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Teenagers Memories of the War (Part 2)

by JoChallacombe2

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Joyce Hammond
Location of story: 
North Kent
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
20 May 2005

Joyce at 18

The night bombing continued for over three months, and as the Germans were unable break our spirit, they then started to target other cities and ports – Coventry, Portsmouth, Plymouth and many other places. This gave us a respite from the nights in the shelter, and it was now that I decided to go to night-school. I signed on at the local Technical School, and for the next two years, after work, I would cycle through the black-out to spend two hours every Tuesday to learn shorthand, and every Thursday to have typing lessons.

Early in 1941 my elder brother, Doug, who was just l9 , was called up to join the Army. He was sent to The Leicestershire Regiment and did his basic training in the north of England. We all missed him very much, especially as he was unable to come home for short week-end leaves, but eventually he was given a week’s leave, and we saw him in uniform for the first time.

It was soon after this that my little sister, Jill, and I got caught in an air-raid whilst shopping in our local Broadway (High Street). It was my afternoon off, and Mum needed a few items from various shops, so I put Jill in her pram and set off. First stop was a sweet shop, and just as we arrived the air-raid siren went off. We had become used to these warnings during the day, and they usually meant a single plane trying to avoid our fighters and hurrying to get back to the Continent, so I went into the shop and asked for the soft-centred hum-bugs that my mother enjoyed. They were out of stock, so I left and started to push Jill along the pavement. Seconds later I heard a short, sharp whistle, and then I was in a cloud of yellow dust, with bits of brick and shattered wood drifting through the air about us…… It was as if time had slowed down and I couldn’t think what was happening for a few seconds. However, I turned the pram round and raced back to a nearby shop that had been turned into an air-raid shelter. The door-way was blocked by an invalid chair and I could not move it, so I grabbed Jill and climbed over it and collapsed on to a bench and started to cry. We were comforted by a lady who was sheltering there and given a drink, and then we all sat there until the All Clear was sounded. When we cameout we found that a lone bomber had dropped his load of bombs in order to make a fast retreat, and one had landed on the very sweet shop that I had been in just a few moments earlier!
I forgot the rest of the shopping and hurried past the shops – two of which I was going to and which had both been damaged. I wanted to get home…..Somehow, I don’t know how, my mother heard that the Broadway had been bombed, and she made her way there to try to find us. Unfortunately, I had taken a short cut, and we missed each other. Mum questioned everyone, but could find no trace, so she came home and found us both safe and sound – and many tears of gratefulness were shed by us both. After that frightening event, I became very nervous when the air-raid warning went off, and would dash down the path to the shelter, but my confidence soon returned and I got over it.
During that summer, my other brother, Jim, came home one day and told my parents that he had volunteered to join the Fleet Air Arm. He explained that he didn’t want to be sent to the army, he’d rather go to sea. My parents were upset to have a second son in the Forces, but it was Jim wanted, so they had to get used to it. A few weeks later Jim was told to report at Plymouth for his initial training, and afterwards went to train as an aircraft engineer in Northern Ireland. We at home carried on as best we could. The food rationing made it difficult for mothers, and it was a case of butter on our bread on Sundays, and margarine for the rest of the week. Some days we had no meat, so my Dad started breeding rabbits in hutches in the back garden, and these provided us with many a good meal. Mum also bought a few Muscovy ducks, which didn’t quack so as to annoy the neighbours, and these wandered around in the back garden and these provided us with eggs. Clothes became scarce, and I began to make my own. Mum would give me a dress she didn’t wear any longer, and I would take it to pieces, buy a new paper pattern, and make it up on Mum’s old treadle sewing machine thus producing a new blouse or skirt.
After six months in my job in Woolwich I was able to get a transfer to the office of a Co-op. store much nearer home – only a 20minute ride. This store consisted of a grocery shop, a butchers and a green-grocery. We three ‘girls’ in the office had to check all the monies taken by the shop assistants each day, and also issue tin checks that the customers collected in order to get their ‘divi’ every six months. I was able to see how such shops were run – the measuring out of sugar into blue bags; the same with dried fruits (when they were available); the slicing of big joints of bacon; and the cutting of the big fat blocks of cheese – for there was very little pre-packed food in those days. Now and again an allocation of items that weren’t rationed would arrive, and ladies would queue up to get some thing different for their families – such items as oranges, or bananas, or liver or hearts in the butchers. Any, occasionally, if there were enough, we on the staff would be allocated a few of these precious items, and I would bear them home to Mum. By the way, I forgot to mention that my first wage when I started work was 16shillings and eight pence – that is 83p. in to-days money. And that was for a 5 ½ day week. I gave it all to Mum, and she gave me two and six pence (l2 ½ p) pocket money. After the transfer I got an extra shilling a week, and an extra half-day off a week. I had Monday afternoon off and Wednesday afternoon when the shop shut early.
At the end of 1941, in December, the Japanese attacked the American base in Pearl Harbour, and this brought the United States into the war with us. It meant that they would fight the war in the Pacific together with our Fleet and soldiers in India, and also send troops to help us fight the Nazis in Europe. It was a great relief to everyone, for Mr. Churchill had been trying to get help from the U.S.A for a long time.

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