- Contributed by
- BBC Southern Counties Radio
- People in story:
- Pat Smith (nee Hodge, nee Bunn)
- Location of story:
- Cheam, Surrey
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 31 May 2005
This story was submitted to the Peoples War site by a volunteer from BBC Southern Counties on behalf of Pat Smith and has been added to the site with her permission. Pat Smith fully understands the sites' terms and conditions.
It was 1939, and I was on the Isle of Wight during my school holiday with my parents. I could hear guns being fired, practising in the sky, and everybody was saying there wouldn’t be a war.
One morning we went down to the beach and my father took the radio with him. We heard on the radio that we were indeed at war. Father had to leave us right away because he was a bank inspector, and he had to go back to the bank and organise for money to be hidden. Mother and I stayed on the Isle of Wight for the rest of the holiday, amidst the practising of the anti-aircraft guns. We eventually got home to Cheam in Surrey, and things began to look more like war. My father returned, and began to build an Anderson shelter in the garden, which we thought was only for sitting up in during the day time raids which might come. He finished the shelter in the September of 1940, when we heard fighting up in the sky, aircraft wheeling around and rattling. We thought it was practise gun fire. This went on for a while, and then about ten minutes later, the air raid sirens went off. It was a genuine air raid and there were German fighters and our fighters up there battling it out. That was the first experience I had of the Battle of Britain. The all clear came soon after that.
The air raids then began to come in the day time. It was autumn and it was warm, and we would go down into the shelter but in the winter the night time raids came. My father said we couldn’t go down into the shelter, as it was far too cold, so we installed a Morrison table shelter in the dining room. It was a very strong steel table with steel mesh sides. We had sand bags outside the French windows. We went to bed under the table every night and could hear the german bombers coming overhead with a pulsing roar, thundering along. I was absolutely petrified. At that time they had the anti-aircraft guns close inland rather than on the coast. When it was all clear in the morning, before going to school after breakfast, I would go into the garden with a box and pick up all the bits of shrapnel and pieces of aircraft that had come down in the night and take them to school. All the kids did it, and we would compare what we had found in our back gardens that night. This went on for a long time.
I remember that Christmas, we opened the back door and the sky was bright orange. I was absolutely petrified. This was the great fire of London, the second great fire of London. At that particular time I was living in Cheam in Surrey, which was the flight path of all the German bombers that came over. They always came over the house. I heard them coming, throbbing. We didn’t get any bother from them, apart from the ones that were going home. If they hadn’t got rid of all their bombs they would drop them where we were living.
Sometimes when I went to school, to Sutton High School in the morning, I could see the road with a great big demolition of houses on one side where obviously a renegade bomb had come down in the night and had completely blown them to pieces. Two or three houses in one go. In those days the bombs were much smaller than they were toward the end of the war.
During the daytime air raids at school we had to go into the surface built ground shelters. They were only on the surface and offered little protection, but luckily no bombs came near us. The extraordinary thing was, it brought everybody together. In our road, we were all great friends as a result of the war and in between air raids the children would get together and play monopoly. This game was a large part of our lives in those days. It was how we passed the time. Another extraordinary thing, every so often in one or two gardens up or down our road, was this strange thing like a bird table, but it was painted with a special yellow/ green paint and it was called a gas table. It was in case there was a gas attack, and it would change colour if there was gas in the area. We all had gas masks, which we carried about with us everywhere. We had to practise putting the gas masks on and I absolutely hated it because I felt suffocated. It was a horrible thing to wear, but as it was going to save your life, then you had to do it. Fortunately, we never had to wear them.
Time went on much in the same vein, until the time of the doodlebugs in 1944. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but we heard buzzing, thundering, roaring things coming over and then cutting out, and then we would hear an explosion. We were told that it was an air raid from what were called doodlebugs.
They were flying rocket planes, in those days unmanned. With these wretched machines the siren would go. The anti-aircraft guns were put on the shore line to try and bring them down in the channel before they came over. Some of them did get through the anti-aircraft fire. They would come flying towards you and we would be down in the shelter, thinking “Oh my god, let’s hope it keeps going”. Once their engine cut out they would plummet to the ground. You could hear them thundering towards you and over you, and then you were all right. We would run back to the house and upstairs to see what was going to happen. They would cut out and fall to the ground and we could see the terrific explosion. It was only if they cut out before they reached you, that you were the probable victim. We survived and we came through it. We eventually moved to Suffolk away from the doodlebugs in 1944 and I was sent to boarding school which was evacuated from Felixstowe out into Riddlesworth near Diss, a lovely baronial hall where the Campion wine people had lived. We all lived in dormitories there, quite unmolested by German raids.
Of course in 1945, May 8th which was my 14th birthday, the end of the war was announced. The whole school were brought together to listen to Churchills’ announcement on the radio, and the next day we were given the day off. We were allowed to go out of bounds to the village and phone home. There was a very long queue for the only kiosk in the village. One by one, we phoned home to share the wonderful news. We went back to school, and ate birthday cake on our rugs in the meadow, It was a marvellous sunny day. It was my best birthday present ever, knowing there would be no more war, and no more air raids.
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