The Wartime Memories Project - Children in World War Two

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World War 2 Two II WW2 WWII

It is hard now to convey what life was like in the school summer holidays prior to the war. The side streets were almost empty, we often played marbles in the gutter. Public transport was so cheap, there were few home comforts, no washing machine or TV. Out would come the mangle on Mondays, this was the day for washing, come hail rain or shine. If anyone did it other days without having a baby to care for, they were looked on as being a bit strange. Food was kept in a larder, the milk in a bucket of water in hot weather. The radio seemed adequate and most youngsters had hobbies to fill their time, anything like skates or a bike were usually second-hand.

Early memories of the war starting was Chamberlains speech, seeing the London balloon barrage for the first time, hearing the siren, although it was a false alarm and seeing how dense the blackout was outside. The air raids with poisonous gas attacks we expected did not come then but we still carried our gas masks with us everywhere.

Much has been about the evacuated school children but it is less well known those of us left behind (by choice) were not provided with any education for six months. Our school was taken over by the Auxiliary Fire Service and the field we played cricket and football in was soon to be dug up for growing food.

Living near to Croydon Aerodrome there was plenty to see in the chance from peace to war. Gone were those colourful sedate airliners, replaced by camouflaged fighters, some of whom went off to France in November. Larger Wellington Bombers were also seen after being fitted with a large ring to explode enemy magnetic mines at sea. Night flying in blackout conditions resulted in crashes. A Hurricane in the grounds of Purley Hospital, a Blenhiem that ended perched on someone`s roof and another that made a very large hole in the field opposite.

After Christmas and a very severe winter, schools reopened again but it was not long before I had to go into hospital. Life in hospital in 1940 was not like it is today. Two women ran it, the Lady Almoner for administration and the Matron for running the hospital itself. Matron`s morning rounds was like a military type parade with everyone of the staff standing to attention (Even the Doctors!) Heaven help the sister whose ward was not up to standard, she was soon reprimanded, the displeasure the being passed down the ranks. Wartime food in there was bad, my stomach still turns today if I think of one dinner of minced meat that must have been 90% fat. Visiting times were just half an hour on Wednesdays and Sunday afternoons with a very strict rule of two to a bed and no children visitors.

With the warmer weather we were wheeled out onto the balcony and Henry in the next bed, lying in a plaster cast, saw his children for the first time in six months. This was when his wife took them to a road at the rear of the hospital where by standing at one spot , they could just seen their father on the balcony and wave to him.

We read of the German advance through the low countries and the evacuation of troops at Dunkirk but I don`t think anyone realised how serious it was. With the fall of France some patients were moved from the hospital to make way for expected air raid casualties, so I was able to convaless at home.

By this time my father had started to dig a hole in the back garden to put up an Anderson shelter, a wonderful design which would take anything except a direct hit. Through July and August the Luftwaffe concentrated on shipping in the channel and coastal town and aerodromes, but on the 15th August the war moved to our area.

At 6.50 pm on that Thursday evening, nine hurricanes of No 11 squadron took off on their third scramble of the day to patrol their base at Croydon. I was in the garden and heard the sound of other aircraft and then saw some twenty in a shallow dive. By the time I had taken in the unusual camouflage they had released the first bombs and I found that ones eyes tend to follow down the falling bombs until they reach the target. Looking up again I saw the hurricanes beginning to attack the formation of both single and twin engined aircraft. As they turned to make a dash for the coast palls of smoke in the air showed what damage they had done to hangers and several factories on the outskirts of the airfield. For the rest of the evening crowds came from districts around to see the first bomb damage in the London area.

More such attacks were to follow in the next three weeks as the Germans kept bombing the airfields. These raids took many forms, so high you could only hear the drone of the engines and then the sound of gunfire and see the resulting contrails as they were intercepted by RAF fighters. Other formations were lower and the sky would be full of Anti-Aircraft bursts before small spitfires or hurricanes attacked them from various angles. Then there were the very low attacks much like the one on the 15th August.

One morning about 6am a lone JU88 came in very low machine gunning some of the airmen billeted in the road as they made their way across fields leading to the aerodrome. Seconds later two hurricanes that had been on standby flew over the rooftop to chase after it and it was later said to have been shot down before it reached the coast.

On September 7th the Luftwaffe switched its attacks onto London and it rather caught Fighter Command by surprise. I can remember a large formation of Dorniers ailing majestically over, quite low without a gun being fired at them or a fighter to intercept them. As it grew dark the huge fires started in London Docks, showed at a large red glow in the sky. Then the sirens went again and the bombers came over all night to stoke up the fires started earlier. This was the first night of sleeping down the shelter, something that was to go on for nine months. It is one thing to sit in a shelter with background noises, quite another to spend 10 hours with bombers going over, guns firing and not knowing if the next stick of bombs has your name on it.

The large daytime raids continued for some weeks as well but the RAF Fighters were always up and destroyed many enemy aircraft, especially on the 15th September, after which it was said the Germans gave up the idea of an invasion of this country that year. During this time the squadron of Hurricanes resident at Croydon (No 605) always took off in four sets of three, the siren would sound and then another four aircraft would take off in support, or just to patrol their base. As they landed, just over the roof top I could see in detail the undersides, often dirty light green paint the wide spaced undercarriage legs, deep wheel wells and those four holes under each wing for the ejection of cartridge cases. (When I moved to Whyteleafe in 1971 I found three of these cases that had dropped behind a hedge 30 years before) Sometimes if a pilot was not too busy in his cockpit he would return a wave, well I like to think it was for me but most likely it was to the girls next door whose colourful dresses stood out against the green of their lawn.

By October the daylight raids got smaller, since raiders or a formation of fighters carried just one bomb each people were better able to go about their work during the day and as no gas had been dropped it began to look "sissy" to carry the gas mask and so people began to drop the habit.

However with longer hours of darkness the night raids got worse and it meant spending more time in the shelter. After reading by candlelight we had to wipe the condensation from sides and top before getting into the bunks set up to try and get some sleep. This was not easy with aircraft droning over all night and bombs dropping. Also more guns had been brought down to the London area and they were banging away all night. Although they hardly ever hit anything it was a great morale boost and that was the name of the game then. Anything to boost public morale, like showing crashed enemy aircraft and collecting for the Spitfire fund, it brought money for the war effort but did not build a single extra spitfire. Housewives were asked for aluminium pots and pans to melt down to help build Spitfires (always Spitfires) and then peoples iron railings were all cut down and taken away, God knows what they did with them, it was said that piles of these railings were all over the place.

This shelter life went on until just before the Christmas period, then there was a sort of unofficial truce in the bombing. People tried to enjoy Christmas as best they could but it was very hard for many. On the 29th December all hell broke loose again, this time the bombers were dropping mainly incendiary bombs. Not all the ordinary bombs exploded on contact, one fell by a school in South Croydon and exploded while the engineers were digging for it. A large pall of smoke in the afternoon sky with six soldiers killed and another wounded.

The largest bomb to fall on the Croydon area was in the front of a woodyard just s few yards from the main Brighton Road. Unlike bombs today, life went on while water was pumped out of the hole for several weeks until it was at last brought to the surface.


1939 World War II. breaks out and thousands of children are evacuated out of London.

One of the many.

I love the noise of falling shrapnel through trees. I have collected much of the strange looking material.the lines and markings are fascinating. My collection was my treasure.sometimes it burnt my hands as I picked it up. When the nurse tipped my treasure out of the case because it was too heavy. I became very upset. These are my first recollection of my five year stay at Dr Barnardos homes during the war. The first home was Babies Castle at Orpington in Kent. I remember being with a group of children and a nurse on a country walk and hearing the noise of aircraft chasing across the sky. We were told to lie down at the side of the road. The puff of exploding anti-aircraft shells in the air was for us exciting. When I heard the noise of shrapnel falling through the trees I jumped up and ran to collect it. The nurse chased after me and possibly saved me from injury or worse.

I saw two spitfires chasing a rocket. One seemed to fly into it and make it change direction and crash. We were not afraid, because we as children did not understand what was happening. Germs and Germans meant the same thing. Wash your hands to get rid of them. Which didn't help as we soon learnt. The nurse's came in the night wrapped us in red blankets, and rushed us down to the shelters. I hoped that the germs would come more often. Then we would be held close again. I use to annoy the nurse by persistently asking her to clip my fingernails for the same reason. One night it was very noisy. We apparently did not have the time to go to the shelters, because we were all told to lie under a row of tables in the dining hall. The thump and crashing of the bombs that night were even making the ground shake. Which wasn't very nice of those germs. I never forgot to wash my hands after that. It seems amusing now. I could not quite make the connection between washing my hands and germs in the sky though. Because of the increased intensity of the raids and being just south of London.The children were moved to safer parts of the country.

I was sent to Boy's Garden City north of London. Where a different war of sorts was fought. Bullying was never a problem for me personally. Strangely enough. I remember a couple of names. The Sullivan brothers. The older of the two was the protector of the younger who had stolen the braces of a boy whose name was Silver, but because he was afraid of the older Sullivan he didn't know what to do. The day before I had already fought him. The bruises were still sore. So I challenged him about the braces. Because he was older and bigger. I collected a few more bruises. The braces with the help of the person in charge were returned. So I felt that I had won. Other boys, who had names like Frost, or Gold, were made fun of, which got me into fights. They were my friends so I had no other option. I earned myself a bad name, and was moved to another home. Which turned out to be either an administrative mistake or an experiment at my expense.

I found myself at a girl's home. Where I was forced to learn ballet dressed up as a girl. Naturally I was extremely difficult to handle and was punished often. Which today would be considered as child abuse. After much rehearsing and feeling terrible pains in my feet because of having to dance on the front of the toes wearing a ballet dress. I more or less rebelled. One evening when we were dancing for some people sitting on gold coloured chairs. We came in through a door fluttering like swans and going round in circles. Doing what all nice little ballerinas do. When either my toes had had enough or I fluttered in the wrong direction accidentally on purpose. Anyway the unfriendly lady decided that a mistake had been made and I was sent packing. Before I leave for the foster home. There is a story that springs to mind that caused me a lot of distress. I was one of three children who had discovered a door that was not locked and being curious we went up into the attic. There was a small window that we opened which wasn't big enough for us to look out together. After a bit of a struggle one fell out to the concrete below. It must have been four or five floors high. The unfriendly lady came up and was very angry with us. Sometime later a few of us were sliding down the back stair banisters when a girl fell and broke her back. When the lady saw me standing at the top of the stairs. I felt terrible and, was punished again for just being there. I had a dormitory to myself and was sometimes locked in a cupboard. When I screamed to be let out a plaster was put over my mouth. A couple of times I was bound in a women's corset. One can imagine the relief I felt when sent away to a foster home. Most of the grownups were kind. The country walks were a nice break from that strict unloving lady. Now I realise that she was probably a very unhappy lonely person. Only God understands why. He doesn't hate her, so why should I.

For the last six months of the war I found myself in relatively normal circumstances. There were four other evacuee boys already living with Miss Howlett when I arrived. I was the youngest and we all got on well together. I was almost seven and school was a big problem because I don't think I had ever seen the inside of one before. So the problems started. I couldn't read or write. It was considered that I was just lazy. After a tussle with a new schoolbook which tore the cover right off. My fate was sealed. I was beaten in front of the whole school during assembly with my trousers down and on a podium. So my loss of interest in school was complete and understandable. It was because teachers pet did not want me to have a new book.

Fifty years later I found out through Barnados after care the name of the village and revisited. My first school is now converted and the home of a businessman who has the old punishment book. My name wasn't in it. Later I realised that Miss Howlett (My Foster Parent) had given me her name. I had become Barney Howlett. Her plans to adopt me failed. I found her 300 year old house and was invited in by the new owner. After a look around and a chat, I visited the village pub and spoke to an old gentleman who was sitting near the fireplace nursing his pint. After introducing myself and telling him that my wife and I were visiting from Holland. He was only too willing to help. So my first question was. 50 years ago and 6 years old I was walking down the road a few yards from where we were sitting. The whole sky was full of aircraft. What was I looking at? Without hesitation he said. "Our boys on their way to Arnhem." I have lived at Eindhoven for 40 years, which is about a one hour's drive from Arnhem. I have spoken to some of the vets and was pleased to hear that I had seen them flying over to free the country that has become my home. Another small piece of the puzzle slots into place. The old gent knew Miss Howlett and that she had fostered many Barnardo boys during and after the war. She was a nice caring person. We tried to find her grave, but without success. She came to London to try and adopt me. That was the last I saw of her.

It must have been a terrible time for many hundreds of thousands of families. The feeling of deep sadness is almost overwhelming when I think of the scale of it all. God must have shed a tear or two when he saw what was going on. I could go into and explain what I believe but each to his own and with respect I will not do so. All I can say is we were given a free will to make our own choices. That is what it was all about. The right to be free. Our freedom was worth the sacrifice that we all made. Many of us carry a heart full of tears. Sometimes they overflow and bring relief in various ways. Not just to ourselves but to others too. We gain a certain sensitivity that is not easy to describe. Use it to put a smile on the others face. Happy people don't make war.

The great thing about being a kid is the feeling of adventure. There is so much to be discovered. The greater problems of the world are for grownups. Our world was just starting to get bigger. The Postman in his horse and buggy takes me to the station and I am going to a place called London. Miss Howlett reminds me to tell my mother that she had used some coupons to buy me some clothes. This is all new to me. Coupons? My Mother? What's a mother? You will soon find out. Go with the lady. The excitement of travelling in a train soon changes, as I look out at the miles of devastation as the train moves slowly towards wherever we are going. What's this place called? I asked the lady. This is London.she answered. I was wondering what to say next. If this is London. Why doesn't the train stop? Which it did many times with a lot of shuddering, shunting, and many other strange and fearful noises. I don't like it here I thought as the train finally came to a halt. All I could see were legs of people rushing around in a sort of panic. The shouting and pushing, the noise. The half broken everything. Then that terrible wailing that made everyone do everything faster, Some people falling over in the rush to go through a little door. We ran down a white tunnel. Probably to the underground. Then a long ride in a big red bus with eyes on the front. I was handed over to another lady at a huge building where I was taken to a roomful of tables and left alone. Suddenly a cupboard door banged open and a voice shouted. Are you hungry my darling? I saw the friendly round face of a woman peering out of the cupboard. Before anything could register, the door slammed shut. The couple of sandwiches on a plate were quickly eaten.

After reading my strange experiences back to myself. I can't help but laugh. It wasn't funny then though. A private tear at times can bring relief even tears of laughter. What do you see in the face of a child? I often see a reflection of myself when I was their age. Do they have the faith in the world that we had? I hope that we don't betray that trust. It is very difficult to win back. I have six grandchildren of my own now. My three daughters are healthy independent and outspoken. What more can one wish for. With a lot of luck and hard work we can't lose.

It seemed like hours before that dirty green door opened and two ladies came in. So your Brian? No, my name is Barney Howlett. That's not your name. Your real name is Brian Bailey. That name did sound familiar. Who are you? I asked. I am the auntie who will take you to your Mother. All strange women were called auntie in those days. But I still didn't know what a mother was. I was curious to find out so I went with the auntie on another red bus with eyes on the front. Later I was taken into a room where a woman was lying in bed. Give your mother a kiss I was told. Puzzled, I answered, "I haven't got one." I was seven years old and just stood there wondering what a kiss was.

Many of our mums and dads didn't come back. The ones that did were often so traumatised that they were unable to be real parents.

Banardos boy, Brian Bailey

Brian (Bill) Bailey


At the end of August 1939, we were told to pack suitcases for the children and prepare for their evacuation from London. I had five children. Joan (13) and John (11) the two oldest reported to their schools for the trip into the unknown. I took the younger ones, Eileen (9), Leslie (7) and Margaret (5), to their school. They had name tickets pinned to their coats and carried their boxed gas masks on a string around their necks. There was a long line of buses ready to take them away and the police on duty, told us to turn our backs, so as not to upset the children if we could not hold back the tears. We had no idea where they were to be taken and it was a most dreadful feeling, losing my five children in one day.

A few days later we were told the whereabouts of our children. Joan in Brighton, John in Burwash, Sussex, Eileen, Leslie and Margaret had been taken to Hailsham, Sussex. With the children gone, I felt completely at a loss. Eventually the schools arranged coach trips on Sunday's and we were able to visit the children in their 'foster homes' .

Joan seemed happy in Brighton, but John would turn away from us so that we could not see his tears. He was very unhappy in his first billet and finally told his father about the bullying from two older lads in the family he was lodged with. My husband arranged for him to be moved and he found a warm welcome at his next 'home'. The three youngest were also very unhappy, billeted with a childless couple who did not show them any affection.

The children were made to move again when the Battle of Britain started. Many children ignoring the Government warnings, had returned to London and we were very glad that the children were safe in South Wales when the bombing started in earnest.

Young John was sent to Garnant, a mining village near Ammanford, where he seemed reasonably happy, Eileen went to Abergwili, a small town about 4 miles from Carmarthan, where she was billeted with a wonderful family, Mr & Mrs Dawkins. Leslie was taken to live on a farm in the Welsh hills and Margaret to an isolated house next to the church in a place called Nanty-Couse, where she learned to speak Welsh.

When Eileen found where Margaret was living, Mrs Dawkins decided to make a visit. She later gave me a very funny account of that day. The address was 'The Manse' so she made sure that they were dressed suitably to visit, what she thought, was a vicarage. Imagine her astonishment when they arrived to find everything in the place covered with feathers as the woman was plucking chickens.

The house was a complete mess, Margaret was running around in the yard outside in dirty old clothes, playing with her foster brothers. This was no vicarage, so all Mrs Dawkins' efforts to impress were wasted.

I was still living in London with John, my husband, the bombing had increased and I was now 6 months pregnant. John had received orders to report to Greenock in Scotland as the London Docks where he worked as a stevedore were under constant attack. So I went to stay with Margaret in Nanty-Couse and although I hated it, at least my new baby would be safe. Helen, my new daughter was born in Carmarthan Hospital on December 7th 1940, but when I returned to the lodgings in Nanty-Couse, I found that the landlady's children had Chicken Pox.

Once again, Mrs Dawkins came to the rescue, offering me a place to live in Abergwili, until I could find somewhere of my own. I managed to rent two rooms with a Mrs Plummer. and with Eileen just a few hundred yards away, we were more like a family again. Helen was an attractive baby and Mrs Dawkins who acted as godparent bought many clothes for her, they called her 'Dimples' and wanted to adopt her.

Margaret at my insistence had been moved and was living on a farm owned by the brother of Leslie's foster parents. She seemed very happy there, riding a horse to school each day. However a very mature 14 year old 'Liverpudlian ' evacuee came to lodge there. I noticed some very bad bruises on Margaret's back when she was trying on some undergarments that I had made for her. I discovered that every Saturday night, when the foster parents were out, this girl made Margaret sit in a bath of very hot water, then put in her bed, made to sit up in the bed and go to sleep. Every time she moved or threatened to tell of her treatment, she was beaten with a towel holder that the older girl had secreted in her chest of drawers. My complaint to the school, led to the evacuee confessing and she was expelled from the school.

I earned a little money by cleaning the flat of two school teachers, Miss Tinley and Mrs Cato. My husband John would visit as often as he could and he became great friends with Mr Dawkins. We kept in touch with the wonderful Dawkins family for many years.

Joan, my eldest daughter came to live with me, until she left school and joined the WAAFS when she reached the age of 18. In September 1941, Eileen was moved to Llanelly. She had won a scholarship to Mary Datchelor School.

In February 1941, I found that I was pregnant again. I returned to the flat in Peckham, South London, taking Helen with me. Son John who was now 14, returned with me, as the bombing had finished, apart from a few sneak attacks - or so we thought.

August 1942, and Eileen was allowed to come home to help me through the pregnancy and on September 16th 1942, son David was born I was now 43 years of age. Eileen returned to her school in Llanelly, John my eldest son, stayed in London to help me look after the two babies, Helen and David. In September 1943, Margaret joined Eileen at Mary Datchelor School. They both stayed with a Mrs Jones, another fine lady who was kind to the Roberts family.

In February 1944, our flat in Peckham suffered a direct hit and was destroyed and members of the family injured. My husband who was still working in Scotland urged me to return to Wales, so on a day in June, I went back to the kind people of South Wales, taking Helen and David with me. John stayed in London assuring me that he could look after himself.

That day as I discovered when I got back to Wales was D-Day, the 6th June 1944.

Mrs Lilian Roberts

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