As I mentioned in my previous post, WWII and The Blitz certainly affected children.  This week in our library, we have some personal stories shared by a number of people who look back on that time in their lives:

SOME OF OUR VOLUNTEERS SHARE THEIR MEMORIES:

Allison Hetman, Head Librarian and manager of the Canadian Forces Artefact Management System (CFAMS)

Allison Hetman, Head Librarian and manager of the Canadian Forces Artefact Management System (CFAMS)

ALLISON ~ “My family lived in Sidney, BC, a fishing community. Pat Bay was the nearby military base; many airmen with wives and families, rented rooms in our community. When the war was over, most of these families left BC and went back to their home provinces. Suddenly our playmates were gone from the street.”

BILL ~  “I was born in 1938 and still too young to know that war had broken out in 1939. We lived in a suburban area just south of London. A few miles to the east was an industrial area with a number of factories. One of the principal ones was Siebe Gorman, makers of diving equipment, a prime area for the Germans to bomb. Not all of their bombers were able to find them though. One night a German bomber, using the road next to ours as a marker, flew along it dropping bombs that fell neatly either side of the road demolishing the houses. My mother recounted that when it happened she took me out of bed to go to our Anderson Shelter. “You were as stiff as a board,” she said, “and stayed like that most of the night.” I must have been around 3 years old at this time. I have since used this as a convenient excuse when I have had to explain some inexplicable behaviour on my part.

It was in 1944 that I caught sight of a V1 rocket, the Doodle-Bug as it was known. I had come out of our shelter to visit the bathroom. I can recall it exactly to this day. Early morning and a clear blue sky and the strange pop-pop-pop sound I heard up in the sky. I looked up to see this rocket projectile making its way across the sky heading towards London. My mother, wondering what was taking me so long, poked her head out of the shelter, heard the sound and quickly grabbed me back into the shelter. This, all too quickly, ended my view of what I thought was the neatest thing I had ever seen in all of my six years. I never forgave her. It was shortly after this my sister and I were sent off to relatives in Mansfield, near Nottingham of Sherwood Forest fame, out of harm’s way. But that is a story for another day.

It was in 1944 that I caught sight of a V1 rocket, the Doodle-Bug as it was known. I had come out of our shelter to visit the bathroom. I can recall it exactly to this day. Early morning and a clear blue sky and the strange pop-pop-pop sound I heard up in the sky. I looked up to see this rocket projectile making its way across the sky heading towards London. My mother, wondering what was taking me so long, poked her head out of the shelter, heard the sound and quickly grabbed me back into the shelter. This, all too quickly, ended my view of what I thought was the neatest thing I had ever seen in all of my six years. I never forgave her. It was shortly after this my sister and I were sent off to relatives in Mansfield, near Nottingham of Sherwood Forest fame, out of harm’s way. But that is a story for another day.

Bill Cuell, Comox Air Force Museum Association President

Bill Cuell, Comox Air Force Museum Association President

After the war had ended the British Government paid out reparations to people who had suffered bomb damage to their property. My Grandfather had owned a house that was destroyed and he received 100 Pounds. He gave my sister and me 50 Pounds each which was dutifully paid into our Post Office Savings Book. This being the principal means of saving money in those days. No bank account then. To get one of those you had to be recommended and then interviewed by the local Bank Manager to see if you were a suitable upstanding citizen to qualify to use their bank. A very old fashioned view now, but I can’t help but think it gave people a more grounded view on the value of money and savings.

After the war had ended the British Government paid out reparations to people who had suffered bomb damage to their property. My Grandfather had owned a house that was destroyed and he received 100 Pounds. He gave my sister and me 50 Pounds each which was dutifully paid into our Post Office Savings Book. This being the principal means of saving money in those days. No bank account then. To get one of those you had to be recommended and then interviewed by the local Bank Manager to see if you were a suitable upstanding citizen to qualify to use their bank. A very old fashioned view now, but I can’t help but think it gave people a more grounded view on the value of money and savings.”

Norm Danton, Volunteer

Norm Danton, Volunteer

NORM ~

  • walking to school watching V1 flying bombs overhead
  • ¾ of our school kids were evacuated out of London
  • we spent more than half our school day in the air raid shelters underground
  • watching squadrons of aircraft flying over our house
  • standing with my parents watching the dog fights and searchlights at night
  • helping my dad and brothers putting up our own air raid shelter
  • being in Hastings with my mother, when a German fighter machine-gunned the town
  • Green Man Pub 3 miles away had direct hit, 53 killed
  • my mother lining up for 4 hours to buy 4 oranges at a local store
  • American and Canadian troops where we lived
  • radio propaganda from Lord Haw Haw (English, executed after the war)
  • my father and thousands of others patrolling streets watching for fires
  • we kids out collecting shrapnel and foil dropped by German A/C to fool the radar
  • being on the coast watching our pilots chase the V1 and tipping them over into the sea
Steve McNamee, Volunteer

Steve McNamee,
Volunteer

STEVE ~ “We lived in D’arcy, BC at the time the war ended. I was four, picking berries with some others and I remember my Mom running down the path toward us, calling out, ‘The war is over, the war is over!'”

DON ~ “One cannot write a story about being an evacuee in 1939 without referring to the Blitz of 1940 and the off and on bombing which continued until the use of V1 and V2 weapons used in 1944.  Many evacuees had a bad time in their temporary homes. However, my own experience was very good. But I am getting ahead of the story.

In the early 1930s the British Government began to give a lot of attention to the mass bombing of civilians. London had been bombed in the First World War. They felt that with advances in aviation, another war could be catastrophic.  A plan was therefore drawn up to evacuate children and expectant mothers from built up regions. The need was amplified with the bombing of cities in the Spanish Civil War.  By August of 1939 people knew that war was inevitable and on September 1st, 1939 the plan was put into action. On that same day my father was mobilized.  We were to report to our school with a packed suitcase and our gas masks. We were given a label tied to our clothing. In retrospect, to move all the children out of London ( and other cities ) one must consider it was a logistical problem of the greatest magnitude, for the children who had to be moved, fed in transit, and billeted in one day ( if possible ).  I remember we, along with our teachers, went in buses to High Street, Kensington Station, where we boarded special underground trains to a point where it joined up with main line railways and then we were taken to Bath in Somerset. Once there we walked to a church hall and had a meal, then again on buses to a village called Chew Magna. We went into the church hall and from there we were billeted out in the village. I was put with a young couple who had no idea what children ate; in fact the first night I had a banana for dinner.  I mentioned the village church hall. Well this was to be our school. One big room, no desks or chairs – we sat in groups according to our grade. If you sat on the outside of the circle you could hear both your teacher and the teacher in the next group.  Our parents rented a bus and came to see us on Sundays. My mother did not like where I was living so she complained and I was moved to a nice place, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Clark. They had a daughter and 3 girl evacuees. It was a good place to live. Mr. and Mrs. Clark were the best.  For most of us evacuees this was our first experience in living in a rural environment. We would go to the one farm to see the cows being milked. Mr. Clark worked on a big estate and one of his jobs was to keep rabbits down. I remember one day going hunting with him and I carried home the rabbits. We then picked new peas and dug up a few potatoes. That night we had a great meal.

By the time the school year ended the expected mass bombing had not occurred so my mother, along with many others, decided it was safe for the children to come home. It was not long after that the Blitz on London began. In the beginning my mother and I slept in the basement of a nearby apartment building. My father had been posted to a new unit at a town called Tidworth which is close to Andover in Hampshire, and he had an uncle living there, so we moved down to Andover.  I was very ill at this time so did not start school. I spent most of my time resting in bed at night and on the sofa in the day. Over the sofa were two pictures; one was of the lone survivor of an Afghan campaign arriving at Jellalabad and the other was of a Scottish regiment at Waterloo fending off French calvary. Both these images left an impression on my mind and, I feel, my later military service.

The bombing eased up and we returned to London. My old school had reopened and I studied there up to my 11 Plus Exams.  I then went to Sloane School, a Grammar School, which was evacuated to Addlestone, quite close to London. We would go home to London on Friday and came back to school on Monday. After three years my mother said I had as much a chance of being killed in an air raid between Monday and Friday as between Friday and Monday, so back to London I went.  Sloane School was still evacuated but their building in Chelsea was occupied by four grammar schools. One was Sloane Boys who had returned as were the other three. We all wore our own individual uniforms.  Apart from the occasional air raid we carried on as usual until 1944, when after D Day, the Germans started sending over V1 Flying Bombs. These were sent over 24/7 so unless you spent your life in a shelter, you carried on as usual, sleeping in a shelter at night and going to school in the day.

Our apartment complex consisted of 10 buildings, each with 20 apartments. One night a V1 hit the roof of a building in our complex and bounced down on to a shelter killing everyone inside. It occurred at about midnight and my mother work me to tell me what had happened. Our apartment was damaged. Our front window was smashed. The next morning my uncle came over and between us we went to the most damaged building and took a window and replaced our damaged frame.  Later the Germans sent over V2 rockets which was a very early version of an ICBM ( Intercontinental Ballistic Missile ). They were so fast there was no warning. The first thing you heard was the explosion then you heard it coming.  So we carried on as usual. As soon as the Allies overran the launch sites, the raids ceased.  When the war in Europe ended, Sloane School moved back to London and the London contingent was reunited with the rest of the school. The other three schools moved back to their own premises.”

Geoff Plant, Volunteer

Geoff Plant,
Volunteer

GEOFF ~  “At the beginning of WW2 the British Government swung into action with a series of extremely effective ministries aiming at protecting and rationing the food and goods supply for the Country. Among those who were the beneficiaries of the various programmes were the children, whose dietary concerns were well looked after by the Ministry of Food.

Some of my early memories from the period of being at nursery school (the use of the word kindergarten was frowned upon) were of collecting wire dairy crates, some containing bottles of milk, others of orange juice, from the school gate. We children were nominated as monitors for the day and relished the opportunity to be out in the open air especially when the wagons, often horse-drawn, were late.

Cod liver oil, offered free from health units, was another effort to protect us little darlings from the ravages of warfare. Not a spectacular success, as it turns out, until it became available blended with some sort of sweet, malted confection that was universally endorsed by the nation’s off-spring and their long-suffering parents. Administered by spoon, it had to be chewed before swallowing.

Previously I alluded to the use of horse-drawn vehicles during the war. Many of the tradesmen were merely carrying on as usual, as the use of motorized vehicles was still not the norm by the time war was declared. The man who delivered coal to our house had a beautiful big gray shire-horse called “Captain”. Captain had an enormous scar running down his belly, the result of an altercation with a motor vehicle. He was one of several horses that I got to be fond of during my childhood, and are still part of the vast mosaic of my memories.

Children tended to rove around in little gangs which were made up of many age groups, (which I believe, is contrary to the common practice nowadays), and had much to recommend it. Our parents were happier with the arrangement than they would have been had we been tooling around alone, and we were the wiser from the experiences (at least the better ones) of our older friends. On one occasion I recall a line of us marching with our left arm in the air and our right-hand fingers stuck under our noses. We were chanting “Heil Hitler’ over and over again. Finally a “bobby” stopped us and asked “What the B….H…. do you lot think you’re doing?”

RECOLLECTIONS OF SOME BRITISH PEOPLE:

ACTOR MICHAEL CAINE CAN RELATE TO THE EXPERIENCES OF OTHER EVACUEES ~  “ I know how they felt because I was one of them, a six-year-old cockney more familiar with the smells and sounds of Billingsgate fish market than with manure and bird-song. Certainly I came in for my share of rough treatment from the family who first took me in, but I went on to enjoy some halcyon days over the next six years growing up on a 200-acre farm in Norfolk, which changed me from a young ‘city slicker’ into the country-lover I am to this day. “  ( from No Time to Wave Goodbye by Ben Wicks )

GLADYS RECALLS THE EVACUATION ~ she was four and her sister was six. She was, “ … well prepared for any emergency:  I being the youngest led the line and carried a potty for use on the coaches. “(from Children of the Blitz by Andrew Bissell)

KENNETH HAD RATHER UNUSUAL CIRCUMSTANCES TO DEAL WITH AT THE TIME OF EVACUATION ~  “ … My father’s funeral was the same day that my three sisters, my brother and I were evacuated. We all looked out of the bedroom window and watched the funeral cars depart, then we gathered up our bundles and went to our school. ”  (from Children of the Blitz by Andrew Bissell)

SHEILA REFLECTS ON HER EXPERIENCE AS AN EVACUEE IN THE COUNTRY ~ “ The orchard bore fruit, we had a car to take us to school, a piano, a beautiful home, servants, typing lessons, mini-golf and a fine lawn. Most of all we had met warmth and understanding, for us poor children, cast into the country by the fate of war. ”  ( from Children of the Blitz by Andrew Bissell )

** Do you have a memory from this time in history?  If you’re willing to share it, please let us know!  You can comment on this post, or if you live locally, please write it down, then stop by and leave it on the display table in the library for us all to see! **