The Wartime Memories Project - Children in World War Two


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World War 2 Two II WW2 WWII

At the outbreak of the Second World War my brother was eleven and I was nine and so were seventeen and fifteen when it ended. We were away on our summer holiday the week before war was declared and came home three days early so that we were able to hear Mr Chamberlain the Prime Minister declare war on Germany. At 11.00am on Sunday morning September 3rd 1939 we sat round our dining room table and turned on the radio to hear the news and no sooner had he spoken than an air raid siren went off and I remember being frightened and thinking what would happen to us all in the future. It was to be eight years before we had another holiday.

Our house had a very long back garden which two thirds of the way down climbed up into a steep bank, the next door plot to us had quite a thick wooded area. From the moment we arrived back from holiday Pop decided to build an air raid shelter into this steep bank and right up against our boundary fence next to the wood. He dug out a long passageway and then a square room at the end of it which he then lined with wood, he also dug out a section off the passageway large enough for him to sleep in. Next he made bunk beds for us, the room was heated and lit by paraffin lamps and I can still remember the awful smell they gave off. We slept in this shelter every night for the duration of the war, we tried one night sitting in deck chairs in the kitchen but the air raids were so close we had to return to the shelter.

Where we lived was constantly bombed and though we were lucky that our house didn’t have a direct hit we were always having our windows blown out and ceilings collapsing. My brother and I went to schools about four miles away from our home in different parts of Croydon and were about three miles apart. If an air raid siren went while we we were at school we took our lessons in the school basement but were not permitted to leave the building and go home after school if there was an air raid on, unless we had written permission from our parents. Very few people owned or were able to use a car as petrol was rationed and so we made our way to school on buses in the morning but when we could we both preferred to walk home in the afternoon as we had only a few pence each for pocket money, it meant we could save our bus fares. We also had to carry at all times a gas mask in case of a gas attack these were supplied in a square cardboard box on a strap that you put over your shoulder, babies had ones large enough to cover them completely.

It is very hard for anyone who didn’t live through this time to understand what is was like to be a child during the war, you lived never knowing whether you were going to be bombed or killed from one day to another and this took an awful toll on a youngster, today there are counsellors to help but there was no such service in those days.

There were no street lights and every house had to have blackout curtains that were drawn before you put a light on, for if you showed even a crack of light you could be fined. What use to frighten me, was when aircraft flew over before the bombers came, they would drop their flares which lit up all your neighbourhood allowing the planes that followed to see their targets and when you saw your house and the surrounding area standing out in a bright light with every where around you in darkness, it made you think that you were about to be the target that night. All signposts were removed and railway station names were taken down and it was drummed into you that you shouldn’t give a stranger directions if you were asked, as they might be an enemy or spy which today sounds quite ridiculous. Iron railings were taken from gardens and footpaths and melted down for munitions. During the last eighteen months of the war Germany changed their tactics and sent over flying bombs or doodlebugs as we called them. These were unmanned and my brother and I use to stand on our lawn and watch them and should their engines cut out before they came overhead we would rush like mad to our shelter but if they passed over with the engine still going, we would watch them come down and explode in the distance.

The only electric appliance we had in our house was one radio, there were no washing machines, fridges, freezers, dishwashers or TVs, can you imagine living like that today. Food was rationed and even though the war ended in 1945 rationing continued until 1952 and the amount of food we had was minimal unless you could grow it yourself in your garden or on an allotment. To give you an idea we had only 2oz butter, tea and sugar and 8oz of meat per person per week, we eat more than that in one day now. We gave up our egg ration for chicken feed so that we could keep a dozen hens and that meant we always had fresh eggs. Tinned food and some fruits and vegetables were limited as they could not be imported and food such as biscuits, flour, dried fruits etc were allocated on a points system, from memory about 20 points a month, sweets were also rationed. Clothing coupons were issued which would probably be just enough to buy our school uniforms during the year and the quality would have been poor, we had very few clothes other than our uniforms though my mother tried to sew or knit us extra garments. All manufacturing companies were turned over to making war weapons.

We played mostly in our garden or local parks and on wet days when indoors we spent hours with board games and any toys or books our parents could get hold of but they were always within short supply. Surprisingly we were pretty happy, we had lots of school friends who were all in the same boat as us and we came to accept the way we lived as there was nothing we could do to alter the situation. Many people were far worse off than us, Pop was too old to serve in the Second World War as he had fought in the First War so he was at home whereas many of our friends had their fathers in the services and there were many fatalities

Ann Gurr

My husband was in the air raid in Lewes East Sussex in September 1941 when he was a young schoolboy of 5 years. There were three of them, walking home from school for lunch when they looked up and saw German planes coming down New Road in Lewes, a bomb was dropped and took a roof off a house, a man appeared and told the boys to lay down by a wall and the man covered them with his coat. There was shrapnel everywhere but no one was hurt.

Marion Steadman

Imagine the scene in a 1st floor hospital ward of 36 children during the latter years of WW2 . The time is approximately 3 o'clock in the morning and it is mid summer. There is an air raid in progress and the sounds of German aircraft are becoming louder and louder. A young lad is lying in bed listening to the havoc and noise when suddenly there is an almighty explosion a few inches away from his bed.An incendiary bomb has crashed through the ceiling,bounced off the metal meal tray attached over the bed,hit the floor,and exploded.The bed catches fire but he can do nothing but stay lying there. Because he has T.B.he is confined to bed 24 hours a day and is wearing a waistcoat with long tapes which are tied under the bed,Luckily for him a fireman comes in, cuts the tapes, smashes the window beside the bed and throws him through it into an outstretched blanket held by a group of nurses standing below on a huge pile of coke. I shall forever be grateful to the fireman whose prompt actions saved my life.

Michael Barton

I remember during WW2, when I was ten years old, I lived in a small village in Hertfordshire, and the army drove up in three bren gun carriers, they let the children climb over them. The vehicles had names, which were Adrach, Shadrach, and Abednigo.

Colin Maryan

I remember that mother always, even after the war kept a kettle full of clean water, especially before going to bed, 'in case a bomb fell on a water main there would be water in the kettle for a cup of tea'

Mother continued with this habit until she died in 1986 I always did the same, and still do, but my reason is in case the private water supply bore hole breaks down.


Memories of a WW II Teen:

1. The first air raid alarm - two Spitfires flew over!

2. Hanging up damp blankets which we were told would ward off gas.

3. Carrying a gasmask everywhere we went, and using it once in a while when the police dropped tear gas to make sure everyone carried a mask.

4. The joy of riding my bike to school and be able to turn around and go back home when an air raid siren sounded!

5. Cycling to local airfields to watch the fighters and bombers take off and return, some badly damaged.

6. Watching the contrails in the sky during the Battle of Britain and Hurricanes coming back low with smoke pouring out of them.

7. Hunkering down under tables and beds during the Blitz, seeing the flashes of the AA guns and covering my ears from the noise.

8. Taking home bags of white flour to our Mums, which the USAAF had dropped from B-17's for target practice.

9. Watching REME bomb disposal squads de-activate unexploded bombs.

10. Watching police and firemen take down landmines from trees on which the parachute had got hung up.

11. Watching the girls go crazy for the parachute silk!

12. Looking at the bomb damage and people being rescued, some on stretchers.

13. Collecting shrapnel, bits of shell cases, bullets, incendiary bomb fins and aircraft parts.

14. Being a volunteer 'victim' and being bandaged for every imaginable injury by trainee nurses.

15. Being a volunteer 'fire watcher' with a stirrup pump.

16. Being a volunteer aircraft spotter and alerting the school to enemy aircraft.

17. Lining up at the store to buy fags for my Dad, and then finding out that they were sold out.

18. Helping to dig a 'Victory' garden and eating the pretty awful produce.

19. Waiting for the engine of a V1 to cut out and ducking.

20. Watching a V1 land and explode a mile away.

21. Looking at all the bodies killed by an aerial torpedo which went down a Tube airshaft.

22. Hearing the explosions but not being able to see the V2's

23. Watching a double decker London bus being winched out of a bomb crater.

24. Running home in shorts and socks from a boy scout camp after a bomb exploded on the railway lines nearby.

25. Participating in the VE Day celebrations and fireworks displays at the House of Commons and shaking Churchill's hand.

26. Missing my school certificate exam because the school was bombed but getting the certificate anyway!

Jim Wilcox

I lived in Birmingham. Due to the bombing my school days were a terrible ordeal, carring gas masks every where you went, sleeping in air raid shelters night after night, rationing and waiting in queues for every thing. However there was a lighter side to all this, people were different then, we used to sing half the night to drown out the sound of bombs dropping and everyone shared anything they had which was not a lot, people looked after each other.

The bombed buildings were also a good place to play and hide. A clip across the ears was a normal every day thing then.

My brother and I used to collect all the fire wood from the bombed buildings and chop it up and sell 2 bundles for 2d made some money. Untill Mother found out what we were doing, the money was soon taken off us. Then we collected blackberries and sold them in an old jam jar, no one suspected anything about us collecting the jars so we got away with that one

Betty George

I was born in Sydney Street, Bradford, Manchester on the 10th June 1928. In 1939 I was living in Ivy Street, Gorton, and I attended St. Francis Catholic School on Gorton Lane. My Father had passed away in April of that year, before the outbreak of War. The local council built brick air raid shelters in the back yards of our houses, and long brick community air raid shelters in the streets.Our back yard air raid shelter was only just big enough to take a double bed, and my Mother, my two younger sisters and myself slept there every night for two years. We had air raids every night without fail, when our area was hit many times with high explosive bombs,incendiary bombs and land mines that were dropped by parachute on selected targets.

Near to our home was Mellands Playing Fields where a Military Camp had been built and was occupied by an anti-aircraft unit of the Royal Artillery, they would blast away at the German planes caught in there searchlights every night, in addition we had mobile anti-aircraft guns mounted on Army vehicles driving around the streets all blasting away at the planes. Our air raid shelters had no doors so to blot out the light from the searchlights and the flashes from the guns and bombs, I hammered two six inch nails into the mortar between the bricks on the inside of the door way, and hung a blanket over the doorway.

People of my age group would remember Lord Haw Haw, that was the nick name of an Englishman who had defected to the Germans, and he would broadcast every day from Germany, telling us where the Germans were going to concentrate their bombing raids that night, and he was right every time, my school was right next door to Crossley Motors, a very large factory engaged, as all other factories at that time in what was called "War Work", but covered everything required for the War Effort, be it planes, tanks, bombs, ammunition etc; a large percentage of the workers employed by them were women. One morning when I went to school after a heavy night of bombing which included Crossley Motors as one of the targets,I found that an incendiary bomb had come through the roof of my class room (standard seven)through my desk and into the wooden floor boards, my desk had been turned into a large piece of charred wood, the class room was a virtual write off, but the rest of the school was saved by the fire brigade, but we could smell the smoke for day's after.

Jim Casey.

At school 1939 As monitor my job was to press a bell push indicating class change, one morning I pressed it and it got stuck, continued ringing was air raid imminent, trying to explain to a teacher, I was pushed by the rush into the back of the air raid shelter and it wasn’t for quite a while, the powers that be realised the bells were ringing and nobody pushing the button. A nice break from school work. Found out how to make it stick and was relieved of my duties !!.

Went to work for an old Jew boy undertaker making and carrying coffins. Very busy as the ‘blitzes’ were providing lots of ‘customers’. Employees used to be conned into staying on the premises at night on ‘Fire Watch’. One night I was on ‘duty’ and it was very cold so I found a warm spot, in a coffin. Fell asleep (quiet night) to be awakened to somebody yelling “Put that light out” and a door being opened by the local Air Raid Warden. I popped my head up, the guy saw me complete with warm shroud then took off leaving a nasty smell, apparently the curtains weren’t closed properly and a chink of light was showing !

Ken Bowskill

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