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FRom Girlhood to Womanhood in Days - War Shortages Affected Time for Adolescence

by CSV Actiondesk at BBC Oxford

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Contributed by 
CSV Actiondesk at BBC Oxford
People in story: 
Sheila Manners
Location of story: 
Kingsbury, North West London
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
30 June 2005

'This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Gwilym Scourfield of the County Heritage Team on behalf of Sheila Manners and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions

From Girlhood to Womanhood in Days —
War Shortages Even Affected Time For Adolescence!

My memory of the outset of the war was of the consuming emotion of fear; the immense sense of dread. On the Friday before the Prime Ministers’ ominous broadcast, my friend Hazel and I, both girls of thirteen, spoke our fears aloud. Then, on that Sunday - along with all the usual trips to church and Sunday best, there was the announcement that the ultimatum had been passed and “…a state of war exists between us.” Even after all these sixty-five years, those words conjour the fear they did then. What was going to happen to us? What did it all mean? We had seen films from Spain of the carnage of ‘modern warfare’ ; there would be bombs on our country, bombs on our cities, bombs on Kingsbury in North West London where I lived in a first floor flat with my parents. It was terrifying to imagine. Had I known then, what I knew to be the reality of war — just a few days later, however, I don’t know if I could have summoned the courage to face it.

When the air raids started, with the ghastly winding bellows of sirens, we had no shelter other than getting under the table. Our row of homes was mercifully left standing; they still stand today, but what use our table might have been in a direct raid can easily be imagined. Most frightening at first were the doodlebugs…just waiting for those distinctive engines to cut out, and wonder at the short silence that seemed to last and last before the explosion that meant someone else had been on the end of it and not us. Later the V2s gave no hint of their deadly presence and impacted with a force beyond the wildest imagination even of my adolescent fear.

I was sixteen, doing my nursing training in Hampstead Heath, when the school we were in was a near miss. We were told to duck under a table. Every girl had a particular table, a particular place of ‘safety’. “Bite on a rubber,” someone said. I did. My incisors cut clean through it and my mouth filled with fragments of powdery rubber. How much use this advice was, you can judge from that. I suppose people had to tell you to do something.

Mum was regrettably nowhere near as imaginative as I. She was a simple soul. I don’t believe it affected her quite the same way. I think she just accepted things as they were and got on with it. Dad, who had been in India at the end of World War One, drove buses. He was often called on to work at night. That left us alone together. It should have been mother looking after daughter, but it was very much the other way round. Girls need time to develop through those adolescent years. Our generation didn’t have that. We were women from girls in a few weeks.

There were thoughts of evacuating us to Canada. My dad dropped the idea when a ship with evacuees was torpedoed in the Atlantic en route to freedom. After that I suppose he thought we had better take our chance with those around us in North London.

I trained with the GPO to do telephone work. They were long and busy hours, but I really loved the work, the comradeship. It was valuable war work. Everyone had to do something. Biking across to Wembley to work and back in the blackout was quite a feat. There were almost invisible white lies at the edges of kerbs to navigate by. Often it was safer just to get off and walk. It was a blessing that there were very few cars.

I did most of the shopping for the family. If you saw a queue, you joined it and discovered later what it was for. There were shortages of everything. Despite all that was happening, I became interested in dressmaking. Getting hold of fabric was a real challenge. Even after the war shortages persisted. My husband and I married in 1946. The blushing bride wasn’t in white; she was in a plain brown suit, scrounged from Aunty Connie and re-modelled to fit both me and the occasion.

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