- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Mrs Pamela Joan Bousfield
- Location of story:
- Richmond, Surrey
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 23 May 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War website by Lynn Hughes on behalf of Mrs Pamela Joan Bousfield, the author and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
I was abroad when World War 2 began, taking a vacation course in French at Lausanne University, as a 16-year old school girl. The last letter from my parents told me to stay on there as I would be safer than in England; but the British Consulate in Lausanne instructed me to return to the U.K. and organised a very long special train. It had started somewhere in Eastern Europe and was already almost full when it reached Lausanne. We were a mixed lot of students, old people and whole families, many of whom had lived abroad for years and who were taking what we were told might be our last chance to return to England. We had been warned to take food with us, as there was none in the train and no chance to leave it to buy provisions. We were shut up in the train for a long, slow journey across France, shunted into railway sidings everytime that a French train needed to use the line. The French Army was being mobilised and the national railway network was exceptionally busy. It took us two uncomfortable days to get to the north coast. There it was pitch dark in complete blackout. As all the hundreds of people, young and old, struggled out of the train with more luggage than they could carry, they were given forms to fill in to declare and list all money that they had with them in every different currency. It was a ridiculous and almost hopeless task. I had only Swiss and English money but some had six or seven currencies. It was impossible for some to count and list it in the darkness and confusion. I tried to help an elderly couple who were quite unable to cope with their luggage, let alone the forms. By the time that we boarded the ferry every cabin and seat was occupied. We lay down in rows on the open deck as the ship zigzagged across the channel to avoid submarines. When I reached my home in St Margarets-on-Thames, none of my normally loving family was pleased to see me; they all said, “You were supposed to stay safely in Switzerland”. They were frantically busy making blackout curtains and hanging them at every window and sticking strips of tape to the window panes to prevent them from being shattered by the bombs which were expected to fall at any minute. I was promptly roped in to help.
In 1940 half the staff of my father’s solicitor's office on Richmond Green had joined the services and my father had the vacated rooms on the upper floors made into a flat for us and the large basement into a roomy air raid shelter, with great wooden beams supporting the ceiling. When the German bombing raids started on London, we soon got into a routine of going down there when the siren sounded at about 6 p.m. with our books, food, radio, sewing and my school homework; then upstairs again for breakfast after the “all clear”. During those long nights in the shelter the wireless was very important for interest and entertainment and the BBC news was compulsive. At 9pm on Sundays, as Big Ben struck the hour, we and millions of others were united in thought and spirit with our scattered families. I was the youngest and the only one still at home. We prayed for the safety of my eldest brother in the Friend’s Ambulance Unit in Birmingham, for my eldest sister, a medical student in Bristol, for my other brother in the Fleet Air Arm and for my other sister a nurse at the London Hospital in the dreadfully bombed East End of London. My father was an Air Raid Warden as well as an Alderman of Richmond Borough Council, so he had to go out often at night to meetings and on air raid patrol. I was needed at home to keep my invalid mother company. Fortunately we never had a direct hit on our house, but many times all the windows were blown out when a bomb fell nearby. We continued to spend time at our holiday home in Hurtwoods, near Shere in Surrey, bicycling the 20 miles if our slender petrol allowance was used up. There in the summer of the Battle of Britain, we watched the British and German fighter planes wheeling and weaving and circling in the sky above us and heard the spatter of bullets or shell cases falling in the hazel bushes around us as the dogfights went on. At night we could see the horrific red glow in the sky made by the bombing of London and the burning buildings there. Only one bomb fell on our land, leaving a crater; luckily it fell when we were not there.
At one time the Germans started dropping incendiaries; some were flares to illuminate an area where they then dropped bombs, but some of them contained explosive designed to injure those who tried to put them out. Every household was asked to keep ready a spade, with which to heap earth on the flames, and a dustbin lid to use as a shield for protection. When the first of these hundreds of flaming torches landed on Richmond Green, my father and I were standing at the windows momentarily entranced by the amazing and spectacular sight, like a huge fireworks display, which was doing little harm on the open grass area of the Green. Then suddenly we realised that they were landing also in the back gardens of our old houses. We rushed to fetch our spades and dustbin lids and spent the next half-hour digging earth from the flowerbeds to extinguish several that had fallen in our garden.
I went up to Oxford in 1941 to read French; when I came down in 1943 the Civil Services Commissioners, who asked which Ministry I would prefer, interviewed me. Wanting to learn more languages, I gave a preference for one with foreign contacts. I was placed in the North American department (Lend/Lease) of the Ministry of Supply.
In 1945 I became engaged to a Major in the Royal Artillery who was then working in the War Office. We celebrated V E Day with thousands of others; we met in Trafalgar Square and walked to Buckingham Palace. We shouted for the King and Queen to come out to the balcony and cheered them when they appeared. It was a thrilling day and we were an excited and happy throng. We then walked to my fiance's flat in Chelsea and I caught the last train home from Sloane Square to Richmond tired and happy.
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