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- The Lancaster family
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- 08 December 2003
The Lancaster family
When the blitz started my father decided to take me, aged 4, to family in Nottingham, my older sister, aged ll, having already been evacuated with her school to St. Albans. At the very last moment my parents decided that my mother should go instead (I was a real Mummy's girl and a real pain in the neck!). Consequently, the casualty lists showed my mother's name and not my father's- but I'm getting ahead of myself.
No sooner had we arrived at my Aunt's house the very same evening my mother received a telegram asking her to return at once as Bill (my father) had been hurt. She later told me she knew at once that he had been killed although some kindly Nuns on the return train tried to reassure her. The train had to wait for several hours outside St. Pancras Station as the bombing raids were so bad. When it finally drew in she was met by her brother and brother-in-law who had to inform her that her husband was dead and she had lost everything as the house had received a direct hit. It was also discovered that the Anderson shelter in the garden had also been destroyed. My father was in the shelter as two young women were there together with their two children and my father knew that they were very nervous during the raids. They were also killed but my father's body was found on top of the little ones who both survived. The local press said he was a hero.
My mother was totally devasted but she had to get a job as she now had two children to support. She became the first Clippie (Bus Conductress) out of Chalk Farm Garage and had no uniform, nor ladies' loo. Her interviewer was a Mr. Lancaster, a not very common name in the South of England. She later trained other Clippies but at first, on every free day, she would go to Finchley Cemetery where my father was buried along with thousands of other air-raid victims, seven or eight to a grav e. My mother stayed on the buses all through the war, witnessing some terrible scenes as the No. 24 bus went from Hampstead to Pimlico. One woman panicked as the bus travelled along during a raid and jumped off straight into an exploding bomb and was blown to pieces. Strangely, my mother's time on the buses helped her to rebuild her life and she only left when she was forced to, having been diagnosed as having a heart defect. I believe her heart problem was a direct result of all she had suffered. Incidentally, all through the war she was taxed as a single woman , male conductors joking that she must be a woman of property to be so highly taxed. When the mistake was discovered she only received one year's back-payment . Eventually my mother found contentment with a lovely man whom she married when my own son was eighteen months old, many years later. Sadly they only had seven years together when she was widowed for a second time.
For the whole duration of the war I was left in Nottingham,acquiring a Midlands accent! I would play with London evacuees who lived in a Bevan Boys' hostel and suffered from fits as a result of their exposure to the raids. Nuns cared for them and told us children simply to let them know each time a child fell writhing to the ground and on no account to touch them. I wasn't told about the death of my father until I was seven, by which time I had forgotten him completely - something which now saddens me. I was a fairly solitary child and can clearly remember that each day I would borrow a book from the school library, read it and get another the next day (they were only infants' books). I loved my school and everyone was very kind to me. We even danced around a maypole on May Day; we were a pack of cards and I was the Ace of Clubs. My mother would come to see me from time to time, bringing vast amounts of sweets which she had acquired on the black market! I thought she was an angel as she had golden hair and was so kind to me. She even carried me through snow drifts in the Winter until my Aunt brusquely reminded her that I had to manage on my own when she wasn't around!
At the end of the war I returned to London to find my grandmother waiting for me with a doll which had a china head and a cloth body. How I loved that doll! Otherwise I was a complete stranger to my family and life wasn';t easy for any of us, my mother and sister now having to cope with a stroppy child! I also had to lose my accent in a hurry if I wanted to survive! I also found that my education far exceeded that of the other children who had missed so much schooling. Neither did I appreciate being referred to as "Lancaster Bomber" a term which I now realize conveyed affection. When I took the 11+ (incidentally the first year to do so) I passed for the local grammar school. To my mother's dismay they refused to accept me, saying my older sister had left at l4, wasting a place which could have gone to someone else. My sister stormed up to the school and told them they had no right to punish me for her behaviour and so they changed their minds.
My sister had had a sad war. She was in St.Albans with her school and her birthday was 6th October when she had been promised a new watch by our father. He was killed five days earlier, on lst October and her young uncle and his fiancee had to travel to St.Albans to tell her the awful news. She had idolised my father and began to run away every weekend. Eventually they had to allow her to stay in London at the emergency school. She never settled down and they had to allow her to leave at l4. She later told me that during the latter part of the war she had become quite blase about going to the shelter until our flat (my mother had been rehoused by a Housing Association ) shook from the blast of a nearby explosion and all the windows were smashed! After that she went to the shelter!
It was only two years ago that I discovered that my father's name was included in the commemorative volumes listing all the civilian casualties of the War in Westminster Abbey. A Marshall very kindly allowed me to photograph his entry for my son and grandson to see. We all now live in Southern Spain (my grandson was even born here) but London will always be dear to me for it contained the lives of my parents. And I shall always be grateful that, because of the sacrifices made by them and so many others, we are able to live a peaceful and free life.
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