Winnie aged 19
- Contributed by
- Marion Brown
- People in story:
- Winnie Russell, Louisa Annie Russell, Walter Thomas Russell, Leslie Edwin Russell, Arthur John Russell, Frederic Walter Russell, Betty Russell
- Location of story:
- Poole, Dorset
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 20 October 2004
My mother, Winnie, was sixteen when war broke out. Her three older brothers went into the forces, Fred into the army and Les and Art into the navy.
Winnie had to do war work and was sent to a factory called Diamond Dies, where industrial diamonds were drilled and used to measure the thickness of wires used in aircraft radios. The perimeter of the factory was guarded by policemen, one of whom was her brother Fred who was a voluntary policeman while waiting for his call up. Every time the workers left or entered the premises they had to show their ID. Winnie and some of her friends would sneak out at lunch time under the perimeter fence to go for a walk on the nearby heath, and one day, as they were crawling back, she was caught by her brother who demanded her ID card...which was in her handbag in the factory. He didn't report her, but threatened to if she ever broke the rules again.
During air raids they were supposed to go down into the shelter but often Winnie and the other girls stood on the top and watched the planes overhead. The shelter was a huge packing crate sunk into the ground which had been used by the factory owner,a Jewish gentleman, to bring his possesions out of Europe just before the start of the war.
The Factory was next to St Clement's Church, and after an air raid the young girls were often worried in case a bomb had disturbed the graves and scattered bones around.
Winnie's eyesight was poor and after a while she could no longer cope with with the factory work. She left to work in Bright's bakery in Ashley Rd where the customers included Italian prisoners of war from the POW camp in Herbert Avenue. Even though she could not continue with her war work, Winnie wanted to do her bit to help, and took a first aid course. Her bandaging wasn't very good and her partner had to promise her that he wouldn't move so that her head bandage could pass the test.
Although there was a public air raid shelter in the recreation ground, Winnie and the family did not go there. My grandmother, Annie, refused to leave the house. Then a land mine, falling in the next road, brought down the bedroom ceilings and pinned Annie in bed. After that they all slept on the living room floor. This was not witout problems. One night, Winnie's brother Les, who was home on leave, came home late from a dance in Bournemouth. He had walked all the way in the blackout,having missed the last bus at nine o'clock. My grandfather, Walter, was very strict, and locked the front door at ten o'clock, whether everyone was home or not, but Winnie had managed to unlock it again so that her brother could let himself in. When he finally got home Les lit a candle so as not to wake everyone up,and placed it on the floor while he found a place to sleep. He was soon snoring away. A little while later Winnie woke up to the smell of burning. The candle had tipped over and set fire to her sister Betty's hair!
The same land mine that pinned my grandmother in bed had blasted one of Winnie's friends right out of her house and into the garden, where she woke up uninjured and still tucked up in her bed!
Twice German planes were brought down in the area and Winnie and her friends hurried to Cranbrook Rd to try and get some of the silk from the pilot's parachute. The other plane landed in the back garden of a shoe shop.
When the little ships left to go over to the beaches of Dunkirk to collect the stranded troops, Winnie stood on the viewpoint at Constitution Hill and watched some of them go out from Poole.
After Dunkirk, Winnie's brother Fred was sent home on leave, and was brought back to land in Poole Harbour in one of the aircraft known as Flying Boats.
Entertainment was mostly the cinema or dances in Poole or Bournemouth, although the blackout and an early last bus meant that they couldn't stay out late. Poole Park became a meeting place for Winnie and her friends, often strolling with some of the soldiers who were based in the area or home on leave. The park railings had, of course, long since disappeared for the war effort.
As D-Day approached more and more military traffic rolled past their house and Poole was out of bounds. People who lived in the town and around the Quay area had to have passes to go to work and get back home again.
After the troops had left, people went over to Canford Heath to try and get some of the tins of corned beef and other food which had been dumped by the Americans when they left for France. Winnie's father managed to get an empty ammunition box which served as a sturdy tool box for many years to come.
Just after D-Day, Winnie's fiance, a Canadian soldier, was posted abroad and never came back again.
Winnie's war wasn't dramatic, but her life and that of her family was touched and changed by it, just like every other ordinary family all over the country.
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