Bombs dropped in the borough of: Waltham Forest
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Waltham Forest:
- High Explosive Bomb
- Parachute Mine
Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:
Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:
Memories in Waltham Forest
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by dwakefield (BBC WW2 People's War)
From WW2 I have hundreds of memories. In many cases the adults were distressed but growing up with war, many children accepted much of it as normal. People’s experiences depend so much upon where they were.
Born in February 1936 I have just a few pre-war memories from 1939. One is of a sunny lunchtime in our Walthamstow (London E.17) house, another is of our Anderson air-raid shelter being constructed at the end of the garden (most winters it needed baling as it would get several inches of water in it, being deeper than the adjacent sportsfield ditch).
A great trench was dug by steam shovel across the middle of that neighbouring sports field (and through our local Epping Forest) as defence works. Concrete blocks about a metre cube were prepared where the trenches met the main roads, ready to be moved into position and block the road if we were attacked. For the next 10 years us kids loved to play on/around the blocks and the spoil heaps lining the muddy trenches.
In 1940 my father’s employer moved from Smithfield to Brasted near Sevenoaks (Kent) where I started school. With the call-up of most male teachers, my huge class was for 4~7 and the other class was for 8~11.
While there, I knew of the rationing, so one day while my mother was shopping I picked, then boiled buttercups on the kitchen range hoping to make butter.
My mother went to First Aid classes and I was used as a child subject for bandaging. One spring day we walked up our lane to the top of Toy’s Hill to see the remains of a German plane shot down the previous night.
Our cottage was on a hillside so when the warehouses near to Tower Bridge were badly blitzed one night, we all stood in the garden to see the big red flickering glow.
Quite a few times in 1940 we travelled back to Walthamstow and I particularly remember several times walking from London Bridge station to Liverpool Street station after a previous night’s bombing. On one occasion we were allowed to walk along Gracechurch St. while the buildings on the other side of the street were on fire and the firemen using their hoses. Other times we had longer diversions to avoid fires or buildings in a dangerous state (some remained propped up till the 1950’s).
Platforms carrying pumps were built around the piers of some bridges so as to pump Thames-water into the city via cast iron mains in the gutter or on the pavement (or both). Where the mains were in parallel and pedestrians needed to cross them there were wooden boards across. Branching off the mains were lots of hoses.
When dad had been called-up, mum and I returned to our Walthamstow house There were about 45~50 in my class and my school held about 600 on three floors but the air-raid shelters weren’t ready. If the air-raid sirens went during school hours we would all squeeze into the cloakrooms and onto the staircases to avoid any flying glass from a blast as there were only tiny slit windows there.
My teacher’s mother had gone to the window in the middle of the night to look at the searchlights, but died from lacerations when a bomb fell nearby.
Many buses had blast netting on their windows and some had blackout curtains.
Some double-decker buses had a bag on top containing gas as fuel instead of petrol and others pulled a little trailer for their gas.
When paper became short at school, many of us took our 4 page (1 sheet) newspaper to school and wrote our sums and spelling tests in the margins. The papers were then gathered up and some went to the local fish shop for him to wrap his customers fish in, while the rest was torn into squares and issued by teacher from a cupboard if you needed to use the toilet.
Quite often while in the playground we saw fighter aircraft in dogfights at altitude weaving condensation trails. The alert seemed to go only if there was a risk of bombs.
By 1944 we often saw squadrons of 27 allied bombers heading for Europe. Sometimes 5, 10 or even 20+ squadrons would fly eastwards in succession presumably navigating by the white concrete of our local North Circular Road (A406) and then the Southend Road and the railway to Harwich much as the airliners heading for Heathrow still do (in reverse) in 2003.
(Not built with tarmac as concrete gave employment in the early 1930’s depression.)
There were about 6 phones in our street of 56 houses. One day in 1940 a neighbour came to say my dad had phoned her that he was moving camp and would be at Kings Cross station till 2 pm. Mum got us there in time and found the special train loading about a thousand men. She asked a corporal at the gate and the word was rapidly passed up the platform that AC2 Wakefield’s wife was at the gate and he was allowed to come and speak to us.
In early 1941 we got away from the bombing for a week to see dad in training at Bridlington. I remember Flamborough Head and the passing convoys of colliers and steamers hugging the coast.
In January 1942 the bombing got mum down again so we went for a break to Helston (Cornwall) and took the bus which was full of airmen to Mullion. Mum got plenty of attention as the only woman and I was passed from father to father to briefly sit on their knees as they were missing their own children. Mullion Cove and the Lizard Point featured in many of my school compositions thereafter.
A similar scare later in 1942 took us to Bath unannounced. While mum went to contact dad that we had come and to find overnight accommodation, she told a porter what was happening and left me for a couple of hours with our suitcase (and a luggage label on me) by the water crane on the platform where the London to Bristol trains would stop to refill. Most of the engine crews spoke to me. You wouldn’t leave a 6 year old like that now !
One winters night in 1942 the bombing was worse so mum and I went to the communal shelter at the end of our street. Only families without husbands were there. One lady realised that she had slammed her front door without her keys being in her handbag so, during a lull in the bombing at about 4 am, I ( as the oldest male) and the ladies 2 daughters (all of us under 10) were sent to see whether their back door was unlocked. It wasn’t, but a fanlight was open so the girls pushed me through to get the keys off the sideboard and bring them out via the front door.
As our Anderson shelter was so often wet we mostly sheltered in the small cupboard under our stairs. We could just squeeze in 4. (1930’s houses used substantial timber.)
On rare occasions with daylight raids, passers-by would shelter with us, e.g. our milkman, leaving his handcart outside (he had a struggle to push it up the local hill).
If we went by tube in the evening, then in some central London tube stations you would have perhaps only 3 feet of platform edge to walk on, the rest being occupied by scores of families in sleeping bags or blankets on the platform. Sometimes you had to step over a persons legs or belongings. Some stations had bunks 2 high lining the wall. It was very good-natured. Pushing would have been so dangerous !
If we were caught out in an air raid in the evening I would be fascinated by the searchlights scanning the sky as we walked through the blacked out streets. Even the cars had their headlights covered with only a 4x2 cm slit (and a 1.5 cm shield above).
Sometimes the searchlights would latch onto a German aircraft, then the guns in our neighbouring sports field would fire. One day I had to hand in my collection of shrapnel (supposedly to help the war effort by recycling, but perhaps because of my blisters from the phosphorous on the tracer bullet remnants).
Tilers were often needed in our street because so much shrapnel was falling, breaking the rooftiles and then the rain would get in and damage ceilings, etc..
Around town, bomb damage was common. Perhaps 2 houses in a terrace gone but bits of a bedroom hanging there on an adjoining wall. In one case an upright piano up there on a small piece of bedroom floor. Blast would blow out shop windows so they would be boarded up and they continued to trade, often by a single lamp bulb
Our nearest bomb obliterated the tennis court at the end of the street, so it was turned into an allotment garden. We dug up part of our garden so as to grow vegetables. Our fox terrier had to be put down in 1940 because there was insufficient food and he was upset by the noise of guns and bombs.
Letters from dad meant so much, especially with his sketches of his colleagues. Sometimes he sent a biscuit tin of blackberries, etc. picked from around his camp.
By 1944 convoys of troops and equipment mostly eastbound along our narrow North Circular Road passed almost hourly and some took a rest on the ground allocated for the second carriageway. Local ladies would offer up tea etc. to the lads. I remember seeing a convoy of tanks move off while the lads were pouring their tea, they handed the teapot to another lady up the road who brought it back to it’s owner. With rationing, I don’t know where they got so much tea from. There was so much goodwill, especially to those who were travelling.
The doodlebugs started in 1944, often coming without the air-raid siren sounding. Their chug-chug was alarming but while they chugged they were not falling. The terror was if their motor stopped before they had passed over you, then you waited what seemed ages for the bang. Again, the adults were more worried than us kids.
I only heard two V2’s. Falling from up to 70 miles above they were supersonic, so first you heard the bang and then you heard the approaching scream getting fainter, then you knew that you had survived ! Out one day, one fell a quarter mile away.
Late 1944 we moved to Bretforton in the Vale of Evesham (Worcestershire) and then Badsey village bakery before moving into the servants half of a 14th century manor house that hadn’t been occupied since it held German prisoners of war in 1919. The dark solitary confinement cell was upstairs with the regulations in german. The kitchen was stone flagged and some 40 x 15 feet while the door key was iron and weighed almost a kilo. It was unheated so we lived in the buttery (lined with copper to keep out the mice we were told). Sanitation was a bucket.
3 feet outside the back door was a wooden cover over a 4 foot diameter well.
The farmer in the main house once moved his large table to show dad’s colleagues a large slab that tilted and a tunnel below that went out under the orchard.
The villagers still talked about the one bomb that had fallen in fields 3 miles away a couple of years earlier.
The day we moved there, while my mother looked after my newly born handicapped sister, I was sent 3 miles to the butcher in the next village (past an airfield) with our ration books to sign on with him and bring back some meat to cook. Would you ask an 8 year old these days.
One day in 1944 while walking home from school, I met an American sergeant, the first negro that I had seen. He shared his packet of chips with me while showing me some pictures of his own wife and kids back home in the USA.
At Xmas 1944 many local children were taken by Air Force lorries to a party in Evesham Town Hall where we were given toys (mostly of wood and painted with aircraft dope) made by the servicemen at various local camps.
After D-day I learnt my geography of Europe by putting a map out of the Daily Mail onto the wall and inserting pins joined by wool to show the state of advance as it was reported on the radio. Pathe-News at the cinema supplemented newspaper reports.
I helped pick fruit in a market garden in 1945 and went with the horse and cart to the local single siding alongside the London to Worcester line and helped load the wagon.
On VE-day everybody celebrated, especially the Canadian airmen (who had a giant bonfire of unwanted aircraft bits).
By VJ-day we were back in London. I had attended 7 schools between 1940 and 1945.
Most classes I had been in had over 40 pupils (two had 70+ with the walls folded back) and some classes spanned several years. One school had a lady teacher for the beginners and a man for a huge class of up to school leaving age.
Teachers were mostly women and with the class sizes, were friendly but strict and were backed by parents. A slap, hands on head, stand outside, lines, ruler or cane depending upon the offence. Once I couldn’t hold a spoon at table for 2 days.
Teachers often selected the abler pupils to assist those finding a subject difficult. I was o.k. at reading and arithmetic but useless at crop rotation and recognising plants, i.e. what was taught to 8 year olds varied around the country.
In 1946 my father was demobbed. He found a way into the Mall for us for the Victory Parade. The crowd was thick, but as usual us children were passed to the front (some over peoples heads) and sat in front of the policemen. Afterwards the crowd helped us to rejoin our parents. It was a memorable view of the service contingents and those on the Reviewing Stand including King George VI, Winston Churchill and General Montgomery.
So, as I started out by saying, for a child it was a fascinating time if sometimes scary, but for the adults there was so much worry, fear, suffering and loss of possessions and loved ones. An uncle’s ammunition convoy blew to bits.
Contributed originally by Grace Fuller (BBC WW2 People's War)
My interview with Nanny, by Grace Fuller aged eight:
Nanny was in Cornwall with her mum and sister when war was declared on the radio [on 3 September 1939]. The farm they were on was the only one with a radio, so everyone came to the farmhouse to hear the news. She can’t remember coming back to London, but presumed they must have gone on the train. Her dad had been called back to London a few days earlier and had driven back to London in the family car. He was a very important man in the Borough of Poplar.
Nanny wasn’t really scared during the war because she grew up with it happening all the time and therefore it was ‘normal’ life for her. The sound of the German bombers going over shook the house and this is a noise she will never forget. There was also an ack-ack gun at the top of her road in Chingford. On the night of either the 28th or 29th of December 1940, Nanny’s dad took her to the top of the road, which was on top of a hill. She stood with her dad on the flat roof of the ARP [Air Raid Precautions] building. At that time you could see right over London, as the only tall building was St Paul’s Cathedral. She was able to see London burning as this was when London was bombed heavily. She can still see the images from that night and believes that her dad woke her up so that she would be able to tell people what she saw.
Nanny wasn’t evacuated because her dad didn’t want either her or her sister to be orphans. She could have gone to Canada to stay with her nanny’s sister, but her parents wouldn’t allow it. She was sent to Yorkshire in 1944 when her mum was expecting her third child. She went and stayed with her auntie and uncle.
Nanny went to school by bus (the number 38). It only cost one old penny. The bus conductor was very kind to nanny and her sister. He always had a Spitfire pin in his lapel. About 30 years later, nanny was on another 38 bus with my mum and my uncles, and the conductor was the same man. He even had the Spitfire pin in his lapel. Nanny reminded him of the two little girls who got on his bus during the war and he remembered them.
The school Nanny went to was the Dominican Convent. It was the only school in Chingford that was open, so girls came from Chingford, Loughton and Woodford. School was often disrupted because when the air raid siren sounded, all the girls had to go down to the cellar, which the nuns had had reinforced with wooden beams.
There were days, particularly when there had been a big night raid, when only a few girls turned up. One day only three girls were in school. One girl, called Maureen, was pulled alive from the rubble of her house. She often used to have fits in class, which nowadays would be called shell shock. Some of the girls in the school did die, but because it was war you got used to knowing people that had lost husbands, sons, mothers and daughters. Nanny still sees her friends from the convent, as they have a reunion every two years.
At home, Nanny’s dad had their hallway lined with steel and heavy boards that could be lowered at night to block the stairs. If a bomb had landed close by they would have been protected. From the beginning of the war to the middle of 1941, everyone slept downstairs, but after Hitler changed to daytime bombing and the bombing of other cities, Nanny and her sister slept upstairs in their own beds.
Nanny’s mum and gran made all their own clothes. One day Nanny ripped a dress and her mum was so angry she made her wear a potato sack for three days. Nanny’s mum also knitted stockings, vests and pants.
Nanny didn’t see any of the planes that went over London, but she heard them. One day she did see the vapour trails made by two fighters as they had a dogfight in the air very high up. She saw one plane falling to the ground, but was lucky enough not to see it land.
One night her dad woke her and her sister up to show them a V1, a flying bomb, also known as a doodlebug. She saw it flying over London with a large flame coming out of the back. Then the flame disappeared and about 20 seconds later she heard the whoomp! as it landed somewhere over Tottenham. The V1s had a hum as they came over so people knew they were coming. The V2s were worse because they were flying rockets and very difficult to hear until you heard the whistle as they fell from the skies. She saw the barrage balloons over London, which were there to stop the German planes. She also had an air raid siren about 500 metres from her house.
Nanny’s dad didn’t go and fight during the war because he was too important to Poplar, one of the old London boroughs. He was the Deputy Borough Engineer of Poplar, which was very heavily bombed in the Blitz because it had the great London Docks where most of the food for England came in by boat. Nanny’s dad used to spend all week at the Town Hall, working by day and fire-watching on the roof at night. He had a camp bed in his office. He used to phone home every evening to say goodnight and phone again in the morning to make sure all was well. Many people died in Poplar and many buildings were destroyed. Many of these houses were the old Victorian slums and after the war Nanny’s dad helped to have new flats and houses built, which were much better.
Nanny never went hungry during the war, but food was in short supply as so much came from other countries by boat and they were sunk by the Germans. People had ration books with coupons for meat, butter, sugar etc, and very little of each was allowed each week. People grew lots of food like potatoes, other vegetables and fruit. Some people kept chickens for eggs and meat.
Space was made in towns for allotments (large rectangles of land which people rented for a few pounds a year) where they could grow extra food. Nanny’s dad had four allotments, two in Poplar and two in Chingford, as well as the garden - so there were always fresh vegetables. Nanny would also pick blackberries in Epping Forest.
Sometimes a boat would arrive with oranges and huge queues would appear to try and get this precious fruit. Nanny once had to queue for oranges (with ration books, as you were only allowed two oranges per person) but after queuing for four hours the person two places ahead of her had the last two. Just before the war, Nanny’s mum stored lots of food like currents, sultanas etc, and because of this she was able to make lots of cakes, biscuits and buns.
In case people were not getting all the right vitamins and minerals there was cod liver oil (ugh!) and a horrible thick syrup called Virol. However, even with none of the foods we have today, Nanny was never ill except for mumps, measles and chicken pox. She never had the colds and sniffles people have today.
From the start of the war all households had to have blackout curtains on their windows so no light could be seen by German aeroplanes. This also meant no street lamps were working and traffic lights had shields so that they could not be seen from above. Cars, buses and other vehicles also had to have shields and a cover with just a slit for light on their headlamps. If you went out at night you had to have a torch, which was only allowed to be shone downwards to show you where the kerbs and other hazards were.
Kerbs had white lines drawn on them to reflect the lights of the torch. As nanny was only a little girl she did not go out much at night, but she remembers helping her mum to make sure every window was covered with blackout material. It was lovely when all the lamps came back on at the end of the war. People were very happy and glad the war was over.
Contributed originally by brssouthglosproject (BBC WW2 People's War)
The siren sounded 'All Clear'. The wail of a siren, for those of us who heard it in wartime, was never to be forgotten. We had come up from the underground shelter. Mum, Maisie, Stella, Evelyn, Betty and me. We stood there a little dazed but thankful, the bombing had ceased, at least for now. It had been a routine we had followed many times already. First the siren warning of an impending attack, then hurrying to the nearest shelter. As the time wore on trips to the shelter were more orderly with less rush and tear. We simply had gotten more used to it, finding also, that there was generally more time between the air raid warning and bombs falling. Indeed sometimes there were no bombs and the 'all clear' sounded almost as soon as you were underground. Other times we would stay in the shelter for hours. There was never much room so people were encouraged to keep their belongings to a minimum.
It was incredible what some folk would try to take down the shelter with them. The ever, vigilant Air Raid Precaution wardens would be heard 'you can't take that now, can you luv' as some poor old dear tried to take a cage down with her budgie in it. The shelters were damp and dingy. Cold at first, they would become hot and clammy with the amount of bodies in them. The aroma far from exotic would defy separation by one's senses, a melting pot of every odour the body can emit, and sprinkled with Evening in Paris (my dad called it Midnight in Wapping) lashings of slap and peroxide as some of the ladies were wont to use. 'Well I wouldn't go down the shelter without me face on, now would I!' Us kids took little notice of the all too familiar routine. The adults did the worrying, some more than others. Our mum Elizabeth, Liz to everyone, was an exceedingly tough lady. Although under five feet tall she could square up to most with a look followed by a flying shopping bag if need be. She would make sure that we were as comfortable as possible, but she wouldn't put up with any moaning either. She was an advocate of instant retribution: a swift smack around the ear was her preferred deterrent! If by chance she had meted out the discipline to the wrong child she justified her actions by saying: 'Well, you must have done something wrong that I don't know of, so it will serve for that'. Arguing with mum was futile.
We stood in a group on a small patch of green opposite the entrance to the shelter, the five of us, and mum. The sky was black with smoke and there were fires everywhere. This time we had not been so lucky. Our street had copped it; so had Elsa Street where we were all born, it was in ruins. For the first time in her 37 years of life, our lovely mum didn't know what to do. Like the amazing woman she was, after few minutes, composed, she turned to Stella and Maisie, the two eldest, and told them to look after Eve and me. She scooped Betty up in her arms and say to us 'Wait there I will find out what's happening'. Each direction she tried to take ended with her return after a few minutes. She would say 'Don't worry kids I won't be long' and off she would go again. The whole area had been flattened. Fire hoses wriggled along the ground like snakes, as they were pulled from building to building. Fractured water mains spurted fountains of water high in the air. Emergency supplies had to be pumped from the Regent's canal. Firemen, ambulance crews, civil defence members, and the heavy rescue teams were going about their work. The smoke stung your eyes, the dust got in your mouth and the acrid smell of gas lingered in your nostrils. Civilians, those uninjured and able to help others did so.
As if a vision, dad appeared. He seemed to come from nowhere out of the smoke and dust. With a look of panic on his face he asked 'Where is your mother?' 'Its all right' said Stella. 'She has gone to find somewhere for us to go and taken Betty with her.' His relief was instant. He asked if we were all right, then touched each one of us on the head just to make sure. His face was black, his blue overalls covered in grime, under his arm he held a helmet with the letter R for rescue painted on the front. For that is what he did throughout the Blitz. Defiant, he would never go down a shelter. Mum came back with Betty in her arms. 'Liz I thought something had happened to you.' With tears in his eyes he continued 'My London's on fire. I never thought I would see this day.' Like most East-Enders, dad thought London exclusively his. He would have died for her.
We gathered up the few things we had. Little did we know at that moment, it was all we had left in the world. Then we found our way to a reception centre. This one was a church hall, which was utilised as a shelter for those families who had been bombed out and now homeless, as indeed were many such places of worship. And very glad of them we were. The largest congregation most of them had seen in a long while!
About the middle of July 1940 the German Luftwaffe started attacking our airfields in an attempt to gain air supremacy, or at least to diminish our ability to attack their invasion force poised across the Channel waiting for the order to sail. So what did the cockneys do? They went hop-picking of course. They were not going to let Hitler ruin the only holiday most of them ever had each year. 'Goin' down 'oppin' was a ritual.
We mostly went to Paddock Wood. Whitbread and Guiness had big farms there. Each family would be allocated a hut. These were made of corrugated iron, but could, with a little flair, be made quite attractive.
When it rained conditions became challenging to say the least. There is a fair amount of clay in the sub-soil of Kent, a yellowy, slimy, sticky substance. When wet it sticks to everything and builds up on the heels of your boots so that everyone is walking around on high heels. I hated this and was continually teased 'Look Jimmy's wearing high heels'.
None of us missed out spiritually during our time in the hop fields. Father Raven saw to that. An East End priest, he spent more than 40 years in the service of his parishioners, even travelling with them to Kent each year where he had his own hut, and picked from the bine.
There had been enemy aircraft in the vicinity already and bombs had fallen in the neighbouring countryside.
Dad, mum,Stella, and Maisie were picking. Evelyn and I were playing nearby, Betty was in her pram close to mum. It was mid-morning, we could hear a drone from overhead getting steadily louder. Then, there were hundreds and hundreds of black shapes, like the migration of a million blackbirds. They covered the sky, blotting out the blue. The blood drained from my dad's face. Mum said quietly, 'My god Jim, is this it?' Apart from the pulsating drone of aircraft, not a sound came from any of the hundreds of pickers in the fields. We stood, numb, looking skywards. It was Stella's distinctive voice, 'Look, look everyone, silver dots, what are they?' She had been looking into the sun, something mum forbade us to do for fear of damaging our eyes. 'Spitfires, that's what they are, Spitfire's!' shouted dad. They came out of nowhere and pounced on the enemy bombers. All hell was let loose. People scattered in every direction, bins went over and hops were trampled in the earth. Dad grabbed Betty in one arm and me in the other, 'Run kids' he shouted, and off we went to one of the many trenches that had been dug in the event of an air raid. We reached the trench in no time; Dad hurled us into it. We fell on top of each other. For good measure dad grabbed hold of an old iron bedspring that happened to be close by, and threw it over us. An enemy bomb never hit us, but the bedspring nearly brained the lot of us!
From the cover of huts and trenches, people looked skywards and witnessed what was to become known as the Battle of Britain - now commemorated each year on 15 September as being considered the decisive day of the battle. It was the most amazing sight. Planes were shot down, pilots bailed out. Enemy planes that had been hit turned for home and dropped their bomb load at random. There was devastation in the hop gardens, bomb craters appeared everywhere; amazingly very few people were badly injured. We were on the way back to see what had happened to our hut when a bomb fell nearby, and the blast threw Evelyn up against the corrugated iron cookhouse. Unconscious, she had lost one shoe and all the buttons off her dress. Dad picked her up, and much to the great relief of everyone she eventually re-gained consciousness. Apart from some bruising, she was all right. However, we were all badly shaken. Dad and mum held council with a few close friends and made the decision to return to London.
The bombing of London had began on 7 September. One of the first buildings to be hit was the Coliseum Picture Theatre, in the Mile End Road, where dad and his partner Alex had performed so many times. Being in close proximity to the docks the East End was having more than its fair share. There was bomb damage all over. We took up residence and joined those making the nightly trek to the shelters. There was a permanent pall of smoke over the city, and a red glow, so that it never looked completely dark. Whilst spirited, ever-resilient and resourceful, the Cockneys were taking a pounding; and it was showing on the faces of many. Especially the mothers of children still in London. Evacuation was not compulsory once the intensified bombing had abated, the evacuees gradually drifted back.
At the reception centre, mum was having one of her migraines. When they fell upon her they were savage. She was lying down with brown paper soaked in vinegar wrapped around her forehead. It was the only way she found to ease the pain. We had seen her like this many times before and instinctively remained quiet. Stella sat close to mum comforting her and offering to get her whatever she asked for. Commotion and confusion ruled. The comings and goings of people looking for lost loved ones, the crying, and arguments, too many demands being made on the too few voluntary helpers. After a couple of days we were told we could be evacuated once more, We didn't know where, and we didn't much care.
The train was crowded as we headed towards the West Country. The five of us and mum sat on one side of the carriage opposite another family of evacuees. Evacuees. This label would stick for years to come and would be uttered in many tones with as many meanings. A parent could stay with a child if under five. Betty was two and I three and a half. Thankfully, mum was to stay with us for the duration, It was about four hours before we got to Bristol where many of the children were to change trains for various destinations. The train pulled into Yatton station. 'Come on kids this is where we get off,' said mum. The WVS ladies in green were there, trying to organise some sense of order.
After mum's protestations that in no way were we going to be split up, she finally accepted a place offered where we could stay together as a family. Mrs Kingcott, a well-dressed lady with a warm manner, introduced herself. She told mum she would take us to a farmworkers cottage, which was standing empty and belonged to Mr Griffin. Us kids were bundled into her little Austin Seven car. We were glad to be off that draughty platform. The blackout was in force so there was very little light. We peered threough the windows trying to make out the surroundings. Up and over a bridge we entered a tiny village. Mrs Kingcott explained: 'This is Kingston Seymour'. The car stopped and out we all got, and were escorted to the front door of a small detached cottage known as Rose Cottage. Little did we know that we would remain here for the next four years.
This story is taken from extracts from Jim Ruston's book, by his request and full knowledge and kind permission, His book: A Cockney Kid In Green Wellies, published by JR Marketing, 2001 ISBN 0-9540430-0-6,
Contributed originally by Derek Wetenhall (BBC WW2 People's War)
Return from 3 years of evacuation.
I had been evacuated since the day war was declared on September 3rd 1939 and was glad that my Mother has agreed for me to come home in 1943 when the threat of a German invasion had long passed. The American's had joined us in the fight in December of 1941 and we knew that, given time, victory would be ours.
Back to school.
I continued my education by attending the secondary school in Wellington Avenue, but was soon in trouble with the teachers due to my strong country accent which I had picked up in The Forest of Dean. They must have thought that I was being impudent. The school like many others had lost most of the younger teachers and the older ones who had come in to take their place were not so patient.
I soon settled down as my form master was also the science teacher and he also took mathmatics which were my best subjects. All was going well except for one thing, the war was still on.
Air raid precautions.
Along one side of the school football pitch, were a row of brick built shelters, and when the air-raid warning sirens sounded we were taken to these shelters and had to wait in them untill 'The all clear'.
Most of the raids took place at night while I was in bed. The Anderson shelter which we had at the bottom of our garden was cold and damp and not a place you would like to stay in very long during a cold night. My Mother prefered to get into the cupboard under the stairs which she considered just as safe. When houses were bombed, quite often the stair case remined standing and it saved you from falling bricks etc. so that is where we used to hide when the bombs were falling near the house.
A very frightening time.
After living in comparative safety in the country I now was experiencing the horror of war and I was scared sick when the house shook from the explosions. I prayed that all the Germans who were doing this to us would die and leave us alone.
Mother was always ready to have a laugh, and when she called for me to get out of bed and get under the stairs, she burst out laughing when she saw that I had put on my trousers back to front.
The lone Bomber flying low.
We did not always take shelter at home when the warning sounded but waited until we could hear the bombs dropping. I was looking out of our rear bedroom window to see if I could spot any planes caught in our searchlights and suddenly I saw a bomber flying so close to the ground that I thought it was going to crash but it was trying to avoid the search lights and our guns. It was a bright moonlight night and I could clearly make out the crew sitting in their large perspex cockpit as it flew past.
The bombed Shelter.
A bomb dropped along the road in a house similar to ours. It landed in the garden at the rear. Before school next morning I went along the alleyway at the back to see what the damage was and found that the Anderson shelter in their garden was completely blown out of the ground and lay there upside down, concrete foundations and all. I had alook for shrapnel to add to my collection of which I had over a hundred pieces but found none even though I climbed down in to the crater which the bomb had made. On climbing out I bumped my head on an electric cable which had been hanging from pylons which crossed over our rear gardens but luckily it was dead.
Shrapnel and anti RADAR tape.
On the way to school in the mornings we were constantly on the lookout for pieces of shrapnel
which could be quite plentiful after a big raid and these bits of metal were prized colection pieces.
The shrapnel was bits of anti aircraft shells which fell back down to the ground. The German airmen used to throw out strips of tape which looked like the video tape we use today, it was meant to fool the RADAR operaters so that the exact location of the aircraft could not be found. We also collected yards of this tape.
The turning point of the war.
One lunch time at school, while we were eating our sandwiches, the headmaster told us that he had an importnat announcement to make 'The Allied Armies had made a sucessful landing in France on the coast of Normandy', that was D-Day June 6th 1944.
But the war was certainly not over and we had now to suffer the 'V' weapons. First came the V1's. On that first day we sat in the shelters at school for most of the day, not knowing what was happening. No one seemed to know what the Germans were throwing at us. The speculation varied from Suicide pilots to a long range gun but we soon were told that these were small aircraft without pilots and propelled by a new kind of engine. They said it was a ram jet and used parafin for fuel. We soon recognised when these flying bombs were near because of the loud noise these engines made and we felt safe all the time you could hear them, but when the fuel ran out, down they came with a ton of high explosive. We heard and saw many of these Buzz Bombs, later christened as Doodlebugs. Several fell in to the Reservoir which was under construction at the rear of our house but the nearest one to our house fell about a half mile away on a bridge which was part of a new road construction, postponed because of the war. It blew the sides off the bridge but as there were no houses near, no other damage was caused. We went to see the bridge but the police got there before us and prevented the taking any souvenirs.
Next we had to suffer the V2's these gave no warning of their approach as they were rockets which travelled faster than sound. No warnings, no noise of their approach just an unexpected explosion. None fell near our house and the only one which I had experience of landed in Epping Forest. When we heard about this we cycled to the site but only found a large hole amonst the trees.
End of school and start of work.
In August 1944, just after my 14th birthday, I left school and started work at The Flexo Plywood Company, where Mother was still employed. I was put in the metal work shop where many items were made for the aircraft industry such as Fuel tanks, Seats and exhaust pipes. As an unskilled worker, I was given the most boring of jobs such as filing rivit heads on the fuel tanks so that they could be coated with tin to prevent rusting. For this I receive £1:5 shilling per week. Later I was transfered to the sheet metal cutting department which was better. The man I worked with was an ex London policemen and he constantly regaled me with lurid stories of his experiences in the force. He operated the guillotine. Another man worked in the store where he stacked heavy sheets of steel on edge against the wall. Once when I was sent to see him about some material which was required I found him caught between some steel plates against the wall by their weight, unable to move or talk. I ran for help and he was released and was quite recovered after a sit down for a short time. Later the same day, I found him in exactly the same predicament and went running down to the work shop for help shouting 'He's done it again'. I was constantly teased about this and they would say 'Has he done it again'.
Back to the Sea Side.
After about 9 months working in the factory, Mother decided that she would like to return to Margate and restart the Guest House business once more. I handed in my notice and went on ahead while Mother arranged the sale of the house, and lodged with her friend while I found another job. I went to the labour exchange to look for work which you had to do in war time and was offered a choice of two positions. I could become a porter with The Southern Railway at Margate station or take an apprenticeship with the local Gas Company for a wage of 19 shillings and 5 pence. I chose the latter and agreed to start work on May 20 1945.
The war ended on May 8th just a few days before I started my long career with the Gas industry. I retired in August 1994 exactly 50 years after leaving school.
Contributed originally by marionclarion (BBC WW2 People's War)
It was wartime when I was born in October 1942, so I was only 3 years old when the war ended, yet I still distinctly recall the pride and the pleasure I felt whenever my father returned home from his exercises with the home guard in his neatly pressed khaki uniform, shoes and belt, buttons and buckles all highly polished (sometimes to my delight I had been allowed to help him with the polishing beforehand). I would stand smartly to attention, saluting correctly, the way he had taught me, the long way up and the short way down, exclaiming loudly as I did so,
"Salute Captain Daddy".
At that time we lived in Potters Bar, Middlesex, which my parents considered to be rural and safe enough so that I did not have to be evacuated.
My father and the War:
A research chemist, my father was in a reserved occupation and so was not called up to fight with the forces, but he was happy to serve as an officer in the Home Guard, specialising in teaching others both first aid and how to save people from gas attacks.
After my father died in December 2000, I felt very proud to find this letter from his commanding officer amongst his papers, written when his Battalion split up in December 1944, as follows :-
56TH ESSEX BATTALION HOME GUARD
2137, 2306, 2494
70 HIGH BRIDGE STREET,
29TH DECEMBER 1944
REFERENCE NO. 56 ESX./H.G.?3…….
Before we finally stand down, I would like to convey my appreciation of the help which you, like all other officers, have given me during my period of command.
In many ways we have had to overcome greater difficulties than have other battalions.
We started late which entailed a rapid expansion to catch up with older units. We have lost large numbers of trained officers and men to the regular forces and on re-direction to other industries. Several times we have had to carry out thorough re-organisations including formation of an L.A.A. Troup. And our operational role has constantly altered, by progressive stages, as we became more efficient and better armed.
All of these facts have meant much extra work for officers, both in the matter of keeping up-to-date in military knowledge and in administration.
Yet, with very few exceptions, there has been no faltering of purpose; and the spirit of co-operation has enabled us to rise above our difficulties and to stand down as a Battalion, which is second to none.
Without the loyal support of all officers this proud result could not have been achieved.
I hope that our Association will enable us to keep in touch with each other in the future. In the meantime, I wish you all good fortune, wherever you may be.
Signed (?) E. W. Chansfield
Being Chief Chemist at a firm in the fledgling plastics industry and involved in research, especially focusing on phenol-formaldehyde resins and foams, my father put his inventions to good use for the war effort, for example creating a method of coating the containers full of equipment, food and supplies to be parachuted down to the troupes abroad, (the MOD needed to solve the problem, however, that these containers were being destroyed on impact, splitting into fragments, their contents wasted, strewn and scattered all over the countryside - they needed the containers to be lightweight yet strong enough to resist and stay whole) — my father applied his skills to solving the problem and invented a suitable coating ..... these new, coated containers were so strong and water-resistant that, after safe delivery, they could even be used like onoe-man rafts or coracles upon the water.
Another of his coating inventions helped the air force in the tropics. The problem here was that, until then, the glue used to hold the Mosquito aircraft together, whilst completely satisfactory in Europe, was dissolving in the high heat and humidity of the jungles and the planes were literally falling apart on the ground. He invented a new type of “glue” so that even in those adverse conditions the layers of wood of the plywood frames plus their covering substances no longer fell apart.
His materials were also crucial to the success of the bouncing bombs, designed by Barnes Wallis and used by the "Dambusters" to destroy the hydroelectric dams in the upper Ruhr in 1943. The problems were that the spherical metal bombs became dented on impact and would not properly bounce but if the metal was thick enough not to dent, the bomb became too heavy for air transport. My father devised a liquid resin, which was used to fill the hollow metal spheres (built to contain the explosives and detonators) which on curing and drying in huge ovens solidified to produced a light, impact resistant foam, thus when dropped, on impact the bombs kept their shape and were able to bounce as required.
Some more recollections of mine :
I recall with far different emotions the sounds of the bombs passing overhead during the war before exploding nearby. Although I was never actually involved in any bombings, for very many years after the war had ended I continued to have dreadful nightmares that a plane would drop bombs specifically on our house! Throughout my children’s childhood and even nowadays, at firework time, I always avoid bangers, chiefly because I hate the loud explosions, I think because they remind me of wartime bombs.
The wail of the siren before an attack was a terrifying lament that signalled us scurrying into the Nissan shelter in the garden or in really bad weather under the Anderson Bed in the living room. I really disliked my “siren suit” because it had a loose bum-flap at the back, closed by buttons that were both uncomfortable to sleep on and let the draughts in, but to be fair one could go to the toilet without getting undressed. My only comfort in wearing it was that my mother used to wear one too.
On a train journey to Manchester during or just at the end of the war to visit some friends, my mother gave me a journal to look at and I still remember the feel, the smell (the taste) and the colours of it. It was a glossy illustrated magazine with soldiers on the front cover, an orange-red-golden glow all around them as fires from dropped bombs burned nearby. When clearing out old papers in our loft after my father had died, I found that very magazine and it was just as I had remembered it.
Friends of ours used to keep chickens in their back garden, so during the war we saved all the kitchen scraps, sometimes cooking them to a pulp, sometimes raw (potato and carrot peelings, outer cabbage leaves, old bread crusts and other kitchen leftovers) and every few days my mother and I would walk down the hill to their house and feed their chickens. In return our friends gave us the luxury of one egg a week, which my mother always gave to me. In times of rationing eggs were hard to come by.
On one occasion, in spring, when hens lay most plentifully, my parents managed to buy several eggs at once from the market and planned to conserve them by using Isinglass, a type of pure gelatin, which my father had obtained through his chemical suppliers at work, but it was very smelly, (probably from being made of the swimming bladder of sturgeon and other fish from the Caspian and Black Seas), so they were reluctant to use it.
Instead they acquired some waterglass from the chemist’s (liquid sodium silicate) which they diluted with boiled water and placed into large glass jars, into which they then gently plunged the precious cargo of eggs, topping up the jars to the brim. So that the levels of waterglass solution would not drop, they melted sealing wax around the jar lids to keep them airtight. In theory sodium silicate works by sealing the eggs and should keep them fresh for up to a year because the alkali is supposed to retard growth of micro-organisms by forming a protective shell. When my parents tried to use their preserved eggs, however, something had gone horribly wrong, the clear liquid had turned to a milky jelly and even before breaking open their shells, the eggs stank with the unmistakeably strong sulphuric stench of rotten eggs.
My father then decided to experiment by inventing a protective coating for the eggs from mixtures of resins and hardeners that would both prevent air entry and toughen the shells. He succeeded in this, but then needed a hammer or a chopper to open the “strengthened” steel-like shells and the contents became totally inaccessible and unusable! More precious eggs wasted!!
I remember once when we visited my grandparents in Varden Street in the East End of London, the magnificent spectacle of seeing what seemed like millions of barrage balloons filling the sky. The seemed to go on forever and ever, parallel rows of grey oval bodies, becoming increasingly like tiny dots and minute specks in the distance.
On another occasion, whilst visiting elderly friends of my grandparents, Mr and Mrs Bristowsky, (despite the wartime frugalities, she managed to make the most delicious Cinnamon Balls I have ever tasted in my life), we watched the bright afternoon sky from their kitchen. They stood me on the draining board of their sink in front of the window so that I could see; she held on to me so tightly (so I would not fall) that I felt I was suffocating, (and she had a lot of hairs on her chin that felt rough and itchy to my young cheek). We gazed in admiration whilst hundreds of parachutists practiced their descents seemingly over and over again. Quite why they were doing this over the East End of London I am not at all clear.
Contributed originally by Leeds Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
They were happy times but at the age of nine and a half, 1938, things changed. The powers that be decided I was small for my age and underweight so I was sent to an open-air school at Fyfield in Essex, where I spent the next 18months, being just a number amongst about a hundred and fifty other girls. We all slept in long dormitories with one side open to the weather except when we had a thunderstorm.
The classrooms were the same, each one set in a large open space. Meals were served in a large wooden hall on long wooden tables and we sat on long wooden forms. Brown bread and warm milk, porridge you could cut with a knife and if it was not eaten you went without. All meals were served in enamel mugs and dishes and to get one that was not chipped was a bonus.
Sunday walks to church are vivid in my mind. In lines of two, girls at the front and boys at the back we went through country lanes and little villages. Things of interest were pointed out to us and this is where I began to appreciate the beauty of the countryside.
Visitors such as parents were allowed to come to the school on one afternoon every three months and this was a great day. Every child had to learn to sing ‘Jerusalem,’ ‘Nymphs and Shepherds’ and ‘Oh for the Wings of a Dove.’ These songs were sung at assembly when all the visitors had arrived and sometimes when I am resting I can hear the singing still.
One morning I was amazed to see a large balloon in the sky [barrage balloon — large silver balloon with ropes dangling from it to catch planes flying in low] we all thought it was an elephant! We were all frightened and wondered what it was going to do. No one knew what it was or where it had come from. It was some weeks before we were told and the mystery was solved. I can’t remember the exact day we were told to line up in the playground for a special announcement.
We were then told to empty our lockers, collect all our belongings and report back to the nurse who would give us our own clothes which we were to change into at once as we were being taken home. I was too excited to wonder why this was suddenly happening but late that afternoon we boarded buses and as we were driven out of the school gates buses were coming into school from the opposite direction bringing sick and crippled children out of London. These were the children from the hospitals and orphanages, any sick children that needed looking after. We’d never seen children like that because they were so sickly. We didn’t know why they were being brought in.
It was only when we got home we were told the country may be involved in a war and these children had to be brought to a place of safety in case London was bombed. At that point they were thinking about evacuating children.
Things were very different at home but I soon settled; only eight of us, out of fourteen children, were at home now with mum and dad, five boys and three girls. The others were all married. We were all happy for a while. September 1939 war was declared between England and Germany. Things would never be the same. Three brothers left home the same day, two went in the air force to France and ended up in Dunkirk and one went to Gibraltar and one into the army ended up in Burma. They were all in the Territorial Army before this so had to report immediately. I remember them putting their three kit bags on the table and packing their kit. I’ll always remember the three of them walking away together.
All civilians were given an identity number and identity card, a gas mask in a small square cardboard box with a cord attached to it to enable us to carry it everywhere we went. Tiny babies were given a ‘Mickey Mouse’ gas mask, it was coloured and they were put right inside it. Some of the small children had ‘Mickey Mouse’ gas masks so they weren’t scared to put them on.
Schools closed and cinemas and most places of entertainment shut their doors. Food, clothes and coal were rationed. I remember taking an old pram and standing in a queue for hours to get one sack of coal.
By this time another brother had been called up to go into the air force. He was sent to Egypt. The brothers who were sent to Egypt and Burma went on sister ships and met in Durban, South Africa, before one headed to Asia and the other to the Middle East.
When I met my husband three years after the war I brought him home and he recognised my brother. They had served together in Burma.
My brother ‘Bert was at Dunkirk and was saved by a colleague in the Air Force. He pulled him out of the water, into a boat, when he was being machine-gunned. The air man came to our house for us to say ‘thank you,’ met one of my sisters, married her and became one of the family!
Most of the children in London had been evacuated to the country for safety. I stayed at home; my parents wanted me with them. Before the boys went away they had put an Anderson shelter in the garden for our safety. It was a double sized shelter and took up most of the garden. There were bunks down both sides. We spent a few months sleeping in there every night, we never bothered going to bed upstairs, you knew you’d be woken up in the night.
Our house was in the East End of London and when the air raids started this part of the South of England was given the name of ‘Bomb Alley.’ It was very frightening. By this time we were getting used to the routine of going to bed in the shelter night after night.
Early one morning the police called us from the shelter and said, “Grab what you can from the house as time is short and go to the end of the road.” Everyone took a bundle of things wrapped in a sheet or tablecloth. Then the police told us to find somewhere to stay because there was an unexploded bomb near the house.
The air was full of smoke; fires were burning everywhere we looked. There were no buses so we had to walk to the safest station where we managed to get a train, after the ‘all clear’ sounded, to Romford because my sister had a house there.
Living in Romford was nice. We could sleep in a bed again and the bombing was not so bad. My youngest brother was called up for the navy but he was to be a Bevan boy, which meant he was sent up north to Mansfield, to work down the mines.
I suddenly found myself on my own with elderly parents and I had a much bigger part to play digging the allotment, planting veg, to help rations go round, making bread and standing in queues for hours. I also became a member of the training corps and was taught to fire a rifle.
At fourteen I started work. The war was still on and as soon as I was fifteen I took a job in a factory making wing ribs for Spitfires. Suddenly I had grown up and felt I was at last doing something worthwhile to help the rest of my family.
There were funny times in the factory. When the sirens sounded we had to switch off all machines and make for the trenches in the field across the main road. We would all crouch down and watch the Battle of Britain being fought above our heads. We didn’t have time to be afraid someone would see the funny side of the situation and we’d all begin to laugh, every time!
War is a terrible thing, it is surprising how people would come together in times of need. Food was very short, rationing was hard but no one starved. If a child had a birthday all the neighbours would give what they could and a birthday cake would appear, and we would all get together for a party.
Christmas presents were lovingly made by Granddads who would make trains, boats, cars, out of old bits of wood. Anything that could be used was used, but no one ever made a toy gun. Grandmas knitted dolls clothes from unwoven woolly jumpers. My sisters and I made soft elephants and rabbits from old clothes and stuffed them with scraps of rag left over from the cloth rugs we made. Every house had a homemade rug. Strips of old clothes were cut and threaded through a piece of sacking ad knotted at the back and then a huge piece of sacking was sewn on the back. Patterns could be made with all the different colours of cloth and some were very grand after they were trimmed. Making rugs was a popular pastime, which kept us occupied in the shelters, young and old could all help.
Going out was not a thing we did unless it was necessary, even then we would be sure we could get to a shelter if the sirens sounded. I don’t think anyone was comfortable walking in the blackout. One Friday evening my brother was riding his bike home from work, in the black out. Unfortunately a family were moving house and had left a flat barrow piled with furniture in the road, in the complete darkness. My brother ran into the barrow with such force he bit his tongue in half. When he staggered in the house, blood all over him, everyone forgot me in the bath and dashed off to the hospital where a very clever doctor stitched his tongue together again. He still has a lisp to this day.
Travelling was difficult even with an identity card. I went to see my sister on the Isle of Wight. I had to go to the police, who gave me a permit to travel. That was because I would be going through Portsmouth or Southampton and they were royal navy dockyards.
My eldest brother was the civil engineer in charge of the American army camp at Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. He came to London on one occasion and I thought it would be nice for me to back with him to his family for a break. He had a daughter my age. Once again I had to get permission from the local police and give them all the details of my intended movements.
What a holiday that was! They were still having barn dances in the local church hall. It seemed to me the war had not changed much. Italian prisoners of war worked in the fields in the camp. My brother’s house was on the road, inside the camp. Shirley was my niece and we were good pals. She was a brilliant musician and could play the piano and accordion.
Sometimes we would sit in the front garden of the house and she would play the accordion. In the field opposite Italian prisoners would be working. As soon as they heard the music they would sing their hearts out. They had a prisoner working in the house; he did the housework and was well behaved. Sometimes he would bring a list of music for Shirley to play. He said it reminded them all of home.
In 1941 the war was still raging. Most of Europe was occupied by German troops. France had fallen and there was only the channel between them and us.
It was not until I went to Yugoslavia, years later, that I realised how close to England France was.
So much had happened. I now had a brother serving in Burma, one in Egypt, another in the king’s flight with the RAF and one had returned safe from Dunkirk. Food, clothing, sweets and coal were rationed. Underwear was a big problem which some of us solved because we were able to get damaged parachutes. These chutes were made of fine white nylon and providing someone in the family had a sewing machine and a little bit of dressmaking skill the finished garments were beautiful. Also if we could acquire an army blanket or even better an air force blanket we could make a warm topcoat. I myself altered RAF trousers into ladies slacks. They were very rough on our skin but very warm. At one time after we had used all our clothing coupons up and we needed new shoes we tried clogs. That resulted in too many sprained ankles so we soon went back to the well worn out shoes.
The blackout was very necessary. We had to be very careful if we used a torch or lit a cigarette. The smallest light could be seen from the air and Air Raid wardens were always on patrol to make sure everyone observed the rules. If a light was seen you could be accused of signalling the enemy.
If we ventured out in the blackout we would always go in groups of three or more. Although we did not smoke, one of us would hold a lighted cigarette in our hand. This we hoped would make them think we had a man with us and made us feel much safer.
My sister lived in Romford and we were able to stay in her house until my parents could rent a house. This house was in the same road as my sister’s. There was a brick built shelter at the bottom of the garden and my father soon made bunk beds for us and we had a small camping stove on which we could make tea.
Some people had indoor shelters these were called Morrison shelters. They looked like reinforced cages. They were about six foot square and we had to crawl into them and lie down. There wasn’t enough room to sit up but with a blanket and a pillow you could be quite comfortable. Most families had them in the dining room and used them as tables.
Although we were away from London the air raids were quite bad and quite a lot of bombs were dropped on this part of Essex. Doodlebugs and V2 rockets were still coming over. People seemed to take everything in their stride and just carry on with their lives. We shared things we had and made the best of things. We always managed to see the funny side of something so there was plenty of laughter.
In 1941 Germany attacked Russia and it was bad news every time we listened to the radio. Then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and the United States of America came into the war on our side. What a surprise they were. There were sweets, chocolate, chewing gum, cigarettes and nylons. They had everything and soon became very popular with the teenage girls.
Dances were held at their barracks ever week. It was fun to see the girls changing from work clothes into dresses suitable to go dancing in. Coffee or tea was used to dye their legs and they would draw a line at the back of the legs to look like a seam. If it rained it was a disaster, the dye would run and their legs became striped.
The Glen Miller Band came over from the States and their music was extremely popular. Music While You Work was broadcast every morning to the factory. We all found it very hard to stand still. We would be Jitterbugging with hammers in our hands. Everyone cheered up and sang. The more patriotic the music the louder we would sing.
When things were going bad for the Allies some songs were banned. It was upsetting for some families who had relatives serving abroad. ‘The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot’ and ‘Russian Rose’ were two we did not hear again until the war ended.
Contributed originally by derek_j (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was born in Prince Regent Lane, London E16 in 1933. My father, William Johns, managed a small grocery shop with my mother Olive assisting him and we lived over the premises. It was about half a mile from the Victoria and Albert docks and this was to have profound consequences when war was declared in 1939.
Things began to hot up in the autumn of 1940 when the Luftwaffe began their raids on London. The docks were a prime target and every night the family took refuge in the Anderson shelter in the garden behind the shop. Though only six-and-a-half at the time, I can clearly remember the nightly fall of bombs close by. One night in particular was different when a new explosive sound punctuated the crash of the bombs and the banging of the anti-aircraft guns sited in the recreation ground just up the road. An almighty barrage of a different nature made us wonder what was happening. The next day we learned that HMS Cossack had been moored in the docks and had contributed its gunfire to the assault on the enemy bombers. This was a tremendous morale booster to everyone.
As the Blitz reached its heights in September, it got too hot in West Ham and my father decided to move us to my aunt Rose's house in Aveling Park Road, Walthamstow. Even this got rather fraught after a while and the two families decided to pack suitcases and get out of London. They had no real idea of destination, but the men decided to get tickets from Euston and go to Bletchley. Why they decided this I do not know.
Suffice to say, we ended up at Bletchley railway station and my father, my Uncle Ernie Young and his teenage son Ken walked off down the road to find somewhere for us to stay. We were refugees in the truest sense. Finally, after a very long time, the men returned and told us they had found an old couple in Fenny Stratford who would give us lodging for a few days.
A long walk ensued and we finally reached the home of Bill Busler and his wife. The 'few days' extended to a couple of years for my family (my uncle and family returned to Walthamstow when the Blitz quietened down). My father commuted to the business in West Ham coming home at weekends, only to find one Monday morning that the shop had received a direct hit the night before.
My sisters were called up for war work. Marjorie, the eldest, ended up at the famous Bletchley Park working with the code-breakers whilst Eileen, my younger sister, joined the ATS and was stationed at the RAOC depot at Bicester.
Our war culminated in a most amazing coincidence. Marjorie's husband, George Alexander, was a Bombardier in the Royal Artillery serving for a time in Iceland. As D-Day approached his unit was billeted in the old West Ham speedway stadium just across the road from dad's shop.
One of George's officers, a Lieutenant Pepper, happened to say that he was short of cash and needed to cash a cheque. Although the stadium was sealed off, officers were allowed out at this time and George said to him 'I can help you there'.
He suggested he visit the shop at the top of the road and say to the shopkeeper (my father) that George had sent him. The cheque was duly cashed and dad told the glad tidings to Marjorie. Despite tight security George managed to wangle a pass out of the stadium for a brief but emotional reunion with Marjorie.
Not long after, the unit embarked at the docks for their journey to Normandy a few days after D-Day, landing at Arromanches Gold Beach.
Contributed originally by Mrs_B_Dyer (BBC WW2 People's War)
The Prime Minister’s quiet and responsible voice from the radio which announced that we were at war with Germany had the same immediate lack of impact that is true of hearing of the death of someone we love, one’s whole being refuses to acknowledge its truth. One cannot grasp it or acknowledge what it will mean or how it will change one’s life. The wartime comedy which showed the dad saying “Put the kettle on Mum we’ll have a cup of tea” was an expression of the reactions of the time which made it a classic response to disaster.
In 1939 my husband was a schoolmaster in the Waltham Forest area and he immediately became involved his school to the “safe” area in the Midlands( Kettering). We lived in Woodford Green and the children (three) and I began hastily to pack up our special needs for we knew not how long , to go to the same area. The children took favourite toys and my eldest son was persuaded very reluctantly to leave behind his xylophone. It was put in the loft for safety but was never seen again.
A large limousine ( schoolmasters could not afford limousines ) came and collected us and in a bemused stste we set off across Hackney Marshes on our way to become that downgrading term to describe our flight , “evacuees “.
Our first billet was in a good residential area, and in a large house inhabited by a single lady who had never been married or had children ( the two situations almost invariably together in those days ). In addition she had a gentleman friend who called every morning , but after our arrival he stood and held a conversation at the gate . ah!
Young children are inclined to be rather conservative in their expectation that life will continue on the same pattern and that food will be what it has always been at home. Fortunately an arrangement was made for them to attend school( far away it seemed ) and the nearby Wicksteed Park was a blessing in the freedom and fun it offered . However food was often a problem …”What’s that!” - (a summer pudding) - A child wet from top to toe who had walked into the lake pretending to be our blind piano tuner was not laughingly received by our hostess, unused to family messes, it must have been a more traumatic experience for her than we stopped to consider at the time.
After a time we were invited to move next door to be billeted with a breezy Head Teacher of a Primary school and her Billy Bunter son. The former was in the habit of spending either one or other day of the weekend in bed “ to enable her to cope with the stresses of her professional life”. The introduction of a mother father and three young children was really more than could be endured by any settled group and we too found it very difficult to be constantly trying to fit into another’s pattern. One day something (perhaps the whole thing) seemed too much and I burst into tears which startled everyone, even myself.
Change and new thinking was required and my husband, very capable of both, found us an empty house to rent. It must have been empty for years! It was filthy, but we set to with joy and turned it into a home.
Settled at last, my mother and sister joined us at first from a ‘defence area’ (Southend) from which everyone had to evacuate as German invasion was expected. All able bodied citizens had to be employed as a gesture towards the war effort; my young sister, an art student, became a telephonist. My mother, brought up and educated to be a lady had never had a professional job, but she became a shop assistant in the curtains department of a large local store and thoroughly enjoyed it. Her Head of Department was a very jolly little Welshman who made toys surreptitiously under the counter. He also knew which grocer would have oranges or bananas in (absolute treats during rationing), which butcher would have a few sausages ‘off ration’ for friends (shades of Dad’s Army), and which customer would bring in a few eggs for the staff if ‘spoken to nicely’. Another blessing when clothes were on ration too was the curtain material (off ration) which my sister and I purchased and made into house-coats.
Kettering was the enter of the boot and shoe industry, well-off, socially comfortable and until the coming of the evacuees, undisturbed by the war. The mass invasion of Londoners, particularly after the bombing started was not welcomed and could be equated with the seeming intrusion of immigrants and refuge-seekers today. Those who came in the early days of the war settled into local schools but when the bombing of London actually happened, children from east London which was then a very poor area flooded in.
My own family became relatively settled and I enlisted as a voluntary billeting officer. The children from London arrived often after nights of bombing, wearing a name and address label, carrying a gas mask and sometimes a packet of food. They surged into local schools where we met them, reassured them, and the professional full-time billeting officers sorted them out for likely homes.
The children varied from one extreme to another in their response to the experience. Some were as jolly as if on a treat, sitting on tables, swinging legs, making friends and waiting for the next happening. Others cried sadly, and some, but only a few inconsolably. Later a handful of children actually walked back to London, and other parents were known to collect their child and take them home, especially when there was a lull in the London bombing.
My role soon became established and in the first instance it was to accompany the billeting officer in his car with two or three children, and to back him up when he arrived at a house and announced to the occupants that they were to have a child, or sometimes a family (brothers and sisters were kept together where possible) billeted on them. Protests were sometimes overcome (‘I have a sick mother – or aged father etc) but the times were urgent and in general a willing attitude was expressed. Later I visited the families to help with problems that arose: e.g. children homesick, incompatible relations, bed-wetting.
The poverty in east London during the 1930s can hardly be imagined today – and it showed itself in the condition of many evacuees. Children came with scabies, ringworm, impetigo and other expressions of the conditions in which they lived. Some had never eaten at a table or slept in a bed; additionally they had already lived in air-raid shelters, the underground stations, bombed sites or any place deemed safer than their own home or street. For the people in the Midlands who had never before met children of such poverty, adapting to their needs cannot have been easy, but the spirit of the times was remarkable in hindsight and our hearts and minds were totally focused on the war effort.
The arrival of the American Air Force in Kettering during the war had an impact on the local people comparable to the arrival of evacuees but with a very different effect. Their appearance and demeanour were so relaxed as to make a sharp contrast with our own troops.
To our eyes the Americans wore soft fitting uniforms, like a gentle summer suit and shoes. They walked in an easy manner, not marching and without the tough resolution which was underlying the British trained members of the forces. Amongst their number was Clark Gable, the leading film star of the day (‘Gone with the Wind’), and when he appeared on the High Street, police were called to control the crowds.
Women in Kettering whose husbands and sons were not in a ‘reserved occupation’ had been bereft of male company for a long time and these very attractive newcomers had a refreshing effect on the local population. Ultimately the Americans had well-stocked canteens, and dances and entertainments were set up by the Red Cross. American generosity, especially to children became renowned.
I have a lingering memory that at 4 am in the morning we heard the strong throb of the American planes as they set off to bomb Germany (daylight bombing) – many did not return and our respect for their courage and support for our war effort added to their glamour. Not unexpectedly liaisons were set up and promises and expectations of marriage ‘after the war’ abounded.
My mother and sisters wee volunteers at the American Red Cross canteen, and my sisters, both artistic painted and decorated the canteen walls with huge attractive murals. An American soldier fell in love with my younger sister but the liaison did not end in marriage. My second sister had a lighter relationship which snapped when her husband startlingly returned from India where he had been taken by ship after the fall of Singapore.
My second (middle) sister and her husband and two small children were in Singapore when the war came. My brother-in-law was a surveyor there and when the Japs invaded my mother spent sleepless after sleepless nights worrying about their fate – no news, no news, no news. Then one unbelievable morning my sister and her children turned up on our doorstep in Kettering wearing extraordinary Red Cross clothes, carrying a few bags and parcels and the children’s Kiddycar.
By this time we had moved into a more salubrious home, a small house at the top of the town. Already we were five people plus my mother and sister. Now we nudged up more closely and took in one more sister and two little children. All the newcomers from Singapore were traumatized. Their family goods, silver, cars, wedding presents and any other valuables had to be thrown into the river in Singapore. Father and servants had been left behind. The ship on which they travelled back to England with many other refugees had been threatened by enemy submarines, the refrigeration system had broken down, and children and especially babies on board had suffered from the consequences; lack of fresh milk and noticeable effects.
During her years in Singapore my sister had been waited on hand and foot, experience of wartime conditions here were perhaps cruelly hard for her to adjust to. An outstanding memory was of a tray of tea cups and saucers being thrown into the sink at a time when utility cups, as thick as shaving mugs, could only be purchased in the market by near seduction of the vendor. Her children screamed all night and soon developed (with her) scarlet fever, and passed it on to our children – some were sent to the isolation hospital, already well stocked with London evacuees. Parents were kept beyond the glass verandas and when visiting I was much amused to hear a parent shout to her child: ‘Don’t do nuffink wot they tell yer!!’
There came a time when we returned to London (the sequence of events is confused in my memory) and to a large family house we bought in Wanstead. It may have been following the D-day invasion or after the Germans invaded Russia, probably their most serious military mistake – Hitler had certainly never read history and Napoleon’s fate. It seems in retrospect that at this time Germany developed a huge new bomb which came without warning and created wide destruction, the doodle-bug.
John my husband, now Deputy Director of Education in the London Borough of East Ham once again arranged to take us all to a ‘safe’ area, his mother’s home in Hakin, Pembrokeshire. Yet again we strove to adapt to her way of life – not easy.
A strong and courageous woman whose husband, skipper of a fishing boat, had been lost in the first World War when serving in the Royal Navy. His ship was said to be carrying gold bullion between England and Ireland and had been sunk. The crew were known to have escaped in a ‘long boat’ and for years my mother-in-law truly believed he would turn up, perhaps having been picked up by another vessel but also because she knew him to be a strong swimmer ‘with webbed toes’.
She lived long before there was state support for widows and children, and her determination that her children should have a good education led her to work very hard to give them that chance. She worked equally hard for us whilst we were with her, cooking and shopping, preparing picnics for us for the beach. She was strict and her home lacked any of the facilities we take for granted today, but we managed to live and endure much time in Wales thanks to her generosity. The children went to school here – another cultural change.
Still later when the bombing in the south-east stopped and we returned to London the future appeared assured. In the euphoria of the time I became pregnant, but grievously we were perhaps too hungry for peace and once again the bombing began.
At this stage our first two children were settled in schools. Our eldest son at the City of London School was evacuated to Marlborough College Wiltshire which he loathed. A telegram which said ‘Please come and fetch me, everyone here hates me’, could not be acceded to. Perhaps the fact that he was billeted with the Vicar and his wife and that when I very rarely visited (due to petrol rationing) I was required to sit in the garden shed with my son. It speaks more of the reception in Marlborough than a more detailed account could offer.
My daughter was now a pupil at St. Angela’s Forest Gate where her Grandmother had been educated, a very satisfactory situation. Nevertheless the bombing once more urged us out of London and this time (my mother and sister having returned to the south-east, no longer a ‘defence area’) we went to stay with them near the coast. The elder children continued at their respective schools, the City of London School finally returning to London. During all this change and readjustment the children remained undisturbed and reflecting on the times today remember it simply as the way of family life.
Television was unknown and entertainment was home-made. A sheet of string across the room for theatre and plays were created on the spot. Often the productions were hilarious and reflected the war as heard on the radio but devoid of the trauma of reality. Ships were demonstrably sunk, planes were seemingly bombed, people were apparently rescued, no-one was apparently mortally injured or died, a child view of the war.
Three other memories return to mind. The first is that dentists seem to have disappeared in our area, probably recruited into the services. The second was the pressure on the local G.P., probably doctors too were called up. Medicine bottles were in very short supply and every patient to the G.P. was invited to bring a urine sample in a medicine bottle, a most effective way of restoring the current inadequacy.
The third memory is of the role of the W.R.V.S. in helping us to vary the use of limited rations during the war to make food more interesting and attractive. A shop was set up in the High Street with cooked food on display, recipes printed and available, and demonstrations of cooking where cakes made with the rinsed out milk-bottle as fluid mixer were seemingly palatable.
With Churchill’s speeches to the nation we pressed on with never a doubt that we would win.
Contributed originally by Ian Billingsley (BBC WW2 People's War)
I started training as a nurse at a fever (infectious diseases) Hospital, in South East London in July 1940. The wards were the ‘Florence Nightingale’ type; large light and airy. The only concession then to possible air-raids, was that each ward had a reinforced corridor or ‘Cover Point’, as did the nurses home.
The black-out was very poor and had to be replaced once the night raids started. Soon after the heavy day raids, work commenced on building up the lower half of the windows and balconies on the ground floor wards. The recently built isolation wards had been closed for the duration, as they were mainly built of glass.
In August, the hospital was bombed and machine-gunned several times. Once, whilst being dive bombed, Matron's house was destroyed. She was very lucky having just left it. The memory of that day still lingers yet.
The hospital had no air-raid shelters for patients or staff. The patients, (being infectious) could not have used them anyway; even those well enough to be moved. During raids, their beds were pulled to the wall space between the windows and cots covered with spare mattresses. Off duty nurses slept in the passage ways beneath the main corridor, where the main pipes carrying the gas, electricity, water, and steam pipes were situated. One shudders now to think what could have happened, but then we felt reasonably safe and once used to the situation, we slept well. We could feel the strong reverberation of the Ack-Ack Guns as we were partly below ground level.
Several wards and our class room, were destroyed by direct hits, but naturally work went on and luckily casualties were light. With the classroom gone, our lectures took place wherever and whenever possible. Due to blast damage, they were rarely in the same room twice. Despite everything, - it is on record - that none of our group failed our preliminary exam taken at the end of our first year.
When we were eighteen, we were put on the Fire Watching Rota, and were thrilled, if a little nervous, to don a tin hat and climb to the roof for our stint.
Food was good if monotonous. As in all institutions, we knew the menus for the week, by heart. Our sugar and butter rations, less a small portion for cooking were doled out at each Monday 'mid morning break. We carried our containers to all meals. Those who did not take sugar became exceedingly popular.
Most L.C.C. Hospitals in those days, had a high proportion of girls from Southern Ireland, (excellent nurses too), and since they had food parcels and went home on holiday to where they didn't have any rationing, they were very popular. They would have been anyway, for they were so gentle and friendly. We also had a number of German/Jewish girls who had reached England before the War.
We were, of course, provided with our uniform but black shoes and stockings had to come out of our own pay and coupons. Shortage of coupons and low salaries, twenty five pounds a year in the Fever hospitals and fifteen in the General for a first year nurse meant that 'mufti' clothing was in short supply. It did not matter too much, since we were all in the same boat and friends were happy to lend clothes for a special occasion.
As far as I was concerned, night duty was a joy. I couldn't feel quite as scared in an air raid with the patients to care for and reassure. Not that the children needed much reassurance, they seem to take the noise of planes, bombs and guns in their stride.
One memory I have, is of standing on the upstairs balcony during a night raid, - strictly forbidden of course - and watching London burn in the December raids of 1940
In January 1943, the callous and cowardly daylight raid on Sandhurst Road School took place. The children were machine gunned and the school bombed. Of course there were heavy casualties. As we were situated only half a mile away, we too had a bomb drop near us, shattering windows damaging one ward and injuring several patients. Luckily none too seriously. Since there had been no alert and it was 1pm, the beds were not protected in any way. Again, the pilot knew what he was bombing, since the nurses could be seen quite clearly as they made their way along the open corridor to lunch.
When the ‘Blitz’ ended, our curfew was relaxed and we allowed to go out after duty until 10pm. Previously we had been confined to barracks from 5pm onwards. Many of us went ‘up west’ dancing, despite the black-out and the numbers of soldiers both British and foreign. None of us were troubled by unwelcome attention. The worst that happened was that one Irish girl was threatened by a prostitute for standing, - whilst waiting for a friend - on her beat.
Because my home was quite near, I went there for my days off. It wasn't always peaceful since we were outside the balloon barrage and quite near to Biggin Hill. Since my mother was also nursing - though not resident. I often queued for her rations and any other un-rationed food that was on sale. I had a greater awareness of the difficulties of living outside an establishment than some of my colleagues.
We were so lucky, never short of food, warmth or water, as happened outside. The hospital had it's own Artesian well and when local mains were bombed, people queued at a standpipe in our grounds with kettles and buckets.
After completing my fever training, I moved in January 1944 to a large voluntary hospital in East London. This had already been badly bombed, but it still continued to deal with all 'normal' hospital admissions as well as casualties. In both hospitals, discipline was strict and standards were not allowed to fall, whatever the circumstances.
After signing my contract at the end of six months, I and others of my 'set' were transferred to a 'sector' hospital. All the teaching hospitals had branches in supposedly safe areas and this one, was a converted old peoples' home in Middlesex. The rooms were not built for nursing and were most inconvenient. As indeed were the beds which were only intended for use in an emergency. These being lower and narrower than normal beds; murder for nurses backs and not much fun for the patients either. I still have a vivid recollection of an unconscious patient of twenty stone, who had to be 'turned' regularly. All available staff had to stand by to make sure she didn't roll out.
We moved to this hospital on D-Day, and were soon in the midst of the V1's. We became - as most did - pretty accurate at guessing when and where they would land. I often laugh at the vision of myself hanging on to a large oxygen cylinder, convinced that the Doodle-bug was coming through the window. I remember thinking that, no matter what, the cylinder mustn't be knocked over in case it exploded. Mad now one looks back.
We had a number of 8th Army men in the hospital and they were a great help to us all, as they made and served morning tea and elevenses. We stayed on the ward for our mid-morning break and they saw to it that we had plenty of hot buttered toast also. As you can imagine, we didn't want to leave their ward. On the other hand, it was a little nerve racking when night sister, did her first rounds, to have several men missing because they had not yet returned from the ‘local’ which was two ploughed fields away.
During one spell of night duty, some of us were called upon to open up wards to take in wounded German P.O.W.'s. We were thrilled to be called ‘Schwester’, not realising that all German nurses were called this and that we had not been promoted.
"Fleischer, bitte Schwester," (Bottle please nurse), was my first German phrase. Not much use in polite conversation.
After six months, I was transferred to another of our sector hospitals. This was purpose-built for War-time emergencies and much easier to work in. Situated in Essex, we were soon experiencing the victims and damage of the V2’s. The noise was horrendous. Some of the casualties were grim. One woman had been cooking and was buried against her hot stove. Her little girl - also injured - was in another ward. We were delighted to learn that her husband was coming home on compassionate leave. We could not tell her when, since she might have been disappointed by any delay. When he did come, there wasn’t a dry eye in the ward. We quickly screened them for privacy’s sake.
At the other end of the town, there was a regular Army Barracks and we took in some of their sick for routine operations. Someone in authority had the bright idea of filling half the ward with these ‘service sick’ and the other half with seriously wounded German P.O.W.’s. Tarpaulin curtains divided the ward, but of course, each half could hear the other. Peace was not helped by the Germans commenting happily on each rocket explosion and conditions worsened when two Italian P.O.W.’s, - disliked by either side - were admitted.
As the Allied forces neared Berlin, The Germans became quieter and prayed that the Russians did not get there first.
In another ward, I nursed some of the casualties from one of the last rockets to fall on the East End. The Vallance Road flats. One man's face was peppered with glass fragments which could only be removed as they surfaced. He kept them in a little box. At the last count there were forty pieces and more to come. I never heard him, or any of the air-raid casualties complain or bemoan their lot. How could Hitler expect to beat a people so courageous.
The eve of V.E. Day, found me on night-duty on a Men’s Medical ward. Many of the patients were very ill with heart and chest complaints. Some had Diabetes. As aforementioned, discipline in this hospital was rigid, so you can imagine our surprise when the Day Sister gave her report, apparently oblivious to the fact, that under every bed was a crate of liquid alcoholic refreshment. At her 10pm rounds, Night Sister was equally unaware, and after her departure, the party began.
One of the patients was the landlord a public house in the town and had done his best with the supplies. Despite his valiant efforts, reinforcements had to be collected from the 'local' and we feared for our careers as pyjama clad figures flitted in and out of the French windows. Finally, at about 2am, the revelries ceased and we were able to tidy the ward.
At 3am, we had one of the worst thunderstorms I can ever remember, yet no-one woke up. I wonder why? And better still, no-one was a penny the worse for their libations. We staggered to the Nurses Home with our share of the drinks, which even with the Sisters' 'blind eye' we had not dared to chance on duty.
My nursing career continued and as one of our wards filled with some of the first Japanese P.O.W.’s to return to England. We just couldn't believe their stories, any more than we could believe our Senior Medical Students who had volunteered to help at Belsen. Our War had been awful, but these horrors made us feel we had been lucky.
Dorothea Ellison, Bishopston, Swansea.
Contributed originally by Mrs June Cloke (BBC WW2 People's War)
FLOWERS FROM THE EAST END
It was a cold, windy, winter evening when our grandmother opened the door to two grubby, frightened little girls. Rose and Lily, aged nine and six, were disgorged from a coach load of young Eastenders who had been evacuated to that Suffolk village. Granny was coming up to her seventieth birthday. She loved children and having had nine of her own was prepared to make these waifs her surrogate grandchildren. Within minutes they were ladling stew and dumplings into their thin frames. Next job was bath time. The tin bath was put in front of the range and Granny carried buckets of hot water from the wash-house copper. The two wide-eyed girls silently watched the preparations. They were told to get in the bath while Granny went upstairs for towels. Imagine her face when she found both girls sitting in the water with their clothes on. It was the first time they had ever been in a bath!
Bed was the next step. Rose and Lily were tucked into the warm double bed and Granny wished them goodnight. She hadn’t been downstairs very long when she heard wails from above. Lily was protesting it wasn’t fair she should be by the wall just because she was the younger — she was the one who always was bitten by the bed bugs! Granny soothed the tearful child and promised her there were no bed bugs in her house.
The following day our mother received a telegram asking us for clothes, shoes — anything for Granny’s two nee children. That afternoon my sister and I met Rose and Lily looking like orphans from a Dickens story wearing odd bit of clothing which Granny had put together while they slept. She had burned the rags they arrived in for she was sure they were lousy. It was fortunate we were about the same age, though taller. The girls were transformed when they put on our cast-offs. We couldn’t believe they were pleased to have liberty-bodices — our most disliked winter undergarments.
At first all the evacuees found their new lives in the country bewildering and frightening. They clung together at school and were timid about talking to the local children or joining them in their playtime games. But gradually the defences came down on both sides. The youngsters learned about the country and country ways. For many of them pigs, sheep and cows had just been pictures in books.
Gradually Granny and the rest of the family learned about Rose and Lily’s lives with their parents in a tenement block. We were poor but could hardly imagine their privations. It was obvious both parents spent most of their time and money in the pub. It was a daily occurrence for the two girls to sit on the pub steps with a pennyworth of chips. At closing time Mum and Dad shuffled out, usually the worse for drink and belligerent. They were used to dodging the blows. The saddest thing was their matter-of-fact attitude to this abuse. That was their life.
One day Rose said to Granny, “Yer must come and see us, Gran, after the war. Dad works at Billingsgate (he was a part-time market porter). Everybody knows im — Bernie, ginger ‘air and ‘tache with rotten teef. They’ll tell yer where to go.”
The summer came and went and we saw Rose and Lily fairly often. They bloomed. What a difference fresh air, good regular home-cooked meals, clean clothes and bodies and a loving Gran made to our new friends.
But, of course, they missed their parents and asked Granny if she would invite them for a days visit. She wrote details of the train times and gave them directions from the station — a pleasant mile walk on a fine day. Rose and Lily went off to church and came back at 11.30 eager to catch sight of Mum and Dad coming down the road. Granny said they would be there about noon. Time went by but no parents. Eventually Granny called the two disappointed girls in for lunch. She thought the train must have been cancelled — perhaps an air raid? It was nearly 3.00 p.m. and Rose and Lily were getting ready for Sunday School when there was a knock at the door. There stood two blowzy, tipsy women — Mum and her sister, Aunt Lil. The delay was obvious, there were three pubs between the station and Church Lane. They had sampled the local beers at all three until closing time. Granny was furious, but made them welcome for the girls’ sake. She reheated the lunch for two voracious, unapologetic guests. Their eyes were everywhere and Granny was concerned that they may take a fancy to some of her treasures — no that she had anything valuable. The girls were eager to tell their mother all about their lives in the country. Thy boasted they had a clean white tablecloth on the table every day, never newspapers. They showed them their bedroom, ‘new clothes’, books and toys. Mum and Aunt Lil didn’t stay long for they had to get back to the station for the London train. Oh yes, Dad didn’t come because he had drunk too much the night before. Mrs Bernie didn’t try to wake him because she knew he would be nasty.
We were making plans for Christmas when Mrs Bernie’s letter arrived saying she wanted the girls home for a few days. Of course Rose and Lily were torn between Christmas with us and their own family. Granny was 70 years old and couldn’t face the task of delousing and reclothing the girls on their return. Granny told Mrs Bernie she would not be able to have them back again. With a great sense of loss she saw them off on the train in the care of the guard. She loved the girls and they loved her. They went off warmly dressed and carrying bags of Christmas presents. It was a sad day. Mrs Bernie thought Granny would have them back in the New Year. But Granny stuck to her decision and said “No”.
We sent cards to Rose and Lily on their birthdays and the following Christmas but we heard nothing from them. I wonder if they are grandmothers themselves now and if they remember their time in the country away from the extreme poverty and the bombs.
Contributed originally by 2nd Air Division Memorial Library (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Jenny Christian of the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library in conjunction with BBC Radio Norfolk on behalf of Frank L Scott and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
I was eighteen, going on nineteen, when the storm clouds of war started to gather. Life was good ; a happy home, loving and devoted parents and family, sound job prospects and a variety of interesting hobbies and out-door pursuits. All this adding up to an enjoyable and hopefully peaceful future. Life was indeed worth living!
My dreams were shattered on that morning in early September 1939 when the sirens sounded throughout the land warning 'Englanders' of an immediate air attack when the suspected might of the German Luftwaffe would rain down upon us.
Most people that could, and were able, ran for cover long before the mournful wail of the penetrating sound of the air-raid sirens had faded away.
My family consisting of Mother and Father, two sisters, three younger brothers and an elderly Grandfather took to our heels and made for the conveniently placed 'Anderson' shelter dug into the back garden. I can't remember the exact measurements of that particular type, but I do know that to house nine adults for any length of time, as it eventually did for several months to come, has to be experienced to be believed. Not only was it very uncomfortable in such a confined space but there was always a fear of the unknown horrors of bombing raids.
Within the shelter, there was the cheerful chatter to keep up our spirits but outside there was an uncanny silence which was broken some time later by the ALL CLEAR signal. A sound we got to love and hear. Nothing happened that particular day and we remained unscathed.
The sound of that very first warning at about 11 o'clock on Sunday 3rd September 1939 will long remain in the memories of many folk, the elderly and not so young, and was a discord we all learnt to live with and to rejoice endlessly to the welcome sound of the ALL CLEAR.
This situation continued for many months with warnings of imminent raids which came to nothing. So began the 'phoney war' as it became to be known. Because of the continuous interruptions caused daily when enemy aircraft were unable to penetrate the air defences, spotters were placed on rooftops of factories, offices, power stations etc., to warn workers only when there were signs of impending danger.
Unfortunately, this was rather short lived and many large towns and cities suffered badly when the German High Command decided to step up and concentrate on a more devastating and annihilating blow, in particular to the civilian population.
My personal experience of this period of time was when taking a girlfriend to a cinema in Elephant and Castle area of London and to be informed by the Manager of the cinema that a heavy bombing raid was taking place in the dock area of the East End. Not that that had much significance to a couple in the back row, who continued there until the bombing got worse and the Manager informed those remaining that the cinema was about to close.
Most people that were able to went underground that evening and it wasn't until the ALL CLEAR sounded in the early morning at daylight that they came out again and went about their business.
Living not far from this area, my first thoughts were for my family and I wished to check on their welfare as soon as possible. Because of the ferocity of the raid, there was much local damage and fires were raging everywhere, accounting for endless lengths of firemans' hosepipes to be trampled over in search of public transport which, by that time, was non-existent. Having escorted my girlfriend home which, unfortunately, was in the opposite direction to the one I would have wished to get me home quickly, but eventually I made it and found them safe and sound. A block of flats nearby had taken a direct hit during the raid.
This signalled the beginning of endless night after night bombing raids on London and 'Wailing Willie' would sound without fail at dusk about the time that mother would be putting the finishing touches to the picnic basket that the family trundled to the garden air-raid shelter. Not too often, but some nights for a change of scenery, or further company, we would go to a communal shelter but must admit that we all felt most secure at 'ours'.
So, life went on, come what may, raids or no raids. All went of to work the next morning trusting and hoping that our work place would still be there. Battered or not, running repairs would be performed and it would be 'business as usual'.
My father, being in the newspaper distribution trade and a night worker would clamber out of the shelter in the early hours but would return occasionally during the night to see that all was well. He would also drop in the morning papers which were often read beneath the glow of the searchlight beams raking the darkened sky in search of enemy aircraft. An additional item on one particular raid was when a nearby gasometer near the Oval cricket ground was hit and a whole cascade of aluminium flakes came drifting down in the light of the search light beams.
Being in 'Civvy Street' at that time, and in what was considered a reserved occupation with a company of manufacturing chemists, my only contact with the war and ongoing battles in various theatres of war was through the press. It was not until that little brown envelope appropriately marked O.H.M.S. fell through the letter-box did my involvement with the military begin.
"You will report" it began, and so I did to the local Labour exchange when it set the ball rolling with regard to medicals, which arm of the service, date of call up etc. I also remember that my company deducted my pay that day. Something I never forgave them for and therefore had no wish to rejoin them on release from the forces.
Came the day, or rather it very nearly didn't! One of the most frightening and devastating attacks on London came that night. The railway station that I had to report to for transport to camp had been put out of action and I can remember clearly seeing passenger carriages hanging onto the roads from railway bridges. Plan 'B' was immediately put into operation and road transport was made available to take us "rookies" to the next station down the line.
The Military Training Camp on the borders of Salisbury Plain became home for the next six weeks when one went through all the motions of becoming a fighting soldier, with discipline and turn-out being the Order of the Day. Whatever one says about Training Sergeants I think our Squad must have struck lucky because we decided to have a whip round and buy him a parting gift before our leaving camp and being drafted to a searchlight mob. Thus ended basic training in the Royal Artillery.
The next venue was over the border; a searchlight training camp on the West coast of Scotland. Within a very short time and very little action, boredom set in and a Regimental office notice calling for volunteers for Airborne Divisions prompted a few of my mates and I to put our names forward. Knowing the outcome of some of their eventual encounters in later battles I am thankful now that an earlier posting took me to a newly formed Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment of which I am justly proud.
Whilst serving with a searchlight Battery Headquarters in Suffolk, apart from the usual flak and hostile fire being an every day occurrence, Cupid's dart took a hand when the A.T.S. became part of the Establishment and a cute little red-head arrived on site. A war-time romance followed but a further posting from that unit took me to another part of the country. As the saying goes "Love will find a way" and it did for we kept in touch until distance and timing took its toll. That was over 50 years ago and through a twist of fate, a news item that appeared in a national newspaper put us in touch again.
My Regiment, the 165 H.A.A. Regt. R.A. with the fully mobile 3.7in gun had many different locations during the build up to D Day but it was fortunate enough to complete its full mobilisation for overseas service in a pleasant area on the outskirts of London. This suited me fine as it was but a short train journey to my home and providing there was no call to duty I would take the opportunity of going A.W.O.L. and dropping in on my folks for a chat and a pint at the local. However, I always made a point of getting back in time for reveille and no one was the wiser. It was also decided about that time that every man in the Regiment should be able to drive a vehicle before proceeding overseas so that was another means of getting up town for a period of time.
Inevitably all good things come to an end and we received our "Marching Orders" to proceed in convoy to the London Docks. The weather at that time was worsening putting all the best laid plans 'on hold'. Although restrictions as regards personnel movements were pretty tight some local leave was allowed. It would have been possible for me to see my folks just once more before heading into the unknown but having said my farewells earlier felt I just couldn't go through that again.
With the enormous numbers of vehicles and military equipment arriving in the marshalling area and a continuous downpour of rain it wasn't long before we were living in a sea of mud and getting a foretaste of things to come.
To idle away the hours whilst awaiting to hear the shout "WE GO", time was spent playing cards (for the last remaining bits of English currency), much idle gossip, and I would suspect thinking about those we were leaving behind. God knows when, or if, we would be seeing them again. By now this island we were about to leave, with its incessant Luftwaffe bombing raids and the arrival of the 'Flying Bomb', had by now become a 'front line' and it was good to be thinking that we were now going to do something about it !!
All preparations were made for the 'off'. Pay Parade and an issue of 200 French francs (invasion style), and then to 'Fall In' again for an issue of the 24hr ration pack (army style), vomit bags and a Mae West (American style). Just time to write a quick farewell letter home before boarding a troopship.
Very soon it was 'anchors away' and I think I must have dozed off about that point for I awoke to find we were hugging the English coast and were about to change course off the Isle of Wight where we joined the great armada of ships of all shapes and sizes.
It wasn't too long before the coastline of the French coast became visible, although I did keep looking over my shoulder for the last glimpse of my homeland. The whole sea-scape by now being filled with an endless procession of vessels carrying their cargos of fighting men, the artillery, tanks, plus all the other essentials to feed the hungry war machine.
The exact role of my particular arm of the Royal Artillery was for the Ack-Ack protection of air-fields and consisted of Headquarters and three Batteries, each Battery having two Troops of four 3.7in guns, totalling some 24 guns in all. This role was to change dramatically as we were soon to discover. In the Order of Battle we would not therefore be called into action until a foothold had been successfully gained and position firmly held in NORMANDY.
The first night at sea was spent laying just off the coast at Arromanches (Gold Beach) where some enemy air activity was experienced and a ship moored alongside unfortunately got a H.E. bomb in its hold. Orders came through to disembark and unloading continued until darkness fell. An exercise that had no doubt been overlooked and therefore not covered during previous years of intensive training was actually climbing down the side of a high-sided troopship in order to get aboard, in my case, and American LCT.
This accomplished safely, with every possible chance of falling between both vessels tossing in a heaving sea, there followed a warm "Welcome Aboard" from a young cheerful freshfaced, gum chewing, cigar smoking Yank. I believe I sensed the smell of coffee and do'nuts!!
Making sure that the assigned vehicle for my entry into Normandy and beyond was loaded aboard I settled down, anticipating WHAT, but surveying the panoramic view as we approached the sandy shore by now littered with the remains of the earlier major onslaught.
Undoubtedly one couldn't have been too aware of the incoming and outgoing tides as the water was far too deep at the beach-head and found it necessary to cruise around until late into the evening before it was decided to make for the shore come what may!! By then it was time to join the other members of the regiment's advance party in the Humber staff car which included driver, a radio operator, the C.O. and Adjutant.
Following the dropping of the anchor, the loading ramp was immediately lowered to the accompaniment of the sound of the engines breaking into life. I think at that point the two officers became aware that we were still in 'deep water' for they decided to climb onto to roof of the 'Z' vehicle as it proceeded down the ramp. In spite of seeing the sea water gradually climbing half way up the windscreen the O.Rs feet remained reasonably dry and we made the shore with the aid of the four-wheel drive.
At the first peaceful opportunity it was essential to shed the vehicle of its waterproofing materials and extend the exhaust pipe. The canvas parts of this exercise I decided to keep, as I thought that they would be useful (time permitting) for lining ones fox-hole, which I later found to be ideal.
My ancient tatty looking 1944 diary informs me that I slept in a field and awoke at 05.30hrs to a glorious sunny day, that I washed in a stream,sampled my 24hr ration pack, saw my first dead jerry and that General De Gaulle passed the Assembly Point.
I must admit that without the aid of my diary that I managed to keep throughout the war (something that I could have been very severely reprimanded for had it been known at the time) and the treasured letters that my Mother retained until her dying day, I could not possibly remember all the most intimate details of my soldiering days.
Returning to those early entries, whilst enjoying the pleasure of a quick splash in a neighbouring stream I became aware of some girlish giggling in the adjoining bushes and felt that this was an early indication that the natives were friendly.
We proceeded inland, the Sappers having done their stuff and prepared safe lanes amid endless rows of tape with the deathly skull and crossbones indicating ACHTUNG MINEN, it was decided to set up Regimental H.Q. in the area of Beny-sur-mer.
During a check halt en route I noticed that a small area of corn a few yards into a vast cornfield had been disturbed. Taking a chance and feeling inquisitive I decided to investigate. And there it was the ENEMY, but proved not to be too much of a problem. How long he had been there I do not know. He was lying on his back, his feet heavily bandaged no doubt through endless marching, his Jack Boots placed beside his body. I also notice hurriedly that his ring finger was missing? Someone's Son, someone's Father, someone's brother, someone's liebe; what a ghastly business war is !!
It occurred to me that all my observations of German manhood from the then current movies and other sources gave one the impression that they were a somewhat super human race; six foot tall, blonde and blue-eyed. That is what the Fuhrer had aspired to no doubt but I was rather taken aback to see the first column of German prisoners passing by, some short, fat, bald, spectacled etc. etc. a straggly pathetic bunch, tired, weary but some still with that aggressive look in their eyes, some glad that at least the war and the fighting were over for them.
Several moves to different locations were made in the ensuing weeks, also being 2nd Army troops, we were at the beck and call of any Corps or AGRA needing support and CAEN had to be taken at all cost.
Being on H.Q. staff one of my 'in the field' roles was to travel with the Staff car into the forward areas and reconnoitre sites prior to the deployment of the heavy artillery. Here I would remain until the last of the units had passed through that check-point with the expectation of being picked up sometime later when the whole procedure would continue again with a type of leap-frogging action.
Following days of constant heavy shelling and later to watch a 1000 bomber raid from the outskirts of that well defended town of Caen it finally fell. Having dug ourselves in and around an orchard in the Giberville area, east of Caen, some late evening mortar fire sadly killed our Second-in-Command (Major Finch) when the shell struck an apple tree under which the officers were playing a game of cards. Here again my diary notes "heavily shelled at 22.00hrs. 2nd i/c killed, Lt. Quartermaster, Padre and Signals Officer wounded." The following day we buried the 2nd i/c and felt the terrific loss to the Regiment. Several years later through the very good services of the War Graves Commission I was able to trace and eventually visit his grave lying in peace in Bayeux cemetery.
Passing through the ruined and by now almost deserted corridor in Caen I stopped to retrieve a slightly charred but intact wall plate bearing the towns name from the still burning rubble. Somehow it had survived the crushing bombardment and would now protect it as a war souvenir. This memento I eventually carried through France, Belgium into Holland and on to the borders of Germany. Here I was lucky in a draw for U.K. leave and returned home to family bringing the wall plate for safe keeping where it continued to survive the continuing London blitz.
Sadly several years later, and happily married, my wife during a dusting session knocked it from its focal point and it broke into several pieces. I could have wept, remembering its passage through time but my good sense of humour saw the funny side of it all. Having put it together again it does have the appearance of having 'been through the wars' but still has a place of honour on my kitchen wall. Have thought over the years that I should perhaps return it to its rightful owner, but just where does one start?
Returning to the ongoing war in Europe it appeared that things were going as well as could be expected on all fronts. There were occasions when having dug a comfortable hole in the ground word would come through "we're moving again". There were no complaints as such if it was felt it brought the end of hostilities a little closer. It became a bit tough when this could happen sometimes three times in one day and with the approach of winter the earth was getting harder all the time.
It was comforting, however, to hear that the Germans were retreating down the Vire-flers road. Again my old diary reveals the path taken by the Regiment from landing in Normandy through the Altegamme on the North bank of the river Elbe, Hamburg. It gives dates and places and highlights the fact that we were forever crossing borders e.g. France into Belgium, Belgium into Holland, Holland back into Belgium, Belgium into Holland, Holland into Germany where we remained.
Its mobility can perhaps be made clearer in an extract from the Regtl. Citation which quotes
"The unit has been deployed almost continuously in the forward areas, and the Headquarters and Batteries have frequently been under shell and mortar fire. During this time the Regiment has not only fought in an A.A. role but has been detailed to other tasks not normally the lot of an A.A. unit. These have included frequent employment in a medium artillery role, action in an anti-tank screen, and the hasty organisation of A.A. personnel into infantry sub-units to repel enemy counter-attacks. All tasks have met with conspicuous success. The unit has responded speedily, cheerfully and efficiently to every demand made on it. The unit is one where morale is very high indeed and which can confidently be given any task".
Following the distinctive role played during the N.W. Europe campaign the Regiment was awarded a Battle Honour and its Commanding Officer a D.S.O.
Depending on the impending battle plan the various Batteries would be assigned to individual tasks i.e.
275/165 Bty u/c Gds. Armd. Div. for grd. shooting.
198/165 Bty deployed in A.A. role def. conc. area.
317/165 Bty deployed in Anti-tank role.
All tasks having been successfully completed would again move as a Regiment under command Guards Armoured Division to support a new attack.
A day to be remembered was the arrival of bread after some 40 days without. I think it only amounted to one slice per man but what a relief after nibbling on hard biscuits for so long. The men to be pitied were those with dentures who automatically soaked it in their tea or cocoa (gunfire) before consuming.
Another welcome treat was the arrival of the mobile bath and clothing unit in late August '44. It was about that time that I heard a steam whistle indicating that the railroad was back in action.
When the situation allowed a truck would take a party of men to the nearest B and C Unit which consisted of a couple of large marquee tents adjoining. In one you would completely disrobe and proceed along duck-boards to the shower area. Having enjoyed this primitive delight and dried off you would then gather vest, pants, shirt and sox then queue to be sized up by the detailed attendant in charge, to be issued with hopefully something appropriate to ones stature. It didn't always work to ones liking and caused much amusement in the changing tent where swaps occasionally took place.
The unit did however serve its purpose at the time but things became more pleasant when one could retain their own gear and could sometimes get it attended to by a local admirer.
Four moves in as many days took us into Brussels where we were given a rousing reception. Our vehicles were clambered onto from all directions by the thronging crowd, showering us with hugs and kisses, flowers, and a very brief moment to sample a glass or two or wine. No time to stop, unfortunately, and soon to depart with a small recce party en route for Nijmegan. By now things were getting slightly uncomfortable having been attacked from the air during a night in the woods and the main body of the Regiment attacked in the corridor at Veghel.
Here our guns were deployed in an Anti/tank role, field role and CB role. Several troops were provided for attack to recapture the village of Apenhoff. A tiger tank was engaged by one gun and very successful CB and concentrations fired on enemy gun areas and infantry. It was thought that casualties sustained were justified as the attack resulted in the capture of 76 prisoners, one anti-tank gun and a considerable number of enemy dead, mostly to the West of the village where most of our men finished up and where a certain amount of mortar fire was brought down upon them.
The following day the main body of the Regiment arrived in Nijmegan and were deployed in an Ack-Ack role, minus one Troop still in MTB role. It was recorded at the time that on several occasions the guns had been deployed further forward than any other guns in the Second Army and in the case of the bridge over the Escaut Canal at Overpelt it was considered that the fire provided was one of the chief factors in the bridge being captured intact.
It was during a return to Belgium for a break just before Christmas 1944 that we had the good fortune to be billeted for a few days with a wonderful family consisting of Mother and Father, six daughters and two sons. The childrens' ages ranging between possibly eighteen and three. It was the time of celebrating St. Nicholas and homely pleasures had long been forgotten as regards a roof overhead, surrounding walls, and to mix with warm and friendly people. The chance to sit at a dining table on a firm and comfortable chair, food on a plate instead of a dirty old mess-tin were simple things to be appreciated beyond words and all were saddened when it was time to return into the line.
A returning Don, R would often bring little notes written in understandable English but as the lines of communication lengthened so contact diminished.
Some 40 years later, prior to a visit to The Netherlands with a party of Normandy Veterans, I decided to write to the Burgomeister of the small village of Beverst giving him full details of the family and hoping by chance that at least one member of the large family would have survived the war and perhaps was still living in the Limburg area of Belgium.
It was beyond belief that within ten days I had a letter from the very girl, Mariette, who had sent the odd letter to me and to this day still have them in my possession. We had so much to tell each other, on her side that all her sisters were married with children, and that one of her brothers who was three years old during the war was now a priest in Louvain.
As the conducted tour at the time of visiting did not go into the Limburg area of Belgium, it was arranged that a small party from the family circle would travel by minibus and that we would hopefully meet up at a suggested time in the town of Eindhoven in Holland. There was much rejoicing when the timing was spot on and a very brief meeting with an exchange of gifts took place before it was time to clamber back onto the coach.
Over the years when visiting the Continent we meet whenever possible. I have since met all surviving members of the family, visiting their homes and meeting their children. At one of the locations a field a short distance away was pointed out to me where Hitler, a Corporal at the time, had camped during the 1914-18 war.
During one conversation I asked Mariette how the family had fared during the German occupation. She told me that on one occasion a German Officer had knocked on the door requesting the family to accommodate some German troops. The Father replied that he had eight children which he was supporting and had no room for them and luckily they departed. She went on the tell me that when the Germans were pushed out of the village and the English and the Americans moved into the area her Father gladly accepted a few English soldiers to stay, suggesting the family would double up into a couple of rooms. We still find plenty to talk about over the years when corresponding and on meeting up.
In further praise of my old Regiment it is on record that before June '44 was out, a deputation of senior officers visited the unit to learn why, and how, they were usually the first guns in the line to report "READY" and higher formations were calling for their support as a unit.
The Order of March for the operation "Garden", the Northward dash to join up with the Airborne troop was headed (1) Guards Armoured Division, (2) A.A. Group (165 H.A.A. Regt.) leading. This alone should rank a citation for the 3.7in A.A. gun. Second in the Order of March on what must be one of the most daring and spectacular assaults in history.
The 3.7s when used in their field role were fired from positions amongst the infantry and that having no gun shield the layers positions were untenable. During the closing battle for Arnhem they were able to give covering fire throughout the night withdrawal. The 3.7s with their 11 miles range were amongst the very few guns available with sufficient range to cover the flanks of the 1st Airborne at Arnhem, and for a long time there was talk of the unit being permitted to carry the honoured Pegasus on their sleeve.
It was during the withdrawal of the survivors of the Battle of Arnhem, and watching the war-torn paras filing back through Hell's Highway, that I spotted and had a quick chat with a couple of my old mates that had proudly volunteered with me on that fateful day in June '41. In a flash I though "there, but for the grace of God go I". Should I have in fact survived that horrendous and tragic battle, and where are they now I wonder?
Word that hostilities had ceased came through whilst in a little German village called Tesperhude on the North bank of the Elbe, V.E. DAY, the war in Europe had ended. Time to celebrate. All Other Ranks were invited into the Officer's mess where 'issue rum' was being served up in half-pint glasses. This was a complete change to previous issues when, during inclement weather the rum ration would have to be taken in a mug of tea. Pushing all protocol aside it was time to let our hair down and enjoy. It was suggested that a bit of music and song would be in order and the question was asked as to who could play a piano accordion. I gave up the idea of not volunteering on this special occasion and said that I could, having had some professional lessons in my youth.
A search party set off down the street and a 'squeeze box' was produced and promptly placed in position. By then the rum was taking hold and I can remember getting through two verses of "Home on the range" before collapsing over backwards to a cacophony of sound as the bellows extended across my chest. Can't say the C.O. and other Officers were too pleased with the musical performance and I felt the effects of the vapours for a few days following. I made up my mind there and then that I never wished to experience the taste of Nelson's blood ever again, as I also felt about the thought of never wishing to see spam and bully beef, but time is a great healer?
Release from the service being on an 'Age and Service' basis meant that I possibly had another year or so to serve before being discharged. I would have been more than content to remain in the area of Hamburg until my release papers arrived, but unfortunately it was not to be. An urgent War Office posting, I was told, brought me back to England and a spell at Woolwich Barracks which I found most discouraging and ungratifying.
I was to join a newly formed contingent of mostly new recruits about to depart for the Far East, by mid November '45 I was on a troopship bound for Bombay. Christmas 1945 was spent in the Royal Artillery Transit Camp at Deolali where I spent a few weeks before entraining and travelling across India to Calcutta. It wasn't quite the Orient Express for comfort and cuisine, and I can remember being fired upon by rampaging dacoits at one point.
Several more weeks were spent in a transit camp in Calcutta experiencing all the delights of Chowringee and thereabouts – felt quite the pukka sahib at times before word came through that we would be sailing for Rangoon the following day.
Going aboard the S.S 'City of Canterbury' there was the usual rush for hammocks and best positions on deck. Arriving in Rangoon I was happy to receive my first letter from home in seven weeks and was a relief to be sure. I had still not reached journeys end and it was not until mid February 1946 that I joined my intended unit, a Field Regiment, on the borders of Mandalay in Burma.
I was finally homeward bound by the late summer of '46 to enjoy three months overseas leave and a return to civilian life.
Looking back over the years in the forces there were some good times and some exceedingly bad times but having come through it all reasonably fit and healthy I feel the WAR YEARS have shown me the true value of life and that, in retrospect, I feel proud not to have missed this experience of a lifetime.
Written in March 1994.
Contributed originally by Ann Bradbury (BBC WW2 People's War)
BBC The Peoples War
My father appeared at the living room door; he had been listening to the wireless. “It’s war” he said in a grave voice to my mother. There was silence. It was just after eleven o’clock on the third of September 1939. I was seven and a half years old to the very day and it didn’t mean much to me wrapped as I was in my child-world.. It wasn’t until February 1940 when my sister’s husband, who was in the Merchant Navy, went down in the North Sea, leaving her a widow with a three-month old daughter that I realised that life was going to be very different.
I was born the youngest of ten children in a Victorian house in Hawksley Road, Stoke Newington in North London. I was the youngest by a long way, and at the outset of war, the rest of the family were in their teens and twenties. I stayed in London for the duration of the war except for a fortnight in September 1944 when the V1s were coming over the North Sea and dropping in a circle round our house. I did not want to leave my parents to be evacuated in 1939 and my parents couldn’t leave; they had to work and look after the family.
My school closed down and was used for storage; one morning, I went to the school gates where there were red double-decker buses parked and said goodbye to my school friends as they went on their long journey to a place they didn’t know and to live with people they hadn’t met. I never saw them again. Two months later I was sent to a Church school and made new friends. The school attended church monthly. Churches weren’t heated in winter during the war and they were so cold that all the children dressed up in extra jerseys, scarves and gloves.
When the blitz started in the autumn of 1940, I soon learnt to differentiate between the sound of the German bombers with their unsynchronised engines and the sound of our own aircraft. At home, my father had reinforced some of the house to withstand bomb blast. Wooden rafters were put up in the living room to support the ceiling and there were wooden shutters outside the window that we could draw up at nightfall. Brown paper strips were gummed crisscross inside every window in the house to contain flying glass. Buckets of sand were placed everywhere to deal with incendiary bombs. In fact my father was called out one night to help when five incendiary bombs fell on our row of terraced houses.
The coal cellar was reinforced with girders to be of air raid shelter standard and the coal hole in the front garden was enlarged into a square with steel rungs going up the wall inside to be used as an escape hatch. The cellar under the stairs was only four foot wide so for a bed we had boards across the width supported on trestles and a mattress was laid on top. I slept here with my parents during the blitz, the mini-blitz of 1944 and the flying bombs, although more often than not, my parents were in the kitchen brewing up tea being unable to sleep. Some of my siblings slept in the reinforced living room where a mattress had to be laid on the floor every night; some slept in their own beds preferring to die in comfort.
In 1941, a delayed action land mine dropped at the end of our road. Luckily it got caught up in a tree and the immediate area was evacuated so there were no casualties. I was alone in the cellar when it eventually exploded at 4am and the bang was horrendous. It was followed by a thumping down the length of the staircase overhead. This was my 14 year old brother leaping downstairs shouting ‘Mum, I’m on fire!’. Apparently there was such a firestorm when the mine exploded that it lit up his bedroom with a red glow! The impact of the blast slightly sucked out one wall of our house so that there was a gentle curve to it and it stayed like that until the late forties when it was rebuilt under the war damage scheme. The cracked windows were replaced by opaque glass as clear glass was hard to come by. The resulting bombsite became our playground. There were dilapidated houses to investigate and damaged stairs and floorboards to clamber over.
One evening, after I had had a birthday party, I went out with my father to take some of my friends home. There was an air raid on but all was quiet. Suddenly on the way home the guns started booming and an enormous piece of shrapnel about a foot long came from behind our heads and fell in front of us. One of us had narrowly escaped being killed that night.
We collected shrapnel from the streets after a heavy raid and exchanged large pieces with our friends. We collected newsprint from our neighbours and gave them to shopkeepers to use as wrapping paper and played many games such as tag, marbles, hopscotch and skipping. Children make their own happiness.
By the end of 1939, I had three brothers in the RAF: a sister joined the WAAF in 1941 and another brother went into the army in 1943. I did plenty of letter writing when my brothers were posted abroad. My brother Ernie, who was a rear gunner on a Halifax 111, was killed on the night of 3rd/4th March 1945 when the Germans mounted their Operation Gisela in which nearly 200 night fighters were sent over this country at low altitude to infiltrate the returning bomber stream. His aircraft had been diverted from his home base at Melbourne, Yorkshire and was approaching a nearby airfield when it was shot down by a JU88. it crashed at 0145 hours on the 4th March on Spellow Hill, Staveley. Ernest’s body was brought home and buried at Chingford Cemetery, North London on 10th March on the very day he was to have been married in York. He was to have finished his tour of operations that week.
We were continually being asked by the government to save to help the war effort. We had standard metal money boxes in the shape of a small book which had a crest on the side and was locked, the key being held by the post office. When it was full, we took it to the post office and the money was extracted and put into National Savings Certificates and the box was locked again.
Many of the popular songs written at this time were about the conditions we had to tolerate. We children all hated Hitler, Berlin and the German nation most intensely and wanted them obliterated. There was one song called ‘Run, Rabbit, Run,’ that we sang as ‘Run, Hitler, Run’ and it continued about having a gun and shooting him. Many songs were adapted like this by us and were sung with great intensity.
My mother coped magnificently with meals in that we never went hungry. The weekly rations of tea, sugar, meat and dairy foods were very small, but we had bread and potatoes to fill us up, also suet puddings with golden syrup; and dumplings in a vegetable stew with the bone from the Sunday joint. The dripping from the roast was used to spread on bread and was very tasty. There was sometimes fried bread with tomatoes or a strip of bacon for breakfast. Sausages were made with mostly bread but sausage rolls were tasty, heated with thick gravy poured over them. Steak and kidney pies were also in evidence but they only had one cube of steak and one piece of kidney inside; the rest was mush. Nevertheless they made a tasty dinner. We ate lots of vegetables but only fruit indigenous to this country except for oranges; no peaches, grapes, pineapple or bananas. We had to queue for nearly two hours for a few oranges per person when a boatload occasionally came in. Word soon got round that Jim the greengrocer had had a consignment of them.. Children were allowed a pint of milk a day and free concentrated orange juice and free cod liver oil. My one weekly egg was always boiled for breakfast and was a special treat. We were allowed extra points for dried fruit at Christmas for the puddings and extra sugar for jam making during the summer. At one time, soap became scarce and one of my sisters came home with a stick of shaving soap which was beautifully soft to wash with.
The mini-blitz and the V-weapons came as a terrible shock after nearly five years of war; it seemed that the blitz was starting all over again and it was generally felt that we couldn’t stand another lot. Everyone had pasty-looking faces and were tired with sleepless nights and it was back to sleeping in the cellar again. At least you could see the V1s and take shelter when one was coming your way but the rockets came from nowhere and one wondered if one would be alive in a moments time. Sometimes at school when we heard the explosions of a V2 weapon, I would run home when school finished wondering if my home and family would still be there. Occasionally I had to leave for school in the morning when the alert was still on and was told by my mother to shelter in a doorway if necessary.
Every day we followed eagerly the progress we made on the continent after D-Day and sometimes we thought the Allies weren’t going to make it so it was a great relief when the surrender was signed in May and we could at last hope that it would soon be the end of the World War. I can remember going to bed that night, the fear gone, and that, after nearly six long years, I would be able to go to sleep knowing that I would wake up in the morning and not be lying under a lot of rubble. The feeling was very strange. We didn’t celebrate the end of the war as we were in mourning for my brother Ernie: we were just very relieved it was all over. The promised big party that was to be held when they all came home from war service, failed to materialise as one of us was missing from the family.
I still had two brothers abroad, one in India and one in Ceylon: they were posted there at the end of 1944 preparatory to fighting in the Asian war to overcome the Japanese. The atom bombs saved them from having to fight and possibly losing their lives and they arrived home safely.
We could at last look forward to peace.
Contributed originally by Angela & Dianna (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was written by Angela's mother, Dobbie Dobinson:
It was 1936. I was just 16 and looking for a bit of excitement, so I was quite interested when I was invited to a Blackshirt meeting. I was told it could get a bit unruly, but the boys were really dishy.
The meeting was in south east London and was bursting at the seams with young people, male, female, black, white - they were all there. I couldn't believe that politics were uppermost in their minds, and I'm sure it wasn't in mine.
I was completely bowled over by the appearance of the members - girls and boys alike. The immaculate black silk shirt and tie. The slim trousers tucked into long black shiny boots. Topping it all was the wide leather belt with the large shiny buckle with the Blackshirt emblem. I learned later that it wasn't just decorative, but had a slightly more sinister use. Under the buckle were several sharp spikes, which could be released when the belt was removed and became rigidly upright. It formed an extremely effective weapon when whirled around among would-be attackers.
I decided to become a member, with all arrangements for my uniform to be delivered ASAP. My parents, needless to say, were very disapproving, and that's putting it mildly, but they had always encouraged us to learn by our own mistakes - and they both reckoned this was a big one!
So far, I had only attended local meetings, but once I had my uniform I was keen to go further afield and hear the better speakers. Sir Oswald Mosley, our leader, was due to speak in the East End of London, always reckoned to be a very lively venue. The great man arrived to address what was a really huge audience. There were Brownshirts, Greenshirts, Communists and a very high proportion of the Jewish community.
To me he looked rather like a doll that had been very carefully dressed. Nothing was out of place. His hair was perfect for the then popular Brylcreem and his little moustache looked as though it had been crayoned on his upper lip. His boots shone like glass and when he gave the salute and clicked his heels I expected them to crack!
He began his speech, but it didn't last long. There was a lot of catcalling and he seemed to have difficulty in holding the interest of the crowd or controlling it. But his deputy arrived to save the day, introduced as William Joyce.
I recognised him at once, although it was quite some time since I'd seen him. His sister Joan had been in my class at Dulwich Hamlet School and I eventually met all his family and it was a very lovely one. Joan had a twin called James, then came Quentin, then Frank and last came William. They were all very happy and confident people and I much enjoyed their company.
As soon as William started speaking the atmosphere changed completely, and I was to learn from future meetings that he had the ability to manipulate a crowd like no-one I had ever heard before.
From then on I never missed one of his meetings, but of course they could be pretty rowdy and this was when I saw the belts put to good use. The opposition was not to be outdone, however, and whirled long pieces of thick string with a raw potato attached to the end with several razor blades stuck in at different angles. Both weapons were not to be argued with for long, but if you were unwise enough to stand your ground an ambulance was quickly required.
It was at one such meeting when things became really out of hand and the police, who always attended our meetings, moved in in force. They had evidently decided that enough was enough and rounded up a number of youngsters, including me. We were bundled into a large police van, the door of which was covered with a metal frame. It felt like being in a cage and the atmosphere became very subdued.
The younger ones, including me, were made to give the usual details and were asked where our parents could be contacted. They were told to come and pick us up. Most parents arrived in a very short time and it was made clear there would be a whole lot of trouble when they reached home. My father decided otherwise - he obviously felt it might give me food for thought if he left me until the next morning.
Actually, although I didn't get any sleep, I learned a great deal about a policeman's lot during the small hours and it was not a happy one. They dealt with drunks, street people and some very abusive people, and my vocabulary increased considerably! A very nice sergeant gave me cups of strong tea with lots of sugar and two arrowroot biscuits. I think he knew I wasn't a real criminal, just a rather stupid brainwashed youngster, and with hindsight I have to agree with him.
I left the Blackshirts when I met the boy who was eventually to become my husband. By then it was 1938 and preparations were going on for war, like sandbags, shelters and gas masks. My boyfriend, who had joined the Territorials, was called up and was whisked off to the Cornwall coast on a London bus, and there given a rifle but no ammunition!
War finally came and sitting alone one evening I turned on my little battery radio and was astounded to hear a voice I knew only too well saying 'Germany calling! Germany calling!' The voice still held an audience even though the messages raised the blood pressure of any red-blooded Englishman. These messages continued every evening and eventually William Joyce came to be known as Lord Haw Haw. He had left this country and joined forces in Germany with our enemies and therefore became a traitor. The war ended and William was brought home, to be tried and sentenced to death by hanging.
I clearly remember the morning the sentence was carried out. I got up early and left the family sleeping; I sat quietly by the window until the clock struck the hour and I knew it was all over and William was no more. But he had stuck to his beliefs till the end and I think, in his case at least, he really believed in the Blackshirt cause, misguided as it was. But as he was often heard to say: 'You can't win 'em all.'
Contributed originally by Stockport Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Elizabeth Perez of Stockport Libraries on behalf of Mrs Margaret Boon and has been added to the site with her permission. She fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
Friday 1st September 1939, a beautiful sunny morning and there I was, Margaret Webb, at the age of 9 years, standing on the platform at London
Fields Station in the East End of London, with my sister Joyce who was 4 years older, plus hundreds of other children. We were all agog at going on
this lovely train journey to God knows where. At that age we were very naive and didn't really understand what a war meant.
Most of our parents were there to see us off, double-checking that our name labels, which were tied to our coats, were secure and that we had our gas masks neatly packed in their boxes and slung over our shoulders, plus a case or bag containing our clothes and one or two personal effects. They, of course, also had no idea where we would end up. We finally set off about 9 a.m. with some tears, some fears, but a great deal of excitement.
After what seemed a very long journey, we alighted at a station called Thetford, which is in Norfolk (which we didn't know at the time). From there we were taken to a large hall, which I learned some years later was the Guild Hall. We were then given a mug of cocoa and a sandwich. A short
time later our names were called out and we were given a paper carrier bag each, which contained a tin of corned beef, some biscuits and one or
two other items of food, and put into various charabancs or coaches, as we would call them today. We were then dispersed in different directions.
After driving through the famous Thetford Forest and some beautiful countryside, during which time I had been sick (being a bad traveller and the cocoa probably didn't help,) we duly arrived at a village called New Buckenham, this was to be our final destination.
We were all bundled into the village school hall where all the local women were gathered. I cannot recall seeing any men there, apart from the two
male teachers who had travelled with us. Having arrived and feeling very nervous, we were well scrutinized by the waiting foster mothers - our
skirts were lifted to check our undies etc. Joyce and I were holding on tightly to each other as we had been given instructions by mother not to
be separated. Finally a lady asked if we would like to live with her and we were taken over to a Mrs Powell who was in charge of the billeting and
Mrs Tofts, the lady with whom we were to live, took us home to meet her husband and two daughters; Joy aged 7 and Shirley who was just 3. We were thrilled to find we were in fact living at one of the village shops (incidentally they made fantastic ice-cream). Everyone must have thought I was deaf because I can well remember saying pardon to everyone who spoke to me - I just couldn't understand their funny ways of talking. I had never heard the Norfolk dialect before. Mrs Tofts
then gave a basket to Joy and suggested she take us to the common to meet some of the local children and collect blackberries which she wanted to cook for our dessert after dinner.
On Sunday 3rd September, we attended church in the village and during the service we were told that war had now been declared with Germany. I'm afraid this didn't mean much to me as I thought war was a battle in a field just like the big picture hanging on the wall outside my old headmistress's office. I really had no idea that it could go on for years.
That night when we went to bed, my sister tried to explain it to me and was so convinced we would never see our parents again. I was far more
optimistic and I remember taking the sweet out of my mouth and giving it to her to suck just to pacify her and stop her crying. She was always
sensitive, whereas I was the tomboy of the family and wasn't going to let things like that worry me.
We wrote home to our parents and let them know where we were and told them all about our new surroundings and school and the many new friends
we had made.
One Friday evening, after we had been there about a month, I looked out of the window and couldn't believe my eyes. There was my Mum getting
out of a car. Oh the excitement!! What we didn't know was that she had written to Mrs Tofts, who in turn had invited Mum to come to New Buckenham to stay for the weekend to see for herself that everything was 0 K. During the weekend Mum went to see the billeting officer (Mrs Powell) and got a list of the names and addresses of the parents of all the evacuees in the village and, when she went back to London, contacted them and arranged a coach so that they (or at least one of them) could
make a trip to see the children on the first Sunday of every month.
Just before Christmas 1939, Mr Tofts was taken ill and at the same time his two daughters went down with chickenpox. As Mrs. Tofts had the shop to run as well as look after her sick family, this meant that we had to move and leave the home we were getting nicely settled in and find somewhere else. Unfortunately no one could take us both together, but we found billets next door to each other. Joyce went to live with Mrs Smith on the other side of the village green and I went next door to live
with Mr & Mrs Brown.
Mrs Brown was very strict and extremely houseproud so I had to watch my step. However she was a wonderful cook. Mr Brown (Ronald) was a farmer, a churchwarden, a member of the Royal Observer Corp and a very respected member of the community and I loved him from the start. He had the most wonderful giggle and when the two of us started it drove everybody mad. We always had a lot of fun together. My own father had always been very distant with me and I can never remember him giving me a cuddle or sitting on his knee. Whereas Mr Brown was entirely opposite, so I suppose it was only natural that I came to regard him as my true dad in every sense.
I had only been with the Browns for three days when I woke up and found my body was covered in spots and blisters. I'd caught chickenpox. As it
was Christmas Eve this meant we could not spend the festive holiday with Mr Brown's parents, which was the usual custom, as I was confined to my bed. As Mr Brown was so determined that I should be kept amused he climbed up into the loft and brought down his mandolin which he had brought back from Greece at the end of the First World War (and incidentally never played since) and tried to keep me happy by playing lots of tunes (not too well I'm afraid). Even though I was feeling pretty ill I can tell you we had plenty of laughs.
The farm was just outside the village, but I spent every spare minute there. I may have been a Cockney but I was a true country lass at heart.
I took to the life like a duck to water. I would feed the hens, muck out the cattle, brush and groom the three beautiful shire horses. The largest was Captain and he was huge. Next was Blossom and then my favourite, the smallest one John. I helped with the haymaking and harvest and the threshing and adored every minute.
One day in Autumn, when I was leading one of the horses pulling a cart load of sugar beet I wasn't watching where I was going and the horse ended up standing on my foot. Not knowing any different I tried pushing his body to get him off. He knew better than to be pushed off balance so trod down all the harder. It was only when one of the farm workers saw what was happening and picked up the horse's hoof by the fetlock that I realised how easy it was. Fortunately no bones were broken, but my foot was badly bruised and swelled up like a balloon and stayed that way all the week. I didn't blame the horse - it taught me a valuable lesson.
Mr Brown also owned a couple of orchards and round about September time each year we gathered all the eating apples, cooking apples and pears in bushel baskets and took most to market, either in Diss or Norwich. As he was a farmer and an important citizen he was allowed a certain amount of petrol. I couldn't believe it when I first saw his car - wow! It was a navy blue Rolls Royce.
Whenever we went into the town, Mrs Brown always asked if I wanted to stay with her and go round the shops or would I rather go with Ronald and yes, of course, I always preferred to go with him. He took me round the museums and the cathedral and in the winter we mostly ended up at Carrow Road in Norwich to watch the football. I suppose this must have
caused a bit of jealousy, but at the time I didn't realize it.
Mrs Brown always went out on Wednesday nights to play whist somewhere in the village and did not get back until around 10.00 p.m. She gave strict
instructions each time that Ronald should make sure I was in bed by 8 p.m. Once she had gone we got out the cards and he taught me to play rummy, Newmarket and crib. Naturally as we were enjoying ourselves the time just flew and often we would hear the back gate and I would fly off to bed just before she came in. On entering I would hear the same old question "Did she go to bed on time?" and the answer "Of course Maggie." and I would be giggling under the bedclothes.
In September 1941, I had to go to the school in the next village now I had attained the age of 11 years. Old Buckenham School was just over 3 miles
away and of course much bigger. For the first few months we had to walk there and back, no matter what the weather and that winter was one of
the worst on record. Deep snow drifts and the snowploughs were brought out to clear the roads. I developed enormous chilblains on my feet and
the backs of my legs, but I still got to school every day and on time. There was quite a crowd of us that used to go together which made it all
the more enjoyable.
Eventually the Norfolk County Council gave us all bikes, which we had to take good care of. Our headmaster held an inspection every week to check that we had cleaned them and everything was in order. If we were caught playing around on them or giving someone else a lift they would be taken away, so we were always very careful to keep within the rules. We were taught how to mend a puncture and put the chain back on and pump the tyres up to a certain standard and clean and polish them so they
always looked like new. Extremely proud of our bikes we were - never had anything like it in our lives before. Sometimes at weekends during the
summer I would go out with Mr and Mrs Brown round the countryside on our bikes.
By this time my sister Joyce had already returned to London, having reached the age of 14, and also because she was suffering from asthma and needed hospital treatment.
When I first went to live with the Browns they had a beautiful cat called Peter. Although I have never been a cat lover, something about this one
appealed to me. Maybe it was because he was so friendly from the start. He had a lovely pure white front and the rest of him was a kind of pinky-
ginger. He really was a great big bundle of soft cuddly fur. I spent hours grooming him, while he purred loudly with contentment.
One day I decided to give his whiskers a trim and he sat there quite happily while I cut them back to about one inch on each side. When Mr Brown saw him, he was horrified and that was the only time he scolded me. He went on to explain that the whiskers on animals were used as a measuring device. By putting them against a gap, the animal knew whether the rest of his body would go through -Lesson No. 2.
After I started at Old Buckenham School I developed a habit of stopping off at the farm gate and giving a long whistle. If the horses were not working they would come in answer to my whistle. Invariably John was always the first. One afternoon in late Autumn, I stopped as usual and
could see John lying down in the next meadow. As he didn't respond I got worried and raced off to find Mr Brown to tell him. It transpired that
poor John was so old and had collapsed. The kindest thing was to have him put down. This really upset me and I cried buckets. It's hard for an 11 year old to realise that this was for the best. I had regularly taken all three horses down to the village blacksmith to be shod, and I loved the warmth of his fire, especially on cold winter days.
I had many friends in the village and when not on the farm we used to go on to the common to play. I must admit when the boys were playing cricket I used to steal their ball and get chased and sometimes thumped for my cheek. I was also a bit of a rogue on the farm and tormented the poor farm workers. One day after we had mucked out the cattle sheds and had a nice big pile of warm manure, they got so fed up with my torments they grabbed me by my legs and arms and threw me on top of the pile. I was only wearing a little top and shorts. By the time I climbed off, I stank to high heaven. Mrs Brown was not best pleased when I
Mr Brown Senior, who was my foster grandfather, had a pony called Peggy and a trap, which he took great pride in. Always polishing the wood and brass until it shone. I felt very privileged when he taught me how to drive the pony and allowed me on one occasion to take the reins on a return trip from Diss. I was so proud I felt like the lady of the manor.
Grandfather Brown used to grow grapes under his veranda in the garden, which were his pride and joy. On one occasion when I was playing out
there, I looked up and saw these enormous bunches of grapes hanging down just above my head so I reached up and pulled a bunch down. I was
sitting enjoying these lovely juicy things when I received a cuff around the ear. (The one and only time in my life) - Lesson No.3 - Never take
something which doesn't belong to you without asking permission.
Late in the year of 1943, Mrs Brown informed me that my Mother was coming the next day to take me back to London. I was completely stunned
as I was prepared to stay for the rest of my life and couldn't understand why I had to leave. No explanation was given to me.
On the day of parting both Mr Brown and I were heartbroken. My Mum told me later that Mrs Brown had written to say she could no longer cope and suggested I should come back to London. As she never did tell Mr Brown the reason he naturally thought my mother was to blame. I can only assume on looking back that she must have been jealous because we had grown so close. Mum thought it might have been because she didn't know how to handle things as I was becoming a teenager and it might mean a lot of explaining. However I did write to them regularly and was invited back each year for a two-week holiday, but of course the closeness between Mr Brown and myself had been broken and I must confess I found it hard to forgive Mrs Brown for that.
Anyhow I was determined not to lose contact and when I was to be married in 1953 at the age of 23, I not only invited them both to my wedding, I asked Mr Brown if he would do me the honour of giving me
away (my parents by this time had been divorced). I don't think I have ever seen such pride and pleasure on a man's face as I did that day. I
thought his speech at the reception was never going to end. To cap it all we went back and spent our honeymoon at my old home in New Buckenham.
Mrs Brown died a few years later, having suffered from diabetes for some time. I discovered she had never told Mr Brown the truth about my departure and I didn't feel it was right to enlighten him.
As he had always been a busy farmer and never had to do cooking or housework he was completely lost and eventually his brother found a neighbour who was widowed and was willing to move in to the house in New Buckenham and become his housekeeper. Eventually they were married and I must say, Grace, the second Mrs Brown was an entirely different
personality to Maggie. She was homely and had a lovely sense of humour and I got on very well with her. I still went for holidays occasionally but
Mr Brown's health gradually deteriorated. Then at the beginning of the '70s I received a letter from Grace telling me he had died and I knew I had lost a true and lovable friend.
I still keep in touch with Grace, even though it is now 2004 - some 60 years or more since I first went to New Buckenham. She is now in poor health and in her late 80's.
I also regularly keep in touch with one of my old school friends, who is 4 years older than me, who was also an evacuee and married a Norfolk man
at the end of the war and settled in Thetford. It was in fact Florrie who organised a celebration for some of us together with the villagers after
50 years. We went back each September where we had a church service and called on some of the village folk that we remembered.
We also had another celebration after 60 years in the village as well as attending a march and special service organised by the Evacuees
Association, in Westminster Abbey. This was supported by hundreds of ex-evacuees from all over the country which included many famous names.
I wrote a poem for each of the 50th and 60th celebrations which were printed in the New Buckenham parish magazine. Copies of both have also been lodged with the Imperial War Museum in London.
As I spent so many happy years of my childhood in Norfolk being loved and cared for, I still class New Buckenham as my home.
Contributed originally by Big Tam (BBC WW2 People's War)
September 7th was a Saturday five days before my seventh birthday. We were living at 20 Tapley Street, Poplar at the time, very near the East India Docks road and thus very, very near the dock area. We had a couple of rooms in my Aunt Aggie's house. I remember it being a bright sunny day but at 4.43 p.m., the sirens sounded and took shelter. There had been repeated 'alerts' and a few actual bombs dropped during the preceding weeks. Something might possibly happen this time, but probably not.
In the back garden was an Anderson shelter. This consisted of some curved sheets of corrugated steel set into a small pit dug into the garden and covered with the earth it displaced. The shelter was four feet six inches high by six feet X six feet square with a small opening at one end. Most were customized by their owners, having bunk beds in some cases and a wooden hinged door, covered by a blanket during the hours of darkness so as not to show a light to the German flyers.
As at this time, the whole East End was up in flames I cannot imagine that the light from our single candle shining through the cracks in the door would bring down the might of the Luftwaffe upon us. Lighting was by candlelight and I can't remember what toilet facilities we had - primitive, I imagine!
I do remember my aunt digging a hole at the back of the shelter into which she placed a tin cash box containing her few valuables. Carefully filling in the hole, she placed a carpet over it and sat on a cushion on the carpet! No fiendish Hun (or relative, perhaps!) was going to get her treasures.
My father came home at around 5pm and joined us so that day there were eleven of us in a shelter designed to accommodate six. The explosions came nearer and nearer until at last they were upon us
and the bombers were overhead. I recall terrified screams from the women and children every time bombs landed near us (which was frequently) and everybody being thrown into heaps side to side by the concussion waves of the explosions through the earth. I know that I kept breaking into hysterical laughter which turned into tears every time there was an explosion. The bombing seemed to go on for hours and hours but now and again in an infrequent lull in the bombing, we had to open the door of the shelter to get fresh air.
We could hear and see the planes circling and dog-fighting overhead until it got too dark to watch.
The Germans used unsynchronized engines for some reason and their planes had a distinctive sound. When the first 'all-clear' finally came at around 8.15pm, my father headed for the nearest pub to have a drink to calm his nerves. For some reason he took me with him. When we stood outside the shelter the whole sky was aflame, a sheet of red, tall buildings near the docks were blazing with enormous flames reaching up into the sky, emergency services bells were ringing, the smell of burning was everywhere and a constant wind was blowing. Dropping from the sky were burnt flakes, pieces of charred paper and ash that had been sucked up by the firestorm. I remember picking up some poor woman's 'Prudential' insurance book that fell at my feet (At that time the agents used to call round weekly for the premiums and enter them into a book). My dad saw what I had in my hand, clipped me round the ear and told me to put it down. "That's nothing to do with you" he said, “That's other people's property".
Outside our front door, we realised what a narrow escape we'd had. In that area of Poplar, the streets were all small terraced houses with very narrow streets. Some of the houses in the street on the right, St Leonard's Avenue had suffered direct hits. The house immediately opposite No 20 in Tapley Street had been hit as had the house opposite in the next street, Burcham Street. If that German bomb-aimer had pushed the button one second earlier or one second later - Goodnight Vienna…………
We finally found a pub for the old man to get his pint, "The Star of India". it was called. I'm not sure, but I think the first one we went to, the Eagle, was a pile of rubble. Despite the chaos, the rubble everywhere and the smoke and fire I STILL had to stand in the street outside the pub with an 'Arrowroot' biscuit and a small bottle of lemonade because of the licensing laws. More likely it was because the men wanted to let off steam and couldn't 'curse and blind' with a seven year old in their midst! I went back to our shelter with my pockets filled with shrapnel from the anti aircraft guns as well as bomb splinters as souvenirs. Later that evening, back in the shelter, the air-raid warning went again and we took another pounding until the early hours of the morning. None of us could sleep; it was just cat-napping through exhaustion and fear, awaking with a start when a bomb exploded near at hand.
We had a few weeks of this, going to sleep in our beds and being transferred to the shelter when the sirens went, sometimes without knowing it, as we kids were fast asleep. Soon after that we found a 'billet' in the crypt of "All Saints" church in the East India Dock Rd. Local legend had it that the Luftwaffe would not bomb the church as they needed the church's spire as a navigational aid when flying up river to bomb the docks. In the grounds of the church a barrage balloon unit was sited. The vicar allowed people to shelter in the crypt and it was always crowded. There was a wide U-shaped passageway under the church with entrance and exit double doors with small alcoves leading off from it.
Once you acquired a bed space in the passageway, you held on to it! The luckier families graduated by order of seniority to’ home from homes’ in the small alcoves on each side of the passage that were empty. They were about six feet by six feet and had stone shelves, which made ideal bed spaces when made comfortable with blankets, and eiderdowns, lighting was from candles and oil lamps, though I believe there was some form of electric lighting in the main passages. The alcoves still containing the original occupants in their coffins were boarded off. They were very quiet neighbours in contrast to the rest of us, crying babies, fretful kids and terrified adults all talking at the top of their voices, or so it seemed.
We stayed in the crypt, night and day, for the next fifty-seven days of constant bombing occasionally going home to have a 'wash and brush up'. If the sirens went while we were at home during our attempts to get fresh clothes and a wash in the daylight hours, my mother would drop everything, bundle my year-old sister into her pram and with me clinging to the pram handle for dear life, often, it seemed with my legs horizontal to the ground because of the speed at which we were travelling, we'd run hell for leather from Tapley Street to the Church, a distance I suppose of about three-quarters of a mile.
At times during the night with all those people in the crypt and the doors at either end shut tight, the air became foetid. When this happened all lights were ordered to be put out and gangs of men waved the large double doors back and forth to create a through draught of fresh air. One young lad sitting at the entrance during one of these procedures during a raid received a stray bullet in the arm.
He returned from hospital a hero with his arm in a sling and the offending bullet in his pocket which he showed to all and sundry.
All we young urchins then tried for a seat near the doorways the next time the sirens went so that we could receive a 'wound of honour' and a spent bullet as a souvenir. I can't remember the toilet arrangements - just as well!! I think tea was brewed by a charitable organisation - probably the 'Sally Ann' (Salvation Army) and there was a mobile canteen at times in the churchyard but we mainly provided our own food and it certainly wasn't a cooked meal because there were no cooking facilities in the crypt. Rumours abounded down there, one in particular I remember was of an A.R.P. warden trying to get the occupants into the open air during a lull in the bombing in the early hours of one morning to get the crypt tidied up and fresh air circulating. He was immediately labelled as a ‘Fifth Columnist’ whose evil plan was to get us outside where the Nazi fighters could machine gun us!
We lived like that for about a year until being evacuated to Norfolk in the autumn of 1941. Trauma counselling?? Non-existent.... The nearest we would have got to it would be remarks on the lines of "You're alive, ain't yer? - Be thankfu!l. Plenty of poor sods who ain't" and as we didn't realise we were traumatised - we got on with it!!
However, even now, aged 70, if I hear the sound of an air raid siren on the television I become emotional and choke up, so there must be something in this counselling.