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- Edith Dean
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- 23 June 2005
My name is Edith Dean. I was born in London and I thought I should always live in London, but after I got married I moved away from London. I was born on 29th February, 1920.
I was in London before I was called up and I’d travel by train. You’d see out of the train a family stood outside, with a skeleton of a house. They’d be standing there with all their furniture all scattered around all over the place. It really was so frightening. It was pathetic to see it happening.
There was a sense of community — you helped each other a lot. Sometimes after an air raid there would be somebody there whose house had been bombed, and we’d go and help them or do something to comfort them. It wasn’t a pleasant time by any means. But everybody helped each other, there was more help going on between people in those days I think.
My mother was a widow, my father had already died. My father died at quite an early age, before the war and in fact I think he was in the Electricity Works so he’d have been in a reserved occupation. My mother was at home on her own more-or-less but she did go to some relatives after a while and stayed in the country, but I wanted to be in London.
When I was called up, I suppose I was in my early twenties. I was called up into the ATS. I started off as a private but I ended up as a sergeant. You got a bit more money that way.
We had training to begin with — that was tough. There was nearly always someone who was out of step so the whole of the unit had to do it all over again, because there was some stupid woman who wasn’t putting the right foot forward. She wouldn’t be very popular. We all had to do it again, it wasn’t just the girl who was doing it wrong, we all had to do it.
I was in the Royal Corp of Signals as a teleprinter operator sending messages all over, which was very interesting. It was a full-time job. We had a morning and then an evening shift, and then an afternoon and a night shift and then next day we had the day off because you had been on night duty. So it was really hard work.
Some days we were very, very busy but some nights we weren’t quite so busy. In fact it was better if it was busy because it was something for you to do, but if you were just sitting about doing nothing, then it was a bit boring. It just happened as to what was going on at the time.
The teleprinter were almost like an ordinary machine but what you was printing was going somewhere way away, you know, a long way away, so they were like a telephone service I suppose, you might say. But what we were printing was going out a long way away. It was like an early computer.
We didn’t know what was in a lot of the messages because they were in code — five letters to a group, so we didn’t know the contents of the message itself because it was sent in code. They were x, y’s and z’s, so you just had to print what you got in front of you. We had to be absolutely accurate.
Part of the time I was working in London. I was born in London, so London was my hometown you might say. We were usually stationed in a unit somewhere in your own accommodation. My unit was in the Royal Corp of Signals. I was in various places in London.
London was bombed quite a lot so that wasn’t so very pleasant. I was in no more danger than anyone else there, it was a matter of chance as much as anything. It might be just a stray bomb dropped, they weren’t always dropped in one place. Sometimes I think some of the airman found they got a bomb they didn’t want and just fired it.
My uniform was a shirt, a collar and tie, a jacket and a skirt, and we did have a pair of trousers, we could wear at certain times but on parades you had your tunic and your skirt. And you couldn’t be seen without your cap on when you were walking about the street. If you’d gone without it, you used to say “Oh my God, I’ll be on the carpet for this one”. They were very strict but that’s just part of the game, isn’t it. It was “You do as I’ll say and we’ll get along fine” — and that was what my husband used to say to my sons too.
The social life in the services was fun because there was nearly always something going on somewhere, a dance here or a dance there. We always had to go in uniform, we couldn’t go in civvies, in fact we didn’t have any civilian clothes with us, it was the ATS uniform all the time. You got into trouble in you weren’t smart. There was a sergeant who would come along and say “Oi get rid of that”, she would say, if you were untidy or something. But you did it automatically anyway when you got dressed, you made sure that your attire was right — hat on straight, and that was a thing, you had to wear your hat on all the time when you were out.
I spent all of the war in the ATS and at the end we were demobbed, but gradually, we didn’t all go at the same time, you used to have to wait for your turn to be demobbed. There was good companionship in the ATS, you were all in the same boat. We all used to help each other and when I think about it now there were times when things were reasonably good but there were times when you thought, “Oh God, what am I doing here — I wish I was at home”. I don’t regret having gone into the services, it was an experience but we felt we were doing our war effort.
I had worked for an insurance company so I left them and then I went back after the war a while and after that I got married and had a family and that was a different thing altogether. I was married after the war. Because my birthday is on 29th February, I only get a birthday once every four years! My husband was a Scotsman and he used to get ribbed, they’d say “Trust a Scotsman to find a wife who only has a birthday every four years” — but he wasn’t mean that way. I’ve got two sons now, one in the police force and one in the Navy, and their teacher at school said “What does your dad do, make uniforms?”
The war all seems like a bad dream now — its faded a lot in my mind, it’s not as clear as it used to be, it feels as if I’m telling a story.
I just hope there will never be another war because it doesn’t solve anything, does it? It’s just complete loss of civilian life, innocent people being killed, that’s the sad part about it. It isn’t the people who start the war that get killed, is it. But I never thought there would be another war after the ‘14-’18 War, that was the war to end all wars, but it didn’t work out that way did it? War doesn’t do any good does it, its just loss of innocent lives, that never done any harm.
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Genevieve Tudor of the BBC Radio Shropshire Action Desk on behalf of Edith Dean and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
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