005, still write to some of my friends.
I was demobbed in July 1946 and married Charlie on the 26th October 1946.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
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.
Copyright BBC WW2 People's War
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