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15 October 2014
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Wartime Memories: Working as a Red Cross Nurse in Horshamicon for Recommended story

by West Sussex Library Service

Contributed by 
West Sussex Library Service
People in story: 
Cecilia Ralph, Dora Etheridge
Location of story: 
Horsham
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A2773505
Contributed on: 
23 June 2004

Written on behalf of Cecilia Ralph by Crawley Library.

From May 1941 to December 1942, I used to work as a Red Cross nurse at the Base Hospital at Horsham. One night when there had been bombing locally, an injured German airman was brought in. I had to clean his single ward and give him meals, but I was forbidden to speak to him. Which was a shame, because he was just like one of our soldiers over there. One day a Spitfire flew over the hospital. The airman gave a big smile and pointed his finger to the sky, saying, “Ah, Spitfire!” At the same time, one of my sisters was working as an Assistant Nurse, as she had had some training. On my ward there was a young soldier who had TB in a toe, which had been amputated. One day my sister saw him and thought she rather liked him! She asked him to come to tea. My youngest sister saw him and instantly fell in love. Eventually she married him. Joan was left out in the cold. Unfortunately, the Canadians took over and that was when I went to the munitions factory.

At the end of 1941, I started working at the Crawley Aircraft and Precision Tool Company. There I met Ian Ralph and we fell in love. During 1942 Ian was moved to Tottenham to work and I was devastated. My home was in Horsham, so I travelled to work by train. I used to write to him every day on the journey. I was on night work at the time and at the end of the shift I would walk to the station. As there was time to spare before the train came I would wait on the Crawley Post Office step for the Post office to open at 8.30 and then I would buy a stamp and post Ian’s letter. One day in February 1943 it was pouring with rain, so I went straight to the station knowing I would pass a little corner shop on the way home in Horsham where I could buy a stamp. My friend Dora Etheridge, who was night nurse at the factory, was standing on the platform already so I joined her and suddenly the rain stopped and a shaft of sunlight appeared. We looked up to the sky and saw a plane caught in the sun’s beam and lots of little bombs were falling. They looked so pretty and my stupid mind didn’t know what they were — my tired mind I suppose. “Don’t they look pretty!” I said. “They’re bombs you fool!” she said. We threw ourselves down onto the platform and heard the bombs exploding. That evening when going to work I saw that the Post Office had been hit and realised God had been looking after me that morning. Ian and I were married a year later and had nine children. In 1983 Fred Gray from the University of Sussex edited a little book titled ‘Crawley Old Town, New Town’ and my fifth son Philip wrote the last chapter about growing up on Crawley New Town. A woman whose house I used to pass daily when taking my youngest child to school read the book and stopped me one day. She told me that she was working at the Post Office at the time. Knowing that I was always there in the morning, she told the rescue workers that I might have been there. They looked for me for a long time, but of course they didn’t find me there.

Ian and I married in February 1944. Ian had been called up into the RAF and we had 12 day’s notice to get married. After the ceremony and a small reception, we went up to London for the afternoon and evening (no honeymoon, alas). Before we went to a show, Junior Miss it was called, we went to the ABC cafeteria for a meal. I took one course and Ian took two. Whilst we were in the queue waiting to pay we heard heard a voice saying, “One course please, Air Vice Marshal!”. As Ian was wearing his RAF uniform, he spun around in dismay - only to find that he was the person referred to. Was his face red!

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