- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Mrs. E M Clark
- Location of story:
- Southampton, Andover and Portsmouth.
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 15 November 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War web site by a volunteer on behalf of Mary Clark and has been added to the site with her permission. She fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
Mary Clark’s War Memories.
Happy days at school, being a member of the choir, enjoying Athletics, Hockey and awarded my Netball Colours. Weekly Girl Guide Meetings allowed by my Father, only because they took me out on a Friday evening and so would not interfere too much with my homework. During that hot summer term, we sat at desks spaced out in the Assembly Hall for School Certificate examination papers — even having to cope with Geometry on my 16th birthday.
Then it was away to Guide camp, this year near Petersfield in North Hampshire. We called our Group ‘Band Wagon’ after the popular programme on the wireless, with comedians Arthur Askey and Richard Murdoch. Two days with heavy rain did not worry us — we dried out and had fun with all the activities, which included swimming in the pool at the nearby ‘Bedales’ public school.
By the end of august — what a great deal had happened. My father had reported to the RAF Station at Thorney Island as he was on the Reserve List. There was an Anderson Air Raid Shelter in the back garden where a cherry tree used to grow and we had Gas Masks in square cardboard boxes with string attached, enabling these to be carried across the shoulder. My School buildings had been taken over by the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) organization. Many sand bags were used as a protection to these buildings including the new Gymnasium. How we looked forward to using this great new facility for the first time, next term.
On 1st September the Blackout commenced and on the 1st and 2nd September thousands of School Children were taken by train to a country areas away from the prime target of Southampton. My brother and I had not been registered as evacuees, so were not involved.
Then on that calm Sunday morning, 3rd September 1939, sitting in the Dining Room — my mother, younger brother Michael, an aunt and a young cousin, listening to the wireless — the news came from Mr. Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, that we were at war with Germany.
Next week a letter arrived saying I had the Oxford School Certificate in 8 subjects and with London University Matriculation meant that I could move into the VIth Form for other studies. BUT did I wish to be an evacuee and spend the next two years away from my family? I decided to go to Andover, where my school (Itchen Secondary School) shared with Andover Grammar School (both Co-educational). They used the school during the morning and we were there in the afternoon. I would join the Commercial VIth Form for a one year course, training in Secretarial work.
I was billeted with Mr.and Mrs. Wheeler (and Jock the dog). He was director in a Building Firm and an Undertaker (they went together in those days)
In January 1940, I decided that the Commercial VIth was not for me and I would stay in Andover and join the VIth Form with Pure Mathematics, Chemistry, Botany and Geography as my subjects. Mr.and Mrs. Wheeler were very supportive — I had my own single bedroom and facilities for my homework which took many hours.
The Headmaster’s Secretary, Miss Jean Gordon was the Girl Guide District Commissioner for Bitterne. She gathered together all girls who were members of various Guide Companies in Southampton and we met at her house to begin with and then at a hall in Wolversdene Road. As new recruits joined, this Group was registered as the 1st Merry Oak Guide Company and is still meeting today — now known as the 4th Southampton East. Camping was not permitted near the South Coast but we carried out War Service when older members helped in the Canteen for the Forces. There had been no air raids so I spent many weekends at home in Southampton, sometimes traveling by train but cycling as weather permitted and we came home for the Summer Holidays.
13th August 1940 was a happy day shopping with my Mother and Brother. Clutching a large bag containing a new coat — mink in colour — how much nicer to wear on Sunday than the boring navy blue school coat, we waited for a bus to take us home. What is that strange noise? — an aircraft? — but, there was no air raid warning. It comes closer and on looking up, from behind a cloud an aircraft does appear, flying low and clearly visible the black cross on this German plane. We see bombs falling and then a loud explosion. Ther are two elderly men sitting on a seat in Houndwell Park near to us. “Lie down Ma’am, never mind your clothes!” one of them shouts. We go down onto the ground. What was to happen now? A column of smoke rises behind the buildings immediately in front of us, in the direction of the New Docks. No more bombs. The Ack Ack guns go into action — too late. We get up from the ground and I saw blood on my hand, a cut from a piece of glass and a clean handkerchief dealt with this. The bus arrived and we did arrive home safely, with my new coat undamaged. This lone. Low flying raider had arrived undetected and delivered a direct hit on the Great Cold Store where 2,000 tons of imported butter went up in unquenchable flames. I leaned later that a Dock’s Fireman, wading in molten fat, cried to his mate — “Fancy Ern, all this flaming butter and no ruddy bread”. On such occasions there are acts of bravery — a Dock labourer carried to safety an unconscious Ack Ack gunner, wounded from shells exploding in the intense haet. He was awarded the George Medal.
Barrage Balloons were hit by low flying enemy aircraft and went up in flames. Our nearest ones were ‘Connie’ based in the grounds of the Convent and ‘Vera’ based at the Veracity Ground. They were raised often before an Air Raid Siren was sounded. On another day in August my friend, Marian and I were sheltering under a hedge near Corhampton Down having been on a cycle ride. It was a sunny day with a beautiful blue sky and we watched a ‘Dog fight’. Flight Lieutenant J Nicholson became the first fighter Victoria Cross holder of the war. In his Hurricane he was hit by cannon shells from the German plane setting his aircraft on fire and wounding him, but he engaged and destroyed the enemy plane and then baled out. We watched these planes come crashing to the ground and our pilot descend by parachute, not knowing how badly burned he was. He landed safely in the Southampton Dock area where there is now a memorial stone.
One afternoon we heard the drone of enemy aircraft — no air raid warning — and looking from the back door saw bombs descending and then loud explosions. This low flying invader had hit Vickers Supermarine Works in Woolston where the Spitfire aircraft were manufactured. Many workers were killed including a neighbour. This factory was completely destroyed in September. We spent many nights in the Anderson air raid shelter until water came in and then sometimes took refuge under the dining room table. The shelter had a cement ‘lining’ put in and we were able to use it again, sometimes taking our meal with us, running from the kitchen with egg and bacon for breakfast.
My brother, Michael, had passed the Scholarship from Scholing Boys School and came to Andover in September. He was billeted with Eric Kneller, with Mrs. Franklin in Barlows Lane, quite close to me in Winchester Road. We walked at weekends with Jock, the dog. My Mother moved to Sturminster Newton for a time and then to live in Norman House, Emsworth with my Father and near to Thorney Island, the Coastal Command Air Base. Returning to Andover after the Summer holidays one night in November there was a continual drone as enemy bombers flew overhead going North and then returning — an eerier feeling and we learnt next day that Coventry had been their target.
Two weeks later, on 30th November and 1st December, looking South we saw the sky lit up by the blitz on Southampton — our home town. One stick of bombs had exploded underground and made a huge crater outside our front gate. The woodwork under the catches of all our casement windows had shattered but no windows were broken. The house was left empty during the rest of the war and on returning I found that my Teddy Bear had to be burnt because he was eaten by moths.
At school we had the use of the Swimming Pool and I learnt to dive from the edge and we played tennis. In July I had to take the examinations for the London University Intermediate B.Sc. These were our School’s higher exams and were held at University College, Southampton. (Now the University). I traveled daily from Andover by train. On one occasion the railway line, just east of the tunnel from Southampton Station had been hit by a bomb. The very crowded train on a very hot evening traveling back to Andover had me sitting on a milk churn. During one exam the air raid siren sounded and the invigilator said we could go to the shelter but as there was no sound, we kept our seats and kept writing.
This was the end of my school days and I moved to Emsworth where my Mother was now living as our home in Southampton had been damaged in the air raids. I had passed my higher examinations and had to register for War Service as I was 18 years old. What was to hap[pen to me now? I was posted to HMS Vernon in the Mine Design Department. This was a shore establishment, based near Havant in two large country houses — Leigh Park and West Leigh — (having been bombed out of Portsmaouth in May 1941) The only uniformed personel were the Captain and his Deputy and the telephonists who were Wrens (WRNS). I was in the Trials Section at West Leigh.
A mine could be laid on the sea bed, off Spithead, with no explosives inside but scientific instruments, connected to cables which were brought ashore to a Hut on the beach at Stokes Bay. A ship arriving in port would be asked to make several runs over the mine. The reaction to the magnetism or acoustics of the ship was recorded on film in the Hut and a theodolite reading showed the relative position of the vessel. As a Guide, why had I to learn the Morse Code for one of my badges? Now I knew — as from the Mining Hut window I signaled by Aldis Lamp the position of the ship, on its run, in relation to the mine. I traveled by night sleeper from Euston station, in London’s black out, to Loch Long in Scotland, where similar experiments were carried out, as ships docked at Greenock on the Clyde. My first sighting of the new camouflaged Queen Elizabeth was from my hostel window as she sailed into the Clyde from the USA. We were prepared to deal with Germany’s magnetic and acoustic mines. Cdr. Ouvrey had the German magnetic mine which was washed up on the Essex coast brought to West Leigh. Our working hours were long, finishing at 6.o pm and I remember my first salary was £120 per annum.
We joined the Portsmouth Netball League, playing against Service teams. There were so few females at our Establishment and the men organized a practice area on the old tennis court and played against us during lunchtime breaks. Our ‘opponents’ were tall and scored many goals and one was Francis Crick who later discovered the DNA molecule. This coaching must have paid off as we won the Challenge Cup for two years. As a civilian I had to join the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) and was attached to the local First Aid Post. The men joined the Home Guard and we learnt to fire a rifle with them. I kept my interest in Guiding and became the Lieutenant with the 1st Emsworth Girl Guide Company and we were able to meet weekly.
1942 — 1945.
I was living in Emsworth during this time with my Mother who was working for the Admiralty in the finance department. We had rationing and I remember the dried egg in tins — it was OK. The little cinema was open and I went to Ballroom Dancing classes. The Girl Guide Company met on Saturday mornings but we were not allowed to camp, as we were so close to the South Coast. We carried out War Service helping at the Forces Canteen. There were air raid warnings and I was on call for the local First Aid Post.
My job involved my travel to West Leigh (by bicycle) or to Stokes Bay via the Gosport ferry from Portsmouth or to Scotland, staying at Coulport, Loch Long. My Father had been transferred to Iceland, serving with the RAF Coastal Command at the American Air Force Base at Reykjavic. In December 1943 we received a small parcel for Christmas containing sweets and chocolate, which he had saved from his rations from the Americans. This was my first taste of POLO sweets — the mint with the hole. He was later transferred to Northern Ireland with the RAF near Londonderry.
In February 1942, I remember, vividly, seeing a Swordfish (Biplane called the String Bag) with a torpedo slung beneath its undercarriage setting of from Thorney Island. I learned later that the two German Pocket Battleships — Scharnhorst and Gneuisenau were escaping from the Atlantic, keeping close to the French Coast on route to Germany. They made it — the Swordfish did not stand a chance!
1944 saw the build up to D Day. Every available space was filled with equipment and soldiers — the Canadians near here. — and then, on 6th June 1944 they were gone, Operation Overlord was happening. The Free French Army had been living in a camp near here and now that was empty. I saw Halifax planes towing Horsa gliders, which could have been on their way to Arnhem in Southern Holland on 17th September 1944.
Soon after D Day, on 13th June jet propelled Flying Bombs — the V1 — arrived over Kent on the way to London. These ‘Buzz bombs’ or ‘Doodle bugs’ had a ‘chug chug’ engine, which stopped and in 20 seconds they hit the ground and exploded. Some did reach Hampshire and were frightening at first but we got used to them and they did not do much damage in the area. In September 1944 they were replaced by the V2 — a ballistic missile (first generation of rockets) — not reaching us in Hampshire and ending their arrivals on British Soil in March 1945.
8th May was VE Day, the ending of the war in Europe. I have no special memories of that occasion. However, I do remember hearing that Atomic Bombs had been dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima (6th August) and Hagasaki (9th August). Vivid pictures of the large mushroom shaped clouds. The Second World War was finally over on 15th August 1945 — VJ Day.
VJ Day was 15th August, marking the end of the war in the Far East and so the Second World War was finally over. I spent that evening in Guildhall Square, Portsmouth (with the Royal Navy) with a young Naval Officer I had met in Scotland. There was a huge Bonfire with singing and dancing as we rejoiced at the ending of war. I would not be needed to work on mines and depth charges any more — so what has the future in store for me? 1946 saw young men and women being de-mobbed from their jobs with His Majesty’s Service and I was to leave the Mine Design Department, HMS Vernon, Portsmouth. My Navy friend was away to Medical School in Scotland. He was interested in Radiology and we had talked about the future and possible importance of X-Rays.
As my Education had been interrupted by the war, I was eligible for a Further Education and Training Grant. I could have applied for a university place as I held the London Intermediate B.Sc. Certificate but did not wish to study and be a teacher. By this time my Father had left the RAF and my Brother was back at school in Southampton with my Mother and I was ‘in digs’ in Farlington, Portsmouth. Being home at for a weekend, I read in the local newspaper that a School of Radiography would be opening at the Royal South Hants and Southampton Hospital (RSH). Up to that time nearly all the training was based in London Hospitals. I became one of the first group of students and we began our training in September 1946. One had been in the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service), another had been in the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force), another was in the Land Army and another came from the Girls Grammar School. The course was for 2 years, included Diagnostic Radiography and Radiotherapy. We went straight into the Department (2 terms in X-Ray and 1 term in Therapy) having lectures at set times during each week.
The National Health Service (NHS) was born in July 1948 and after my qualification in September 1948 as a Member of the Society of Radiographers (MSR), which is now B.Sc. (Diagnostic Imaging), I became a junior Radiographer in the Diagnostic Department.
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