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Audrey's War

by Colette Munro

Contributed by 
Colette Munro
People in story: 
Audrey Jackson
Location of story: 
Bingley, West Yorkshire
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
08 May 2005

Mum on leave at home in Bingley in 1945

This is the story of my Mother's wartime experiences. The words are my Mother's but, being a technophobe, she asked me to put it on the People's War website for her.

Sunday, September 3rd saw me at morning service in my parish church. The vicar had started his sermon from the pulpit - the congregation, dressed in their Sunday best, attentive as ever. Attentive that is until the verger came hurrying down the centre aisle, up the steps to the pulpit and whispered in the vicar's ear. I was thirteen years old with the optimism of youth so that the absolute silence of the next few moments baffled me as the vicar gravely surveyed his flock. Then in funereal tones he told us that the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, had broadcast to the nation that a state of war had been declared against Germany. I forget what happened next but I do rememeber arriving home to be met by a grave faced family - my parents, sister and brother-in-law. My Mother, practical as ever, busy in the kitchen with Sunday lunch, my Father, head down, in his chair by the fire a picture of utter misery and for the first time I felt something akin to panic. Dad, who knew the answer to everything, or so my Mother had taught me, quite obviously didn't know what to do about the news we had recieved that morning. It was then, although I didn't realize it until later, that I first came across that British spirit which would eventually play such a pivotal role in winning the war. It came in form of my buxom Mother, sleeves rolled up, she set about organizing her troops. The girls lay the table, the men carried the dishes through, no-one was going to disrupt her routine and so she did what she did best - she fed the troops. When we had finished, the inevitable cups of tea were passed around and she called a council of war at the table. Dad was back in charge to tell us what this war could mean to us - doom and gloom apparently. Not so said his wife, it would be hard yes, but we'd won the last time and we'd win again - who did these Germans think they were? Both my parents had lived through the last war and my Father, a civil servant had attended lectures on what we could expect this time and what measures the Government had already put in place should war be declared. 'Right' said our own personal General, 'we'll start with the washing up'. How British was that?

So the first day of war for my family came and went and nothing would ever be the same again although it took some time to be really noticable. Young friends in the TA came rushing home from work to join their units and soon we were issued with ration books and identity cards. Over sixty years later I still remember my identity number KMHM126-3. Gas masks were to be carried at all times, the dreary 'blackout' necessitating the use of yards of black material for the windows. The headmaster at school told us on a daily basis during morning assembly 'There is a war on we must all work very hard'.

The news from the front wasn't very good, but still we went about our daily lives. In the spring of 1940 my little neice was born, that was a memorable day - really happy and for a short while we pushed war to the back of our minds but not for long - the evacuation of our troops from Dunkirk overtook all else. Then the fear of invasion, the bombing of our cities and docks. A whole school from Hull was evacuated and absorbed by my school in Bingley, the children billeted in the town. We dug for victory everywhere - back gardens, parks, playing fields, round the local sewage works and filter beds and between the air-raid shelters. Meanwhile, my brother-in-law had been called into the Navy. My sister and her baby stayed at home with my parents and me and my sister went to work at the local library. I left school in the summer of 1942 and started work with the Ministry of Labour. The war news swung up and down, sometimes good but mostly very worrying. After the event we discovered that my brother-in-law had been with a convoy to Russia - he came on leave with gifts for his little one in the form of Russian dolls. I remember going to see him off at the railway station when his leave was ended. We never saw him again. His ship, HMS Polomares, formed part of a convoy to North Africa. We were told later he had died when the convoy was attacked. The telegram arrived one Friday tea time in Novemeber, 1942 delivered by a young lad who no doubt would soon be in uniform himself. My Mother went completely to pieces when she heard what had happened and it took my sister a long time to calm her down. Father strode up and down the hall like a caged animal, wringing his hands so it was left to me to try to reassure a very frightened little two year old who had never seen the family behaving like this before. The next morning we were back 'on duty' feeling totally washed out and unhappy. The three workers in the family caught their usual public transport to work while Grannie looked after the toddler, made the meals and did the shopping. I was thankful that Saturday was a half day so that we could be with my Mother. I shouldn't have worried so much - she'd allowed herself to go to peices when the news impacted on her, now she'd come up fighting - and how! How dare they kill the father of her grandchild, she took it personally, bitterly and resolvedly. Nothing and no-one would take from that child ever again while she lived. Bless her, that resolve stayed with her for the rest of her life, long after the child became a grown woman.

I joined the WJAC where I learned the basics of parade ground drill and became quite adept at sending and recieving Morse code. I also became a founder member of the local 'Little Theatre' and had a small part in their first production, J. B. Priestly's 'When We Are Married'. Life went on, we had good news and bad news. Looking back I don't recall ever being hungry though my Mother stormed about rationing and rabbit appeared quite often on our menu because 'that butcher' had no idea about feeding a family. A friend's hens also appeared regularly on our plates, apparently they'd stopped laying and were only good for boiling. These were boiled and then roasted and very tasty they were too along with vegetables from Dad's garden.

I think it must have been in 1943 that the HLI (Highland Light Infantry) were billeted in our town. Mum had met two of them whilst having a cup of tea in the cafe - two lads away from home meant an invite to supper with us. When only one of them turned up, albeit with a friend, she wanted to know where his original friend was. Poor lad, he found it very difficult explaining that an officer and his batman didn't socialise together - she never did understand why. An invitation was sent to the C.O. from the Little Theatre group inviting any of his soldiers who cared to come to the dress rehearsal. The hall was packed - I think they enjoyed the evening, we certainly enjoyed having them there. A succession of young officers took my Mother's open invitation for supper to heart and somehow she managed to feed them all whenever they turned up at our door.

I was getting restless in my work surrounded as I was by elderly civil servants who, it seemed to me, had no sense of humour. So when we were advised that the WAAF was again taking volunteers I put the idea of my joining to my Mother. I was 17 and a half and needed my Father's permission which he refused to give. In six months time, when I was 18 permission would not be needed and I let it be known that I was determined to go. Seeing my determination Mother set to work on Father. He surrendered two days later. I filled in the relevant papers, got the required signature, had my medical and waited. The call came early in 1944 and I left the family for the first time in my life - but that's another story. I had accepted the King's Shilling - where would I be sent and what would happen to me? One certainty I found very quickly, my Mother was unique, no sergeant ever understood me as she did. To put it briefly, I grew up - fast.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Mother what would we have done without her.

Posted on: 08 May 2005 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Hello Audrey and Colette,
Being three years younger than you at the outbreak of war it started for us kids in a fearful way, I have told the story on site.
An hour after that frightening event we were all sitting eating sunday lunch with Grandmother holding court, my mother the eldest daughter second in command and the men doing as they were told so had stopped being in a panic. We had to accept that being a coastal town we had expected the German planes to appear and flatten the place on the announcement of war.
Mother organised us all fed us did a job in war work and in general was the backbone all through the war. What wonderful women they were.
Nice story well done getting it on the site and let us have more about the Forces service.
Regards Frank.

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