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15 October 2014
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The War Years by Jean Bowman

by johnwbarron

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Archive List > Women's Volunteer Groups

Contributed by 
johnwbarron
People in story: 
Jean Bowman, Jean Rule, Jenny Rule, Gillian Jane Rule, Gillian Jane Barron, Albert Horace Rule, Jerry Rule
Location of story: 
Ashington, Lynemouth, London, Ampleforth, York, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Normandy, 'St Manvieu'
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
A4178612
Contributed on: 
11 June 2005

In 1939 when the war started I worked in a lovely house on the outskirts of Lynemouth where the Manager of Lynemouth Colliery lived. Him, his wife and daughter lived there and it was on the coast of Northumberland. Often you would see German planes fighting with our planes, but no bombs dropped at the beginning.

I was called up from there to serve my country. I didnt go into any of the Services, I opted to go in the NAAFI which was a service to any of the services, Army , Navy or Air Force, to serve tea, cakes etc and a place for the men to meet up to chat or sing or play piano. I was sent to Ampleforth, a small village 18 miles from York. On my way there I never stopped crying. I had to find the YMCA to stay overnight, which was a task for me as I had never been away from home before. When I did find it all the beds were full and I had to sleep on a billiard table. No pillow or anything to cover me, so I had all my clothes on even my coat so you'll guess I never slept a wink. I cant even remember if I had any breakfast. I think not.

I had to find the station and get a train for Ampleforth which was very slow. I got off the train and a soldier also got off. He was very friendly and he carried my case for me and it was a mile to the camp. We eventually got there and I was taken to a nissan hut which had six single beds in it and I was allocated one next to the small iron store which never worked. There were three other girls there and another one came a few weeks later. She like me came from Ashington and we all got on quite well.

I started work next morning after been kitted out with a blue dress, a kind of uniform and a blue and white band to put on my head. We started work cleaning tea and coffee urns and scrubbing benches and two soldiers lit a fire and filled a boiler outside to heat water for the tea and coffee. We opened the door at 10 o clock and there was always a queue of soldiers waiting to get in. Every month we got cigarettes and chocolate and each soldier got one packet of cigs and one bar of chocolate. We did also. I ate the chocolate and sent the cigs home to my Dad. We had a manageress who sorted everything out. She called me out one morning and said to the other girls " I want you all to wear your band on your head properly and have your hair tidy like Jean always has " Was I embarrassed but the girls never mentioned it afterwards.

Every morning one of the girls had to go to the mens cookhouse for the hot water for the manageress to wash herself.

One morning the soldiers had to dig us out of the nissan hut as it had snowed heavily in the night and the snow was nearly to the top of our door. The hut was in a dip covered with trees. I think the men’s huts were the same, I never saw them but I think they were, to hide them from the enemy I suppose, we were very isolated, a Post Office and a small Hotel in which Evelyn Laye the famous musical singing star used to stay when she came to her husband, Frank Lawton, who was a Captain in the KRRC's who we were with.

One night we walked to Oswaldkirk Country Hall to a dance. On the way back it was dark and we had to walk through a small wood. The soldiers who were on guard heard us coming and shouted "Halt who goes there. Stop and be recognised" and we heard the guns. We shouted "We are the NAAFI girls, don't shoot" of course they knew who we were and we all had a good laugh afterwards.

One or two of the soldiers asked me out but I declined. There was nowhere to go anyway, just walks. I had finished with my boyfriend back home. Anyway there was this one soldier took an interest in me but never asked me out but one night when I finished work there he was waiting outside for me. I asked him why and he said " I'll just walk you to your hut " and we talked a lot. They called him Jerry and that happened every night until one night he had two tickets for a play at Ampleforth College. Quite a walk, but I went and enjoyed it. It was ENSA I think and the college trained Catholic Priests. He then asked me if I had any leave due and I said yes and he asked if I would like to go to London with him, his Mother said I was welcome. They wern't bombing at that time in 1940 but my Dad said I was not to go but I went and had a marvelous time as his brother was home on leave from the Navy (Fred) and his brother- in- law from the Army. They showed me all the sights and we went to a few shows. Alas it was over too soon and back to the grindstone.

One Saturday the lads were going to York and Jerry asked me to go. I wasn’t allowed in the army truck, so I went on the bus and met up in York. Jerry took me to Betty's for a meal and we trudged round York till it was truck time. It was dark by now so they let me in the back of the truck. All the soldier were grabbing me to sit on their knee but Jerry kept a tight hold of my arm... I think he was jealous, never mind I think everyone got the message that we were an item.

One weekend the soldiers went on manouvers and the Captain asked the Manageress if we would mind having some tea and rock cakes ready for the boys getting back as it would be very late but we didn’t mind. It was after midnight and they still weren't back and then we heard this almighty noise, a German Bomber flew very low over the NAAFI then a few more. We were under the tables by then. There was these almighty thuds quite near we thought. Over our NAAFI must have been the flight path. In the middle of this the boys landed back with no lights on their trucks. I don’t know how they did it on small windy country lanes. We served them all not showing how frightened we were. The British fighters were up firing at the bombers. I thought if they hit one, we wouldn’t even have time to say our prayers if they fell on us. However it stopped eventually after three hours. In the morning we learned they had bombed York Station and had hit a place where there were Nuns and Children. I believe one man and some children were killed, it was terrible.

Soon after I was sent to Helmsley, on my own and the girl that was there I couldn’t like, as much as I tried, I couldn't. I thought about what Jerry's mother had said about me being good company for Jerry's sister, the same age as me, so I went to the office where you saw about these things and I was told I could leave the NAAFI, return my uniform and go into war work. I was quite willing to do that. The girl I worked with asked if I would give her my uniform and I could send hers back as mine. I was soft in those days so I said yes. I had only worn mine to travel when going on leave. Hers was a disgrace, no buttons, torn and filthy. I don’t know what they would think when I returned it as mine. I worried for ages about it thinking I would get into trouble.

It was now 1941 and I got to London and got a job in the same week in a factory that made things for inside aircraft.. The place where Jerry's sister Doris worked. There was no bombs when I first went but they soon started. The bombs would start and explode and we would be up for most of the night, go to bed for a couple of hours and get up for work. I had two buses to catch and they hardly had any lights on and the conductor who collected the fares would walk in front of the bus carrying a little light to show the bus the road. What with the dark and the smog it was a nightmare. I fell down steps on two mornings and hurt myself because you could not see. There was a lot of smog in London at that time. We would just get to work and the siren would go and down the shelter we would go, bombs dropping all around us but not on us thank the Lord.

I made a friend at the factory called Lilian and she asked me to go to the pictures with her one night. I said ok but Doris wouldn’t go. In the middle of the film the bombs started dropping so we decided to come out the cinema as we thought it was going to fall down. We hurried down the street and the shrapnel was falling all around us. We kept running into shop doorways. I honestly don’t know how we were not hit. It was frightening. I was really lucky as the house where I lived was never hit but it came close sometimes. The house at the end of the street was blown to smithereens and all around us. Jerry's brother and family were bombed out of there houses three times, poor souls, they were left with nothing.

Time went on and Jerry came on fourteen days leave and we talked about getting married. I said I would have to ask my Dad and of course he said no. Jerry said " I'll write to him " I don't know what he said but he told Jerry yes. We would have to wait for Jerry's next long leave so it was arranged for 8th August 1942. at St Mary’s Church in Walthamstow. We were still avoiding the bombs. Jerry's sister Rose had the Wedding dress etc and said I could borrow them but I didn’t want too. I just wanted a very quiet affair as only my Dad and Uncle Will who lived with us at home were coming. Anyway the day arrived and my Dad would not give me away so my Uncle Will did. We were married at 10 o clock in the morning and the siren went, it was also pouring with rain but we just carried on and it all went well. The few of us had lunch and then Jerry and I took Dad and Uncle Will to Kings Cross Station to catch the train for home. When we got back Jerry's brothers and family's all arrived and they stayed that long they all had to stay the night. The kids slept on the only bed that was not taken down and all us grownups slept on a big mattress on the floor. It poured with rain all day.

When I got a letter from my Uncle Will a few days later he said they didn’t get off at Newcastle, as it was very dark and they thought it was York. There were no signs up during the war and no lights, it was difficult. They got off the next stop and had to walk miles back to Ashington.
I think I stayed at Jerry's folks another year. We started getting grumpy with each other and I was very unsettled and wanted to be home and I told Jerry I was going. He said I couldn’t, as I had to do war work so he came on a weekend pass and said he would arrange for me to see someone, which he did. SAAFA wrote to me to go and see someone and they arranged for me to be released from the factory as long as I got work at home I could go. I worked two weeks notice and got the train home and Jerry's next leave he came to Ashington. I introduced him to all my relations and took him to my Aunties farm and allover. My Uncle took him down the Coal Mine but he said he wouldn’t work down there for a million pounds. On that leave in 1943 I fell pregnant, we were both stunned as we were as green as grass and in those days you didn't talk about sex to each other. Never mind, Gillian was born on Saturday January 29th 1944 at 6.45am. I told Jerry to keep his leave until I came out of hospital so he came home when Gillian Jane was a month old and we had her Christened then. I think he had one more weekend at home and he walked the floor at night with Gillian as she did cry a bit.

I started getting letters from 'Somewhere in England' and that’s where I had to write too. No more leave. I didn’t know until afterwards they were getting ready for 'D'Day . I think I had one letter from him about a week before 'D'Day and then no more after that. It was in August I got a letter saying he was missing but could be a Prisoner of War. My sister wrote and told his people. A fortnight later I got another letter and my Dad offered to open it but I opened it myself. The first thing I saw was a death certificate. He had been killed on July 26th one day after his 27th birthday in Jessel Wood near Caen in France. His grave is in St Manvieu Cemetery in France. But his personal belongings they sent to me were disgusting. It was the writing paper and envelopes that had been in the sea ( when they were going ashore in France) and a pullover with the back all bullet holes, that was all. no watch, ring or 9 kt gold pen. I was getting £2.00 a week when he was alive but after he was killed it went down to 11/- and Gillian’s baby food was 10/- a tin so I had 1/- a week to live on. I don't know what I would have done without my parents, my Uncle Will, my brother and my Aunt Flo. They were very good to us. Later on I was sent £72 from the government, which I used for essentials. I always took Gillian to London every year to see her Dads family and to this day we all keep in touch and visit each other.

One day I had Gillian out walking when we were at Jerry's mothers for a holiday and I met this soldier when he was with Jerry when he was killed. He said Jerry was hit and lay three days bleeding to death as the battle was so fierce and the Medics couldn’t get to them. That was awful as I had a letter from his Officer saying he was a brave upstanding person and a good leader and had not suffered. That upset me terribly. I also had a letter from Princess Alice Louise who was head of the Ladies Section of the KRRC and they sent Gillian a Christmas card every year until she was 16 yrs old then they sent her a small amount of money when she was 21. I forget how much now. Also when she started school they sent a parcel of clothes.

Gillian was 9yrs old when I met and married a lovely man who was a great Dad to Gillian and he got on great with all Gillian’s relatives in London.

Well! That was my War. Not very interesting but there you go, it is all very clear in my head. I am now 85 years old, 60 years after the War, I lost my 2nd husband 18yrs ago and Gillian is married with two children who are both married with children so I have five Great Grandchildren. Super.

Jerry was a nickname his real name was Cpl Albert Horace Rule, No. 6848626, 12th Kings Royal Rifle Corps. (now known as The Royal Green Jackets)

In Winchester Cathedral is the KRRC chapel and there is a book locked in a glass case with the names of all the men who were killed in the War. from the regiment. One day my second husband Tommy took me there. We met one of the Vergers as we walked in and asked him if we could look in the book. He opened the case and found Jerry's name and left us to read it. Just then the organ started playing. It was a very emotional few moments. I couldn’t stop the tears and Tommy just hugged me and I thought what a lovely thing for him to do.

In 1996 my daughter and her husband took me to France to St Manvieu to see Jerry's grave and to tour the Normandy Beaches, which was very nice and interesting to see.

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