Bombs dropped in the borough of: Hammersmith and Fulham
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Hammersmith and Fulham:
- 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:
Memories in Hammersmith and Fulham
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by vcfairfield (BBC WW2 People's War)
Over the Seas Two-Five-Four!
We’re marching right off,
We’re marching right off to War!
No-body knows where or when
But we’re marching right off
We’re marching right off - again!
It may be BER-LIN
To fight Hitler’s KIN
Two-fifty-four will win through
We may be gone for days and days — and then!
We’ll be marching right off for home
Marching right off for ho-me
Marching right off for home — again!
Merry-merry-merry are we
For we are the boys of the AR-TIL-LER-Y!
Sing high — sing low where ever we go
TWO-FIVE-FOUR Battery never say NO
The 64th Field Regiment Royal Artillery, Territorial Army has roots going back to the 1860’s. It first saw action in France during the Great War 1914 to 1918 when it took part in the well known battles of Loos, Vimy Ridge, River Somme, Ypres, Passchendale, Cambrai and Lille.
Its casualties numbered 158 killed.
Again in the Second World War it was called upon to play its part and fought with the 8th Army in Tunisia and then with the 5th and 8th armies in Italy. It was part of the first sea borne invasion fleet to land on the actual continent of Europe thus beginning its liberation from Nazi German domination. Battle honours include Salerno, Volturno, Garigliano, Mt Camino, Anzio, Gemmano, Monefiore, Coriano Ridge, Forli, Faenza, R. Senio Argenta.
Its peacetime recruits came mainly from the Putney, Shepherds Bush and Paddington areas of London up to the beginning of World War II. However on the commencement of hostilities and for the next two years many men left the regiment as reinforcements and for other reasons. As a result roughly one third of the original Territorials went abroad with the regiment, the remainder being time expired regular soldiers and conscripted men.
Casualties amounted to 84 killed and 160 wounded.
In 1937 I was nineteen years old and there was every indication that the dictators ruling Germany in particular and to a lesser degree Italy, were rearming and war seemed a not too distant prospect. Britain, in my opinion had gone too far along the path of disarmament since World War I and with a vast empire to defend was becoming alarmingly weak by comparison, particularly in the air and on land. It was in this atmosphere that my employers gathered together all the young men in their London office, and presumably, elsewhere, and indicated that they believed we really ought to join a branch of the armed forces in view of the war clouds gathering over Europe and the hostile actions of Messrs Hitler and Mussolini. There was a fair amount of enthusiasm in the air at the time and it must not be forgotten that we British in those days were intensely proud of our country. The Empire encompassed the world and it was only nineteen years since we had defeated Imperial Germany.
The fact that we may not do so well in a future war against Germany and Italy did not enter the heads of us teenagers. And we certainly had no idea that the army had not advanced very far since 1918 in some areas of military strategy.
In the circumstances I looked round for a branch of the forces that was local to where I lived and decided to join an artillery battery at Shepherds Bush in West London. The uniform, if you could call the rather misshapen khaki outfit by such a name, with its’ spurs was just that bit less unattractive than the various infantry or engineer units that were available. So in February 1937 I was sworn-in, with my friend Ernie and received the Kings shilling as was the custom. It so happened that soon afterwards conscription was introduced and I would have been called up with the first or second batch of “Belisha Boys”.
I had enlisted with 254 Battery Royal Artillery and I discovered, it was quite good so far as Territorial Army units were concerned, for that summer it came fourth in Gt Britain in the “Kings Prize” competition for artillery at Larkhill, Salisbury. In fact I happened to be on holiday in the Isle of Wight at the time and made special arrangements to travel to Larkhill and join my unit for the final and if my memory serves me correctly the winner was a medium battery from Liverpool.
My job as a “specialist” was very interesting indeed because even though a humble gunner — the equivalent of a private in the infantry — I had to learn all about the theory of gunnery. However after a year or so, indeed after the first years camp I realised that I was not really cut out to be a military type. In fact I am in no doubt that the British in general are not military minded and are somewhat reluctant to dress up in uniform. However I found that many of those who were military minded and lovers of “spit and polish” were marked out for promotion but were not necessarily the best choices for other reasons. There was also I suppose a quite natural tendency to select tall or well built men for initial promotion but my later experience tended to show that courage and leadership find strange homes and sometimes it was a quiet or an inoffensive man who turned out to be the hero.
Well the pressure from Hitler’s Germany intensified. There was a partial mobilisation in 1938 and in the summer of that year we went to camp inland from Seaford, Sussex. There were no firing ranges there so the gunners could only go through the motions of being in action but the rest of us, signallers, drivers, specialists etc. put in plenty of practice and the weather was warm and sunny.
During 1939 our camp was held at Trawsfynydd and the weather was dreadful. It rained on and off over the whole fortnight. Our tents and marquees were blown away and we had to abandon our canvas homes and be reduced to living in doorless open stables. Despite the conditions we did a great deal of training which included an all night exercise. The odd thing that I never understood is that both in Territorial days and when training in England from the beginning of the war until we went abroad there was always a leaning towards rushing into action and taking up three or four positions in a morning’s outing yet when it came to the real thing we had all the time in the world and occupying a gun site was a slow and deliberate job undertaken with as much care as possible. I believe it was the same in the first World War and also at Waterloo so I can only assume that the authorities were intent on keeping us on the go rather than simulating actual wartime conditions. Apart from going out daily on to the firing ranges we had our moments of recreation and I took part in at least one football match against another battery but I cannot remember the result. I always played left back although I really was not heavy enough for that position but I was able to get by as a result of being able to run faster than most of the attacking forwards that I came up against.
The really odd coincidence was that our summer camp in Wales was an exact repetition of what happened in 1914. Another incident that is still quite clear in my memory was that at our Regimental Dinner held, I believe in late July or early August of 1939, Major General Liardet, our guest of honour, stated that we were likely to be at war with Germany within the following month. He was not far out in his timing!
Well the situation steadily worsened and the armed forces were again alerted. This time on the 25th August 1939 to be precise. I was “called up” or “embodied” along with about half a dozen others. I was at work that day at the office when I received a telephone call from my mother with the news that a telegram had been sent to me with orders to report to the Drill Hall at Shepherds Bush at once. This I had expected for some days as already more than half the young men in the office had already departed because they were in various anti-aircraft or searchlight units that had been put on a full war footing. So that morning I cleared my desk, said farewell to the older and more senior members who remained, went home, changed into uniform, picked up my kitbag that was already packed, caught the necessary bus and duly reported as ordered.
I was one of several “key personnel” detailed to man the reception tables in the drill hall, fill in the necessary documents for each individual soldier when the bulk of the battery arrived and be the general clerical dogsbodies, for which we received no thanks whatsoever. The remainder of the battery personnel trickled in during the following seven days up to September 2nd and after being vetted was sent on to billets at Hampstead whilst we remained at the “Bush”.
The other three batteries in the regiment, namely 253, 255 and 256 were mustered in exactly the same manner. For instance 256 Battery went from their drill hall to Edgware in motor coaches and were billeted in private houses. The duty signallers post was in the Police Station and when off duty they slept in the cells! Slit trenches were dug in the local playing fields and four hour passes were issued occasionally. There were two ATS attached to 256 Battery at that time a corporal cook, and her daughter who was the Battery Office typist.
I well remember the day Great Britain formally declared war on Germany, a Sunday, because one of the newspapers bore headlines something like “There will be no war”. Thereafter I always took with a pinch of salt anything I read in other newssheets.
At this time our regiment was armed with elderly 18 pounders and possibly even older (1916 I believe) 4.5 howitzers. My battery had howitzers. They were quite serviceable but totally out of date particularly when compared with the latest German guns. They had a low muzzle velocity and a maximum range of only 5600 yards. Our small arms were Short Lee Enfield rifles, also out of date and we had no automatics. There were not enough greatcoats to go round and the new recruits were issued with navy blue civilian coats. Our transport, when eventually some was provided, was a mixture of civilian and military vehicles.
Those of us who remained at the Drill Hall were under a loose kind of military discipline and I do not think it ever entered our heads that the war would last so long. I can remember considering the vastness of the British and French empires and thinking that Hitler was crazy to arouse the hostility of such mighty forces. Each day we mounted a guard on the empty building we occupied and each day a small squad marched round the back streets, which I am certain did nothing to raise the morale of the civilian population.
There were false air raid alarms and we spent quite a lot of time filling sandbags which were stacked up outside all the windows and doors to provide a protection against blast from exploding bombs. In the streets cars rushed around with their windscreens decorated with such notices as “DOCTOR”, “FIRST AID”, “PRIORITY” etc, and it was all so unnecessary. Sometimes I felt more like a member of a senior Boy Scout troop than a soldier in the British Army.
After a few weeks the rearguard as we were now called left the drill hall and moved to Hampstead, not far from the Underground station and where the remainder of the battery was billeted in civilian apartments. They were very reasonable except that somebody at regiment had the unreasonable idea of sounding reveille at 0530 and we all had to mill about in the dark because the whole country was blacked out and shaving in such conditions with cold water was not easy. Being a Lance Bombardier my job when on guard duty was to post the sentries at two hourly intervals but the problem was that as we had no guardhouse the sentries slept in their own beds and there was a fair number of new recruits. Therefore you can imagine that as there were still civilians present, occasionally the wrong man was called. I remember finding my way into a third or fourth floor room and shaking a man in bed whom I thought was the next sentry to go on duty only to be somewhat startled when he shot up in bed and shouted “go away this is the third time I have been woken up tonight and I have to go to work in a few hours time!”
Whilst we were at Hampstead leave was frequent in the evenings and at weekends. Training such as it was, was of a theoretical rather than a practical form. However we very soon moved to “Bifrons House” in Kent, an empty stately home in very large grounds near Bridge and about four miles south of Canterbury. Here we resided until the middle of 1940.
In this position we had a bugler who blew reveille every morning while the Union Jack was raised, and lights out at night. The food was quite appalling in my opinion. It was prepared in large vats by a large and grimy cook and by the time it was distributed was almost cold due to the unheated condition of the dining area. Breakfast usually consisted of eggs eaten in the cold semi darkness and the yolks had what appeared to be a kind of plastic skin on them that was almost unbreakable. Indeed all meals were of the same poor standard and there was no noticeable improvement during our stay here.
The winter of 1939/40 was very long, very cold and brought a heavy fall of snow which stayed with us for several weeks. Christmas day was unforgettable. I had a touch of ‘flu and the first aid post where another soldier and myself were sent to was an empty room in a lodge house. There was not a stick of furniture, no heating, the floors were bare and we slept on straw palliasses on the floor. I recovered very quickly and was out in two or three days! On one day of our stay at Bifrons, on a Saturday morning there was a Colonels inspection and as a large number of sergeants and bombardiers were absent from among the gun crews I was detailed to take charge of one gun and stand in the frozen snow for the best part of an hour on what was I believe the coldest day of the winter. And so far as I remember our Commanding Officer decided not to include us and eventually we were dismissed and thawed out around the nearest fire.
In general however I think most of us quite enjoyed our stay here. It certainly was not like home but we made ourselves comfortable and parades finished about 1630 hours which gave us a fair span of time until “lights out”. At weekends we spent the Saturday evening in the pub in nearby Bridge and occasionally walked or begged a lift to Canterbury which was four miles away. In our spare time we played chess and various games of cards. From time to time we were entertained by groups of visiting artists or had sing-songs in typical army fashion. Looking back it was in some ways I suppose like an of beat low class boarding school with the battery numbering some two hundred and fifty men billeted in the bedrooms and stables of the house. Nevertheless we did a lot of training. We even went out in the cold snow covered countryside at night in our vehicles as if we were advancing or retreating, for two or three hours at a time. We had to take a certain preselected route which was very difficult to follow because with everything hidden beneath the snow, with no signposts and with trying to read an inch to the mile map at night with a hand torch giving only a very restricted light because of the blackout the odds against making a mistake were fairly high. We would come back cold and hungry to a mug of hot tea or cocoa and a bite to eat. By day we practised other aspects of artillery warfare either as part of the battery as a whole, sometimes with our signallers but more often as not as a group of specialists going through the many things we had to learn, time after time. When the weather improved this was a most enjoyable way of spending the morning or afternoon session for we could take our instruments out to an attractive bit of the countryside within walking distance of our billets and do some survey, map reading or a command post exercise.
Contributed originally by Stephen Bourne (BBC WW2 People's War)
My Aunt Esther was a black working-class Londoner, born before World War 1. Her life spanned almost the entire century (1912 to 1994).
Her father, Joseph Bruce, settled in Fulham, west London, during the Edwardian era when very few black people lived in Britain. He came here from British Guiana (now Guyana) a colony in South America. He was a proud, independent man.
Aunt Esther left school at 14 to work as a seamstress and in the 1930s she made dresses for the popular black American singer Elisabeth Welch. After Joseph was killed during an air raid in 1941, Aunt Esther was 'adopted' by my (white) great-grandmother, Granny Johnson, a mother figure in their community.
Esther said, 'She was like a mother to me. She was an angel.' For the next 11 years Aunt Esther shared her life with Granny (who died in 1952) and became part of our family.
During World War 2, Aunt Esther worked as a cleaner and fire watcher in Brompton Hospital. She helped unite her community during the Blitz and having relatives in Guyana proved useful when food was rationed.
She said, 'Times were hard during the war. Food was rationed. Things were so bad they started selling whale meat, but I wouldn't eat it. I didn't like the look of it. We made a joke about it, singing Vera Lynn's song We'll Meet Again with new words, "Whale meat again!" Often Granny said, "We could do with this. We could do with that." So I wrote to my dad's brother in Guyana. I asked him to send us some food. Two weeks later a great big box arrived, full of food! So I wrote more lists and sent them to my uncle. We welcomed those food parcels.'
In 1944 the Germans sent doodlebugs over. Said Aunt Esther, 'When the engine stopped I wondered where it was going to drop. It was really frightening because they killed thousands of people. A doodlebug flattened some of the houses in our street. Luckily our house was alright, even though we lived at number thirteen!'
In the late 1980s I began interviewing Aunt Esther and in the course of many interviews I uncovered a fascinating life history spanning eight decades. Aunt Esther gave me first-hand accounts of what life was like for a black Londoner throughout the 20th century. A friendly, outgoing woman, my aunt integrated easily into the multicultural society of post-war Britain. In 1991 we published her autobiography, Aunt Esther's Story, and this gave her a sense of achievement and pride towards the end of her life. She died in 1994 and, following her cremation, my mother and I scattered her ashes on her parents' unmarked grave in Fulham Palace Road cemetery. Granny Johnson rests nearby.
Contributed originally by ageconcernbradford (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the People`s War site by Alan Magson of Age Concern Bradford and District on behalf of Malcolm Waters and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site`s terms and conditions.
The war against Germany was declared in 1939.
My parents had already separated, fortunate for me I stayed with my Father and my Sister Nora went with Mum.
Nora was really my half sister 6 years my senior yet I never looked on her other than my whole sister.
Nora’s name was Robinson, my Mother’s maiden name. Nora eventually left home to join a circus.
Dad, an ex regular soldier, who served with the Northumberland Fusiliers in the first world war, there was very little he could not put his hands to. He baked all our bread, a brilliant gardener, was a very good cook and kept our home spic and span.
Sadly he rarely talked about his life so I really never found out much about him. I know he was a Geordie and had a brother Billy, but what part of Newcastle I have no idea.
End of January 1940 was a very bad winter. Dad jumped off the running board of a bus, slipped and struck his head on the kerb. He had a stroke and died on the 10th February in St Johns Hospital, Keighley.
Going down Airwarth Street my Uncle Joe told me my Dad was dead. His last words were the start of my Christian name MAL then he passed on. I must emphasise the point my Dad was a brick, he lived for me. I did cry at night when I was alone, realising I would never see or hear his face or voice again.
My life changed so much that at times I lived with my schoolmate Ken Smith, we both worked in Edmondson`s Mill, Keighley as doffers. The foreman threw a bobbin at me as I was sat on a bobbin box and I threw as many back at him and got the sack.` I left to work in a steel works shovelling steel into a foundry, then I did some lumber jacking at Oakworth, Keighley. I ended up at Doublestones Farm in service above Silsden for the Fothergills. I spent six months from 5am until 11pm at night building walls, shearing sheep, dipping sheep, harnessing the horse, burying dead sheep, milking the cows, feeding and mucking out.
Keighley was normal, one hardly knew a war was on, working on a farm was even more remote. After six months farming, I asked Fothergill, can I go to Keighley Fair on Saturday afternoon. He said, “what am I going to do without you”. So I went to the fair and never returned to farming.
Mum and I went to London after the Blitz, even then night and day bombing was daily. You could hear the distinctive drone of Jerry as they gradually got nearer and the bombs got nearer. When we arrived in Fulham we had no money, looking for a Mrs Quinn who had left her flat leaving no forwarding address so Mum and I went knocking on doors until a Mrs Lampkin put us up. Mum was probably desperate having no money and no job. I must have been a burden to her.
I went to school at Ackmar Road with some of Mrs Lampkin’s boys. I adapted to life quickly and made the best of it. Mum then decided London was too dangerous, so she sent me to Ponterdawee South Wales as an evacuee. I well remember saying good bye to Mum stood on Paddington Station with my overcoat on, a label with my name and destination, my gas mask, identity card, ration books and teachers who were taking care of us. We arrived at night time in a schoolroom in Ponterdawee where our names were called out, a person stepped forward and took my hand a man and his son were my carers. I cannot remember their names, but his son was about my age so he taught me the ways of the Welsh. I quickly adapted getting free coal from the slag heaps. Taking the cows to the bull and getting diced cheese with brown sauce. I enjoyed my stay in Wales. I was treated very well.
Mum had established herself in Fulham she had a flat, then Nora came back into our lives again. She had blossomed into a bonny young woman who looked after me. At Ackmar Road schoolboys used to play pitch and toss, this was new to me as in Yorkshire gambling was not even on the cards. I can remember on Christmas going out singing carols to get Mum a Christmas card. She cried.
Nightly, the sirens went the whole sky was lit up with searchlights, I got fed up with getting out of bed. When Nora shouted of me to go down into the basement I said okay, you go on, I’ll follow you.
I could hear the bombers getting nearer and nearer, still lying in bed. Then I heard a whistling bomb that landed too close for comfort, my first reaction was to dive under the bed, my next reaction was to get down them stairs post haste. Nora was stood looking out of the back window, we were surrounded by buildings on fire. We were transfixed in awe at the blazing buildings, fire engine bells ringing, police cars whistles blowing, but we soon shot into the basement. Mum was on night work but the old lady always made us welcome. It got so bad at times we went to sleep on Piccadilly Station 75 feet below ground. Nora joined the ATS, I saw very little of her till later in life. One of the most frightening experiences was the mobile, ack ack guns that went off right outside our front door shaking all the windows. Most houses had stirrup pumps and buckets of sand just in case an incendiary came close.
Mum remarried a Peter Johnston from Tipperary In Ireland, he was an RSM in the Royal Engineers. He always respected me and was a real good family man, he always brought something home for me, but I am really a loyalist. I loved my own Father so much I could not accept another Dad, sad in a way, because he was a father of eight children who went in the Children’s Home in Keighley. They were all good children who’s mother fell down the stairs and broke her neck. Mum and I went to live in Townhead Glasgow to be near Peter who was stationed in Inverary. I went to school in Townhead I joined the Boys Brigade and was also a Lather Boy in a Barbers Shop. We got a bus from Robertson Street to Inverary went up the Rest and be thankful to arrive to see some real military movement. Assault craft, vehicles running backwards and forwards obviously getting ready to go to Dieppe. I slept in a huge bell tent while Mum and Peter went off to a Hotel. Peter was a very musical man he ran the Isle of Capri Band up Woodhouse, Keighley, an accordion and kazoo band who were very very good, they won many cups and shields, parading them around the Wood house Estate (pre War)
Back in London again in OngarRoad, Mum had a flat. Peter committed bigamy so Mum was on her own again. I remember going back to Keighley to spend my last days at Holycroft Board School, then back to London again. I got a job with the Civil Defence at Chelsea Town Hall and joined the London Irish Rifles Cadet Corps at Chelsea Barracks as a cadet soldier. As a messenger boy in the Civil Defence I cycled round the streets in uniform and my steel helmet on to various people of notoriety including the Chelsea Pensioners. Mum got a job in Peterborough looking after a man and his son, again his son was around my age, he was a brilliant young artist. He drew Peterborough Cathedral very professional. One day I went to Yewsley right next to the American Fortress Base. Looking up in the sky I could see and recognise a Jerry plane diving straight toward the street I was in. I ran like hell resting behind an Oak tree in a church yard watching the plane strafing the main street with cannon shelling, a close call.
I also worked in Dubiliers factory at Acton, making gallon petrol cans and we listened to " Music While you Work ". I also in Grosvenor House,Park Lane as a paticia`s assistant and the Americans occupied the hotel in the war years.
While in the Civil Defence I saw vapour trails of V2 rockets that landed somewhere toward Westminster. I went to Romford one night to stay at Harry`s, my mate`s house, as usual the sirens went moaning Minnie. It was like watching a film show looking over London with the bombers dropping canisters full of incendiaries. I commented to Harry, someone is getting a pasting, I found out Fulham had been hit again, a friend of Mum’s showed me his burnt shoes caused by kicking an incendiary out of the house. Everywhere was devastation, doors burned, windows blown. One chap, playing the piano had an incendiary pass through the roof straight between him and the piano into the next floor. I went to Putney one day, as normal, sirens sounded, my bus stopped on Putney Bridge, coming up the Thames was a V1, a buzz bomb, I watched it from the top deck coming right above the bus. The engine stopped. I watched it glide into a block of flats at Barns Bridge. I had the windows open, I felt the blast on my face from approximately half a mile away. One day I saw a squadron of 13 V1’s passing overhead in Gloucester Road, South Kensington.
The Army used to train on Harden Moor leaving unexploded bombs lying around. Two of my schoolmates playing with an unexploded PIAT bomb were blown to pieces in Lund Park, Keighley. Another friend Alec Joinson tried to saw through a grenade detonator, his face and arms were pitted with splinters he was covered in Sal volatile and was partially deaf.
I was very very lucky boy to be here to tell my story, I picked up a pop bottle that looked like bad eggs, fortunate for me I did not have a bottle opener so I through the bottle into a quarry. You should have seen the bright yellow phosphorous I’d picked up a Molotov cocktail, a phosphorous bomb.
Nora, my Sister, was in an air raid shelter that was hit and became flooded. She developed pneumonia then consumption. She spent many years in hospital and despite doctors warnings she had two children. At 43 neglected by her husband, she died and was cremated in Norwood Crematorium. She was a very very good mother who wasted away to a living skeleton. She spent many months in Brompton Hospital, I made all the funeral arrangements, the husband pleaded ignorance. I always enjoyed going to see her in London when I returned to Keighley later in life. I loved Nora very dearly and she never complained about all she suffered. Tommy Junior and Jenny still live in London, at Herne Hill. I occasionally call to see them.
The spirit of the Londoners in those dark days was second to none. We sang on the stations. I sang on Keighley Station when Ken Smith’s Father in Full Service marching order was off to Dieppe. Everyone sang “ wish me luck as you wave me goodbye” and “for a while we must part but remember me sweetheart “. Vera Lynne, Ann Shelton, Tommy Trinder, Arthur Askey, Flanagan and Allen and the Crazy Gang all made for good entertainment. Not forgetting George Formby and Grace Fields.
I am now 76 years old. Today I doubt the law would look on a single man like my Dad and the Gentleman in Wales as being capable of taking care of a family.
Contributed originally by Christine Cuss (BBC WW2 People's War)
Extracts from a notebook written by Christine’s father, Alexander Pierce, which he started at the outbreak of WW2 through to the end of the War.
This notebook was discovered in 1980, a year after my father’s death. My father was not able to receive a good education, but it is to his credit that he realised the importance to record the events of the war years for me. It illustrates the devotion of a father to his only child and to his wife during those terrifying years. Only the spellings and punctuation have been changed by me. I am deeply proud of the record he kept, and extremely thankful to have been his daughter.
Monday, 14th March, 1938. Christine I am writing this page for you, to let you see the state of the World at this present time.
First Mussolini invaded and took Abyssinia. Now Hitler of Germany has invaded Austria. These two dictators are causing all the trouble that is going on. All I hope is that Germany will not interfere with Czechoslovakia because England has made a promise to go to her assistance, that would mean we would have to go to war which I do not want because I should have to leave you and mother. I love you both.
12th September, 1938.
Dear Christine. We are now passing through a most critical time. It looks as if Germany is going to invade Czechoslovakia, that would mean another World War which I spoke of further back in this book. The Prime Minister of England, Neville Chamberlain, has sent for the Prime Minister of France to come to England. You have been up to Downing Street to-day which is the 18th of September while the cabinet is sitting. We are waiting to hear what the news is going to be. We all hope it is not War. Love Daddy.
18th September, 1938.
Dear Christine. We have taken you this day to Westminster Abbey for the Church service. There were thousands of people there. Love Daddy.
Sunday, 25th Sept., 1938.
We all went to get fitted with gas masks. Christine, you cried a lot. It upset mother a lot, but it had to be done to save your life in case war was declared which is supposed to be Oct. 1st.
Thursday 29th Sept., 1938.
Mother went to get our gas masks. She got mine and hers, but she was told she would have to go to the Town Hall for Christine’s. It has upset mother because she thinks they will take you from her to send you away for safety.
Thursday, 29th Sept., 1938.
At this time of writing, things are very bad indeed. War is supposed to be declared on October 1st, 1938, but at the last moment, Hitler of Germany sent for Mr. Chamberlain, the Premier of England, to have a last talk to see if they can bring about a peaceful solution. This in my opinion about it, is that Hitler has got the wind up.
Frid. 30th Sept., 1938.
At the time of writing this note, there is great rejoicing all over the World, because the four Great Powers namely Italy, Germany, France, Great Britain have come to an agreement over the Czech problem, so at the last minute, War has been averted.
Wed., 15th March, 1939.
Dear Christine. I have made this entry in this book to let you see how things are going on in the World. Hitler of Germany has broken the agreement with this country and he is marching into Czechoslovakia. This man is causing a lot of trouble but he will get what he is asking for before long. Love Dad.
Friday, April 7th, Good Friday, 1939.
Mussolini, the dictator of Italy, invaded Albania. Things are in a terrible state. We do not know which way things are going to turn out. Love Dad.
Mon. 17th April, 1939.
We had a letter from school asking us if we would consent to Christine being evacuated in the event of war. We said “no”. We are going to keep you with us. Love Dad.
Aug. 24th, 1939.
Dear Christine. At the time of writing this, there is another crisis. This time it is between Poland and Germany. It looks very much as if there will be a war before the week is out; so if war does come, always remember that I will always love you and your mother to my last day of my life, so always stick to your mother and do as she tells you. Love Dad.
Tues. 29th Aug. 1939.
Mother took Christine away to Eastbourne to see if it would be all right for them there in case war came, but mother could not stand it and came home. All school children are being evacuated tomorrow, Friday, 1st Sept. 1939, but we are sending you and mother to Harold and Fay’s at Hounslow. Things look very bad. Love Dad.
Fri. 1st Sept. 1939.
Christine and mother went to Hanworth to Harold and Fay’s for safety.
Fri. 1st Sept., 1939.
Germany invaded Poland.
Sunday, Sept. 3rd, 1939.
Great Britain and France declared War on Germany at 11 o’clock in the morning.
Friday, 8th Sept., 1939.
Christine and mother came back from Hanworth to be home with me. Love Dad.
Sunday, 17th Sept., 1939.
Russia invaded Poland.
Monday, Sept. 25th, 1939.
The war has now been on for four weeks and Poland has been smashed to pieces but they are a gallant little country and are still fighting to the last man which they said they would do. God help them. Love Dad.
Thursday, 30th Nov., 1939.
Christine went to be examined by doctor for her to be evacuated and was passed fit. You are to go on Saturday, 2nd December, 1939. Love Dad.
Thursday, 30th Nov., 1939.
Russia has invaded Finland. They are bombing the women and children. Love Dad.
Friday, 1st Dec., 1939.
We have made up our minds not to send Christine away. We are going to keep her with us as we cannot part with her. The trouble is, we love her too much to let her go to be looked after by other people. With love from your Mother and Dad.
Sunday, 31st Dec., 1939.
We all went to Church this afternoon for Old Year Out and New Year In service. We had to go early this year on account of the blackout. We have had another good year Christine, and we hope it will be as good in 1940. At the time of writing, the country has called up all men to the age 27, so my time is not far off, but we hope it will be all over before then. If I do have to go, stick fast to your mother. She is a good one to you. Love Dad.
Tuesday, Feb. 20th, 1940.
Dear Christine. Many things have happened since I last wrote in this book in regards to the war. But the funniest was when Hitler made a speech in Germany and he said he was going to be King of England on April 20th. Love Dad.
March 13th, 1940.
The war ended with Russia and Finland after many lives had been lost. Finland gave in much to my regret.
Tuesday, 9th April, 1940.
Germany invaded Norway and Denmark. Denmark did not resist but Norway is fighting back and we are going to her aid.
May 10th, 1940.
Germany invaded Holland and Belgium.
Monday, 10th June, 1940.
Italy declared war on England and France.
Wednesday, 9th Oct., 1940.
Dear Christine. A lot has happened since I last wrote in this book. We had a time bomb at the back of our shelter. We had to be evacuated from our home, but we are back home again now. But all us people in London now do is to sleep in our shelters. The sirens have just gone which is 7 o’clock and we will be here until 6 o’clock next morning but you can take it from me, Christine, we are having a rough time. Love Dad.
Thursday, 7th Nov., 1940.
Dear Christine. A lot has happened since I wrote in this book last. You have been away to Doncaster for this last three weeks and I can tell you I have never missed you so much in all my life. I don’t think that I could stand another three weeks like it. It might sound funny coming from me, but you can take it from me you are everything in the world to me so God Bless you and I hope He will take you through this awful war. So good night my dear. Love Daddy.
Wed. 11th Dec. 1940.
Dear Christine. This is one of the saddest days of my life. Your Grandma Pierce died at 7.15 p.m. after four weeks illness. She died of cancer and I can say she was a grand old lady aged 74 years. So good night my dear and I hope that we can pull through this war together. Love Daddy.
Tuesday, 31st Dec., 1940
Dear Christine. This is the end of 1940, and I must say it has been a very bad year indeed in regards of the War. We were evacuated from our home on account of a time bomb. That night was the worst night we had. You slept all through it. Next time, we had all the windows of the house blown out and we have been sleeping in a shelter, but these lasts few nights it has been too cold. At this present, we are making the Italians run for their lives. Goodnight Daddy.
Sat. 11th Jan., 1941.
Dear Christine. I went Saturday, 11th Jan. to register for Military Service. I have asked to go in the R.A.F. Love Dad.
Wed. 12th March, 1941.
Dear Christine. I went up for my medical examination and was graded Grade III on account of my right eye, so it looks as if I shall be staying at home. I am very pleased in one way because I can stay with you and mother. At this present moment, we are going through bad raids and you are very good while they are on. Here’s hoping we can pull through to the end. Love Dad.
Thursday, 27th March, 1941.
Dear Christine. You have been unlucky and caught the scabies. It is a nasty complaint. It is picked up off other people. You see, owing to the life we have had to live through air raids, it could have been caught in the public shelter where we have been going to, or else at school. You can take it from me, it is no fault of your mother as she has always kept you so very clean, but mother is very worried about it. We have given you three sulphur baths and another one tomorrow, and we hope it will be all gone. Will close now as you are waiting for me to play with you. Goodnight my love. Dad.
Saturday, 29th March, 1941.
Dear Christine. I have just had my papers sent to me to fill in to go in the munition factory. Hope I can get out of it, so I can look after you and mother. Love Dad.
Wednesday, 16th April, 1941.
Dear Christine. Last night was the worst that we have had to go through in regards to air raids. It started at 9 a.m. and went on until 5 a.m. next morning and air planes were over all the time and they have done a lot of damage. Our house suffered quite a lot. It was done by a land mine. The whole of King Street Hammersmith shops were a proper wreck next morning. I hope that we do not have to go through another night like it. Our airmen went to Berlin last night and gave them a taste of their own medicine. With lots of love from Dad and Mother.
Tuesday, 14th Oct., 1941.
Dear Christine. The war at the very moment is raging in Russia where they are fighting for their very lives and the bloodshed there is unspeakable. The Jerrys are getting a bit more than they asked for. The fighting is raging around Moscow which is the capital and we are all praying that the Russians can keep them outside, so they will get the full blast of the winter. While this war has been on, old Jerry has left us alone in London, and we are all hoping that they don’t start again. Love Dad.
Wednesday, 31st Dec., 1941.
Uncle Alf came home on a 48 hours leave and had the Old Year Out and New Year in with us. Love Dad.
Dear Christine. This is the end of the year l941, and I must say that we have been through quite a lot together, and we must thank the Lord Almighty for our safety. We have had some near misses with bombs from Jerry, but the tide is turning and Jerry is getting a nasty hiding from the Russians and our men in Libya. I must say that all through these raids you have been a very brave girl. All my best love from Dad.
Thursday, March 19th, 1942.
Dear Christine. Uncle Harold went into the Army to-day in the R.A.C.S. He has got to go to Wiltshire. At this very moment, the Russians are fighting the Jerrys very hard and are driving them back. We have got a lot to thank them for. Love Dad.
Friday, 26th June, 1942.
Dear Christine. Things are not going very well with the war. We have lost a big battle in Libya and 23,000 of our men have been taken prisoners and now the battle of Egypt has just started. We are all hoping we can make a stand there and hold them. Will write more later. Love Daddy.
Friday, 17th July, 1942.
Dear Christine. To-day is your birthday and I must say you had a very good time indeed. Mother worked very hard and made cakes and mince pies and everything you could eat. You would not think there was a war on. As a matter of fact, Hitler sent his bombers over and the sirens went just as you were having your party that was 4.30 p.m. and it was the first time we’d had them in months. But since then, we have had them six times this week, but no bombs near us. We close now. Love Daddy.
Sunday, 15th November, 1942.
Dear Christine. To-day is a great day for rejoicing. The Church bells were rung all over the country to announce the Victory of our 8th Army in Egypt. Our boys are smashing the Germans back and they are on the run which is great news for us. More news later. Love Daddy.
Saturday, 16th Jan., 1943.
Dear Christine. Last night our boys went and bombed Berlin and started some big fires.
Sunday, 17th Jan., 1943.
So Jerry came over here to-night. Started at 8.20 until 10 o’clock. The gunfire was heavy. You have just gone to bed. Love Daddy.
Wednesday, 20th January, 1943.
Dear Christine. Some German raiders came over this morning and dropped bombs on a school. There were 45 children found dead up till now and 12 more still missing. The school was at Lewisham. Love Daddy.
Monday, 29th March, 1943.
Dear Christine. General Montgomery who is in charge of our 8th Army has smashed his way through the Mareth Line which the Germans held. This is a big victory for us. Love Daddy.
Tuesday, 6th April, l943.
Dear Christine. Your Uncle Alf came home on leave for 11 days before going overseas. We had a good time together. Uncle went back on Monday, 5th April. We all went up to the Station with him. The train left at 9.20 p.m. and it was very upsetting to see them go, so let us pray to God he will come back to us all safely. Love Daddy.
Wednesday, 12th May, 1943.
Dear Christine. At 8.15 last night, the fighting in North Africa has ended. The Germans and Italians have been bashed to bits. Up to now there are 150,000 prisoners, 250 tanks, 1000 guns and a lot more stuff to come in. Alexander was the General in charge of the men in the field with Montgomery and Anderson. Love Daddy.
Tuesday, 5th June, 1943.
Christine. A German aeroplane came over last night and dropped bombs and one was very close to us. We thought it was our last. It came so near, Mother and I dropped on the bedroom floor beside your bed thinking it was going to hit us, but we were lucky. So here’s hoping we remain lucky until it is all over. Love Daddy.
Friday, July 9th, 1943.
Dear Christine. The British troops and Canadian with American troops have invaded Sicily. It started at 10.15 on Friday with Air-bourne troops, but the real invasion started at 3 o’clock on the Saturday morning. Up till now, things are going well. Will let you know more later. Love Daddy. 2000 boats took part.
Dear Christine. The invasion of Sicily which I wrote about a little way back is all over. We have beaten the Germans again and it was another Dunkirk for them. There is another big move coming off. Will let you know as soon as it happens. Love Daddy.
Friday, 3rd September, 1943.
Dear Christine. British and 8th Army and Canadian troops invaded Italy this morning at 3.45 a.m. Everything is going well. Will let you know more later. Love Daddy.
Wednesday, 8th September, 1943.
Dear Christine. I have great news for you. The Italian Government has given in and accepted our terms of unconditional surrender, so Italy is now out of the War. Now for the Germans. Love Daddy.
Wednesday, 13th September, 1943.
Dear Christine. Italy has declared War on Germany. It seems strange as Italy and the Germans were dear old pals. Will let you know more later. Love Daddy.
Saturday, 1st January, 1944.
Dear Christine. The old year has gone and I must say that we had a very good year considering that the war is still on. But 1943 has left us with great victories and I might say the turning point of the war. Only last night, the R.A.F. dropped 1,000 tons of bombs on Berlin and our boys are waiting to invade and they are saying that this year will be the last of this war. I hope so. Our Christmas dinner was chicken, three lumps of pork, Christmas pudding, mince pies – not bad after nearly five years of war. Love Daddy.
Sunday, 20th February, 1944.
Dear Christine. We had a very bad air raid last night. It is one of the worst we have had round this District, high explosives and time bombs, but I prayed to God to take us safely through and He did. We wish this war would end as it is just as bad for the German people as it is for us. Love Daddy.
Wednesday, February, 23rd, 1944.
Dear Christine. Last night the Germans came over and raided London and we had a bad night. Bombs dropped all round us and I am sorry to say that your Great Aunt Ada was killed this night and her daughter was trapped for 22 hours and she was got out alive, but her husband was killed also. Love Daddy.
Thursday, 5th April, 1944.
Dear Christine. Your Uncle Geoff went into the Army to-day. He was 41 years sent to Bradford in Yorkshire. I do not know what regiment he is going into yet. Love Daddy.
Monday, 5th June, 1944.
Dear Christine. Our troops of the 8th Army and American 5th Army have entered Rome, the capital of Italy. It is a great victory for us. We have taken over 20,000 prisoners and we are still driving the Germans back. The General in charge is Alexander. Love Daddy.
Tuesday, 6th June, 1944.
Dear Christine. To-day is the biggest day in our history. Our Armies have landed in France. There were over 4,000 ships took part and over 11,000 aircraft. The landing took place at 6 o’clock this morning. The air-bourne troops landed first and I think you Uncle Alf is in it. Will let you know more as news comes in. Love Daddy.
Friday, 23rd June, 1944.
Dear Christine. Last night was the worst night we have been through. Jerry sent one of the pilotless planes over and bombed our home flat to the ground. We were very lucky that your mother and myself were not killed, but we must thank God he was watching over us and took us safely through. So we will have to make a new home after the war. I must say you were very brave right through. Good night love. God bless you. Love Daddy.
(My parents left the safety of the air-raid shelter whilst the air-raid was on so that my father could go to the toilet and my mother to make a hot drink. They returned to the shelter just as the doodlebug exploded).
Monday, 17th July, 1944.
Dear Christine. To-day is your 10th birthday and what a day you have had. We held your party on the old bomb site of our home and the Daily Mirror reporter came down and took photos of it. We are waiting for the paper to come out. Everybody had a wonderful time. You had 17 cards and lots of money presents. Also you were a very good girl and very helpful. The flybombs are still coming over. Good Bye. Love Daddy.
August 1st, 1944.
Dear Christine. This month has been the best we have had in this war. We have driven the Germans out of Normandy and France and are into Holland and Belgium and we are just about to start the Battle of Germany. Will let you know more later. Love Daddy.
Sat. 2nd September, 1944.
Uncle Harold went to France. Will let you know more later. Love Daddy.
Thursday, 7th Sept., 1944.
Dear Christine. Uncle Alf came back from France safe and sound. Love Daddy.
Friday, 8th September, 1944.
Dear Christine. The Germans are sending rockets over at us now as well as fly bombs. The first one dropped in Chiswick and the second one at Kew and we have had a lot more since. They are worse than the fly bombs because you can’t hear them coming. We still go to the shelter at night. Love Daddy.
8th January, 1945.
Dear Christine. At the time of writing this letter, there is a big battle going on. The Germans have broken through the American lines and the British have been rushed up to stop them. Well your Uncle Alf is in that battle. They are called Monty’s Red Devils. This cutting from the paper will tell you all. Love Daddy.
Monty’s Red Devils Are There
Played a Big Part
The British Sixth Airbourne Divisiion, the “Red Devils” are fighting in the Ardennes as part of the British force thrown in to plug the German breakthrough. They played a big part in the capture of Bure.
The men of the Sixth Division were about to eat their Christmas dinner when their orders came.
An officer told me, ‘We were simply told ‘You’ll be in the Ardennes tomorrow. Within three days of the first word we were at grips with the Germans”.
Wednesday, 14th February, 1945.
Dear Christine. To-day is a very sad day again for us. The Germans who are firing rockets at us dropped one very near us. It shook the life out of the place. You were in bed, mother sitting by the fire and the rocket came. It was at 10 o’clock at night. Well my love, it came and fell on your Uncle Fred’s home and killed him and your Auntie Mary, cousins Peter, Jean and the baby. It wiped the whole family out. We hope that we pull safely through as we have gone through enough already. Love Daddy.
Sat. 24th Feb. 1945.
Dear Christine. Your cousin Joan got married to-day to an American officer in the 8th Air Force. You were to have been her bridesmaid, but owing to your Uncle Fred’s family waiting to be buried, you could not be it, but we went to the party and had a nice time in a quiet way. Joan was only 18 years old. Love Daddy.
Sunday, 25th Feb. 1945.
Your Uncle Alf has just this minute come home from Holland from the battle front. He will be coming round here to-night. Love Daddy.
Monday, 26th February, 1945.
Your Uncle Fred’s family were buried to-day at Hammersmith Cemetary.
Tuesday, May 8th, 1945.
Dear Christine. This day is the greatest in our history. The War is over with Germany. We have beaten them to their knees and God has answered our prayers and taken us safely through. We have been to the Hammersmith Broadway singing and dancing. It is something you will not forget and that has gone on for all the week until one and two in the morning. Love Daddy.
Sunday, 13th May, 1945.
Dear Christine. We went to the Strand in London to see the King and Queen. You had a good view of the Princesses, King Peter and the King of Norway, King of Denmark, Queen Mary and Mr. Churchill. Love Daddy.
Thursday, 21st June, 1945.
Dear Christine. This cutting from the paper shows you what the Londoners went through during the bombing of London which you were in all the time.
(See next page).
Live Letters Daily Mirror
Letter from an American Gentleman
From Mr. J. R. Crane, an American now over here:
Your paper will, I know, assist me in paying tribute to the people of London – the world’s mightiest people. I am an American soldier, soon to leave this great city for another theatre of war, but I will take with me everlasting memories and pictures of an unconquerable race.
I shall remember, always, the faces of two little children in Stepney, who shepherded my panic stricken body into a shelter as a flying-bomb shattered houses and human flesh into a pulp not fifty yards away; of a pianist in a public-house, in a side street off your bomb-splattered Lambeth Walk, whose rhythm on the keys offered a challenge to the hate and fury of yet another savage Hitler onslaught to break the backbone of the tough London populace.
I shall remember Mr. And Mrs. X, of Brixton, who made me share the comforts of their modest house on my days of leave; and Edna, my London sweetheart, who, until unseen death in the form of a rocket took her from me was to become my wife.
If I survive the next episode in the quest for peace, and return home, I shall always say to myself – “The debt the world owes to you people of London will never be paid. It cannot be paid. The price is too high. God bless you all.”
To you, Mr. Crane, who, because of a London blitz, must now walk alone, we say only, “Thank you and God bless.”
As I close my father’s notebook, I am full of deep emotion. At the age of 70 years, I have to confess that I have broken down in tears many times whilst typing my father’s messages to me, written between 60 and 65 years ago. I was fortunate to have two loving parents, and I pay tribute to them both.
Christine S. Cuss nee Pierce 26th August, 2004.
Contributed originally by Suffolk Family History Society (BBC WW2 People's War)
Of course, 'way back in the 1930's "teenagers" hadn't been invented. In those now far off days one remained a 'child' -dependent on, and obedient to one's parents for more years than is often the case now, and the age of 'Majority', supposed adulthood, was 21, when you got the 'key of the door'. So, in the early 1930's, having moved to Acton from Kensington, where I was born in the 1st floor flat of 236, Ladbroke Grove, I grew towards my 'teens, enjoying a secure and happy childhood, doing reasonably well at School (Haberdashers' Aske's Girls' School, Creffield Rd) making friends and with freedom to play outside, alone or with my friends, and with no thought of danger from strangers, or heavy traffic.
And so, in 1939, I was 13 years old, when the war began. We had been on holiday in Oban, Argyll, where I now live, and as the news became more and more grave, and teachers were called back to help to evacuate school children from London, and Army and Navy reservists were called up, we travelled by car across to Aberdeen on Saturday 1st Sept. After a night in the George Hotel, and thinking the Germans were already bombing us when a petrol garage caught fire and cans of petrol blew up one after another, we caught the 9am train to London, Euston. The car travelled as freight in a van at the rear of the train (no Motorail then). The train was packed with service personnel, civilians going to join up and other families returning from holiday.
All day we travelled South. On the journey, there were numerous unscheduled stops in the 'middle of nowhere', and a severe thunderstorm in the Midlands added to the tension. Our car, in its van was taken off the train at Crewe to make room for war cargo (as we learned later). In normal times, the journey in those days took 12 hours to London. With the storm, numerous delays, and diversions and shunting into sidings, it was destined to take 18 hours. As darkness fell, blackout blinds already fitted, were pulled down and the carriages were lit by eerie dim blue lights. Soldiers and airmen sprawled across their kitbags in the corridors as well as in the carriages, sleeping fitfully. Nobody talked much.
Midnight passed, 1am. At last around 2am, tired, anxious and dishevelled, we finally arrived at Euston station on the morning of Sunday September 3rd.
My Mother and I sat wearily by our luggage in the vast draughty booking hall while my Father went off to see if, or when the car might eventually arrive. There was no guarantee. There were no Underground trains running until 6am, and, it seemed, no taxis to be had. In the end we sat there in the station forecourt until my Father decided that he could rouse his brother to come and collect us and our luggage. And so we finally reached home, had a brief few hours' sleep and woke in time to hear Mr Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, make his historic 11am speech. Those who remember it all know the icy shock of those words, that - 'consequently we are now at war with Germany'.
The air-raid sirens sounded almost immediately, though it was apparently a false alarm, but my parents decided that we would go and live at our country 'bungalow' at Ashford, Middlesex. Ashford in those days was little more than a village. London airport was a small airfield called Heathrow.
The 'bungalow' was simply one large wooden-built room, set on brick pillars, and roofed with corrugated asbestos, painted green, with a balcony surrounded by a yellow and green railing. Three wooden steps led down into the garden. Two sash windows gave a view of our large 3 acre garden, curtained with floral -patterned chintz curtains. Inside at one end was a sink fed by a rainwater tank, and an electric cooker, a large table, chairs and a large cupboard for crockery. Normally, we had, pre-war, used it for summer evening or weekend visits, returning home at night. It was only a six mile journey along the Great West Road.
Now, though, with war declared hurried preparations were made to leave London, as my parents didn't know what might happen in the way of possible attack on the Capital. Several journeys were made by car with mattresses, bedding, food, extra utensils, clothes and animals (two cats and two tortoises). The cats roamed free, having previously been used to the garden when we went on holiday, when they were housed in the bungalow and fed and cared for by our part-time gardener. They loved the freedom and the tree-climbing and never went astray. The torties, though, had to be tethered by means of a cord through a hole drilled in the back flanged edge of the shell (this is no more painful than cutting one's nails) until a large secure pen could be made, and a shelter rigged up.
My Father's brother joined us, his wife and son having already left for safety, and to be near his son's school, already evacuated to near Crowthorne, Berks.
After sleeping on the mattresses on the floor for a few nights (all 4 or us in the one room, of course), bed frames were brought from home and a rail and a curtain rigged up to make 2 'rooms' for privacy at night. My Father and Uncle slept in a double bed, both being fairly portly (!) and my Mother and I shared a single bed, which was rather a tight squeeze. There was no room for 2 double beds, and I was fairly small. After a few nights my Mother decided that we would have more room if we slept 'top-to-tail' and so we did this.
The lavatory was about 10 yards along a side path, and had to be flushed with a bucket of water. We were lucky in that we also were able to tap a well of underground water, for which my Father had rigged-up a pump. So even if there had not been much rain to fill the house tank, we could always obtain pure water from the well. Later we were connected to the mains. The lavatory emptied into a cesspit which my Father had dug.
This was the period of the 'phoney' war. I was enrolled at Ashford County School, which I only attended for one term, as we returned home to Acton at Christmas.
My own school had been evacuated to Dorchester with about half its pupils. Many parents, like my own, had decided not to send their children away. Later, some of those who had been evacuated became very homesick and returned home. Soon the school in Acton re-opened, with many of the Mistresses who had also returned to London. The Dorchester girls shared a local school, with both sets of girls attending on a half day basis.
Ration books and clothing coupons, food shortages and tightened belts became the norm, as, at school, did gas-mask drills in which we donned our masks and worked in them for a short while to become used to them. They smelt dankly rubbery. However sometimes we had a bit of fun as they could emit snorting noises!
My Mother had lined curtains with yards and yards of blackout material, and our large sash windows were criss-crossed with sticky tape. A stirrup pump, bucket of water and bucket of sand stood handy in case of incendiary bombs. All through the war, wherever we lived, we each kept a small case ready packed with spare clothing, wash things, a torch, and any valuables.
Wherever we went we carried our gas mask in its cardboard case on a strap over our shoulder. We each wore an identity bracelet with name and identity number. Mine was BRBA 2183. Butter and bacon rationing began on Dec. 8th - 4 oz of each per person per week.
Contributed originally by Mike Hazell (BBC WW2 People's War)
By 1956 I was offered the chance to work on the Green Lines and I was in seventh heaven. No more running up and down stairs, the Green Lines were all single deck RF coaches then, and no more rushing to get fares in either. People only used the coaches to do longer journeys because the minimum fare was high in relation to the bus fares and with plenty of buses on the road; no-one caught a coach for short journeys. So the job was easier and the pay slightly higher, no wonder there was a waiting list to work on Green Lines. Your name didn’t even get on the list if you had a bad record so coach crews did tend to consider themselves just a wee bit superior to bus workers although we, at Staines, never soared to the dizzy heights as at Windsor Garage where a whole row of tables alongside the windows and radiators were reserved for coach crews while bus crews were expected to sit over the other side which was cold and draughty in winter and stifling hot in summer!
The regular passengers using Green Line coaches were different too — not better, just different. The rush hours tended to begin later, being comprised mostly of people working in offices and West End shops, business people, managers, stock brokers and the self employed. Many belonged to what we would call “the bowler hat brigade”, hailing the coach with a raised umbrella or dispatch case. We had one driver who loathed being waved to in this manner and his conductor got fed up with the driver moaning about it too. So, one day at a request stop in Knightsbridge, they slowed up to the unsuspecting gentleman holding out his copy of “The Times”, the conductor put out his hand, took the newspaper and the coach sped on its way leaving the city gent fuming on the pavement. Not that it was always easy to guess a man’s occupation by his manner of dress. One of my favourite passengers looked like a stoke broker, always carrying a smart, black dispatch case. He travelled regularly to Town for years till one day he opened his case and showed me the contents; several tobacco tins full of coloured chalks and a large homely packet of sandwiches. He was a pavement artist who had earned an income high enough to enable him to live in the “stock broker belt” and travel up to his pitch every day. His neighbours believed him to be a solicitor — which I suppose he was in a way.
I preferred the 701/702 roads best. There was so much to see going through London every day and more interesting characters among the passengers too. All the regular crews got to know the actor who lived in Bedfont — he always played a “heavy” with a mid-European accent and had a very good line in sly leers. I wouldn’t be surprised if he originated that well worn phrase, “Ve haf ways of makink you talk” because that was just the sort of character he usually portrayed. In actual fact he was a charming man and used to sit on the coach reading his script and I still smile, remembering the time a woman sitting across the aisle asked me whether he was “peculiar” because of the evil expressions that flitted across his face while he was reading! Not wishing to reveal his identity and subject him to the attentions of all the film fans on the coach I told her to sit on the back seat and I would keep an eye on him. He was recognised a couple of times while travelling home and I couldn’t help feeling sorry for him being obliged to sign autographs and answer dozens of questions when he so obviously wanted to study in peace. Another actor was starring in a series on the television and played the handsome, debonair hero forever rescuing the damsel in distress and engaging in fist fights while remaining cool as a cucumber. Sad to say, he was irritable, petulant and terrified if the driver tried to speed up a little in an attempt to keep to the timetable — the very last person I would want around in any kind of crisis. He must have been a very good actor, though — it never showed through on the screen.
The responsibility for time keeping on the road is shared between the driver and the conductor and it isn’t an easy job to keep the vehicle on time, especially through London. By the time we had been stuck in traffic jams through Chiswick, Hammersmith, Kensington, Knightsbridge, Hyde Park Corner and Victoria we were frequently up to an hour late and if the driver didn’t push the coach along through the rest of the journey we would arrive at Gravesend with only a few minutes of our meal relief left. Union rules and police regulations dictate that a driver must have at least thirty minutes away from the driving seat which meant that a late arrival at Gravesend resulted in a late departure on the return journey. You couldn't win a race against time like that and still do the job properly.
In contrast, the very early and late journeys would seem endless — we had to cruise along so slowly that the passengers would sometimes get impatient and complain that we were deliberately running late. We used to hang about at compulsory stops, pull up to the side of the road at public toilets, engage a passenger in conversation as he or she was alighting -—anything to waste a few minutes that would prevent us arriving at a turning point early enough to be booked. We were allowed a leeway of two minutes and on Winter Sundays all the stops approaching Victoria would have a Green Line parked up, out of sight, losing time before arriving at Eccleston Bridge which was our London Terminus. The drivers used to curse the traffic lights at all hours of the day and night — they were always showing red when we were desperately trying to catch up lost time and green when we were anxious to lose it. For the most part the road inspectors were very understanding. They had almost invariably been drivers themselves earlier in their careers and knew how difficult it was to keep strictly to the timetable. Of course, drivers varied in their approach to the job and a few would deliberately run late so that they could claim overtime at the end of every day. The rate for all overtime has always been time and a half and a daily docket for an hour would amount to seven and a half extra hours pay every Friday.
For the most part, I have been very lucky with my regular drivers who did their best to run by the timetable. One such was Roy, a good, steady driver, conscientious, courteous and an excellent mate but the timing of the vehicle obsessed him to such an extent that he not only checked on our own progress every ten minutes along the road but also other Green Lines we met coming the other way. I thought his wife was joking when she told me she gave him a new leather strap for his pocket watch every Christmas but I subsequently discovered it was quite true, he pulled that watch from his top pocket so often in the course of a day’s work that the strap became quite ragged and worn by the following November. Dear Roy — I was sorry to lose him but I returned to work after my holiday one year to find that he had transferred to a vacant place on the coach rota. Another conductor told me later that Roy was worrying so much at my habit of signing on at the last moment that his fear of running late was threatening to give him a peptic ulcer. He retired some years ago and, presumably, he and his watch enjoy a well-earned rest.
Cliff, however, was a real maverick: transferred from Central Buses when he moved into the Staines area, he thought Country Buses were very slow and tame after the more hectic work in London’s traffic and was overjoyed when he was transferred to Green Lines and took Roy’s place on the rota. No two drivers could have been more different — working a journey through Town in the rush hours with Cliff became a cross between a tank assault course and a Cavalry charge. He really was an excellent driver who knew the length and width of those old RF coaches down to the last inch; he would slide through gaps in the traffic which didn’t look wide enough to allow the safe passage of a mini car and I swear there was often barely the width of a postage stamp between us and the rest of the traffic as we sailed through. He took short cuts through side streets, jumped traffic lights and we went two miles off route chasing a lorry whose driver had the temerity to “carve him up” at Hammersmith Broadway. The six months I spent with Cliff put years on me but, oddly enough, most of the regulars enjoyed riding with him. He could be curt, even downright rude, with those passengers who did not realise that he was doing his best to get them to their destinations on time and accused him of reckless driving or giving them an uncomfortable ride. But he had a very soft spot for the elderly and old ladies adored him as he was always at his most charming with them. Our friendship continued beyond working hours and Bill and I frequently went to his house for an evening of playing cards and the two men would talk “shop” while Cliff’s pretty, young wife and I served up refreshments and chatted about bus work too, but in relation to what ill effects it could have on family life.
With men and girls working together for eight hours every day and sometimes far into the night, there were bound to be some marital problems among the staff and Staines Garage was neither better nor worse than any other. With the cost of living and living standards themselves constantly rising, more and more wives started to go out to work, and this created a situation where working times of the two jobs clashed to such an extent that married couples spent very little time together; when a driver was on late turn his wife would get up and go off to her own job, often leaving him still in bed and having to cook his own meals before leaving for work himself in the early afternoon. By the time his duty had finished it might be midnight and his wife and children already fast asleep in bed. This state of affairs would result in a man seeing far more of his conductor than he did his own family, and when that conductor was a pretty, young girl the result was almost inevitable. Sometimes the outcome of such entanglements was tragic and at other times highly comical — at least from the viewpoint of those of us who watched the game from the sidelines as it were. Suspicious wives would lurk around the garage or take to riding on their husband’s buses in an attempt to ward off the opposition — and gossip was rife.
After Cliff left, to return to living and working in London again, I was approached by one driver who had been working with a jolly girl in her late teens and asked me if he could come and work with me instead. I was rather puzzled at the time as he and his former mate seemed to get on so well, but I knew he was a good driver and easy to get along with so I agreed. Within days he told me why he had decided to change rotas. Some dear, kind soul had told his wife that he was having an affair with his young conductor and his life at home had been hell ever since. It wasn’t very flattering to think that he had decided that working with me would solve his problems and I didn’t relish the prospect of coming to work to be confronted by an irate wife, but I did feel sorry for him and decided to give it a try. Unfortunately for me, I must be a perfect mother or sister figure for I found myself listening to many tales of various drivers’ private lives over the years — in fact one, who worked with me over a period of five years or more, frequently called me “Auntie Doris” and the name stuck. Perhaps I should feel flattered in a way after all?
In any case, I settled down with Harry quite easily — he was a happy-go-lucky man in his early fifties — already a proud grandfather and we both hoped that his change of conductor would have the desired effect on his home life. I never actually met his wife so presumably she must have received some pretty unflattering reports about my appearance and decided that I constituted no danger to her. For a few weeks all went well, Harry and I would chat about our children — his being a lot older than my own were at that time, about bus work — he had several years more service than I had too and we swapped stories about passengers and other crews and generally got on together quite well. Till the day came he put his name down for rest day working and found he had been given a duty with his former conductor.
I suppose a wiser man would have turned down the duty, but he had volunteered for rest day work because he needed the extra money and decided to do it anyway and say nothing to his wife. A few days later the storm broke and life became hell again. It was almost certainly another member of staff who stirred up the trouble by gossiping again and I can only hope that the result of his actions didn’t trouble his conscience too much. Deciding that life at home had become unbearable Harry finally left his family — there was a divorce and he returned to his former mate again and they eventually married. When she left to have a child I worked with Harry again for a few months. He was quite happy with his young wife but distressed that some of his children saw only his first wife’s side of the problem and cut themselves off from him altogether. Added to this was his fear that the age gap between himself and his second wife might cause her to be left with a young family if anything untoward happened to him. They had three children over the next few years and then his worst fears were realised and a series of heart attacks finally caused his death and his young family had a very lean time of it until the children left school and were able to go out to work. I met his widow only a few weeks ago and we chatted about old times — she misses Harry dreadfully and no one has taken his place yet.
Another romance that caused quite a stir in Staines Garage at the time involved a good looking young bachelor driver and a very attractive girl — a Staines conductor. Perhaps I should explain that bus and coach crews came into contact with several other garage canteens — including the Alder Valley canteen in High Wycombe, the Country Bus canteens at Windsor, Dartford and Northfleet and Central Bus canteens at Victoria and Thornton Heath. The driver fell in love with our young conductor when she used the canteen at his garage and decided to transfer to Staines to get to know her better. He was somewhat disconcerted to discover that she not only had several boy friends at our garage but ardent admirers in every other canteen we used. The atmosphere grew rather tense for some months and rumour had it that not a few fights broke out between the newcomer and the locals till the lass finally solved the problem by transferring to Northfleet and marrying a driver down there. The rivals became the best of friends and peace reigned in Staines once again.
Other romances blossomed and died over the years, few culminating in weddings between crewmembers, but one wife in particular solved her marital problem in a very neat way. She told her driver husband that she had got a new job and duly left home every morning at 7.30 a.m. arriving home again around 6.30 each evening. This went on for a couple of weeks until the day came when she arrived at the garage in uniform and reported for duty. I wasn’t around in the garage that day but I’d love to have seen the expression on his face when she walked into the canteen while he was having a cup of tea with the object of his affections. To cap it all, it has always been the policy of the Transport Board to put married couples on the same duties unless specifically requested otherwise: the husband decided that discretion was the better part of valour and accepted the inevitable. Within a few days they were acting like a couple of turtle doves — he was so proud of her strategy that he was the one who would tell newcomers about it. They stayed at the garage together for several years before leaving the job when they moved out of the district.
Contributed originally by Geoff Cronin (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was born in Hammersmith, West London on August 7th 1938, just one year before war broke out, and yet I do have very vivid memories of the war in London. I have good memories of my childhood from a very early age (I can remember being in a pram for instance). War was the norm. And yet I was only 6 when it finished!
It was “normal” to hear the anti-aircraft guns going off night after night. To hear the crumph of bombs as they fell. I remember thinking that the people making all that noise must be very naughty. And in the morning one of my tasks was to go and clear up the shrapnel from the garden to prevent the dog (Shandy) from cutting his feet on it.
It was “normal” to see the inside of houses, with tables and chairs, pictures on the walls, household clutter and ornaments on the fireplaces, but no front to the house, the floors hanging in space.
As well as Mum and Dad at home (dad was an air raid warden, and an insurance agent in these days before National Insurance), I had a brother who was 8 years older than me. We read of the exploits of our RAF pilots and they were our heroes. We played with home made wooden model aeroplanes or sometimes Dinky Toys of Spitfires and Hurricanes, and made loud “aeer” sounds as we weald them out in our living room.
It was “normal” to see my parent’s faces worried sick as they put shutters up to the windows of our house in Hammersmith Grove to stop blast damaged glass coming in.
I can also clearly remember the underground trains all having sticky paper on the windows, with a little diamond shape you could see through, all to stop the bomb blast showering people with glass.
It was “normal” to be woken by the air raid siren warning of a raid and to be taken down to our Anderson shelter. There it was a smell of damp earth, the noise of the raid and the playing a wind up gramophone until the all clear went. Often, there had been a lot of noise, many bombs had fallen nearby, and I remember more than once mother saying “I wonder if our house is still there”.
Sometimes the air raids took place in the daytime, and I can also remember the sound as wave after wave of Dornier Bombers flew overhead. They mad a very distinctive droning noise. I later learnt that this was because they had Diesel engines.
As they went on their way, people would breath a sigh of relief and pity “the poor buggers who were going to get it”.
A bit later in the war, the doodle bugs (V1 flying bombs) came over, and again everyone held there breath to see if they would go passed. If the engine stopped, you just hit the pavement, because you knew (even at 4 years old) that it would come down any second. At about this time my mother, brother and I were sent off by my father to stay in digs in Winnersh, a suburb of Reading. In those days it was very rural, and I have many happy memories of some friends we made there, who lived in a cottage, with a privy “out the back”. The ladies husband was a prisoner of the Japanese, and her eldest son (all of 14) was the man of the house, who had to clean out the cesspit from time to time. No gas mask, just a handkerchief over his nose! When not so occupied I can remember some very exciting games of cowboys and Indians in the woods at the back of the cottage.
Back in Hammersmith in those days no one I knew had a fridge. We all shopped every day for the essentials that our ration could provide. The United Dairies, Mr Hook the Butcher (my mother was a friend of Mrs Hook, and often used to help make the sausages), and Babs who ran the sweet shop, although sweets were all rationed. She also sold newspapers, but as I couldn’t read, I remember it more as a sweet shop! When our ration allowed, a purchased Mars Bar (4d) was cut up into small slices, and you were only allowed one slice per day! The occasional boiled sweets were very carefully placed in a tourine for mother to ration out as she saw fit.
We had a radio, in the early part of the war this was battery powered with a small lead acid battery that was called an “accumulator”. When it ran out of energy, we had to take it to our local radio shop for it to be recharged. Later in the war, we graduated to a mains powered job. One of the programs we all used to listen to was by the comedian Tommy Handley “ITMA”, which was short for “Its That Man Again”. We all knew the catchphrases “TTFN” ta ta fer na! And “Can I do yer na sir?” from Mrs mop his cleaner and I can still remember one of his jokes about a Mr Yank it Out, the American Dentist. Another program we all listened to was about the detective Paul Temple, with its signature tune (The Flying Scotsman?).
Because coal was also rationed, the winters always felt cold. We usually had one fire going, and all lived in that room. The front room only got heated up for Christmas!
I shared a bedroom with my brother. It was at the top of the house at the back. One night the cold water tank in that room burst, because it was so cold! Washing in those days would be considered perfunctory by modern standards. The only heat in the bathroom being provided by a small electric heater giving off as much heat as a light bulb to stop the pipes freezing. The daily ablution was done at the kitchen sink!
We had a 3-story house, and Dad let out some of the rooms. I remember a soldier on leave, giving me his chocolate. There was also a Sunderland Pilot living with us from time to time (probably staying with another more resident resident!). He survived through to VE day, but got killed before VJ day. He certainly didn’t think the war was glamorous, and I can clearly remember his reluctance to go off to fight the Japanese.
All through my childhood the only time we had oranges was at Christmas, and until the war ended I didn’t know what a Banana was! Or ice cream!
The funny thing about all of this traumatic time is that, as a child, it was all so normal. I didn’t feel underprivileged or hard done by. Yes, I would have like more sweets, and I didn’t like whale meat (did anyone?). But I don’t really remember feeling hunger. There are advantages to a coal fire as well. You can watch all the burning embers, the glowing soot, and imagine all kinds of things - Soldiers fighting (not this war of course, they were always knights in armour) and dragons breathing out the fire. You could also toast bread on it (on the end of a long fork) and boil a kettle.
My schooling started towards the end of the war, but was interrupted because I got scarlet fever, and developed an ear problem known as a mastoid. So I spent some time in Fulham Fever Hospital. Not wonderfully child friendly! When I got out, I was sent away to a convalescent home. This I believe to have been in Kent, so I didn’t see my parents very often. D Day took place whilst I was there, and the nurses gathered us all together and someone made a little speech about the importance of the day, and about the liberation of Europe. It didn’t seem very important at the time to me, a 5 year old! But at the end of the war in Europe, when we had beaten the Germans, and Hitler was no longer a big bogeyman, we had a wonderful street party, with things horded from many different families rations. Jellies, and lots of cake, and Spam sandwiches and lemonade for us kids. I’m sure the adults had something slightly stronger to drink! But we all remembered to take our bottles back to the shop from where they were bought, because for every bottle returned we got a penny back.
Today, perhaps we throw too much away, and I don’t just mean the bottles either.
Contributed originally by whprice2005 (BBC WW2 People's War)
‘CORNCOB’ MS INNERTON & HMS DESPATCH
IN ‘THE FLOATING’ MULBERRY HARBOUR
William Henry Price (Army No 2054978 b24/7/1914)
In 1928 I left school and spent most of my early working life in the music instrument industry. In April 1938 I joined the Territorial Army, whose headquarters were in White City, Shepards Bush. Europe at that time, was uneasy as Germany was preparing for war. In September 1938 the Territorial Army were mobilised in the event of war. A lot of the equipment that was from the 1914-18 war, a lot of this was obsolete, especially in my own unit. The September crisis as it was called, instigated the Prime Minister of the day, Neville Chamberlain, to visit Hitler in Germany. On his return from Germany he claimed Germany would not go to war with Britain, upon a signed agreement. This agreement claimed peace in our time.
During this period my unit, amongst other TA’s were called out in the event of war
Some people didn't believe this as Britain wasn't ready for war. Although it did give us a breathing space, as we knew war would come eventually. We were totally unprepared. As an example, having been called out in the event of war, I spent 3 nights sleeping on a London bus. No one knew where we would be stationed. Eventually we were given a site in North East London, where I spent a further seven days until the September crisis was over. My employer was compelled to release us, for the crisis. I was the only volunteer for the Territorial Army in our company, they were completely unaware of my activity. I was given a hero's welcome on my return. The directors had been in the 1914-18 war and were pleased to know one of their employees had volunteered. In those days I was cycling 30 miles a day back and forth to work. When training two nights a week with the TA, I cycled an extra 5 miles a day from work. I was cycling a total of 190 miles a week.
The following year in 1939 ( a week before the war started) I was called out again, as Britain knew there was going to be a war. For the first 18 months of the war I was stationed in the London area which included the Blitz. I was very fortunate in not having been posted to Dunkirk.
Around 1940 I was moved from West London to the civil service sports ground near Barnes Bridge, at the side of the river Thames. We were able to use the cricket equipment, and whilst playing I received a direct hit by the cricket ball on the leg. It was severe enough to warrant hospital treatment for about three weeks. My first contact with 'friendly fire'! After the first three weeks I was sent to Hammonsmith Hospital for x-rays, the medical officer decided to send me on seven days sick leave, to be followed by light duties, which meant me being sent to NE London. I was the troop clerk and also in charge of stores equipment for six anti aircraft sites, such as petrol etc. Whilst there, the troop Sargent WH Walverton, (from the 1914-18 War), received a letter from the Mayor of Southgate, whereas a local family wanted to adopt a soldier. He turned around to me and said "Here Price, this is ideal for you". Hence, I was able to visit them for a occasional meal, the family were a young couple with a new arrival. I had already been adopted by the local pub the Chaseside Tavern, and had been invited to join the family for Christmas lunch. This was my contribution to the early part of the war as 'light duties'. During the Blitz, crossing through London on my weekly 24 hour leave to Kent from Charring Cross I noticed people sleeping in the tube stations for safety, and many families living on the rail tube underground. These were being used as air raid shelters.
Late 1941 I volunteered for a new unit being formed which where originally the Fourth Battalion Queens. They were being converted to a light anti-aircraft regiment (bofor guns 40mm). After training we were semi mobile, and hence we moved to most parts of the United Kingdom. Twice the regiment was mobilised for overseas service, which never eventuated. We fortunately stayed in the United Kingdom.
In December 1942, I was stationed at West Bay Bridge Port, a message came from headquarters for me only, to be transferred to a gun site on the outskirts of Yeoville. This particular location was the rear of a country pub. One had to walk down the side of the pub to get to the gun site. At the time I was a number 4. My job on the gun was to fire it. I was named 'Trigger Joe', as I was considered quick on the draw. During an air raid an enemy plane was shot down. Hence the local people donated a radio set to the site. It was here one morning, I think it was New Year's eve, strolling along the side of the pub from the gun site, when a young WAAF came by with a bike and a large tea bucket. She approached me, to fill the bucket with beer from the pub. As it was awkward to take the beer back to the WAAF site at the bottom of the hill. I was asked to help with the beer transport, and as a result I found myself invited to join them at the head of their table at the Ballon Barrage site to drink the beer!.
Early 1944 the Colonel, informed me that the regiment had been allocated with a special job on the occasion of the invasion of Europe. In May 1944 my battery was moved to Oban Scotland, each person was issued with a hammock out in the bay with several merchant ships. I was allocated to one merchant ship called the Innerton. Little did we realise, it was to form the outer brake water called the Muberry Harbour. I gather this had been planned in the 1942 conference in Quebec by Churchill and Roosevelt. Towards the end of May 1944 a very large convoy of merchant ships made their way through the Irish Channel and were eventually joined by the American and British war ships of approximately 60 ships. Each of the merchant ships did have a bofor gun attachment on board. At that time we didn't know what was going to happen. As most people know D-Day was put off from the 5th to the 6th of June, and we continued to past the time until the 6th.
The convoy of merchant ships moved off on the afternoon of June 6th known as D-Day. There were approximately 17 merchant ships that started to move into position, known as block ships. They were to form the outer brake water for Mulberry B, this being the British and Canadian sector. The effect was to calm the seas inside their protection. The ship I was on was number seven in line to be sunk. From then on, other parts of the harbour started to arrive including concrete caisson blocks etc. It only took a few days for the harbour to take effect and be completed. During this time landings were being made on the beach. My regiment's duty was the defence of the Mulberry Harbour. I was transferred to a HMS Despatch which was the headquarter ship of the Mulberry Harbour, and I served there until the end of the Normandy campaign. Adetailed account is referenced from John de S. Winsers book The D-Day Ships Neptune: the Greatest Amphibious Operation in History:
A fleet of elderly or damaged ships were assembled to be sunk in shallow water off each of the five beach-heads, to provide shelter for the smaller craft. The first contingent moved in three convoys, codenamed 'Corncobs', with I and II reaching the French coast between 1200 and 1400 on the 7th and III, consisting of the oldest or slowest vessels, arriving one day later. The ships had a 10lb demolition minutes from the time of blowing the charges to the vessel settling on the bottom. The plan was for one ship to be scuttled or planted every 40 minutes. The ship's superstructure remained above the water-level enabling the accomodation to be utilised. The shelters were named 'Gooseberries' and numbered 1-5.
In the middle of June 1944 a violent storm wrecked the Amercian sector of the Mulberry Harbour. The
British sector was also partly wrecked, but repaired with parts of the American sector.
The Normandy campaign was over by the end of August 1944. HMS Despatch left for the UK, calling in Portsmouth where the port watch commenced their leave. I remained on ship until Devonport. On arrival I was given seven days leave, with instructions to return to France. It was there my Battery 439 (light anti-aircraft unit) was reformed and we made our way through the rest of France and Belgium and later a cold and wintery period in Holland.
As the war ended we were in Germany. For a period I was detailed with others to a displaced persons camp. There were approximately 900 displaced persons which included mostly Polish and people from the Baltic states, Estonians etc. I remained in Germany until November that year when I was demobed in November 1945.
Bill Price June 2004
Contributed originally by John E. Forbat (BBC WW2 People's War)
As air raids seemed to be declining after three years of evacuation, it was agreed that I should go back home to London permanently - as it turned out, just in time for a resumption of regular night raids.
Now aged fourteen and no longer so puny, I obtained the steel helmet and Fire Guard armband that was obligatory for Fire Guards in the six-storey block of flats where we now lived. This involved patrolling the corridors to check for incendiary bombs and more interestingly, standing on the flat roof above the sixth floor, to watch the search lights pick out bombers and to see the anti aircraft shells bursting. Regular training and practice in the art of extinguishing incendiary bombs with the piddling jet from a stirrup pump in a bucket of water, taught us to crawl below the smoke and to direct the jet, holding the hose over our heads while another pumped, till the bucket was empty.
I was ready to go to bed one evening some hours before my watch duty time, when a raid was going ding dong, as I looked out to the North, with the black out curtains behind me. A stick of bombs started whistling towards us, each a little nearer and when the whistling reached shrieking level, I ducked back behind the curtain. The bomb fell a short distance away and the window I had been looking through shredded the curtain near my stomach. Soon the Chief of our Fireguard section was ringing our doorbell.
"John, take this pink form to the Auxiliary Fire Station at Beaufort Street School and tell them we need them to put out a fire on the corner of Gliddon Road. We already pulled an old lady out - except she insisted on going back for her false teeth. Be quick now."
By now having my own bike, earned by tilling Uncle Eugene's allotment for a shilling a day, I donned my "tin hat" and clutching the pink form, sped the half mile along North End Road, over never ending broken glass. When I arrived, the school itself was well alight and I was told to go back - they were busy putting out their own fire. I made the return ride over the glass, somehow without the tyres going flat and the fire in Gliddon Road just continued to burn.
I was sometimes late for school. Everybody was sometimes and at assembly, after the Headmaster had announced who had been killed in the previous night's raid, the late boys were paraded for their punishment.
I must have been fifteen when the Doodlebug flying bombs began to rain down at all hours. One of the first passed right over our heads as my brother Andrew and I were cycling into Kent one Friday evening for one of our many weekend Scout camps. The A2 ran dead straight southeast and the throaty ramjet roared ever louder as it approached to fly right overhead. Flak was bursting all around it - quite a spectacular show - till the shrapnel started to bounce off the pavement around us and we ducked into a doorway, later burning our fingers on the hot shards.
On the way home on Sunday, we passed the Streatham house of a good friend who was old enough to have been called up for Service. Their front door was missing and all their windows were blown in, so Mrs Randall asked us to go to her sister who lived near us in London, to tell her they were OK. We got back onto our bikes and passed the cause of the Randalls' damage - a whole block of houses flattened by a single Doodlebug, leaving little more than a big crater. We cycled on past our flats towards the Randalls' relatives in Hammersmith and racing south as the sirens wailed, we heard another throaty roar rapidly approaching. We had been trained to lie down in the gutter with our hands covering our heads and to wait until the engine cut. The Doodlebugs then pitched down to dive onto wherever they were pointing. It cut out very close to us, so we dived for the kerb and waited.
A great mushroom cloud rose where it had hit in the next street and we got back up. Before we could pass on the Randalls' message, Andrew who had started medical school by then tarried to render First Aid.
In the months while the Doodlebug campaign persisted, the air raid sirens sounded just about every few minutes, it seemed. Most people dived into air raid shelters - often down into the Underground, where at night many slept on the platforms. But as many Doodlebugs came during the day as at night and while our flats had a big basement that was used as a shelter, we boys only used it to practice our table tennis, while it was otherwise unused. As Mother found out only after the War was over, being up on the roof was more exciting during air raids.
The frequency of air raid warnings got so high, that taking heed would completely prevent all normal activity and for the first time in my school days, I determined never to be late. No way was I going to let Hitler dominate my life any longer! Air raid warning or not, I rode to Sloane School and thumbing my nose at Hitler, arrived on time without fail every day. When the V2 rockets began to fall, there was no warning and no way to hide anyway. Once you heard the explosion - followed by the whine of its supersonic arrival, it was obvious that some other poor bastard had bought it.
If only I could be a couple of years older - I would have given my right arm to fly a Spitfire like some of my brother's friends.
Contributed originally by Torbay Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Paul Trainer of Torbay Library Services on behalf of Mrs Diamond and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understand's the site's Terms and Conditions.
In her story, Mrs Diamond recounts to her grandson a fascinating and often thrilling account of what it was like growing up in war-torn Fulham.
My dear Mark,
Before I can tell you about “Grandma’s War” I realise I will have to explain how I was there and where I lived. I was born in Fulham, which is next to Chelsea about five miles from the city of London. When I was nearly 4 years old, sadly, my Mother died. My Father and I went to live with his older sister, my Auntie Lot (short for Charlotte), her husband Uncle Bill and my cousins Rose and Bill who were both grown up.
After a few months my Father went away, but I stayed with my Aunt and Uncle. We lived in a very old house because Uncle Bill was a Greengrocer. Attached to the back of our house were stables where the horses lived; there were three of them, Polly, Tommy and Joe and they pulled the carts full of fruit and vegetables around the part of Fulham where we lived. Uncle Bill had one round, a man called George another and my cousin Bill had the biggest and best round. His round was in the better part of Fulham where there were much bigger houses and the people had more money, so he had all the best goods and Uncle Bill and George sold the cheaper produce. My cousin Rose had married and had her own home.
When the war started I was 11 years and 3 months old. I was very tall and looked older than my age. That summer, I had won a scholarship to go to Grammar School but my Aunt said they could not afford it because most children left school at 14 and started work, but to go to Grammar School you had to stay till you were 16. The junior school were trying to find me a school where I could get a grant to pay for uniform, books and upkeep. However, my Aunt still said no. When the war started it was still the summer holidays and it had not been decided where I was to go, so I was not on any schools list. All the schools were closed and nearly all the children were evacuated, but my Aunt said no, I was to stay at home.
Bill and my uncle loved their horses and they were very well cared for. Bill knew very soon he would be called up and Uncle Bill would need some help as Uncle and George were quite old. Bill taught me how to mix the various foods needed to keep the horses fit and well, how to groom them and change the bedding. I learned how to harness them. He taught me to be able to go into the stable blindfolded and put on the bridle (headpiece), undo the tethering rope, talking quietly all the time to the horse and turn her and lead her into the yard, so that I could do it in dark or smoke. I thought it was a good game, never realising the time would come when I would do it for real. Although we had electricity in both the house and the stables, with the outbreak of war there was a complete blackout. The air Raid Wardens were very strict and said even a small gleam of light could be seen from a thousand feet up in the sky! We made shutters to go over the downstairs windows and black linings to all the curtains on the other windows.
A few weeks earlier as I went out to do some errands, I went out of the front door and saw that the sky was full of great big silver balloons. They were like enormous sausages and had three big ears at the back. I shouted to the family and they all came to look. They were called Barrage Balloons and were fixed to the ground by a big steel cable. They could be raised or lowered on the cable, which was worked by a lorry engine. They were based in every park or open space, and they prevented enemy planes from dive bombing the people. They worked very well, but could not be used if our fighter planes were airborne.
On Sunday September 3rd, the Prime Minister Mr Chamberlain was to speak on the radio at 11am. We lived next door to the Salvation Army hall and the people in the service came out and stood in the road outside our house and most of the neighbours were inside, (lots of people did not have a radio of their own). Bill opened all the doors and put the radio on full power. Everyone was silent; so many people remembered the First World War.
After Mr Chamberlain stated that war had been declared, the Salvation Army people went back to their service and as the neighbours were leaving, a weird noise started going up and down in tone. It was the Air Raid Warning! Everyone started to run towards his or her own home. The warden was shouting, “Take cover!” but no one took any notice — they just wanted to be home.
Early in 1939 everyone had been issued with a Gas Mask. It was made of rubber with straps that went over your head and held it close to your face with a round metal filter at the bottom. In front was a celluloid panel to see through. It was in a brown cardboard box with a string to go over your shoulder and we were told to take it everywhere we went, but of course no one had brought it with them to our house! After 15 minutes, the All Clear (a high-pitched noise all in one note) sounded. It had been a false alarm.
For the next few months everything went on as usual. Then in January 1940 rationing started. Meat, bacon, tea, sugar, butter, margarine and eggs were the first foods to be rationed and you had to register with the shop of your choice. It did not apply to us as we did not sell any of those foods, but we thought it was good because poor people got the same as rich people so it was fairer.
At the beginning of March 1940 Bill left to join the Army. He had volunteered for the Kings Royal Rifle Brigade. He would train as a rifleman but would also be a despatch rider as he had always had motor bikes and had always done a lot of cross country and dirt track riding and had won a number of races. He was very good. With Bill gone, changes had to be made. Uncle Bill and George split the rounds and Uncle Bill took over Bill’s round and I started working with him. We went to Covent Garden Market 3 times per week to buy produce. There was nothing coming from abroad, only home grown produce. Covent Garden was behind the Strand in the centre of London, about 4 miles from home. Quite a few children had come home as they did not like being evacuated and nothing was happening. There was talk of opening some schools, but then Germany invaded Holland and Belgium and everything started going wrong. Soon the British and French armies were retreating towards the coast. Everyone was so worried as so many local men were over there. It was the first we heard of a place called Dunkirk. About 2 weeks later a friend called and asked if I could come and help take buns and bread over to the railway line and of course I did. The Women’s Voluntary Service had set up their mobile canteen and was making tea. We made sandwiches and buttered buns and when a train came it went very slowly so we could pass the tea and food to the soldiers who were being brought back from Dunkirk. Lots of people came to help; there were only a few trains at first but each day there were more. It went on for several days. The main thing I remember about the trains I saw when I was there is how tired all the soldiers looked. None had shaved and many only had part of their uniform and others had none at all. Lots had bandages on arms, hands or heads. In some carriages everyone was sound asleep. Some trains did not slow down; they had stretchers on them. It is something I will never forget.
After Dunkirk, life went on. We worked, we went to market and I joined the St John Ambulance Brigade Cadets learning First Aid and basic nursing at classes held in a local hall. The Home Guard was formed. By August, German bombers were coming over every day and there were lots of battles going on in the skies over London. They were aiming for the docks and power stations, but our fighters were doing a wonderful job to stop them. We could not see the actual fights but you saw the smoke trails all over the sky and twice I saw a parachute floating down and once a plane crashing, but not in Fulham. We still went on working and of course some planes did get through and dropped their bombs. Shops put boards outside with posters on like a cricket score - how many German planes had been shot down and how many of our planes were lost.
By September the Germans had changed to night bombing. Every night they came so everything had to be done before 6pm, as you knew they would arrive soon after. We made sandwiches and filled Thermos flasks and moved our bedding into the shelter and slept there. When it was bad we took it in turns to sleep. On the opposite side of the road to our house lived the coal man who had two big horses and we all took turns to keep watch. The main problem apart from the bombs was shrapnel from the anti-aircraft shells which, after exploding, fell to the ground - jagged pieces of metal up to 10 inches long. They could cause a very bad injury if they hit you. Our nearest bomb was about 200 yards away. It demolished 3 houses and badly damaged the two on either side. Some of the people had gone to spend the night in one of the deep underground stations and some were in the shelters. Neighbours and the rescue service dug those who still remained in the houses out. They were injured, but nobody died. It was the most awful mess. We lost our front windows and a lot of plaster came down from the bedroom ceilings and shrapnel came through the roof on to the beds. More people were going to the tube stations each night or stayed where they felt safest - under a heavy kitchen table, or in the cupboard under the stairs, a cellar if you had one, or a shelter like ours. You had to tell the warden where you were so they knew where to look for you if you got a direct hit. Most important was your shelter bag — everybody had one — which contained your rent book, ration books, identity cards, photos of the family, birth and marriage certificates and any special keepsake. And most important — the Insurance Policies! Even very poor people paid insurance, 1 penny per week for each child and 2 pence each for Mum and Dad. No Londoner would let any member of their family have a pauper’s funeral. This bag was taken everywhere at this time.
It was a fact that although you were up most of the night, perhaps only getting 1 or 2 hours sleep, nobody thought to stay home. When the “all-clear” sounded, as daylight came, you had a wash and put on your day clothes, got ready and went to work. Being so close to the gas works, the Shell-mex depot (one of the largest petrol depots in London), the Fulham power stations and behind all of them the railway and the river Thames, we certainly got our share of bombing. A big problem was when the main water or gas pipes were hit, leaving everyone without gas or water for cooking, etc. Uncle Bill got a big tin bucket and knocked holes in the bottom, stood it on two bricks and lit a fire in it. We always kept buckets and saucepans full of water, so we were able to make tea on the fire. We could only have the fire in daylight, As Autumn came on, if the weather was bad with fog or rain, it was great, as the bombers could not come so we got a night in bed.
When you see anything on TV about the London blitz, they always show the city of London burning, with hose pipes and firemen everywhere and maybe a big hole in the ground with a bus in it. Well, it wasn’t the only place. That same night (the Sunday after Christmas) we, in Fulham, had many hundreds of incendiary bombs. They were 12 inch cylinders and I think about one hundred were packed in a container which the plane dropped. When the container hit a hard surface such as a road or a roof, it burst and showered the bombs everywhere and where they fell they started burning. If you got to them quickly with a shovel of sand or earth or pumped some water on it they were extinguished. The difficulty was that when they fell on a roof, you could go up a ladder and pull them off into the garden with a rake but once the roof caught fire you could do nothing. We managed to deal with most of ours as the ARP and neighbours were there and everyone helped everyone else. Unfortunately the stables that backed onto our stables were mostly wood and caught fire very quickly. On one terrible night, they did catch fire. The men who stabled their horses there managed to get them out but could not save the carts and vans and equipment. They brought their horses around into our street and tied them to the back of the air raid shelter. As the fire got worse the wall of our stables got very hot and there was thick black smoke, so following the blindfold routine Bill had taught me, I got Polly out, followed by Uncle Bill with Tom and George and Joe. We managed to keep our horses away from the others as they were all very nervous. We had put nose bags on them with some favourite food in them to calm them but it was very scary. We could see lots of fires burning and a big red glow in the sky towards Chelsea. It was the worst night I can remember. Towards morning the firemen came and managed to get the fire behind us out. The coal man let the men have a spare stable and Uncle Bill let them have our spare one and we put Joe and Tommy back in their own stable. It was then around 5am when the “all clear” sounded. Uncle Bill said we may as well set off for market as it might be difficult to get there. It was! Streets were closed with fires and unexploded bombs and bomb damage so we kept getting diverted. We got as far as Victoria by 7am. I kept having to lead Polly over hose pipes and rubble. Then, as we turned up towards the Strand, a large policeman, covered in dust and dirt, asked us where we thought we were going (but not so politely!). Uncle told him we were going to Covent Garden and he told us there was no market as most of it had burned. He said to head towards the Embankment as any lorries daft enough to come into London would be directed there. So, that’s where we went and there were lorries there so we were able to buy straight from the lorries, including two boxes of apples left from Christmas - a great treat. Then of course we had to get home. I think it was by far the worst night of the blitz for me.
NOW READ PART TWO OF 'GRANDMA'S WAR, ALSO ON THIS SITE
Contributed originally by Janet_daughter (BBC WW2 People's War)
10th. August 1940
To Fus. WA Barter 6472227,
No. 1 Platoon,
Block No. 2,
58 Walterton Road,
Have you been enjoying the heat wave we’ve been having these last two or three days? It must be nice having the sea breezes, it’s been like an oven up here. I didn’t quite know what Mum would like for a birthday present, so I asked her. She said she would like a chain with a pendent so I will get her one if that’s alright with you. I think that’s nice, for her to choose something like that don’t you? Jess is going to get her curtains. I think I’ll get her a hat, I may have a day off on Saturday so we will get the pendent then so you will be able to see it when you come home. That’s nice you getting leave. I bet you are glad.
You were asking about the room, well the rain doesn’t come in at all now and I have got the window box. It fits fine, it has scarlet (?) in it now. I haven’t got anything else new for the room, I’m still broke. Jess is the one with all the money, she spends it like water. The settee does look nice, we must get some nice cushion covers. You were right, those green ones do look awful. I don’t quite know which colour would look nice, a softer green or a completely different colour. Can you think of one? Jess wants to get a carpet. I would like a patterned one wouldn’t you? It looks more cosy.
Ray came the other day, I didn’t see him as I was working late. Mum says he has gone very thin. He has seven days leave, he doesn’t know yet where he has to report to when it’s up. He seems to have been to a lot of different places since we last saw him. Mr. Ward has been this last week, Mum had to entertain him as Dad & Son were away. He has been very queer again, what a life always being ill.
Ray is here again tonight. He seems a bit brighter, he was rather fed up the other day. He’s growing a moustache, I don’t like it much.
Old Joe is waiting to be taken to post this letter so I’ll say cheerio,
PS I started this letter this afternoon and finished it tonight.
21st. August 1940
To Fus. WA Barter 6472227,
No. 1 Platoon,
Block No. 2,
58 Walterton Road,
I’m sorry I have not written before, the time has gone so quickly and I have been rather busy, not much time off. We have not been able to take the rest of the snaps yet. Mum was saying you liked the snap of the group which I had in my room. I don’t know where the negative is but you can have the snap, so here it is. Jess liked it too so we must try and find the negative.
Ern came on Sunday, he seemed all merry and bright. He hopes to get seven days leave soon, so he hopes it will be in September when Lill has hers. Do you see any chance of getting yours yet? It would be nice if you got it next month then Jess will be at home. We could arrange to go for some picnics and as you can now swim you could teach me so when we take a house at the seaside one year we shall be able to go in the sea.
Mr. Childs came today, he brought a photo of Ray. You can hardly recognise him, and that moustache, but old pop Childs is terribly proud of it. He’s given us one. Mum is trying to find Joe’s photo for you, the one where he is standing by himself. She found one of the first Joe, it’s quite a good one too so she will send it as well. Glad to hear you have a good cook but you had better not eat too much or you will bust those pants of yours.
What do you think of the raids we nearly had? The RAF must be jolly good to stop them from getting here. Son gave me the ten shillings. Mum hasn’t got the necklace yet she is waiting until next week when I leave this job then I can go and help her choose it. Tibs is sitting on the table right on the pad waiting for a chance to give the pen a swipe. He’s got a habit of getting up when Mum starts to play cards, he has a fine time. She had nearly got it out last night when he sent them all flying. She was wild and he sent sons pills right across the room. He’s quite a footballer. He is getting fat again and, wonders, he’s washing himself.
Mum doesn’t seem able to find one of Joe by himself so here is one with Dad. It’s quite a good one. Well, I will close now.
To Fus. WA Barter 6472227,
No. 1 Platoon,
Block No. 2,
Kent. Jessie Barter Gorring(?)
I expect you will have got the socks by now. I only posted them on my way back because we are miles from anywhere now. I shall have to walk a mile to post this, then there is only a box on a post, so I expect you will get this on Monday, although it is only Friday now.
I went home on Wednesday and we had an air raid from nine till four in the morning but we did not hear much. If I had known I would have gone to bed but of course you can’t be sure they won’t get through. We just heard a gun about every two or three hours and a single plane overhead. I was tired the next day. We went to Kensington and got the curtains. I also got some fire irons on a stand for the fire place, they look quite nice.
The tomatoes are getting along fine. I counted 27 good sized ones and a lot of tiny ones coming on, they take a long time to turn red but they are nice firm ones. There is a lovely garden where we are now, loads of plums and apples. I took a big tin box full of blackberries home on Wednesday and we had a pudding with some of them.
On our way to the station we picked up a young soldier, he was going on seven days leave, to Leicester. It was the first leave for five months he said, he seemed quite excited about it. There were four other soldiers in the train going up but they were going back from leave, to Ireland. One of them had a stainless steel mirror in a case, he took it out to show the others and told them not to pinch it. He had the last one pinched when he left it on a washbasin. “And it wasn’t there when you went back?” said one of the others, so surprised, of course everybody roared.
Have you seen a photo of Ray? Mum has got one, he has grown a moustache and it makes him look about 30 but it suits him I think. Quite a posh uniform he has on, with a peaked cap. I think they are much smarter than those convict caps they dish out now.
About the socks you sent back, I shall have to get some different kind of wool I think because it doesn’t seem to wash well. I’ve started some grey ones now and I’ll get the other when I go up next time. I’ll try and send this pair next week. Well Walt, I must stop now if I’m to get this posted. I suppose you are so used to air raids now you would miss them if they stopped,
29th. Aug. 1940
To Mr. H. Barter,
58 Walterton Road,
Fus. WA Barter 6472227,
No. 1 Platoon,
Block No. 2,
I got your letter with the programme in it (QPR) you gave me a few happy moments looking at the two teams. I see that a lot of the young ones were not playing so very likely they are in the army too now. Looking at the fixtures I see that we are fielding two teams this season. It seems as if the air raids are going to mess things up a bit though if the match has to be stopped each time, still we must hope for the best. I shall get the evening paper each Saturday so I shall be able to see how they got on and I may be able to see a match when I get my seven days leave.
You wondered if I have heard anything of the shelling of Dover, well, we can hear the bangs in the distance but not very loud. They come over about every eight minutes and on Saturday about six were sent over.
So you went to see “Jack Ahoy” last week, I saw it when it came out first which was a long time ago, I did not think much of it at the time.
We still have a lot of air raids down here, we had one last night at 12.10. I don’t know how long it lasted as I went to sleep again. We are doing a lot of field training now as we are getting towards the end of our training. We were out all the morning, running all over the shop and some of the ground is very soft and slippery and we get in a real b—mess by the time we are finished. While we were out a raid came and we saw a bunch of eighteen German planes go over on their way to London, whether they got there or not I don’t know. On Tuesday we went out to do some wiring and tomorrow we are to start to dig trenches so we look as though we are in for a lot of hard work.
I wrote to Uncle Bill the other day so I should hear from him soon, He may be busy now that the air raids have come to his part of the world and he will tell me about it I expect and I shall pass it on to you as I don’t expect you have seen him just lately. How is the work going now? Has Mr. Ward been over again? Is Harry still working with you, will you let me have his address so I can write to him sometime?
Contributed originally by Roland Hindmarsh (BBC WW2 People's War)
By now we were well into the open ocean and meeting with the full strength of the Atlantic swell. The ungainly shape of the carrier tilted first this way - and then that - in a long rhythm of pitching and rolling quite different from the Manchester’s responses to movement caused by the sea. The Victorious, with a displacement of about 22,000 tons, rode the swell heavily, ponderously. It was while I was peeling spuds, perched in a kind of balcony projecting from the ship's side about half way between the waterline and the flight deck, that I first realised how slow and extensive was the ship's motion.
The sequence tended to be like this. For ten or fifteen seconds we would be almost on an even keel, as the carrier moved along the line of a trough between two swells, two or three hundred yards apart. As the next swell, always from the west, approached the vessel, she would begin to heel to starboard, and the water surface in front of my balcony would come nearer as I was tilted over more and more towards it. For a moment or two I would be struggling to hold myself on my stool, my feet strongly braced against stanchions at the balcony edge, as I peered down into the blue-black waters only about fifteen feet below. Then the swell would lift the great mass of the carrier on its shoulders, and pass underneath it. The Victorious would begin to right herself, come back to vertical, and then, as she slid down the back of the swell, roll slowly over to port. Now I would be raised on my balcony sixty or seventy feet above the water, and look out into the sky, or across at one of our escorting destroyers rolling and butting her way through configurations of minor waves that complicated the overall pattern of the swell. The huge mass would finally smash down into the next trough, and then sluggishly right herself, before running on an even keel for a while and then recommencing the same sequence.
As I was out in the open air, and on the lee side of the vessel, I was able to withstand this motion better than I had feared. I think I vomited briefly a couple of times, and then learnt how to adjust my breathing to counteract the effect of the roll, taking in air as she fell away under me, and expelling it steadily as she rose. I found it easier to stand than sit, for then I could tilt my body against the ship and remain more or less upright. So I placed my two buckets between my feet - one bucket with the unpeeled spuds in, the other with rinsing water and peelings in it. Facing forward to help me gauge the ship’s movement by the swinging of the bows, I did my share of the work as a scullion, becoming increasingly proficient at it.
Another skill I acquired was the art of going up and downstairs in heavy weather. I learnt that it was a pointless expenditure of effort to try to climb up the metal stairs of a companionway when the deck was rising, for my body felt twice as heavy as normal, and each step was heavy labour. If I waited till the deck was dropping away, all I had to do was kick my feet in and out smartly as the near vertical stairway feel away below me, and run my hand up the chain at the side to steady myself - and in a trice I would reach the top. The same trick worked in reverse for descending: wait for the ship to be rising under me, and kick my feet in and out as the ladder passed by - and I was at the bottom. In each case I had hardly moved through the air: the ship had changed her position in respect of mine.
Provided the weather wasn't too rough, we were allowed on the flight deck, with lifejackets on. I felt strangely exposed to be walking on that tilting platform, without any guardrail protection at the edge. In sunny spells Coates and I, with others from the fo'c'sle messes on the Manchester, would promenade up and down the length of the deck. In part this was simply for exercise - the Navy made a virtue of moving your bowels once a day - but it was also to give ourselves the space to move more freely than we could between decks, as well as to chat and chaff each other the meanwhile. Some bravado was also involved, for some of us would see how close we dared go aft to the stern edge of the flight deck. There the heaving and movement was accentuated, and staring down into the heaving swell and the ship's wake could induce a sense of vertigo and make you feel as if you were about to be pitched overboard into those powerful waves.
The further north we went, the fewer were the sailors walking the windy flight deck, and the more were the rumours passed around about which port we were making for. Liverpool, said some, but Glasgow seemed more likely. Crewmen of the Victorious believed she was due for repair, which increased speculation, but did not point clearly to where survivors would be disembarked — which was all that interested the sailors in transit. But day after day went by without any land heaving into sight. We knew from the sun we were travelling east, and should therefore see something soon.
When at last the cry went up, we all rushed up on to the flight deck, hunching our shoulders and clustering together against the wind. On our starboard bow was a great green headland, with one whitewashed lighthouse and a small cottage nearby. Surely we had seen that before ...
'It's Cape Wrath!' shouted one of the Manchester men. 'Back to bloody Scapa then!'
There was a groan of disappointment. Rumours flew about wildly: we were going into Scapa to be kitted out on Hoy, and then kept ashore there to await posting to another ship; we were to be transferred to a troop carrier and taken down to Glasgow … But everyone was proved wrong when the Victorious steamed on the whole night. Next morning we were still making way; land lay on our right hand, but the sun told us we were now moving south. Scotland's east coast! This was confirmed when around midday we found ourselves passing Aberdeen, identified by a sailor whose home was in that city. I had been on deck since mid-morning, for the chance to see more of the coastline of Britain was something I didn’t want to miss. Also I was aware that mines might have been sown by an enemy submarine in what was supposed to be a swept channel, and I did not want to be trapped below decks when we were so close to safety.
Around tea-time we anchored off a port. The ship's tannoy told all survivors to gather in the aircraft hangar to await transfer ashore to Arbroath, where a train was said to be ready to take us further south. We were taken away in barges hauled by tugs, and made fast alongside a simple jetty. Dry land again underfoot, and Britain: I had made it. The adventure was complete. But there were no welcoming bands to parade us victoriously into the town: only surly Petty Officers dragooning us into squads to be marched along the dockside and into a railway siding where a number of carriages were drawn up waiting. These looked as if they had been taken out of some dusty storage shed. As we clambered up into them from ground level, we found that we would have to travel four a side, crammed together into the space meant for three. Once we had got in, the doors were locked on us; the temptation might be too great for some to make a break, especially as none of us had any movement papers and thus there was no efficient means of checking on us. So we waited, and waited, until at last an engine came and coupled up and slowly began easing us out of that siding.
The journey south had begun, but we found ourselves stopping frequently, for we were a special train and had to fit into the gaps between scheduled services. Several times we were shoved into a siding to let other trains pass; as they did so, we jeered at the driver and passengers, shouting:
'There's a war on — ain’t you heard?'
The passengers looked back in alarm to see so many ruffianly figures hanging out of the railway carriage windows, only half dressed as seamen. Then we would hear the whistle from our own engine and it would reluctantly puff and sigh and clank, as it again took the strain of the old coaches and their charge of ragamuffin sailors.
We noticed too that there was no question of pausing at any station. We trailed through Perth and then Stirling, many of us casting longing eyes at the railway buffet. The vision of tea and buns grew gradually into images of much more substantial meals, as we approached the border and the evening lengthened into night. Our headway was still desperately slow, and hunger was becoming a major concern; thirst too.
But the train merely dragged on, southwards. Soon sailors were spreading themselves out on the floor for the night. This move, once begun, spread so swiftly that the only bit of flooring I could find was immediately outside a toilet. Throughout the night, as the train clanked on and stopped and started again, men stepped over me, or in their half-awake condition stubbed their toes against me, or kicked me in anger at being in their way. They seemed to come every few minutes to use the loo. By morning I was stiff and bruised, hungry and very thirsty. My tongue was thick and furred, and I felt that the train was some kind of prison, out of which I might never be allowed. We could be shunted into a siding somewhere, and forgotten. Then we would climb out through the windows, I reasoned, and all go absent without leave, or AWOL.
Nevertheless we must have made considerable headway during the night hours. By daylight names on hoardings gave clues that we must by now be somewhere in the home counties and apparently making for London. The mood in the train, however, was becoming quite rebellious, with ugly outbursts of temper between men. We had had nothing to eat or drink since late afternoon in Arbroath. As we shuffled into the outskirts of London around eleven in the morning, we hung out of the windows, trying to attract attention from anyone we could see. At windows of three-storey houses backing onto the tracks women appeared, roused by our shouting:
'How about a cup o’ char, then, love?'
'Just throw us down yer teapot, then!'
'Got a crust o’ bread for a shipwrecked sailor?'
Finally we pulled in at a derelict-looking station somewhere in the Willesden area. There was no-one about but Petty Officers, equipped with keys to unlock the carriage doors.
'Out yer get, then. Look smart! Fall in on the platform!'
Stiff and famished, we stretched our limbs at last in the unwonted space of the platform, ignoring the harrying of the Petty Officers. 'How about some grub, then, Chief?'
'Some char - we ain't drunk since yesterday, not a drop!'
The PO’s looked incredulously at us. It was clear they had no idea what our journey had been like. It soon came out that they had simply been told to stand by for survivors who needed re-kitting. The sailors, especially the older hands, lost no time in telling the PO’s just what the score was, and all pretence of trying to discipline us into three ranks disappeared.
Not far from me a PO was speaking to a group of sailors.
'All the gen we got was to take you from the station to the pusser's stores - that's nearby, only a few hundred yards down the road - and get you kitted out.'
'They got a canteen there, then?'
'Yeah, or a NAAFI?'
The PO hung his head. 'Not that I've seen.'
'Come back from the Med, and this is the way they treat yer!'
By now sailors were breaking off here and there and going to the station toilet, where some cold taps had been found.
'Once we're kitted out,' a Leading Seaman asked, ‘what then?'
'You get a pass for indefinite leave home,' replied the PO.
There was a gasp of satisfaction. 'Home leave!'
'What are we waiting for!'
'Come on - fall in then!'
'The sooner the kitting out's done, we can all get away!'
'Roll on six o' bleedin’ clock!'
'I can just feel that pint goin' down me throat!'
Within minutes we were walking, not marching, along a drab back street of London in some industrial zone, and turned in to a large warehouse. There we shed our survivors' garments (though I kept the paint-stained overalls as a kind of memento of the Manchester) and were issued with the full set of clothing and equipment, just as had happened on my second day in Collingwood. In the warmth of late August we had to try on all the articles to get the right size. But this time the men behind the counter couldn't bully us as they had when we were raw recruits. It was we who did the choosing, and satisfied ourselves that we were getting what suited us. Yet the boots were stiff and squeaked as I walked; the socks were too thick for summer wear; the cap was stubbornly round and would not yield easily to my attempts at wrestling its brim into the shape of my head. The kitbag, filled with all the bits and pieces, was heavy and lumpy. Bearing it on my shoulder, and wearing full uniform for the first time since leaving Scapa for the Med, I moved through to the pay office, was issued with a fresh identity card - retaining my Official Number of PJX 294798 - and paid arrears for July and August, the sum being entered in a new paybook. Last of all I got a travel warrant for the underground journey to Turnham Green station, and a pass saying 'On indefinite leave'.
I must have had a cup of tea and a bun at a station somewhere; I have a feeling I passed through King's Cross. That would have meant taking the tube to Hammersmith, and then the familiar District Line train passing through Ravenscourt Park - a glimpse of Latymer, my old school - and of Stamford Brook — crossing the bridge under which I used to walk as a schoolboy every morning and evening - and so to Turnham Green.
It felt strange to be carrying a whole kitbag down the station stairs, so familiar from my adolescence, and turning into Bedford Park again. I had forgotten my parents' new address; all I remembered was that it was close to Mrs Brunsden's house. I recalled that this was 13 Fairfax Road, from visits paid there in the mid-1930s. So I rang the bell.
Mrs Brunsden - long nose, enormous spectacles, tall and bony - opened the door, and gasped.
'Hallo, Mrs Brunsden. I'm looking for my parents' house.'
'Along there,' she managed to say, scarcely able to find her voice at the shock of seeing me suddenly at the door, and in sailor's uniform. 'Nineteen.'
'Thank you.' She stood there, stupefied, so I went down the path and shut the gate behind me, nodding a goodbye to her.
Strangely enough I can hardly remember anything of the moment of home-coming itself. I have the impression that it was my sister who opened the door, and on seeing me whooped for joy. But no memory remains of how my parents responded to my reappearance. I know that they had heard that the Manchester had been lost, and that most of the crew had made their way into internment in North Africa; I am not sure any information had been given about survivors getting back to Britain.
I reached home late in August. The Manchester had been torpedoed on the 13th of that month, and so the journey back must have taken about a fortnight. I remember telling them about the exploits we had been through, and feeling proud to have covered already both the Arctic and the Med. But it felt very strange to be back in Chiswick, where I had spent my early teens in another house, and living again for a while with my father and mother, now a little aged, but still basically unchanged.
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 Leicestershire Library Services - Melton Mowbray Library (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was born in Melton Mowbray, a small market town now famous for pork pies and Stilton cheese, on the 19th August 1917. The Great War was in its last stages, leaving many families without fathers and sons. My father was an agricultural engineer and he spent his days going around the farms and great houses in the area mending farm machinery and servicing central heating installations in the large halls. Mother always stayed at home, she was a wonderful cook and as food was plentiful, we lived well. My brother was born two years later and a sister when I was ten. My father was always happy with his life but my mother was ambitious for us to improve our station.
The chance came in the form of my father’s sister, who had married a local builder and had two sons. Their business was doing well but in order to be really successful the expanding South was the place to be. By coincidence, as I was leaving school at the age of fifteen my Aunt was moving to London. Her condition for moving was that I became her companion and the daughter that she had always wanted.
In London I attended many social gatherings, tea dances and functions. To be seen in the right places meant contracts and they were coming in thick and fast.
We lived in Southfields and on a Saturday afternoon we would go to see the local team play football, Fulham. My best friend Betty, whom I’d met at a dance, invited me to her house and I was surprised to find that she lived next door to Joe Edelston who was a former Fulham player and was now in charge of the reserve team who seemed to be winning everything. He was one of the first coaches to gain qualifications and his methods were seen as too revolutionary in many quarters, but much more importantly he had three sons, all good looking and unattached!
I soon started going out with Joe, the eldest son. We had little money but when we did we would go to the local cinema to see the latest release. My favourite was Humphrey Bogart, “a real man”. At night we would listen to the radio to hear the latest play or short story. In summer we would go for long walks by the river and during the tennis tournament at Wimbledon we could always get in for free when the doors were opened in the afternoon. Life was always easy paced and gentle.
The big crisis pre-war was the abdication of the king. At the time everyone was confused as to what was really happening. When Edward finally gave up the throne, everyone was very sad and Mrs Simpson was the most hated woman around. The new king was seen as being weak and not groomed for the job, but everyone loved his wife. However, during the Blitz they really came into their own, touring the bombed out areas and talking to everyone they came into contact with.
I remember going past Croydon airport one day, on the runway were two large planes with black swastikas on them. The sight sent a shiver down my spine and made many of us fear for the future as we watched the growing emergence of the military power of Germany once again. It was no surprise to any of us when they marched into Poland, as no-one believed that Chamberlain and his piece of paper could halt the military machine that we had witnessed in action in Spain. On a brighter note just before the war started uncle bought a television, the first one in our road. Everyone came around to have a look at the new invention and the reception was really very good. However, when war started programmes finished, much to the annoyance of the family.
The winter of 1939-1940 was long, dark and very cold. Joe was one of the first to be called up as he worked for Shellmex and was an expert on petroleum. He was sent at once to France with the British Expeditionary Force and so began a long and anxious time. Prior to him going we had become engaged as so many of our friends had done. He wrote to say how cold it was and how ill prepared the troops were, not all of them had the proper equipment and some didn’t even have a gun, but they survived with the help of the local wine and goodwill.
Back home the criticism of the government had grown to alarming levels and it was a great relief to everyone when Winston Churchill took over as Prime Minister. At last we had someone to look up to as a leader, a fighter who would never give in. In June Dunkirk was turned from a disaster into a national triumph as the troops were evacuated. Joe came home on a barge and was taken to Aldershot. It was a great relief when I got a call from him to say he was Okay. I was desperate to see him and got the train to Aldershot as soon as I could. He looked so well but he had changed, he was much harder and more worldly wise but after witnessing so many tragedies, I couldn’t expect anything else.
In August the bombs started to fall. Joe was posted to Swindon and because women were not allowed to stay overnight with their boyfriends, we decided to get married. I had to make all the arrangements and we were married in Wandsworth shortly afterwards. Joe’s unit was moved to Yorkshire and the lovely couple whom he was billeted with said I could go back and stay with them to be near him. Soon afterwards he was moved to just outside London at Hadlow Down and after moving back to the capital I would see him every Sunday.
At that time the Blitz was on and from dusk until dawn we would spend our time in the underground shelters. We would do our shopping in the daylight and hope that there was no air raid. We did our shopping in Clapham and how I admired the stallholders who carried on as normal even though they had been up all night because of the raids. On the bus you could see the bombed out ruins of houses and flats but somehow we never thought that a bomb would actually hit us. At night the noise was terrific with the sound of ante aircraft guns and the mighty explosions of bombs landing. Many times we put out incendiary bombs that had landed in the garden.
My luck was in when Joe’s unit was moved again, this time to Hatfield. He had met a lovely lady in the village who had been evacuated from Cardiff. She had a lovely house and needed help in looking after eight little girls who had been evacuated from London. One of the girls was only three and was totally bewildered after leaving the city. She became my special charge.
The Blitz was still on and on many nights we heard the planes on their way to bomb London. The country was a refuge for the girls and we would go for long walks in the woods that surrounded us. One day as we were walking I found a pheasant’s nest with eight eggs in it. It was a great temptation to take the eggs as we had no such luxuries but I let the pheasant have her babies and upheld the law of the countryside.
On the whole we were a happy lot and I was able to see Joe frequently. He would bring his army friends to see us and they always brought gifts of sweets and eggs, which were considered luxuries and strictly rationed. It was a sad day for everyone when the unit was moved once again to Dene Park in Horsham, a lovely place with abundant wildlife and a herd of deer. It didn’t take Joe long to find me a new billet close to him, with a family who had been evacuated from Portsmouth. They lived in a cottage on top of a hill with no bathroom, no running water and an outside toilet. If we wanted a wash we had to draw water from the well and heat it on the copper boiler. To do this we had to light a fire under the copper, which, at times, was much easier said than done. Washing day was always a Monday, which was easy, compared to keeping the deer off the washing line as they continually tried to eat the wet laundry.
Joe had a friend who asked if I could find some accommodation for his wife in the village. The people in the village were only too willing to help and from then on many wives would come down and stay for short breaks. The only problem the men had in getting here was petrol for their bikes. I don’t know how they did it or where the petrol came from, but the local pond was soon full of submerged petrol cans. At the back of everyone’s mind was the fact that the men would soon be going overseas and some of them would not return. Life at Dene Park was much easier than elsewhere as we had a plentiful supply of eggs, milk and cheese from the farms and game from the abundant wildlife, duck and rabbit.
The air raids continued and several German planes were brought down close to us. The dog fights in the sky above us were breathtaking. The spitfires seemed to be more mobile and faster than their foes but our admiration for the pilots was unlimited, they were the true heroes of the hour.
The winter soon came and brought with it short frosty days and long cold nights but we were tucked up in our cottage with warm log fires and time to ourselves and time to entertain the children with a game of cards. At Christmas the cottage was cut off by snow and it seemed that the war could not touch us, but always at the back of our minds was the thought of how much time we had left together. The family we stayed with had two children with whom we have stayed in touch to this day, exchanging letters and cards throughout the years. Sadly, their parents died many years ago but we have treasured memories of their kindness and friendship in our time of need.
The war was going badly for Britain throughout the year with the Axis powers taking over most of Europe, Africa and the Far East. At home even Churchill was coming in for criticism. The Japanese took Hong Kong and Singapore, pushed into Burma and started to threaten India, my worst nightmare was coming true, Joe was going to fight in Burma.
At the start of the year I had wondered how long it would be before we would be separated and the thought of having a child and a bit of Joe forever had grown and grown. In the spring I knew that I was with child. The doctor advised me to move back to Melton Mowbray to be with my parents. Back at home I kept very well. My mother, who was still a young woman, was eligible for war work and had a job looking after the local doctor. This meant that I looked after the rest of the family. I was kept busy making clothes for the baby out of any piece of cloth I could get hold of. My father was kept very busy looking after all the farm machinery in the area. This of course meant many perks; a sack of potatoes, a sack of swedes, eggs, a rabbit, an old hen and if one of the farmers killed a pig, a bit of offal or even a roast. We had so little meat and many times the only ration was corned beef, so it was corned beef hash with plenty of vegetables. It is no surprise to anyone who lived through the war that nowadays they can’t abide the taste of corned beef.
At the end of 1941 there was a brief hint of better things as America came into the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbour and Germany invaded Russia, thus opening up another front.
Contributed originally by CSV Solent (BBC WW2 People's War)
(Based on her history as told to her grand-daughter.)
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Ken on behalf of Nancy Deacon and has been added to the site with her permission. Nancy Deacon fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
“I didn’t really want to go into the Wrens”.
Nancy was about to celebrate her 18th birthday early in 1942 when a choice between the women’s’ services became urgent. Since leaving school at 16 years of age, with Matriculation proudly achieved, she had been working in the administration staff at the local isolation hospital in Leicester. She knew that once past 18 she would become subject to the wartime regulations, called ‘Direction of Labour’, by which the government could say how and where you should be employed. That would mean staying at her present job, because it was classified as a ‘Reserved Occupation’. And Nancy felt she wanted to see a bit more of life than that promised. She said -
“You see, my life-long friend, Edna, was already in the WAAF and she was having a jolly good time, from what she said, so I wanted to join them. But from time to time, when they had more applicants for certain categories than they needed, they stopped recruiting, so for the moment I couldn’t do that.
“It was the same with the WRNS, but just at that time they were recruiting, so that is what I did. I volunteered for the WRNS. Well, the reason I didn’t fancy joining them was the black stockings they made you wear. Of course the ATS was always available but I decide on the WRNS, as my brother was on active service in the Royal Navy.”
Her first posting was to a basic training unit, which involved a lot of scrubbing of the stone floors of Tullichewan Castle in Scotland. At the end of that she was held back for further specialist instruction, as was Joyce Lisle, whom she met there. From then the two of them were to go through the service together and remain friends for life. They had been chosen for ‘Special Duties’ and their immediate destination was to a
London unit, and six more weeks of training.
“We didn’t know quite what was in store, tho’ we had some idea, as the Official Secrets Act’ was involved. At any rate, Joyce and I were taken by escort and seen onto a train at Glasgow Station, where we were put into an empty compartment and the door locked on us.
“The train began to fill up, with standing room only in the corridor. It was obviously a troop train and we eventually started south, but the journey wasn’t straight forward. With stoppages for alarms of bomb damaged lines ahead; shunting into sidings to allow other trains through and other reasons. At the time we did not know what was going on as we were completely isolated in our compartment. At night we had only the dim light from the one, blue, bulb allowed in the ‘blackout’, and during the day, because of the anti-splinter net on the windows, we couldn’t see much of the outside world. I have no memory of anything to eat.
“It was 6 p.m. when we were locked in at Glasgow, and it was 2 p.m. the next day when we were released at Euston Station, and taken, again under escort, to our London base.”
The six weeks of training which followed was to introduce them to the ‘art’ of code breaking.
“At the time we knew we were code breaking, but did not know how our work fitted into the whole operation. There were about 300 of us WRNS on this work, at the station.”
Many of the messages dealt with were of no use but others were of great importance, and -
“I remember being told that our work helped to sink the Bismark. I was proud to hear that. Because of the restrictions of the Official Secrets Act we weren’t allowed to tell anyone of the work we did then. Not even our families, and it had to be kept secret for 30 more years.
“Winston Churchill said we were his golden geese that never cackled”.
The code-breaking base was in a northern suburb of London, conveniently connected by underground railway (the ‘Tube’) to the centre of the capital. Nancy and Joyce made good use of that.
“When we were not on shift, that is off duty, Joyce and I would go as often as possible to London and its West-End. One of our favourite places was the Queensberry Club for servicemen and women. By this time the Americans were in the war and this was where all the famous stars would appear to entertain them, and all the other allied troops. I remember seeing Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Benny Goodman and his band, and
lots of others there. Not to mention our own ‘Forces Sweetheart’, Vera Lynn.”
From the start of the war London had filled up with representatives from every European and Commonwealth nation, joined later by the ‘Yanks’; with a confusion of uniforms and variety of languages on its streets. Bombing and blackout not withstanding, it was a vibrant scene. The place to be; particularly around its centre. At night, from the dark streets where they dodged cars and buses, with their merest glim of light from masked headlights, Nancy and Joyce would have to grope through a ‘light-lock’ to enter a cinema or theatre and come, dazzled, into a burst of light inside, and noise of people making the most of a chance to get away from the war for a little.
“Theatres and so on would send out free tickets to the forces for their shows, and our base received its share. Joyce and I took advantage of these and I remember one night, an air raid started while we were in a West End theatre. Our orders were to get back to our unit as quickly as possible if this happened, so out we went to get the Piccadilly line tube. Everything was OK until we came to the above ground section at West
Kensington station, when there were lots of stops and starts and long delays. Being in the open the carriage lights had been reduced to the familiar blue bulb, and we could hear the sounds of the raid going on around us. Eventually, with the train stopped we were all led through carriage after carriage and ended up at Hammersmith station.
“The police and firemen were far too busy, with the chaos going on among the falling bombs and burning buildings, to have any time for us two stranded WRNS. The train service had stopped at midnight and the only thing we could do was to start a long walk back to Stanmore. Our situation wasn’t as bad as some sailors we started out with, as they needed to get to Skegness. We seemed to lose track of them somewhere
along the way but we got as far as Neasden before we became too tired to go on.
“The only thing we could think to do was to look for a Police Station, and when we finally found one we were given cocoa and sympathy, and offered somewhere to sleep for the rest of the night. Which turned out to be wooden boards in the station cells. The Tube started again at 6am., so after more cocoa we got off early and back to base. I suppose we were so full of ourselves and the troubles we had been through that we
expected to be welcomed in, as some kind of heroines. Instead of which we received hard words, and Joyce was reprimanded for losing her uniform cap in the confusion!
“It’s funny to think, looking back, that although we might have grumbled about things at the time, we never really complained, or refused to do something. We just got on with it.”
Nancy’s parents, who as others of their generation, experienced the first World War, had only one other child.
“I had a brother, Bert, a couple of years older than me. He had gone into the navy and served as a lieutenant in South Africa and the Mediterranean, commanding a motor torpedo boat, (MTB). His boat was itself torpedoed in the Med, and he was a long time in the water before being picked up. The exposure he suffered was the cause of damage to his kidneys and he only survived until 1950. He was 28 when he died.”
Romance hadn’t been neglected during all this time and Nancy became engaged to Geoff, whom she had met in the Leicester hospital days.
“Geoff and I were married in 1945. Of course it had to be arranged some time ahead and we had chosen the 5th May. No one expected that the war would end three days later.”
Nancy continued her code breaking work in the WRNS, until the Japanese surrender the following August and, now being a married woman, she was demobbed fairly quickly next month. She and Geoff then started their life together, with all the housing and other shortages, and struggles of the early postwar years ahead of them. They had two children and two grandchildren. Nancy was widowed in 1992.
Now at 81 years of age she says -
“I have had a good life, enjoyed it and think I have been very lucky.”