Bombs dropped in the ward of: Forest

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Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Forest:

High Explosive Bomb

Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:

Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:

No bombs were registered in this area

Memories in Forest

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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,

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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 :-

2137, 2306, 2494



Dear Apley

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.

Yours sincerely,

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.

Copyright BBC WW2 People's War

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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.

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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.

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Contributed originally by Mrs June Cloke (BBC WW2 People's War)


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.

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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.

Part one

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.

Part Two

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.

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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.'

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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
duly registered.

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
arrived home.

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.

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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.

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Contributed originally by sunnydigger (BBC WW2 People's War)

We lived in Old Canning Town in the East End of London.In 1940 after a devastating weekend during which several families lost their homes because of German bombing they were told by the local council to make their way to a school in South Hallsville Road where they would be temporaily housed whilst buses would be orgnised to take them out of London and into the relative safety of the suburbs. Some of these unfortunate people spent the three nights from Saturday 7th to Monday 9th waiting for the buses, but the buses did not materialise. No one really knew what had gone wrong but it appeared that the bus convoy had gone to Camden Town in mistake for Canning Town. After which they were then hampered in their journey to Canning Town by blocked roads and diversions

Long before the buses reached Canning Town the Luftwaffe had returned and at 3.50 a.m. on the morning of Tuesday 10th the school received a direct hit, probably from a land-mine dropped by parchute. Some four hundred people perished in the rubble amongst them were many of our friends. No other expolsive device which fell on Britaiin caused so many fatalities. Providentially, my family had not gone to the school as our house was undamaged. However, in time we did have to move as we were bombed out in 1941, we suffered no physical injuries as we were in the corrugated Anderson Shelter when the bombs fell. This shelter was cold, damp and very unpopula, but looking back they must have saved many lives. We were evacuated from the East End to Hammersmith West London. and moved to a block of flats called Peabody Buildings Fulham Palace Road, we occupied a ground floor flat with two floors above us.

During the time my family was in the flat I had joined the Royal Marines 1943. Everything was going reasonably well for us considering it was wartime. In the summer of 1944 i was stationed at Westcliff just fifty miles down the line from London, so each evening i went home on unofficial leave, stayed the night and returned by the first train in the morning. On the night of August 22-44 my Mom and Dad were sheltering in the Underground Railway station which they did every night to get away from the bombing while I stayed at the flat and was in bed when Peabody Building was hit by a bomb and collapsed into rubble underneath which I was trapped for three hours. Once again we had lost all our possessions. All I was left with were my underpants and vest.
Someone gave me some clothing and a pair of shoes and I went to the Royal Marines Headquarters at Queen Ann’s Mansions. The duty after telling him what happend he gave me a travel warrant back to Westcliff and a letter to my Company Commander autorising the replacement issue of the lost items of my kit and granting of Seven days emergency leave, I was never asked how I came to be at home in London in the first place.

The family found a new at Ellingham Road Shepards Bush W.12 London, and we started all over again. I am pleased to say we remained there without further disturbance. After leaving the Marines in 1947, and working in and around London my wife and myself moved to Canada. Both my Mom and Dad passed away some years later.

We lived in Old Canning Town in the East End of London.In 1940 after a devastating weekend during which several families lost their homes because of German bombing they were told by the local council to make their way to a school in South Hallsville Road where they would be temporaily housed whilst buses would be orgnised to take them out of London and into the relative safety of the suburbs. Some of these unfortunate people spent the three nights from Saturday 7th to Monday 9th waiting for the buses, but the buses did not materialise. No one really knew what had gone wrong but it appeared that the bus convoy had gone to Camden Town in mistake for Canning Town. After which they were then hampered in their journey to Canning Town by blocked roads and diversions

Long before the buses reached Canning Town the Luftwaffe had returned and at 3.50 a.m. on the morning of Tuesday 10th the school received a direct hit, probably from a land-mine dropped by parchute. Some four hundred people perished in the rubble amongst them were many of our friends. No other expolsive device which fell on Britaiin caused so many fatalities. Providentially, my family had not gone to the school as our house was undamaged. However, in time we did have to move as we were bombed out in 1941, we suffered no physical injuries as we were in the corrugated Anderson Shelter when the bombs fell. This shelter was cold, damp and very unpopula, but looking back they must have saved many lives. We were evacuated from the East End to Hammersmith West London. and moved to a block of flats called Peabody Buildings Fulham Palace Road, we occupied a ground floor flat with two floors above us.

During the time my family was in the flat I had joined the Royal Marines 1943. Everything was going reasonably well for us considering it was wartime. In the summer of 1944 i was stationed at Westcliff just fifty miles down the line from London, so each evening i went home on unofficial leave, stayed the night and returned by the first train in the morning. On the night of August 22-44 my Mom and Dad were sheltering in the Underground Railway station which they did every night to get away from the bombing while I stayed at the flat and was in bed when Peabody Building was hit by a bomb and collapsed into rubble underneath which I was trapped for three hours. Once again we had lost all our possessions. All I was left with were my underpants and vest.
Someone gave me some clothing and a pair of shoes and I went to the Royal Marines Headquarters at Queen Ann’s Mansions. The duty after telling him what happend he gave me a travel warrant back to Westcliff and a letter to my Company Commander autorising the replacement issue of the lost items of my kit and granting of Seven days emergency leave, I was never asked how I came to be at home in London in the first place.

The family found a new at Ellingham Road Shepards Bush W.12 London, and we started all over again. I am pleased to say we remained there without further disturbance. After leaving the Marines in 1947, and working in and around London my wife and myself moved to Canada. Both my Mom and Dad passed away some years later.

We lived in Old Canning Town in the East End of London.In 1940 after a devastating weekend during which several families lost their homes because of German bombing they were told by the local council to make their way to a school in South Hallsville Road where they would be temporaily housed whilst buses would be orgnised to take them out of London and into the relative safety of the suburbs. Some of these unfortunate people spent the three nights from Saturday 7th to Monday 9th waiting for the buses, but the buses did not materialise. No one really knew what had gone wrong but it appeared that the bus convoy had gone to Camden Town in mistake for Canning Town. After which they were then hampered in their journey to Canning Town by blocked roads and diversions

Long before the buses reached Canning Town the Luftwaffe had returned and at 3.50 a.m. on the morning of Tuesday 10th the school received a direct hit, probably from a land-mine dropped by parchute. Some four hundred people perished in the rubble amongst them were many of our friends. No other expolsive device which fell on Britaiin caused so many fatalities. Providentially, my family had not gone to the school as our house was undamaged. However, in time we did have to move as we were bombed out in 1941, we suffered no physical injuries as we were in the corrugated Anderson Shelter when the bombs fell. This shelter was cold, damp and very unpopula, but looking back they must have saved many lives. We were evacuated from the East End to Hammersmith West London. and moved to a block of flats called Peabody Buildings Fulham Palace Road, we occupied a ground floor flat with two floors above us.

During the time my family was in the flat I had joined the Royal Marines 1943. Everything was going reasonably well for us considering it was wartime. In the summer of 1944 i was stationed at Westcliff just fifty miles down the line from London, so each evening i went home on unofficial leave, stayed the night and returned by the first train in the morning. On the night of August 22-44 my Mom and Dad were sheltering in the Underground Railway station which they did every night to get away from the bombing while I stayed at the flat and was in bed when Peabody Building was hit by a bomb and collapsed into rubble underneath which I was trapped for three hours. Once again we had lost all our possessions. All I was left with were my underpants and vest.
Someone gave me some clothing and a pair of shoes and I went to the Royal Marines Headquarters at Queen Ann’s Mansions. The duty after telling him what happend he gave me a travel warrant back to Westcliff and a letter to my Company Commander autorising the replacement issue of the lost items of my kit and granting of Seven days emergency leave, I was never asked how I came to be at home in London in the first place.

The family found a new at Ellingham Road Shepards Bush W.12 London, and we started all over again. I am pleased to say we remained there without further disturbance. After leaving the Marines in 1947, and working in and around London my wife and myself moved to Canada. Both my Mom and Dad passed away some years later.

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Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Forest:

High Explosive Bomb

Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:

Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:

No bombs were registered in this area

Images in Forest

See historic images relating to this area:

Sorry, no images available.