Bombs dropped in the ward of: Vincent Square
Total number of bombs dropped from 7th October 1940 to 6th June 1941 in Vincent Square:
- High Explosive Bomb
Number of bombs dropped during the week of 7th October 1940 to 14th of October:
No bombs were registered in this area
Number of bombs dropped during the first 24h of the Blitz:
Memories in Vincent Square
Read people's stories relating to this area:
Contributed originally by epsomandewelllhc (BBC WW2 People's War)
The author of this story has understood the rules and regulations of the site and has agreed that his story can be entered on the People's War web site.
A FLYER'S STORY
When war broke out I was working for the Phoenix Assurance Co in the City. I decided to volunteer for the Air Force - to avoid going into the army!!
In May 1940, I was summoned to Cardington to be attested. This consisted of having interviews and a thorough medical examination; and then swearing an Oath of Allegiance to King George VI, his heirs and successors. Finally I was given the rank of Aircraftsman 2nd Class and a number 1161718. Some weeks later I had to give my name and number to a Corporal who said “that’s not a number, it’s the population of China! As far as rank was concerned, I had eight during my six years with the RAF, ending up as a Flight Lieutenant.
In September 1940, I was sent to the Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS) at Hatfield, learning on Tiger Moths. While I was there, an incident occurred which still sticks in my memory. One particular day in October, was a day of low cloud and strong winds and all the Tiger Moths were grounded. All the members of the course were therefore given extra lectures/ Suddenly during a lecture, there was the sound of a low flying aircraft flying across the airfield. One young cadet, looking out of the window said “That’s a Junkers 88” There were cries of derision and some said “It’s a Blenheim” Almost immediately the air raid siren sounded and we all dashed for the shelters. Before we could reach them, the Junkers 88 returned, flew across the airfield, was hit by flak, but dropped four bombs on the de Haviland factory at the far end, causing several casualties and great damage. Many years later, I learned that the new super aircraft, the Mosquito was being built there. I have reflected since, that the crew of the Junkers 88 were brilliant navigators or very, very lucky.
When being trained by Flying Officer Kelsey at Hatfield, he often used to ask pupils to practice a forced landing in a field as if your engine had failed. He did this with me twice, but we found he had an ulterior motive: when we had landed in the field, he jumped out of the Tiger Moth and said `follow me'. I taxied the aircraft round the field to take off again and he would be walking along picking mushrooms. He was very fond of mushrooms and took them back to the mess for his breakfast!!
One of the rather sad things was that at the beginning of every course, which included about 50 men, they always took a picture of all the pupils and that was partly because it was recognized that some would not survive. If you went into a training establishment after the war had started, you would always find some of those in the pictures with little haloes drawn over them - they were the ones who had died. There would be up to about five in the 50 who wouldn't make it. I can't really remember a group photograph where no one had been killed.
I was at Hatfield for about 6 weeks and then went to Hulavington, Wilts. where I was flying Hawker Harts and got my wings.
I finished my training at Sutton Bridge on Hurricanes. I found Hurricanes very difficult to start with. The others were biplanes and this was a monoplane and flew at least twice as fast. The feel of it was very different and seemed to me to be going terribly fast, but when I got used to it, I did like the aircraft. On the other hand, it was somewhat more unstable than the Spitfire and required much more active hands-on flying, whilst a Spitfire when trimmed properly was much easier to handle and in good weather would almost fly itself.
For the next 6 months after training, I went to a fighter squadron in Orkney, where it was very bleak and the wind never stopped. The fighters were there firstly because of Scapa Flow and secondly to try to stop the Germans flying out into the Atlantic. They had big aircraft called Condors as well as Junkers 88s. There is a gap of about 100 miles between Orkney and Shetland which needed covering. The Germans didn't want to go right up to the north by Iceland. There were two fighter squadrons stationed up there, one on Orkney and the other was split between the Scottish mainland and Shetland, to cover these two jobs.
Was I afraid? Not usually. It is true to say that your training gives you confidence which carries you along quite a bit but there is also a feeling that it will always `happen to the other fellow' and you don't think about injury or death happening to yourself, except if you are actually in the middle of a very nasty situation. It something you just get used to.
My next job was as an instructor for almost a year at an Operational Training Unit to teach on Hurricanes and Spitfires. All the pupils already had their wings. The thing is, a Hurricane is a one-seater so you couldn't sit in with a pilot, but there was a Miles Master which was similar to the Hurricane but was a two-seater. The Instructor sat in the back and the pupil was in the front and the most important things to learn were taking off and landing. When you thought they could manage, you sent them up on a solo in a Hurricane with fingers crossed and hoped they could do it.
After leaving the OTU I did some Army co-operation work and some aircraft delivery.
I then transferred to 1697 flight at Northolt in July 1944. This was called Air Despatch Letter Service. We had Hurricanes specially adapted to carry mail. They had a special space behind the pilot and it was also possible to use one of the under--wing fuel spaces for mail. The object of this was to fly despatches from Normandy back to London. We used to fly the Hurricanes in to the airstrips and despatch riders would come from the front bringing despatches for London. It took about an hour to fly the distance back to Northolt where another despatch rider or driver would take it straight in to London, so an action which might have taken place at 7 a.m. would be reported in London by about 10 a.m. This practice gradually spread a11 over Europe as the armies advanced. We advanced with them, flying to the nearest airstrip and collecting despatches for home.
On 26 August 1944, I flew information from Balleray in France to Northolt all about De Gaulle's entry into Paris and it was very interesting to see it in the papers the next day, knowing that I had carried it in.
VE Day was very busy and I made three flights on 8 May, flying from Germany to Holland and Holland to Northolt and then back to Germany. During the post-war period we were even busier than before with mail and information, clocking up a lot of flying hours. It was during this time that I was able to have a little flight on a Focke Wulf 190 which we had captured. It was very interesting but was extremely fast and it was a little unnerving in a way because there was so much electrical equipment. Instead of levers many of the controls were just little buttons so you controlled it very tentatively hoping it would do the right thing.
My last flight as a member of the Royal Air Force was in a Spitfire on 5 April 1946 but in 1953 I did some flying at Redhiil as Air Force Reserve, because I have to admit, I missed flying. However, I finally stopped flying in May 1953 and have not flown since. I totaled up 1527 hours of which I would think half was in Hurricanes.
I didn't find running the mail dull. I enjoyed pilot navigating, taking myself from one place to another. When you trained, you did cross-country flights and set a course from A to B using landmarks to help you along. If it was bad weather, you came below the clouds and if it was too bad, you just couldn't fly. You did have radio to help you, but it was very unreliable so you needed to be able to manage without it. The airstrips were just that -just a cleared field with a runway laid by engineers. You just had to find it by checking the little villages and knowing which ones they were.
Coming in from the sea you could check where you were as you crossed the coast by the shape of the coast and the placement of the villages.
You soon learned not to get lost but it was possible to do so. The first time I took out a Spitfire - in England, fortunately - I got completely lost because it was so fast. When I looked back the place I took off from was gone. I was in rather a panic but I should have realized that by flying west to the Welsh coast and turning right I would have got to Carlisle which is where I was supposed to be going. I didn't think of it because I was in a panic but that was early on in about 1941 before I got used to finding my way. I landed at an airstrip I found and tried again. Not a very good example of good airmanship! ! !
When we weren't flying, we didn't do very much really. There were always a few of us about for company. We used to stay on the aerodrome mostly. We might mooch up and chat to the Air Controllers to see what was happening and if anything interesting was coming in. When we used to fly to Germany, later on, there was a big aerodrome built which had a lot going on. We lived in a little house with a stream behind which was lovely and a nice area to go for walks. There were very few female personnel about. However, fraternising with local German girls was very much discouraged. After the war was over, we were still there for quite some time and there used to be dances which female service personnel used to attend, which were very nice, but overall it was a very masculine life. We used to be wrapped up in flying and aircraft very much and I must say I was never bored.
It is said that some people found it very hard to settle dawn to civilian life again but I can't say I had any difficulty. To be honest, after risking your neck to some extent for six years, it was quite nice to be able to say you were going to live a normal life again.
I was very fortunate in being able to go back to my job at the Phoenix Assurance Co. First of all, they had a rule that no married women could work at the Phoenix, but they did relax that later. They were a very good company and even paid us while we were in the services. Before the war my salary was £120 a year, but even during the war they paid about £60 p.a. When I came back to work for them, my pay was £300 p.a. That wasn't a lot, but you could get married on that. In fact, I met my future wife at work a few months after I returned.
Arthur Lowndes AFC
Contributed originally by Torbay Libraries (BBC WW2 People's War)
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Paul Trainer of Torbay Library Services on behalf of Benita Cumming, the daughter of Ben Cumming, and has been added to the site with her permission. Ms Cumming fully understands the site's Terms and Conditions.
On that fateful day in September of 1939, which fell on a Sunday, I heard on the radio that Britain had declared war on Germany, as that country had invaded Poland, and our country had a treaty with Poland to come to her aid. It came to my mind when I heard this that now was the opportunity for me to break away from the humdrum existence I was leading at that time and enlist to get away from it - providing the conflict lasted long enough for me to participate (the general opinion at the time was that it would be over by Christmas).
The next day in the local newspaper was an advert for young men, at least 5 foot 11 inches tall, who were wanted as recruits for the Brigade of Guards, and right away I thought, "That's for me!" The first opportunity I had, I was off to the Recruiting Office in Torquay and got signed on. I was given a railway warrant to get me to Exeter, where I went to the Army Barracks there, had a medical examination, passed and got accepted for the Grenadier Guards. I hadn't said anything at home about what I was going to do and when I got back that evening and told them the news, they were very proud of me but also very worried about what was going to happen to me.
I hung around for a few days saying my goodbyes, whilst I waited for a railway warrant to take me to London and Chelsea Barracks, the Guards Depot to where I had to report. My mates said I was crazy, but they all wished me well, and then I was off. It was late at night when I finally arrived at the Depot and was given a meal and put in a room with other new recruits, some of whom were to remain comrades with me for the next five or six years. It was all a very strange experience for me; the farthest I had ever been previously was a school trip to Swindon to view the Railway Sheds!
We did not see anything of the world outside for a couple of months as before being allowed out, recruits had to be able to walk properly as becomes a Guardsman. My Army pay was 14 shillings (70p) a week, of which I made my Mother an allowance of five shillings (25p) a week. After a few days we were issued with a pair of hobnailed boots and a khaki uniform with brass buttons, and on our legs from knee to ankle we wore puttees (strips of cloth). It was the same kind of uniform that troops who fought in the First World War wore. We did not get proper battle-dress until much later. I had to take a lot of stick from my new comrades because as I came from the West Country, they called me a Swede Basher and said that I had straw sticking in my hair.
The next few months were spent drilling and marching on the barrack square and being toughened up in the gymnasium, until we were considered to be fit and efficient enough to be changed from recruits to Guardsmen. We were then put on what was referred to as Public Duties - that is, going on guard at St. James' palace and Buckingham Palace. We also had to do guard on the bridges over the Thames as the I.R.A. were attempting to blow them up.
In early 1940, in the period known as the "phoney war", the Russians invaded Finland. Chamberlain, the then Prime Minister, had the crazy idea of sending an expeditionary force to go to the aid of the Finns. I was sent on embarkation leave prior to joining that force but fortunately the plan was scrapped; it would have been catastrophic if it had been allowed to
go ahead. However, I had gone on leave carrying all my equipment, including a rifle and ammunition. It was my first leave since joining up and the situation had changed a lot since I left home; Joan had left to join the N.A.A.F.I. and my parents could not keep up the mortgage payments on their house at Danvers Road. They had applied for and been granted a house, 23 Starpitten Grove, on the Watcombe Council estate. It was a nice little house, newly built in a cul-de-sac but miles from Torquay town. Sometime after I learnt that Father had been drafted away somewhere in the country, helping in the work of constructing an Army camp. Mother was left on her own and she had to take in some evacuees from the East End of London, two or three boys I think, and I gather they were a right bunch of hooligans. My sister Mary, or "Blossom" as she was known, came to live with her, which made life a little easier for Mum.
The early spring saw the invasion of Belgium by the Germans, and British troops were rushed to the border of France and Belgium to try to stem them, but they were brushed aside and had to retreat, eventually to be evacuated from Dunkirk. The Luftwaffe began their bombing campaign and the Battle of Britain had commenced; the fear in this country was that the German army was about to mount an invasion as barges had been spotted moored at ports on the French coast across the English Channel. There was also the possibility that parachutists would be dropped in great numbers on strategic targets. My mob was the holding Battalion and we were stationed in London for the defence of that city and we were put on alert to counter the dropping of any airborne troops.
One duty was being taken by military transport to various Police stations in the Metropolitan area and two Guardsmen would ride in the Police cars when they went out on patrol, so that there would have been a quick armed response to anyone dropping from the sky. Then, the company I belonged to were sent to possibly defend the peninsula at Greenwich, the location now of the Millennium Dome. In 1940 there was a vast complex there owned by the South Metropolitan Gas Co, where it was reputed they made everything from Poison Gas to Epsom Salts. That in itself was unimportant, but the site itself was important, as whoever was in control there would control the traffic on the River Thames. The area around there was being very heavily bombed. One of our duties during the raids was, if incendiary fell on to the Gasometers, we had to clamber up and place sandbags over them, which was a pretty hairy experience.
After a spell there my company were drafted to Wakefield in Yorkshire, to join as reinforcements to the Third Battalion which had been badly mauled in France, and was in the process of being reformed. We were put into Civvy Billets, which was a great treat after being in barracks in London, having a decent bed to sleep in and home cooking; it did not last very long as the Battalion moved to the East Coast of Lincolnshire and Norfolk where we bivouacked, dug trenches and prepared positions to prevent the landing of enemy troops if they attempted the expected invasion. However, Hitler called off operation "Sea Lion", as it was codenamed, and we were ordered to stand down. There were stories at the time that some invasion barges had tried to land an invasion force somewhere along the East Coast and oil had been poured on to the sea and had been set alight. Rumour had it that burnt corpses had been washed ashore, but I never saw any myself.
We then had another change of duty. We were sent to where the aerodromes of the fighter planes operated from (viz: Biggin Hill and Henley) as the Battle of Britain raged on; the Germans had a ploy of following returning aircraft and shooting up the runway. An ingenious means of defence was sunken pillboxes which by the use of hydraulics rose from the ground and could be used to engage any incoming enemy. Eventually, the R.A.F. formed their own Defence Regiment and we went off to the Home Counties, mainly Surrey, to resume battle training. One location was Lingfield in Surrey where we were billeted in what was formerly racing stables, which was an ideal billet on the grounds that one was able, when off duty, to slip in and out surreptitiously without being caught.
Having a drink in the local pub one evening, I met a girl named Jessica, and after a few more meetings we began a relationship. I soon found out that she was married to a soldier and I should have ended it, but as it was wartime, one's morals were not as good as they ought to have been, and we spent as much time together as we could. It was wonderful whilst it lasted, but it all came to an end one night when I was with Jessica at her home, and she cried out that her husband and his father were approaching the front door. It transpired that they had found out she was having an affair with a Guardsman and they intended to give me a good going over. I scarpered out the back way and got clear. A couple of days afterwards the Padre of the mans unit came to see me and accused me of breaking up the marriage, and I got reprimanded by the Adjutant and was transferred to the Fifth Battalion, which was stationed in Yorkshire. A sad end to a romantic interlude.
The war had been going on for a couple of years now, and the situation was not looking very good for Britain. Italy, of course, had allied herself to Germany and now the Japanese had entered the conflict against us and the United States. The Japanese were defeating us in the Far East, and in the Middle East the Germans and Italians had us on the run. All the Army who were stationed in Britain could do was to carry on training hard and build up enough strength in manpower and armaments to be able one day to counter-attack the enemy abroad whenever and wherever possible and eventually mount an invasion on the mainland of Europe. Most of the training we did was in the north, over the bleak Yorkshire Moors. At Christmas in 1942, we were at a place called Louth in Lincolnshire, billeted in stables and barns on a farm. Some of my comrades who knew I had been a butcher persuaded me to kill and dress a turkey, which operation I duly carried out using my bayonet. It was a huge bird, about 20-30Ibs, and we boiled it and had it for Christmas dinner. It was not what you would call a gourmet meal!
In 1943 we moved to Scotland to go on manoeuvres in the highlands; at the time of course, we were unaware what our ultimate destination would be. The powers that be were of the opinion that that particular terrain was similar to that found in North Africa, which was where we were destined to invade. The first place we arrived at was Ayr, where we bivouacked on the racecourse there (we seemed to have had an affinity with horses!) From there we were sent on a scheme to the Isle of Arran which lies off the coast of Ayrshire, way across the Island and get picked up on the other side a few days later. It was in the middle of winter, we were split into pairs, were not given any rations and were told to live off the land. The idea of the exercise was how to survive in an hostile environment. My luck was in; on the second night we came across an isolated cottage which was occupied by an elderly couple who were frightened out of their lives when they saw us! But the best thing was, there was a middle aged woman who was staying there; she was the wife of a Naval Officer and apparently, she had come there to get away from Glasgow, which was being heavily bombed. Anyway she took a shine to me and that was that, enough said! I would not have minded staying another month or two there. My mate and I made our way to Brodick on the coast where we were to be picked up. There were some shops there and it did not seem that things were on rations. All commodities were supposed to be rationed in wartime Britain, but I was able to purchase several packets of tea and sugar which I sent home when we got back to Ayr, which was much appreciated by
After a spell in Ayr we then moved to a mining village called Tarbolton, where we went into civvy billets which was a real treat, especially if the man of the house was on night shift! But after that the honeymoon period was over for we poor soldiers, and we were now due for real hardships. We embarked at Ayr on to a ship and steamed via the Sound of Bute to Loch Fyne and dropped anchor at Inveraray, where we stayed on board for several months staging amphibious landings and trekking over the Highlands and training in the art of combat with the Commandos at Fort William. This took place in the most appalling weather conditions - driving rain, snow, freezing nights - and it was worse than anything we were to experience overseas. Eventually we sailed out of the Loch via the River Clyde and disembarked at Perth, where we stayed a while in a carpet factory there, awaiting a Troopship to transport overseas. I went on embarkation leave from there and had a few days at home. My other sister, Joan and the man she married, Alec MacPheat, were both there. He was on war work in the area, at a small factory at St. Marychurch, turning out aluminium parts for aircraft. He had been invalided out of the army which was where Joan met him, when she was working for the N.A.A.F.I. My father was also working at that factory as a cleaner. Bloss and Tony, her son, were also there. Tony, who was just a small child then, can remember me coming home with all my equipment and weaponry. It was the last time I ever saw my mother.
Contributed originally by Angiemum (BBC WW2 People's War)
Chapter 1 - Evacuation.
My brother and I sat eating our breakfast at the scrubbed pine kitchen table in the back of my father's shop. The radio was on and in hushed silence we heard that Britain was at war with Germany. In seemed very unreal on that sunny September morning in 1939 and as if to heighten the moment, an air raid siren sounded. Donning my gas mask, I walked sedately to the neighbour's Anderson shelter.
I was born in 1929, the year of the Wall Street crash. My parents were from well-to-do families that had lost their riches in the Great Depression. Now my father's fortunes had changed and he bought two furniture shops in the High Street, Ilford. For some time now there had been rumours of war. We had been issued with gas masks at school, the children making fun of the rude noises they made when we breathed out. I watched men parading in the school grounds, and the Black Shirt rallies in the streets. To a skinny hyper-active ten year old it all seemed exciting.
Our nextdoor neighbours had built an Anderson shelter in their back yard that flooded when it rained and now we sat with our feet in water waiting for the All Clear to sound. Mother had already packed a suitcase in case we had to leave in a hurry, her sister having arranged for us to live with a friend of the family in Somerset. Father rang for a taxi to take us to the station and, bundling us into the back seat, gave us each a bacon sandwich to eat on the journey. My brother was crying but I thought it was an adventure. We were going to live deep in the countryside and I imagined a little house like Hansel and Gretel snuggled in a lush green forest.
There were groups of frightened children at Paddington Station, hanging on to their cardboard boxes of gas masks and labelled so that they would not get lost. Mothers and fathers were waving farewell with trepidation. Many of the children had never been away from home and certainly not to the country. They thought milk came out of bottles not from cows' udders. Some of these children stayed with their foster families but many of them were to return to London after a few weeks.
My mother's sister had already gone down to Hatch Beauchamp with her children several weeks before, and was there to meet us at Taunton station. They were staying on a farm but we were to live with an elderly spinster school teacher in the village of Ashill, eight miles from Taunton and twelve miles from Ilminster.
Although from an early age I had become used to moving from place to place, the contrast in lifestyle was to be intense. From a busy city, with trams clanking down the main street and lights blazing through the bedroom windows over the shop, I was to experience total silence and dark lanes. I had attended a Roman Catholic school, went swimming every day in the Olympic swimming pool, explored the city environs with my younger brother and stood in the smoke from the steam engines on the overbridge at the station. I had learned to ride a bike, dive from the top board, done well at sports and art, and gone to church every day. Now nothing would ever be the same again.
We motored through open countryside enclosed with high banked lanes, a far cry from what I had imagined deepest Somerset to be. The upright three storey red brick house looked as if it had been planted in a field of vegetables. It had a large garden with an orchard of damson and apple trees. A straight path, bordered by Sweet Williams, led from the front gate up to the front door. There, a tall austere lady, with her hair tied in a neat bun and wearing a grey flowered frock, greeted us.
The house which was to be our home for the next six months, had a typical Victorian layout. The staircase was immediately opposite the front door, with the drawing room at the left and the kitchen/scullery to the right. The drawing room smelled musty and contained an old out of tune piano, only played for hymns on Sunday, a horsehair stuffed sofa and chairs with antimacassars and hand embroidered cushoions and the nondescript rug on a wood floor. A large aspidistra in a brass pot on a stand stood in front of the heavy lace curtained window, defying any vestige of sunlight to pass. The plastered walls graced pictures depicting departed parents, a boy blowing bubbles and Jesus knocking at a door with a lamp in his hand. We were told this room was only for entertaining visitors.
In contrast, the living room was comfortable with a large polished dining table and Victorian round backed stuffed chairs. An oval rag rug was spread on the flagstone floor in front of a coal range. A huge oil lamp, various lace doilies, china dogs, and vases of dried flowers stood on a big sideboard against the wall. In the corner of the room a beautiful grandfather clock ticked away the hours. A rocking chair was drawn up beside the range where a large black kettle was steaming on the hob. Memories of the comfort and warmth of this room linger with me to this day.
There was no electricity so cooking was done in the range oven or on an oil stove in the scullery. Lighting was with oil lamps and we used candles in the bedrooms. My bedroom was in the attic, furnished with an iron bed with a feather mattress and a cotton counterpane, a wash stand with a large china jug and basin, and a small wardrobe. A chamber pot under the bed and a rag rug strewn over the bare wood floor completed the room. Apart from a large chest of drawers, my mother's bedroom on the landing was identical. Because I wet the bed, my brother was to sleep with her in the double bed.
There was no bathroom and the outside toilet was a wooden shed attached to the house inside which was a bucket covered by a wooden seat. A tray of ashes from the fire was trowelled into the bucket on top of the excrement. When the bucket was full, the contents were tipped over the hedge onto the farm midden ready to be spread on the fields at muck spreading time. On a hook just inside the door was a bunch of torn up newspaper tied with string to be used as toilet paper. The place was cold, dark and dank and a haven for spiders. We waited for as long as we could before going there. My brother preferred to mess his pants rather than do so.
If we wanted a bath, the copper in the scullery was filled with buckets of water from the hand operated puimp outside the back door. The fire was lit underneath it until the water was hot, then allowed to go out. Mother did the family washing, then my brother and I bathed, using rain water from the water butt outside to wash our hair. When we had finished, mother put a zinc bath in font of the coal range, filled in with buckets of dirty water from the copper and had a leeisurely bath all to herself in front of the blazing fire. Afterewards, she dragged the bath to the back door and emptied it outside. I hate to think of the pollution it might have caused to the well water. We did not bathe very often. Hot water was sometimes brought up to my bedroom for washing in the morning, but more often than not I washed in cold water.
It was soon realised that the school teacher was not used to catering for a family and so my mother decided to do the cooking. Large cottage pies, steak and kidney piddings and blackberry and apple pies put weight on us. We had never eaten so well. Vegetables from the garden were soon eaten up, as were the fruits. Breakfast of new laid eggs, clotted cream and h9omemade damson jam on newly baked crusty white bread was a delight. I was sent down a deep muddy lane to the local farm to collect skimmed milk in a billy can and a jug of clotted cream that was always on the table for practically every meal. The cream was used instead of butter.
We were soon enfolded into village life. All the children were expected to help with haymaking and stooking of sheaves of grain. The hay was cut with sickles and pitchforked onto large haywains drawn by cart horses. It was taken away to make into hay ricks. It was hot a prickly work with biting insects that brought us up in hives. Men, moving along the rows in long slow movements, scythed the grain and I was allowed to try my hand at it. Tractors and mechanised farm machinery were looked at with suspicion and regarded as "new fangled". Farmers preferred to use horses and farm labourers. The only concession was a traction engine that threshed the grain and provided straw for the stables and cow sheds.
We also had to collect apples for making cider. It was an almost mystical occasion with the men manning the presses and sampling the casks as they came out of the barn. It was the pinnacle of the harvest.
I loved the secret lanes bordered with tall grasses, stinging nettles and Queen Anne's Lace. Further down the lane from us two old ladies lived. One of the sisters had bright henna hair tied in a bird's nest bun. She was stone deaf and held a hearing trumpet to her ear. Her sister always wrote down what we said to her. They sold new laid eggs, and one day when we went down to buy some, they said they were not able to sell them to us because the Government were going to make them into dried eggs. They were to be rationed.
Since the nearest Roman Catholic church was in
Taunton, Mother decided that we go to the Baptist chapel in the village. Our local butcher offered to take us in his pony and trap. His teenage son drove the horse and I was fascinated by his crisp dark curly hair. We found the Baptist Minister kind and welcoming and the congregation very caring. The butcher had his farm across the fields from us, where he killed his own meat and sold it from the back of his van. This was to end too when meat was rationed. I went to watch a pig being killed one day and saw it rushing around the yard with blood pouring from its neck. My mother was horrified when she found out.
I was also asked to help with milking the cows. I had to hold the cow's tail and pump it up and down otherwise the milk did not flow. It was a long while before I saw the joke. Cows were milked by hand then, and it took a long time in the cold abnd dirty cowsheds to clean and milk the herd. I also learned about foot rot in sheep and watched while their feet were coated in tar and the maggot infested dags were sheared. I peered at the piglets in the sties, visited Ferdinand the bull in his pen, and scratched his forehead. He loved to sniff the flowers I brought him, with an ecstatic look on his face.
The butcher's wife was in charge of the duck and hens and kept a sparkling kitchen, scrubbing the flagstone floors every day. Mother said she worked too hard. She baked an enormous amount of cakes and bread in her Aga oven and was always mixing something in her crockery bowl. Invitations to afternoon tea were a stomach groaning adventure with pies, cakes, scones and the ever present clotted cream and homemade damson jam.
My brother and I went to the local village school where just one remarkable and talented elderly teacher taught children aged between four and twelve in an open classroom. I was the eldest girl and the oldest boy used to have competitions with another boy to see how far and how long they could piss down the white line in the road on the way home. I quickly learned the Somerset vernacular and dialect. I had one language for home and another for school.
It was about two miles down one hill and up another from our house to the village. My mother used to accompany us on a sit up and beg bicycle, and when it rained she held up a large black umbrella whilst cycling along. This plus singing at the top of her voice was the most embarrassing thing she could ever have done. I wanted to hide. At school I was put in charge of teaching the little ones reading, writing and alphabet. Each morning the whole school faced the blackboard and called out simple word spellings in parrot fashion. I learned far more than I had ever done at my other schools. Fractions and decimals were explained thoroughly, and I was given freedom to write about anything I wanted to. All the girls learned sewing, knitting and spinning, while the boys learned to weave, make models and create a topographical map of the village from clay.
I often finished my work well before the others, so I was sent outside to feed the chickens with dandelion leaves, take caterpillars off the cabbages and put them in jars so we could watch them turn into chrysalis, and prepare the soil ready for planting seeds. I learned how to read the clouds and the leaves to predict the weather, and designed a weather chart for each day. We were told how to tell the difference between birdes, and rabbits and hares, and shown the secrets of herbs and tell when it was time to harvest the wheat. We learned about shapes of trees and habitats of flora and fauna. The teaching was imaginative and rich and it served me for the rest of my life.
As soon as an aircraft was heard, all the children rushed to the windows of the classroom. We soon could tell the difference between types of aircraft by the sound but as yet there were no enemy planes. There was only one other evacuee at the school and she and I used to make up things about where we had lived and what we could do. There was a French Jewish boy who was being repatriated who did not want to go home, and two Quaker girls who wore long pigtails down their backs and funny flat hats. They did not mix with the other children.
The village shop was over by the butcher's farm and I used to be sent to pick up groceries and coat-tail packets of rasberry drops. It was customary to pick blackberries on the way and one day I lost the change from the envelope I was carrying. Mother had a violent temper and was none too pleased. However, although I looked I never found the money and mother thought perhaps someone picking mushrooms must have got lucky.
Towards the end of November and the beginning of December, the village was busy preparing for Christmas. The puddings had been stirred by us all in the big crockery mixing bowl, the almonds shelled and chopped, the muscatels seeded, suet chopped and breadcrumbs grated. The final addition of barley wine meant we could all sample some and scrape around the bowl. The pudding basins were plunged into the copper and boiled for hours and then placed on the shelves in the scullery larder. The Christmas cake had been made and baked slowly in the oil stove. Apples were cored and sliced and strung on strings in front of the coal range to dry. Plums were dried and eggs pickled for winter. Jam and pickles had been made earlier and the jars sat neatly on the larder shelves. The whole place smelled of wood smoke, clotted cream, spices and baking.
We were all invited to the Hatch Beauchamp Christmas school concert and one of the older boys led the community singing of "We'll Hang Out the Washing on the Zeigfreid Line" and "Run Rabbit Run" amid loud applause. There was a nativity play and then the Mummers came in from the back of the hall with the dragon, the doctor and Saint George. The uproar and laughter they created was wondrous and when the doctor pulled a string of sausages out of the unfortunate dragon's stomach, the house was brought down. The dragon was healed and promisede not to terrorise the people any more and Saint George passed around a hat for coins. Afterwards we went to another farm for an enormous supper.
I was asked to write a nativity play for school to be acted in front of our teacher. I had a doll for baby Jesus that was brouight down from Heaven by an angel. The farm children with their knowledge of birth and death must have thought it very strange. Previously we had made large envelopes decorated with pictures from last year's Christmas cards and cut up white paper for snow. I had no idea what they were for, but on the last day of school we were given them filled with all kinds of items that the teacher had saved from Cornflakes and soap packets throughout the year. We each had something, including samples of chocolate and sweets. I had a lace making wheel, a French knitting spool and a painting set. I still have the lace making wheel.
I do not remember a lot about Christmas Day but on Boxing Day we visited a farm near Sedgemoor. The robust sons came in from shooting rabbits and pheasants amid lots of excitement from the guests. There were a lot of people there and we played all kinds of party games before sitting down to a great feast. We viewed the hounds in the kennels and watched the horsemen in their red coats getting ready to hunt the fox. Some of the hound puppies were not yet weaned and they smelled of that special smell of sweet dog's milk and hay that only puppies have.
After Christmas it snowed with drifts up to the top of the hedges. Sheep were lost and cows stood on the barns with icicles hanging from their noses. Each morning when I woke there were fernlike fronds of ice on the windows and I had to break the ice on my water jug to wash myself. I suffered terribly from chilblains that burst and mother wrapped them up in bandages soaked in castor oil. The snow lasted for weeks and soon it was spring again
with primroses and pussy willow catkins in the hedgerows. There was no sign of war starting, let alone ending. The French appeared to be holding their own and the British were supporting them as best they could. Father had sold the shops and was enlisted to work in Hawkers aircraft factory in Kingston-on-Thames. He had found a rented house near Worcester Park, Surrey, and wanted us to come home. Mother's sister was already back in New Malden nearby and so we said farewell to all our friends and never saw them again. I often wonder what happened to the children at the village school and the teenage farm boys.
Chapter 2 - Air raids
The Head Teacher in my new small private school called us all into the assembly room. We sang "For Those in Peril on the Sea" and she told us how British troops were being evacuated from Dunkirk. Small private vessels were being sent out to rescue them because the larger ships could not cope with the numbers. It was one of those defeats that Britain makes into heroic victories. Our school motto "Ad Astra" had been taken from the Royal Air Force motto, and we were to wear our school uniform with pride, always reaching for the skies. We were given "girl power" with examples of female heroes and role models. Women could do anything and were now the backbone of the nation because our men were fighting in the war.
We were now living in the ugliest house I had ever seen in a speculative building estate. In the plot next to ours there was a huge electricity pylon that crackled when it rained and mother utilised the ground beneath it to grow vegetables and soft fruit. The windows had been prepared with gummed tape against bomb blasts and blackout curtains put up. Barage balloons like tethered Dumbos drifted in the sky and reinforced brick bomb shelters were being offered to be put in the lee of the house walls. My father decided we could shelter in the downstairs toilet or in the cupboard under the stairs.
We had watched the Battle of Britain from our back garden, marvelling at the spectacle of vapour trails winding in and out and the occasional aircraft spiralling to the ground. Without any warning at all, there was a sudden explosion that shook the house. My father was upstairs getting ready to go to work and he was so frightened that he fell down the stairs in his hurry to get to the shelter of the toilet. We crammed into the toilet, taking turns to sit on the seat until the All Clear sounded. The thunderous noise had come from an anti-aircraft gun that went up and down the railway close by.
Very soon the air raids began in earnest. At school our lessons were often interrupted and we took shelter in the basement of the large Edwardian house, singing "Onward Christian Soldiers" as we marched down the steps. My father worked at the factory on a night shift and came home totally exhausted, his clothes covered in oil and his shoes encrusted with iron filings. Eventually the factory was bombed and he took a coach to Slough where he stayed during the week.
Bombing became a way of life. It was mostly at night, and people went about their business as usual during the day. After a raid it was peculiar to see houses with half their contents lurching crazily into the road, the front walls stripped away, leaving toilet and baths precariously hanging on by their copper pipes. Shrapnel littered the roads, and rained down on roofs during the raids. Only the wardens were allowed out during a raid. My brother and I used to go out and collect shrapnel in the mornings, and sometimes hoped to see bits of people in the wreckage. We never did. I cannot remember ever being frightened, and my father said that if our number was on it then so be it. We became philosophical and people, places and things became valueless.
Deep underground shelters were built near the recreation ground, and we took eiderdowns and blankets with us to sleep in the bunks. The smell was foetid from bad breath, cigarettes, and body odour. My mother disinfected our place with Lysol to get rid of the smell. We were told to keep very close to the elm trees on our way to the shelters in case we were strafed by a German fighter. One of the shelters took a direct hit and my mother decided she would rather die in bed.
On the way back from the shops one day my brother and I heard a plane diving, and as we ran to shelter underneath the railway bridge we heard the bullets hitting the road. Sometimes a German plane was shot down and we would look for pieces of the wreckage. Once a German pilot baled out and was hanging on top of the gasometer amid lots of excitement by the Home Guard. I learned to speak German in case I met a pilot trying to escape. German planes had a very distinct sound to their engines and I could easily distinguish between our planes and theirs.
Food and clothing were very strictly rationed and we got used to wearing hand-me-downs. Mother used to make us clothes from old garments, pulling back old woollen jumpers and making new ones. If our shoes wore out, my father patched them with a cardboard mixture. I used to go up to Worcester Park to the Community restaurant run by the Womens Volunteer Service. They served Spam, corned beef stew, or toad in the hole with processed peas and potatoes. For desert we had suet pudding and watered down custard.
Mother eked out the two ounces of butter a week with margarine and milk, and made jam from marrows from her garden. We picked blackcurrants from the gardens of bombed out houses, and collected rose hips and ornamental apples to make juice. Sweets were rationed, so we ate flavoured gelatine from jelly packets.
One night there was the most incredible raid and the house rocked all over the place as if an earthquake had hit us. My brother and I had taken shelter in the iron Morrison shelter that we had in the back room. The shaking was so intense by bombs dropping fairly close by and the anti-aircraft gun thundering on the railway line, that when we finally emerged we were covered in flakes of rust from the shelter.
The bombing was spectacular and we went upstairs to get a better view and were astonished to see the most remarkable fireworks display we had ever seen. The sky was a dazzling orange from incendiary bombs, search lights, tracer bullets and aircraft plunging in flames. It seemed to go on all night. London was being mercilessly attacked. My father went up to London to help and to rescue my grandmother. She came to live with us until she found somewhere else to live.
The French doors in the back room were regularly hiked off their hinges and dropped intact onto the lawn. Apart from this, we never suffered any damage, nor knew anyone who died in the war. However, a land mine landed in the oak tree at the bottom of the garden and we were evacuated safely out of the way until it had been made safe. A reinforced brick shelter was put in our garden and mother, my brother and I squashed in there like sardines during the worst raids. Perhaps the only time I really felt scared was listening to the bombs whistling as they fell, wondering if they were going to fall on us. We began to live on adrenalin.
Our head teacher thought it would be a good idea if we wrote to some girls in another school in Lake Forest, Illinois. I chose a girl whose mother was on the campaigning committee for Adlai Stevenson and who knew the Kennedy's very well. I still write to her at Christmas. America was not yet in the war but was providing Lease/Lend. My penfriend sent us parcels of tinned food, and material to make clothes. I also wrote to a boy in New Jersey who eventually joined the Navy Seals and went to Guatemala, but who I never heard from again.
Around about this time there was a threat of invasion, and mother had packed a suitcase ready for us to be sent to Canada. My father asked his brother who lived in Edmonton if we could stay with him until the war was over. We were about to embark the following day when we heard that the ship that had sailed before ours had been torpedoed and hundreds of children drowned. Our sailing was cancelled. Incredibly my mother became pregnant because, she said she could not imagine life without children.
Mother was often in a hysterical state of collapse during the last stages of her pregnancy and I was expected, as the eldest to be responsible for her and my brother while father was away. My sister was born in April 1941 in the middle of an air raid. My brother and I stayed with a neighbour while mother was in the nursing home and I slept with the teenage daughter. I had never had to dress my own hair, so it was a shock having to weave my plaits and tie my school tie.
One of my friends at school became fascinated by a Dutch merchant seaman who was convalescing in a home at the end of the school avenue. We waited outside the home until Cornelius came out to talk to us. He had been torpedoed in the North Sea and rescued by a British tanker. There were also Polish pilots staying there who had been shot down in the Channel and rescued. He gave me some stamps with Hitler and Mussolini on them. I threw them away.
My father hardly came home now, and finally he left having fallen in love with a woman in the factory. My sister was about six months old and mother put her in my bedroom for me to look after. The bombing was not so intense now but another type of bomb was to threaten us. Mother could not afford my fees any more and wanted me to stay at home to look after the baby and the house while she went to work. At school the head teacher offered a compromise. In lieu of fees I would become a student teacher at the school and she would make sure that I continued with my studies. I had already passed School Certificate and taken Royal College of Art exams. I was Head Girl and captain of the netball and hockey teams. Apparently I had a lot of potential but no one ever told me what in. In fact I felt very inadequate at school, always terrified of getting things wrong, and because I was in a class with girls much older than myself, I was socially inept.
Suddenly the flying bombs started with a vengeance. 8000 rockets were launched in the space of a few months. These bombs were terrifying since no one knew when the engine would cut out. Often they would start up again and take off just when they were about to land and explode. My cousin came home once covered in mud when she had dived into a ditch to avoid a flying bomb that had flown under the railway bridge and taken off again.
My school was evacuated to the country and although the head teacher suggested I went with them, mother would not hear of it. I left school just before my fourteenth birthday.
American troops were now stationed in Bushy Park near Hampton Court. As well as the Tommy Handley Show, we could now listen to the American Forces Network and the Glen Miller Band. Bob Hope came to entertain the troops and Charlie Macarthy was popular on the radio. I fantasised about all things American and quick-stepped around the room doing the housework to String of Pearls. An American soldier came to visit a girl staying with one of my couusins and I tried to make every opportunity to visit. However, I was so overawed by him that I could not utter a word without being terribly embarrassed. He gave me chewing gum and a magasine with Sad Sack in it.
We watched with amazement to see wave upon wave of flying fortress bombers blackening the sky over our house, and just as amazed when, still in formation, they came back with large gaps where the planes had been shot down. Once I watched a crippled plane limping home and I prayed for it to land safely. My brother and I often played by the Hogsmill Stream down the road from our home, and one day I heard an incredible rumbling sound coming from the Kingston Bypass. Investigating, I was startled to see line after line of tanks squeaking down the road for miles. The noise went on all day and all night for days, and the main road through New Malden was nose to tail with troop carriers and trucks. We waved to the soldiers as they went by. They were getting ready to invade France.
We learned about the war from newspapers and the radio. One of my uncles who worked for the Evening Standard became a War Correspondent with the American Forces. He told us about the fiasco at Arnhem and how many of the soldiers were crushed when the gliders landed and the jeeps fell out. Suddenly, from all the months of frighteningly exciting activity and noise, everything went quiet and I began to understand what it must have been like for men who had been in the front line to be sent home.
A German Prisoner of War camp was built at the corner where an old farmhouse had been. The men helped to rebuild houses that had been bombed and clear the land. Prefabricated dwellings were built opposite the camp for homeless, and eventually after the war some ugly Council flats were built over the campsite. The elms died from Dutch elm disease. Many of the German soldiers did not want to return to Germany. There was nothing to go back to.
By the time I was fifteen I was working in the City of London. The war was still continuing with news of the fall of Germany and of the death of Adolph Hitler. Eventually I worked at British American Tobacco Company in Millbank and I and my boyfriend watched the wonderful victory celebrations from the top floor of the building. For us the war was over and all the promise and expectations of reconstruction and peace began.
My mother continued to work and retired and died in New Zealand. She never married again. My father died alone in a bed sitting room in Worcester Park shortly after war ended and my brother joined the Air Force and immigrated to South Africa where he died in 1988. My sister married, went to New Zealand and had two daughters. I married, went to New Zealand, had two sons and a daughter and eight grand children. I divorced and came back to Dorset in 1995.
How the war shaped our lives I do not know, but what I do know is that we are the survivors.
Contributed originally by glemsfordlibrary (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was born on March 12th, 1925. Actually there were two of us born that day, as I had a twin sister, Eileen. I also had two elder sisters Rose and Hilda and a brother, John. My father John,(called Jack) worked in the Royal Albert Docks as a labourer. Together with my mother, Elizabeth, we all lived in an upstairs flat of a terraced house in Monega Road, Manor Park, East London. My mother used to tell us to say our prayers and ask God for a little house. Our prayers were answered when, in 1931, we were given a new maisonette in Hartshorn Gardens, on a new estate in East Ham. It was like a palace to us, three bedrooms, our own bathroom and garden. We were so happy.
In 1938 our world began to change.My twin-sister and I went to Vicarage Lane School in East Ham. During the summer of that year we had two German Jewish sisters come into our class. Their names were Fannie and Peppie, aged ten and thirteen. The younger one would cry quite a lot. I did not know at the time of the terrible circumstances that had brought them to our country, and that they would probably never see their parents again.
There was talk of war in late summer, and the school began to make arrangements for us children to be evacuated. We had to have a small bag packed with underclothes and little personal things, and were given labels to go on our clothes for identification.
September 29th, 1938, the Prime Minister, Mr Chamberlain, went to Germany to appease Hitler, and at the expense of Czechoslovakia came back waving a piece of paper saying it was 'Peace in Our Time.' Our evacuation plans were all cancelled.
The following year I left school and started work in a wholesale stationer's, P. G. Hicks, of Wakefield Street, East Ham. I had only been at work for two months, when Hitler invaded Poland, and consequently, on September 3rd, England declared war on Germany. Apart from a few air-raid warnings which we presumed were false alarms, things went on as usual. The council gave us an Anderson Shelter, but this lay in the garden for a couple of months, as there was no sense of urgency at that time.
July 10th 1940 was the start of the 'Battle of Britain.' The German air force came over with the intention of getting our 'planes into the sky in the hope they could destroy them. We would be out in the garden some days watching them twisting and turning in combat. Germany lost many planes and their plan did not go as they had hoped.
They decided to concentrate on bombing London. On September 7th, 1940, I went with my mother to buy some groceries. The air-raid alarm sounded, and the shop-keeper advised us to go into the cellar. We were there for three hours, and we did not know then that we were going to experience the first major raid in London. When we came out, there was a terrible smell of smoke. The Royal Albert Docks were on fire all around. We were only two miles from the docks. A direct hit had come down on Woolworth's in the High Street, with many killed, and a jewellery shop was hit with people sheltering in the cellar, and they all drowned as the water mains burst and they could not get out. We all knew then that we were in for it. We were all issued with identity cards. The ships ceased to come into the London docks, so my father went to work for the council, supervising the men who put up the shelters.
My father and my brother had already put up our shelter(or 'dug-out') in 1939, at the bottom of the garden. Everything was fine at first, but when we had a spell of rain we found we were treading in a foot of water. A concrete floor was put in, and bunk beds, and it was made a home from home. People went to work, then when they got home, as soon as it was dark, the raids would start. We then went into the dug-out, until the 'all-clear' sounded in the morning. I would go to work looking all around me on the way, to see what had been hit. At times the roads were cordoned off, as there were time-bombs waiting for the Army to attend to them.
We were issued with gas masks which we carried every day. They were in a cardboard box with a shoulder strap. After a while we looked upon them as fashion accessories and had all sorts of fancy containers. It was a competition, to make sure your friend did not have a better one than you!
My eldest sister, Rose, trained as a V.A.D. nurse (Voluntary Aid Detachment) with the Red Cross before the war. During the war she was a shop assistant in a large departmental store, and at weekends and some evenings she would do shifts in the local hospital. It was a 'Casualty Clearing Station' and many times she would get home and be very upset at the terrible things she saw of the bomb victims. She would join us in the shelter, and when the 'all-clear' went in the morning, went off to work again to do her day job at John Lewis, Upton Park.
In 1940, my sister, Hilda, had a baby boy, Alan. She had been evacuated, but came back to Barking to have her baby at home. Her husband, Frank, was working locally on munitions. There were nights when she was on her own, so my twin sister and I took it in turns to stay with her. One Sunday morning, whilst I was staying with Hilda, my twin, Eileen, arrived from East Ham, crying. That night a family living three doors from us were all killed, the mother and five children. A bomb had come down directly onto the Anderson shelter. The house was still standing with just a crack down it, which seemed to prove a point that night.
Rose was married to Eddie in January, 1941. The church, St. Mary Magdalene in East Ham, had been badly damaged by a bomb a few days before. There were no windows, and only part of the roof. We were freezing in our bridesmaids dresses that day, otherwise everything went well!
My brother John had been called up in 1940, and was serving with the 1st Army, 56th Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery. He was away for about five years in all, and saw active service in Algiers, Tunisia, Italy and France.
(JOHN HUDSON'S MEMOIRS ARE ALSO AVAILABLE ON THIS WEBSITE, REFS: A3878760 and A4148633)
We had rationing in 1941, clothes, soap and sweets, and a points system for food. There were queues for various things. We would see a queue and get on the end, even though we did not know what it was for, but it was usually something you were pleased to get!
I used to go to the 'pictures.' While you were in there, if there was an air-raid, they would put an announcement up on the screen. The lights would go up and those wishing to do so could leave. Most people stayed, and when the screen announced the all-clear had sounded, we would all cheer. One night I went with a boyfriend to see a film. As we came out, and were on our way home, the sirens sounded. The anti-aircraft guns started up, and shrapnel was falling all around us. I must say I was scared that night.
The planes came over mostly at night. We knew by the steady droning when they were loaded with bombs. After they were dropped, they had a lighter sound as they went back for more supplies. We stayed in our shelters as we knew another wave would be over. At one period of time, the raids went on for 100 nights non-stop.
'Lord Haw Haw' would broadcast every night from Germany to England, trying to break our morale. We looked upon him as a comedian, and had a laugh with our mates when we went into work the next day. He was the traitor William Joyce, and was hanged after the War.
Our bombers increased their bombing of Germany, consequently the raids over England died down. One morning, I got up and picked up the newspaper from the front doormat. My mother usually asked for the headlines, and when I told her the Germans were 'in catastrophe', she exclaimed: "Oh! My God! Where's that?"
In 1943, I received some call-up papers, which meant I had to go into the forces or a munitions factory. The family firm (Hicks)that I had worked for since I was 14 wrote to have me deferred, as they had lost so many staff. I wanted to go into the Womens Land Army, and in July 1944 the deferment was cancelled. On August 24th I reported to the Womens Land Army in Harlow, Essex.
My twin sister did not receive any call-up papers. She worked for the London Co-operative Society and her firm claimed that their work came under food distribution and all were deferred.
Meanwhile, we had another bit of trouble, as the Germans started to send the flying bombs over, called the V1. They made a terrific noise as they went over. Once they had passed over and the engine shut off, you knew you were safe, as they could not turn back. You just hoped it would come down in a field, but sadly that was not very often the case.
We then had the V2 rocket, which you did not know was coming, until you heard the terrific explosion when it hit the ground.
I enjoyed my life working on the land, staying in a hostel, which was in a mansion, Mark Hall, in Harlow, taken over by the government. We came under the 'War Agriculture Committee' and would go out, about forty girls to a lorry, to be dropped off in groups at various farms. I ached so much after the first day's threshing that I thought I was going to die! There was potato picking, sugar beet 'bashing', hoeing, and many other jobs that we got used to. Then we had the hedging and ditching in the winter.
We had late-night passes, and on occasions the RAF or Americans would send trucks to the hostel and pick us up for their dances at the camps.
I was a 'tractor-driver's mate' for a while, and we would go to farms taking machinery that had been hired, such as ploughs and disc harrows, etc. We would winch them up on our trailer. After a while I had a provisional driving licence, and had my own road tractor, a Ford Ferguson. I felt like I was King of the Road (or Queen!) I then went to Bedfordshire, where I went on a driving course. I was attached to a hostel there, at Hassles Hall, Sandy, and had my own three-ton truck. I was a spare driver for a while then one day I was called upon to take forty girls to work. I had never driven a big truck before on my own! I had a few hair-raising experiences that day, but I managed to get them all back in one piece!
During the potato harvest, workers were in very short supply, so after we had taken the girls to work, we then had to go to various places to collect potato pickers. I went to Cardington RAF Camp, Bedford Prison, and a camp where Yorkshire and Welsh miners lived, who had come to work on the land apparently to get some recuperation from being in the coal mines and having to work extra hours. They would work on the land for two months, and I would work with them all day, mostly potato-picking. I would then take them back to their camp, then go and pick the Land Girls up and take them to their hostel.
The local people and the farmers wondered what had hit them when we swept through the villages! Forty girls, mostly Londoners, singing at the top of their voices, 'old-time' Cockney songs that our parents used to sing, like "I'm 'Enery the Eighth, I am" and "My Old Man said Follow the Van."
The war in Europe was drawing to a close in May 1945, and on May 8th was VE Day (Victory in Europe.) A group of us Land Girls went up to London for the celebrations. We managed to get to the gates of Buckingham Palace, shouting: "We want the King!" with thousands of others. Everyone was dancing and singing, it was a great day, and we joined on the longest 'Conga' ever.
The Land Army was still needed, as food was short. Our men were having to carry on the fight with the Japanese, and it finally ended in our victory, in August 1945.
I stayed on for a few more years, and dreaded the thought of working again in a closed atmosphere. The Land Army was finally disbanded, and I settled down to civilian life. I met Bernard again, who was a friend from my school days, and had been stationed in India.
We married and had two children, Pauline in 1956, and Martin in 1961. After living in London for 77 years, we are now living in a bungalow in the village of Glemsford, Suffolk, where we are very happy.
I am proud that I lived in London during the War Years, and I am thankful that we all came through in one piece, but I do not forget those who were not so lucky.
GLADYS LEVINGBIRD (nee HUDSON) DECEMBER 2004
Contributed originally by John ( Sconer/Jed) Jones (BBC WW2 People's War)
I was born in 1936 so when the war came it just became a way of life. We, Mum and younger sister Iris, lived in a house divided into two flats in Bow in East London, very handy for the docks because Dad was a merchant seaman.
The Anderson shelter dug in the garden was a play area when it wasn't full of water.I don't remember using it or going to a shelter but Mum told me we were moving because the roof had been bomb damaged, and so we moved to Chelsea in central London.I now know that the Battle of Britain was in full flow and I can remember seeing the skies full of trails left by the aircraft, during our frequent trips to the communial air-raid shelter where we sang to overcome our fears during the bombing and the huge bangs when one landed nearby. Also how we cheered when the 'all clear' sounded and we were allowed out from the fusty smelling shelter into the 'fresh air' of smoke and burning caused by thr raid.
One beautiful sunny day we were returning from one of our many visits to the park and the siren started. Mum, my sisiter in the pram, and me ran to take cover in our own house but not before a sight I shall never forget for entire sky was full of German aircraft flying in formation. This was a huge raid on the docks. Mum made up a bed under the table where all three of us sat listening to the carcophony of noise of gunfire and explosions. After this raid I was frightened of Germans being around outside in the street probably because of the everyday public conversation about the constant attacks and where had been hit during the last raid.
Within a shortspace in time following another heavy raid the three of us spent the entire night in the communial shelter. I had learned the song 'Hitler has only got one ball' and had a good time singing it when Mum was too busy attending to Iris to tell me off. We left the shelter at dawn after the 'all clear' and walked up the street with the sky bright red from the glow of the burning docks, or so we were informed by an ARP man we met. We three turned the corner into our street to be confronted with a barrier across the road and a police officer who said we couldn't go any further because a landmine had exploded in the area and it was too dangerous to proceed. Mum pleeded with the officer to be allowed to get some clothing for us children, (I was in pyjamas, raincoat, and wellingtons having been snatched from bed when the sirens sounded). The policeman called an ARP chap and he and Mum left Iris and me with the copper. Mum returned a little later with an armful of clothing saying our house had been hit by the blast and now had no roof or windows, and that she walked over the front door to get inside the remaining walls. One cannot imagine the anguish Mum must have suffered then and during the next few months, she was homeless with no relatives or friends closeby, Iris was two and me four, husband overseas somewhere, and probably very little money.Obviously there were centres to go to because it was the misfortune of many, but she must have felt she was carrying an unfair burden for a 25 year old Mum.
She told me later in life that we went first to Putney but were then moved to Clacton into a challet villiage, possibly Butlins first holiday camp, where I remenber attending my first schooling.However it was not for long because we were then evacuated to Derbyshire.
The train journey I recall very clearly mainly because the carriages were so full mostly by soldiers and all their kit and rifles, so there was no room for a lone mum with two small kids, pram and a couple of bags with our few possessions.Taking pity on us some kit was moved off the luggage rack and Iris me and another child were put up there out of harms way.On arriving at Crewe it seemed as the whole world was there trying to to change trains or queue for a drink.The second part of our train jouney to Derby was uneventful and we caught the single daily bus to Gravelpit Cottages about one mile from Etwall.
We were to stay with Gladys and Ted Rowe, distant never previously met relatives of Mum,who lived in a three bedroomed farm cottage. Gladys a small dumpy lady was about 22 years old who should have been enjoying her second year of marriage, but now had an extra three persons in her house as well as two other evacuees from Birmingham!There were eight cottages and miles and miles of fields and no air-raid shelters, in fact it was another world from the war in London.The only sign of war were aircraft flying from a nearby RAF training unit, and a fuel dump hidden within a huge wood some two miles away.I loved it.The freedom, the walking to school, getting a lift sometimes on the horse drawn milkfloat,picking mushrooms in the fields,everything was super.I remember it was such a backwater that after collecting car numbers for a week we had only twenty different numbers.
One night Ted took me up to the loft and opened the skylight to watch an air raid taking place some distance away.The horizon was red and there were continuous explosions. Ted very seriosly said I should never forget that evening because a lot of people will have died due to the war, and I haven't for I believe it was the night Coventry was flattened being just before Christmas of 1941.
During the summer we spent at Etwall there was an incident that brought home the war even to the idyllic Gravelpit Cottages. It was warm and all the families living there were having tea in their respective gardens- picnics to us kids. A stranger appeared having walked right across a field and asked the way to the nearby Army unit who guarded the fuel dump. With all the road signs removed during the war so as not to assist the enemy, this was not an unusual request. However after giving him directions the adults began thinking more about the man and then realised he had walked through the middle of a hayfield which no countryman would do. The local Home Guard were alerted and a huge search began which culminated in the poor man being shot when failing to halt when ordered. It was later established that he was carrying sufficient information about local service units to declare him a spy.
Mum was in regular contact with her father who worked for Shorts building aircraft at Stroud in Kent and was very pleased to hear that he had been transferred to a new factory being built on the shores of Lake Windermere miles away from the constant bombing from the German airforce based in France.The company were also building houses for their workers and if she was willing to work in the factory he could get her one of these homes. There was a snag she would need to be working before the houses were erected, but if she was prepared to share Nana's new house there it would eventually solve our homeless situation. Mum did not hesitate and in March 1942 we were on the train again this time heading for Calgarth.
The new housing estate known as Calgarth was 200yards from the shore of Lake Windermere with panoramic views of all the major hills in Southern Lakeland.Only some of the 150 houses had been built but being only the size of large caravan they would completed by September with a school opening in the December. Nana and Pop's tiny house already had two evacuees so that when Mum, Iris, and I arrived , squash was an understatement.Apart from Shorts staff who moved from Kent the rest of the houses were occupied by families like ourselves- homeless but prepared to work at the factory.There was Geordies, Jocks, Brummies,Liverpudlians and many others from the various cities ravaged by the bombing. This huge influx of 'foreigners'into a community who had escaped much of the unpleasantness of the war,(only seven bombs fell in the entire county throughout the conflict), made us all war veterans with the locals.
So from the disruption of London to the quieter part of Derbyshire my family finally landed up in heaven amonst the hills and lakes of the most beatiful part of the world. We got our little house within thre months of arrival and although we didn't have much furniture it was complete bliss for the rest of the war. That is apart from following the fortunes of my father who remained in the merchant navy until 1946, but that is another story.
Contributed originally by pete probst (BBC WW2 People's War)
My father Reg Probst wrote his memoirs. This is his story of his life during the period 1938 — 1945. Reg worked for General Electric Company in the Engineers Department prior to 1938 and then joined the Admiralty as a Draughtsman in the Civil Engineering Department. It is necessary to introduce my mother, Maggie. She was employed by GEC and during the war worked on lighting; analysing lights from German equipment and even a captured U boat. She also worked on fluorescent strip lighting. In addition I need to mention my grandfather, Johann Probst. Grandfather had left Bavaria in some “interesting” circumstances in about 1892, escaping probable court-martial in a German Army base near Friedrichshafen. He was a fully indentured tailor. At the age of about 19 or 20 he restarted his life in England. He refused to speak German and learnt English. He would not allow his children to speak German either. He gained British Nationality in the 1920’s. Grandfather became a top London tailor and was head cutter at Jays, who at that time were among the top couturiers in London. He was occasionally called to Buckingham Palace to fit visiting royalty. He tailored for the Swedish Royal Family on their visits to London. Winston Churchill’s wife, Clementine Hozier, and Lilly Langtree were among his more prominent clients.
WAR MEMOIRS OF REGINALD KENNETH PROBST
16th April 1914 - 17th September 1991
The General Electric Company began to build air raid shelters on any available ground in the estate at Wembley and sensitive areas were sand bagged. I received a positive reply to one of my job applications from the Civil Engineer in Chief's Department at the Admiralty and was interviewed by a Mr Allen. I got the job as a basic design draughtsman and joined the department with the view that I was to gain some more experience before moving on to another branch of engineering that I liked.
I reported for work at Great Westminster House, Horseferry Road, starting a career that was to take me through the rest of my working life. Life seemed settled and pleasant like the quiet before the storm.
I started work on the general site completion of Singapore Naval Base. Chamberlain was waving olive branches at the Fuhrer and the Cheko-slovakian and Polish cries were getting louder. But a bigger crisis hit a colleague. A photographer for the Daily Mirror in St James's Park had taken a picture of Chamberlain rushing across the park. It was published on the front page. Just behind him and very plain to see on a park bench was Trant canoodling with one of the Telephonists! I wonder what became of him? We started to stick tape over the office windows to stop flying glass from the bomb blasts. Finally arrangements were being made to evacuate the non-essential departments to provincial towns. The Admiralty was to move to Reading, but later a decision was made to go to Bath.
Our Scout Group, the older section, was beginning to break up as preparations for war proceeded. Some joined armed forces units, Territorial Army and some like myself prepared to move away from London. Maggie was remaining in London as the laboratory complex of GEC was difficult to move. I was starting to lose touch with all the friends of childhood and growing up. The fateful decision was made and England was at war with Germany.
We were told to go home from the office, after parcelling up our own equipment, and pack enough personal clothes and effects, collect labels, attach them to our luggage and to report on Monday to Paddington GWR station. For the weekend I had arranged to take Maggie to friends in Pinner and decided to take my final leaving of home forthwith. By the time I got home on that lovely sunny day to collect my possessions, my mother was in a state of shocked despair at the prospect of another dose of 1914/1918. I let them know the news of my move, but omitted telling them I was not leaving London till Monday. At least Dad was a naturalised UK citizen and had been for some time; then the air raid sirens sounded. It was a shock, but a false alarm.
"Oh! What a tangled web we weave." On the Monday when I arrived at Paddington I was told that not enough carriages were available to take the whole Admiralty and certain departments, including the Civil Engineers, should go home and contact the office for further instructions. I went to the control point and told them I had cut my all my commitments and had no contacts in London and could I travel today. There were many trying to get an extra few days so I was put on the train then and there. Off to Bath I went. It was an uneventful journey and we were eventually mustered in the Pavilion from where volunteer car drivers took us to our billets. I was billeted in Upper Oldfield Park, with a young couple, Bernard and Lillian who had a young baby, in a new three-bedroom house with views over Bath. From the back it overlooked Blackmore and Langdons Nurseries, famous for begonias and delphiniums. Later a chap called Riche from our office joined us. An altogether new life started for me.
We settled down to the early days of the War in Bath; Riche's wife came down and stayed a while but soon they searched around, found rooms and moved out. Quickly the billeting office brought over two girls, Anita and Dodo, clerical officers, who shared the main room. One was a Scottish lass with a broad accent, the other was a sweet girl, with a problem. She had fallen deeply in love with her Stepfather, unfortunately he had reciprocated. How the problem resolved itself I never got to know. The two girls went off with their own company. I was billeted in Ivy Grove. Bernard and Lillian Matthews, my billetees would take me out for trips in Bernard's Fathers Austin 10, which was very pleasant. It helped me and I soon got to know the surrounding countryside and made many friends amongst my colleagues and local people.
The office had set up in the Domestic Science College at Brougham Hayes in Bath. We had use of the college tennis courts and other facilities. Fortuitously the G.W.R. ran at the rear of the office and the small station halt of Oldfield Park was a few yards up the road. The B.B.C. was also moving out of London and had chosen Bristol as its centre, using the Colston Hall for the symphony orchestra. The early evening train from Bath to Bristol came through at about 6.00pm, it gently steamed the short distance from Bath main station to Oldfield Park where it stopped for half a minute before setting off to Bristol. On concert nights, as we heard the train leaving Bath station we would whip out of the office, rush across the road and over the bridge in time to get into the carriage. On arrival at Temple Meads we would catch the bus or trot down to the city centre in time to hear that evening's concert.
I remember one occasion when Sir Adrian Bolt was conducting; he was Dr Adrian at that time. I arrived breathless and a little late, but the concert had not begun. An Ambassador from one of the allied countries, of which one I have no recollection, was running overtime on a broadcast. The red light was blinking over the auditorium entrance. I could not get in, but managed to find a side entrance and went down a corridor near the stage hoping to slip in when the concert began. As I waited, pacing anxiously, down the corridor came Adrian Bolt. He came up to me, gripped my arm and said "Can you go in and ask him to stop, we are already late for the start." I replied that perhaps it would be better to have the concert late, than to have a diplomatic hiatus through interrupting the Ambassador of one of our allies; he thought this made sense and left me to go backstage, the concert started some twelve minutes late.
It was during the long lovely Indian summer of the phoney war that one Saturday after playing tennis in the afternoon I was to join Bernard and Lillian for an evening of bridge and a most unusual series of events developed, which I have always thought Brian Rix could have used in one of his farces. Bernard, Lillian, Keith, their little boy, and Bernard's father and mother had been up to the Downs for the afternoon. The fact that Bernard and Lillian played bridge was quite a bonus, Bernard's father played, but his mother did not, so we made up a good foursome while Bernard's mother looked after Keith. We finished our evening meal, cleared up and settled down to play a few rubbers of bridge. We stopped at about 10.30pm as Bernard's father was feeling tired. While the family went through the garden to the car I packed up the cards and folded the table. Suddenly Bernard rushed in saying, " Dad's feeling very ill. I must get to the phone, will you give Lillian a hand." I ran down the garden to find Bernard’s Dad collapsed in the back of the car breathing very heavily. His pulse was racing, then his breathing raced. Bernard came back. He had contacted Dr McQuistan who had told him to get Dad to bed and he would come as soon as he finished the case he was on. Dad was a heavy man and it would be impossible to get him out of the car, let alone across the garden and upstairs to bed. The only thing we could do was to belt down to the Doctors with him in the car and then onto hospital, which we thought would be necessary. At this moment a young man, who was a local newspaper reporter, came by and offered to help. Bernard felt that his mother, who had recently had a stroke, would need himself and Lillian to get her back to the house and settled.
So it turned out that I, with the reporter supporting Bernard's Dad, drove down to the Doctor. Although it was double summer time it was now getting dark and the blackout was enforced. We arrived at the Doctor's. I ran to the door and hammered it till he answered. I informed him of the situation and with his equipment from the surgery he came to the car. After several tests he said " It's too late. He's dead." He went back into the surgery. I got back into the car, the reporter was still in the back holding up the corpse. Thinking, "What the blazes do I do now?", I started the car and moved off, only to be ordered to stop by a policeman who stepped out in front of the car. Thinking, "What was I to do NOW!?" I stopped pretty promptly! "You haven't any lights on." the policeman said. "I'm sorry," I replied "but I've a dead body in the back." Thinking, "WHAT was I to do NOW!!?" The policeman asked, "Is this your car, Sir?" "No," I said "It belongs to the dead man." Thinking, "WHAT WAS I to do NOW!!!?" I tried to explain the situation to a perplexed, suspicious and disbelieving policeman, eventually we went back to the Doctors. Inside the surgery the Doctor explained that he had pronounced the man dead, that my incredible story was true and there were no suspicious circumstances. I asked whether we should take the body to the mortuary. The policeman decided to phone the Police station, which with the Doctors permission he did. After the call he asked my name and address and my relationship to the deceased. "Non whatever." He then said we could not decide what to do and we must take the body back to the next of kin and consult them. We went back to the car, where the reporter was still nursing the body!
The Policeman climbed in the car with us and we proceeded back to Ivy Grove. As we got near flickering torches and two people approached. It was Bernard and Lillian. I stopped the car and saying to the reporter and Policeman that this was the man's son and wife I got out to consult with them. I told Bernard and Lillian that his father had died on the way to the Doctors, but he seemed to expect that was going to happen. I told them about the reporter and Policeman helping me and then inquired what should be done with his father. Bernard said he could not face doing anything himself, but could we take his father to his own home, and that the keys were in his father's jacket pocket. I went back to car, told the Policeman what had been decided and asked him and the reporter if they could help me a little more. It was in the line of duty for the Policeman and the reporter had resigned himself to the situation as he was still propping up the body in the back of the car. I turned the car round and drove off to Bernard's father's house where we got out of the car, the live ones amongst us got out.
"Where's the key?" asked the Policeman. "In his jacket pocket." said I. "Well!" he said querulously. I quickly realised what he meant. "OK. I'll look for it." and I proceeded to feel in the jacket pockets till I found the key. We unlocked the door, propped it open and put on the light. Somebody up the road shouted, "Put out that light!" "It's the Police" the PC bellowed, which silenced the vigilant ARP watchman. Somehow with an enormous struggle we managed to get the body out of the car and into the hall. The Policeman prepared to leave with the reporter closely following him. "We can't leave him just lying on the floor here." I called after them, "His wife will be coming back in the morning. We can't have her see him lying on the floor, she has recently had a stroke." The reporter looked pale. I continued "I'll go upstairs and see if there is a spare bedroom." This I did and found a small room with an unmade bed. I went back down and we prepared to carry Bernard's father upstairs. The steps were steep, about sixteen of them, with the house wall on one side and a wooden partition with a hand rail on it formed the other side. As I said, he was a heavy man. Finding myself the leader of this odd team I took the top end with my hands under the arms, while the PC and reporter took a leg each. Up we went. one, two, three, four, ...five, ........six, gasp, seven, .... eight, slowing down, nine, ........ten, gasp, blast, arms coming up over his head, eleven, BUMP, BUMP, blast, BUMP, we all slithered down the stairs arriving unceremoniously in a heap at the bottom of the stairs. The PC took command of the situation. Deciding I was not strong enough he took the top end, the reporter, who now looked very pale, and I grabbed a leg each. Up we went. one, two, three, ...four, ........five, gasp, six, , .... seven,, slowing down, eight, ........ nine, gasp, blast, arms coming up over his head, ten, BUMP, BUMP, blast, BUMP, we again cascaded to the foot of the stairs. There was only one permutation left so in despair the extremely pale reporter took the top. Needless to say with the same result only I don't think we got as far up!
The PC and reporter looked at me for ideas, so I hunted for something to wrap the body in and give us a better grasp. On the kitchen table was a large old-fashioned green plush velvet table cover, with gold pom-pom tassels around its edge. The cloth had a strong canvas backing, just the job! We laid the cloth out on the hall floor and lifted the body on to it. We pulled the cloth around it and completely rolled it up in the cloth. With the reporter and I pulling up from the top and the PC pushing from below we dragged the bundle up to the bedroom; a final heave the body was on the bed. The PC, the reporter and I congratulated each other, shaking hands. With that the deed was complete, the PC and reporter, like Macbeth's guests stood not upon the order of going, but departed at once. Curiously, I never read any report of the incident in the local paper.
In the bedroom I pulled the cloth from around Bernard's father and it fell evenly down around the bed. I straightened his body, tidied his clothes, placed his arms across his chest, made sure his eyes were closed and leaving him lying in state I too departed the house. I was just about to get in the car, as Bernard's brother, Jack, turned up. I told him where the body was and with concern for trials of those before him he took the house keys from me and we drove back to Bernard and Lillian at Ivy Grove. Jack dropped me off and then took his mother home. Bernard, Lillian and I sat down in the front room. I had a bottle of Chianti under my bed for a special occasion. At 4.15am it seemed the right time. We drank it and went to bed.