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My father was an air raid warden. He had served in the army, in the Middle East in WW.1. During the day he worked in the NAAFI offices at Brixton. We lived in Thornton Heath and our area was heavily bombed, both in the Blitz during the Battle of Britain in 1940 and during the V1 and V2 raids in 1944-5. Dad, in his dark blue warden's uniform, would go out at night to check that no lights were showing from house windows, especially if an air raid was due. When the sirens sounded my mother, grandmother and I would go either in the cupboad under the stairs, which was always considered the safest place within a house, or down the bottom of the garden to the Anderson shelter. Dad would be out and no doubt Mum and Granny would be very worried about his safety but they kept this from me and always assured me he was alright. The wardens had a post where they could shelter but of course they also had to be out and about at times during a raid. One night a number of houses in our road received a direct hit and when I came down to breakfast all around our big old kitchen table (we also had a scullery, that's what we called it, but it was where all the cooking and washing was done)were people who had been bombed out of their homes whom Dad had brought back. I really don't know if Mum fed them, I was very young, just three, but I remember the event clearly. Perhaps special rations were provided for such occasions. There was always coffee and chicory for breakfast, I hated the taste, but no doubt they had a drink of this. We always had porridge too. There was a rather tatty wicker-work chair in one corner of the kitchen covered with an old blanket. One of the people from the bombed out houses went to sit in it and I called out, 'That's the dog's chair,' which it was but after what they had been through I don't suppose they would have minded. Our dog was called Trix. Eventually our house, too, was bombed, but not destroyed, and Mum, Granny and I went to stay with my aunt deep in the country in Shropshire. Dad stayed behind to carry on working and do his warden duties. One morning Trix was hit by a farmer's car and killed. I was heartbroken. My Uncle laid her beside the garden path, there wasn't a mark on her. Mum said the wheel just bumped her, she looked up and died. I sat stroking her, I just couldn't believe she was dead. Despite all the raids I had never experienced death at first hand before.
Michael H C Baker
I was seven years old and living with my parents in the countryside of Suffolk. The war was exciting for a seven year old who felt no fear. My memory is one in which the air raid siren had sounded and we were hearded under the kitchen table. Being able to identify Brit planes from Hun planes from the sound of their engines, I knew a German bomber was close. I escaped from under the table and ran out into the garden. Overhead and flying low, it must have crashed before it made home, was a Heinkel 111 - the one with a machinegun bubble on its undercarriage. It was so low it seemed to take up the whole sky. I stood there looking up and waved at it. I have the clearest memory to this day of a young face looking down at me, waving and smiling. It was then that I began to see the "Hun" as a person. I enthusiatically waved back and wished him bon voyage. I don't think it was very bon!
I was nearly four years old when the WW2 was declared but I remember it very well. Because my father was in the AFS (auxcilary fire service) he was not called up. he did start to build an Anderson shelter in the back garden, but it never got finished. He did help to build a much bigger underground shelter, this was planed to hold about forty people. A weeks after completion this flooed with water to depth of about 2ft. Yet another failure. We where then issued with a Morrison indoor shelter. This was erected in the front room. This became my bed for the next couple of years, and also served as a dinning table when my Mum's relations where bombed out and came to live with us for a few weeks. I could go on and on about my war time memories as child living in semi rural Essex.
I was just five years old when War broke out, and I can well remember that broadcast informing that "we are now at war with Germany". I well remember too my parents rushing around to find blankets or any material to black out the windows. They obviously thought that the German bombers would be overhead straight away.
We lived in a little village called Angmering. This was about one mile from the south coast near Angmering on sea. The village was about half way between the towns of Worthing and Littlehampton with possibly only around 300 to 400 houses well spread out. We had two grocery stores, a fish and chip shop, a greengrocers THREE pubs and a bakers. It was quite a nice small village that possibly everyone wishes to live in now a days. There were no street lights and most houses had the toilet about 30 yards down the garden.
The start of the war in 1939 coincided with me starting school. Olders school was a church school and just a short walk away for all the pupils. My first day as school was a little traumatic as we were drilled for hours as to what to do in case of an air raid. We were shown how to get under our desks until we were told it was all clear. A little frightening for young school children.
Angmering was in a direct route from France to London, and German planes went overhead en route to the capital. A lot of preparation was made stop invasion should in occur, but of course, local children really did not fully understand what it was all about.
At Angmering on sea rows and rows of scaffold poles were erected to foil landing craft. These stretched for miles from Littlehampton to Worthing and were just visible at high tide. False gun emplacements were built along the beach. These were brick buildings with what passed as guns painted on the side . I suppose from the air they may have looked real. Although we were not supposed to swim in the sea at that time, during the hot summer months this was disregarded, and we used the gun emplacements to change our cozzies in.
In the village itself the houses were surrounded by fields and huge tank traps were dug all around them. These were V shaped trenches possibly about 20 feet deep. The idea we were told was that if a tank went down one side it couldn't get up the other. Wishful thinking I feel. There were also huge concrete blocks built at various points, which from memory I would guess about 5 feet by 5 feet cubed. Once again to stop tanks. Barbed wire was put around odd places with the words DANGER MINES displayed in both English and German. There were no mines of course it was all just bluff. In the hedges 40 gallon barrels of inflammable liquid of some kind were placed, and if a tank or vehicle went down the road a Home Guard member would set them off causing a sheet of fire.
As a child of course we thought all these things were great for playing on. The concrete blocks provoked a game of jumping from one to another, and with various distances between them only the good jumpers could get over them all. There was a lot of grazed flesh on us all from this game.
I must have been about 8 years old when the local children were let off school in order to help on local farms. This was necessary of course as most of the village men were in the army. I was working on a farm in Dappers Lane picking potatoes. Luckily the farmer a Mr Passmore had built an air raid shelter out of baled straw on the edge of the field. When a German fighter plane came over at treetop height belching smoke from the engine. We all ran to the shelter when he started to shoot at us, we were all safely in the shelter but Mr Passmore was not so lucky and was shot in the leg. Two Spitfires had been chasing the plane and continued to do so forcing him down on the local golf course. The local home guard surrounded the plane with their one and only rifle, and the pilot started to shoot at them with a Luger pistol. Luckily he was so badly wounded that he was dead when they reached the plane. He was eventually buried in the village catholic churchyard. The Home Guard stood guard over the plane until the authorities made arrangements for removal, and a local man crept out t night and cut off a large portion of the wing with the German markings on. You can really imagine the Captain Mainwaring next morning when they realised what had happened.
There are some sounds that will live with me for ever. One is the sound of German Bombers this was a steady beating sound and totally different to the English bombers, which had a steady whirring sound. They really were very distinctive. The other is the sound of the Doodle Bugs a rasping tinny sound. I can still feel the fear of waiting to see if the engine would cut out whilst flying over us. They flew quite low and we could easily see the flames coming from their exhausts. Because of the devastating effect that Doodle Bugs were having on London, The Government fed information that they were flying over London and not doing any damage. This prompted Hitler to order less fuel to be put in the tanks. This of course meant that they would drop before getting to London. Even with this happening we only had one drop anywhere near us.
All the village houses were issued with indoor steel shelters. These were called Morrison shelters after the MP that devised them. They were different to the Anderson shelters, which were used outside. The Morrison shelter was thick steel with caged sides and sprung bottoms inside. No one really used these shelters until one night a German bomber that had been shot up and trying to return home, decided to drop his load as he was going over the village. Although no one was hurt most windows in the houses were shattered. Thank goodness for the sticky paper that was on the glass to prevent shards flying. After this night a good many people used their shelters.
One Summer Evening the French Canadians came to the village and set up their camps under trees around the fields. There was some excitement I seem to remember because believe it or not they had a real BLACK man with them I doubt that any villagers had even seen a Black man at that time. He was huge giant of a man, but a real gentle giant. He was the cook for the soldiers. We Children collected their bread from the local bakery for him and in return he saved us the food scraps to feed to our rabbits and chicken.
Everyone kept rabbits and chicken, and these kept some meat on the table. My father worked on a local farm so we got plenty of eggs and vegetables. The farmer had to register every pig or calf that was born, but always seemed to miss one which was divided up at Christmas and shared between the farm staff. Every summer when the wheat was being harvested, the villagers surrounded the field with wooden clubs waiting for rabbits to run out. If you were lucky there was meat for dinner again.
The Yanks came into the village for a short period and set up a canteen in one of the houses. I can remember us children trying to look scruffy and hungry. They never passed us by without giving large bars of chocolate and what they called their K rations. K rations I think were given to the troops to last for a day or so. They had all sorts of goodies in such as sweets, chocolate soup powders and I seem to remember Horlicks tablets. To have one of these ration packs at school was deemed to be the cat's whisker.
On the village green was a tin hut with just a small opening in for the collection of papers and razor blades. I never found out why used razor blades were wanted. Being a small lad I could just squeeze into this hut and sort out the various magazines for the lads. The magazine most treasured was Tit Bits. By today's standards it was rather tame, but at that time is was very sexy. One day as I was in the hut the village bobby came by, ordered me out and paraded me through the village holding onto my ear and took me home to my Mum. The village bobby a man called Constable Christmas, knew just about everyone in the village, so it was no good giving a wrong address. He told my parents of course but nothing transpired. I think he just wanted an excuse to get in our warm kitchen for a cup of tea and a smoke. That of course was in the days when we feared the police. Or more to the point respected them.
Worthing and Shoreham the nearby towns took quite a beating from German Bombers. Thank goodness Angmering was just outside the war zone. The Canadians took over our local garage, which was located a few hundred yards from our house. It was to here that any German planes shot down we brought to salvage anything useful. When they were made safe we were allowed to climb all over them to get souvenirs. The most prized item was the thick plastic type glass use for windscreens. This could be heated and moulded into all sorts of useful items.
I suppose in many ways we were very lucky living in a little village. Everyone grew their own food, farms were all around to top us with vegetables and eggs, and of course we all had our rabbits and chicken for meat. Being a youngster I suppose I didn't really comprehend what war was all about. My childhood in a village will always be my fondest treasured memory, and I have always wanted to let today's children know what happened during that terrible time of our history. In many ways we had what could be termed A Good War. And were very privileged to be in such a small community. When I look back and think how vulnerable we were being on the coast and in easy reach if Hitler decided to invade. How very different things could easily have been.
I lived at Torrells Hall, Willingale, from 1947-1949 where my father, Colin and mother, Elsie, were Wardens of the Hall. It was adminstered by the Dept of Fisheries and Agriculture during the war and just afterwards.
Dad was responsble for training returned servicemen in farming techniques after he was invalided from France during the war.
I remember that there was an airfield nearby (I was 3 years old) and one day my sister and I were in the garden at the front of the Hall. We heard a roaring sound and suddenly a Lancaster bomber came over the garden wall (about 8 foot high) and its slipstream knocked us to the ground and ripped the ivy off the wall.
All I remember is that it came from the direction of Chelmsford and apparently, so we found out later it was struggling for height. It must have had an awful lot of trouble because the fields nearby had high trees and being so low when coming over the Hall it surely had nearly taken the tops off those trees.
Does anyone know the name of the airfield nearby?
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 "cissy" 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.
Children of the light.
Caring hands do hold
The child to unfold
A man a scream a door
Is this the voice of war
Moving feet and faces
Many other places
Angels fly and fall
Who will hear their call
Whispers on the stairs at night
Is this the coming light?
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.
They were away preserving our freedom. When you walk along the headstones in a war cemetery with your heart full of tears. Say, we are wiser now. It was worth the price. We understand. We shall remember them.
Brian (Bill) Bailey
There is so much I don't remember about my early years, but the W.W.II years are burned in my memory
Our family of four was on holiday in St Leonards at the end of Aug 1939 -- talk of war was very serious and my parents decided to drop me off at the home of relatives who lived not far from Bognor, but inland. My parents and older sister returned to our London home.
I stayed with these (barely known) relatives for two months. They were kind to me but there was no one else of my age in the area and I was homesick! the local school would not take me - said I should return to London and get evacuated with my school!
My relatives had plenty of room so they were required to take in another evacuee - - he was about 8 - a coloured boy who had a very engaging personality...and I was given the job of helping him bathe and get to bed!!! I didn't have any brothers, so this task didn't come easily! especially when he would try to be amorous with me..... stole money from my relatives.....(for which I was held responsible) and altogether I felt very unhappy.
I wrote my parents begging to be allowed to return - London had not been bombed contrary to our expectations - - - - so they drove down to collect me. Once home it seemed all my friends had gone to the West if England with the school....... however, as time went on and the expected bombing had not begun, others began to return home.... so many that in fact a local school opened a schoolroom which took in all ages and headed by a wonderfully eccentric elderly lady who organised games in which we could all join.
It had already been determined that I would become a Secretary, so my parents hired a private tutor for me and so I became proficient in Pitman's shorthand! As soon as I was 14 I begged to be allowed to get a job, and landed an Office Junior position with a firm in Brixton.......
We began to get airraids..... our family shared a tiny reinforced room in the garage of neighbours - only enough room for upright garden chairs, so we sat up already dozing as much as we could!! The 2 yr old slept in a hammock rigged up against the ceiling and would croon "go away Hikwer" (Hitler)!!! this went on for several weeks - not much sleep and having to go to work all day ----
In June 1940 I witnessed a sad sight -- trainloads of wounded soldiers returning from Dunkirk - those who could sit up could be seen all bandaged and waving... I knew I was watching history as I stood beside the railway bridge...
One day soon after, my mother said she was going to take me to relatives in the Midlands for a weekend in order to get some sleep. She would collect me after work on the Friday and we would return Sunday night! Well she turned up in a London Taxi which took us all the way to this small town in the Midlands - for four pounds!!!!
These relatives lived in a tiny house and my aunt was not in best of health but we were taken in - and come Sunday mother announced I would not be returning to London. I was very angry, but had to do as I was told.
I got a job in the next small town - with a small company which had evacuated from Oxford Circus in London. They had about ten employees, all young females...some were also evacuees. The boss would come down from London twice a month to oversee, otherwise I was put in charge - Office Manager at 14 !! but the men were in the armed forces so women were becoming very important in the workplace! I don't recall how much I was paid, but suffice it to say I walked to and from this adjoining town which must have been 3 or 4 miles. (Note: my previous story about the sudden return to London of my mother happened around this time).
Rationing was now in full force and we ate very sparingly - - living in a country town did have a few advantages - my aunt and uncle kept chickens - and uncle had an "allotment" where he grew vegetables, so we didn't starve!
My aunt as not too active and spent a lot of time in bed, so there were always chores to be done when I got home from work.
Social life was about nil - - again there was no one else in my age group - - the younger girls at work lived in various locations but not close to me...... I was there for eleven months and once again there was a lull in the bombing and so I returned to London.
Got another job with a Consulting Engineer company - they designed air-raid shelters and reinforcement of local buildings - - I would ride my bike back and forth -- about 15 miles away. I was the only girl in the office with seven men!
Of course the bombing did begin again and often I had to alight from my bike and take shelter, although some of my journey was across two Commons, which afforded no shelter, so one simply peddled like hell!!!! I was quite happy in this job (didn't know anything else eh?)
Eventually the buzz bombs (VIs) began their deadly tirade. The night they began - in June 1944 - we stood in my parent's bedroom and counted 44 of these bright flares in the sky coming toward us. Our house stood on a high hill and we had views across to the North Downs (on a clear day)!!
We had absolutely no idea what we were watching but it was frightening because after a while we could hear explosions near and far, we did perceive that these 'flares' came attached to some contraption which made a loud engine noise.
So this was the start of a new campaign, night after night and daytimes too.... we were not told what they were for several days and people were really anxious for information. Once they came in daylight of course (and flew fairly low) we could see them quite clearly.
Eleven VIs fell within a couple of miles of our house - - I have a map showing the 44 locations in Streatham where we lived!
From here I was sent out of London once again and back to the Midlands town where my mother grew up.
Lived in five different homes by the time I returned home for good in Autumn of 1945. So there are other tales to tell.
Looking back........ what a time it was - we youngsters really had no 'normal' child's life - we were thrust into an early adulthood. I simply don't relate to the teenagers of to-day - my childhood virtually ended at age 13...and there was so much anguish and worry, especially with parents left in London - communications were mostly by letter - few had telephones. Much could be said - - we just felt lucky that our lives had been spared, and in my case, no-one in my immediate family died, although my dad was hospitalised for six weeks with an air-raid injury.
Although formal education was lacking, I believe we did gather a certain strength of character through all the experiences - - learning to get along with strangers of all types - we had to - there was no alternative.
Joan (Delamare) Peterson
When I was in London after escaping from liberated France, a V2 rocket bomb exploded next door and I was awakened just in time to run down stairs and out into the street.
There I saw a huge gap in the buildings where the bomb had landed destroying several apartments. I was luck to survive such a near miss. That was in Jan. 1945 on my way back to my combat base in England.
One night a friend of mine and I were in the officer's club on base when we heard a buzz bomb approaching. We ran outside and threw ourselves on the ground and the bomb came down and exploded 50 yards away. We are again lucky. Trouble was we landed in a water filled ditch and were soaked but alive.
A friend of mine in the same barracks was called simply Red. He was an innocent kid about 19 years old. One day we were on a bombing mission and his plane was just ahead of us in formation. We saw a bomb drop right through his plane's wing and the plane burst into flames. He was too young to die.
We were in Brighton, England on the south coast on leave. We met some English girls, (we were always picking up girls). We took them to a local skating rink and were whirling them about like made having a great time when without warning the air raid siren went off. We being Americans skated right out of the rink, left the girls, and drunk as we were went down the street still on skates. The air raid wardens urged us to get to a shelter but we paid no attention. Bombs were dropping all about us and we saw the flashes as they hit. I don't remember what happened after that but I woke up in a beachfront hotel with my skates still on and no GI shoes. Some Aussies saved us.
t/sgt combat crew
44th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force
That bright sunny morning of September 3rd 1939 is still clear in my mind over 60 years on. I sat in a hotel lounge in Cornwall listening to a tired old Neville Chamberlain saying that Britain was once again at war with Germany. On the telephone to a girl in London I heard the eerie wail of the sirens I was to know so well in the next six years. It turned out to be a false alarm. 16 years old, I was on holiday from school awaiting the results of my Oxford School Certificate to see if I were to go on to do a further two years for my Higher or go directly to be a legal solicitors clerk under articles.
Neither of these alternatives appealed and I rushed off to Plymouth to join the Navy, thinking one got to fly earlier in the Fleet Air Arm (quite wrongly and in what aircraft!). The burly Chief Petty Officer who interviewed me said I was a b****y liar when I told him I was 18 but did not have my birth certificate with me. 'Go next door and try the Air Force; they're not so particular and don't ask for one'. So this was my fortuitous and undistinguished entry to the RAF.
After deferred service awaiting training my short sight was discovered and from the dreams of a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain by 1941 I found myself in the ops room at Portreath, fortunately still with Spitfires. 1942 found me on my way to the Middle East having flown in my first twin-engined operational aircraft, a Wellington of 38 Sqn. There followed an attachment to the Transjordan Frontier Force at Zerka, before I joined 74 Sqn as a wireless operator, assisting the B24s of the 98th Bomb Group, USAAC, at Ramat David in Palestine. My travels with 74 took me as far as Tehran and back to Shaibah in Iraq, before Sharjah with 244 Sqn Blenheims.
From there to Aden and back to the UK with redundant aircrew at Haverfordwest, and Mount Batten with Sunderlands. Demob at Wembley Stadium in 1946 and the strange feeling of unreality in an England at peace. I found settling down difficult. I had been in the RAF since I was 16 and even my clothes felt odd after six years in uniform. Everything seemed substandard; rationing and clothing coupons, British Restaurants, little housing, 'pre fabs', things seemed dull and disappointing to me. Even my favourite pubs were full of phoneys who called one 'Squire' and talked of how to cheat the income tax authorities and get illegal petrol coupons. So 1939-1946 had come and gone. Life was never to be the same again.
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