- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Hazel Malcolmson (nee Smith)
- Location of story:
- Plaistow, East London, and Loughton, Essex
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 23 March 2005
I was 2 years old when World War 1 started and I can remember the Zeppelins up in the sky. I was living in Plaistow at the time. They were very frightening. There were searchlights on them and one was brought down near where we lived. When the air raid siren went we went downstairs into the middle room because it only had one window and so it was safer. The Zeppelins were huge and I was very frightened.
When World War 11 was upon us we lived near a place where they put up barrage balloons and I found that quite disturbing because it reminded me of the Zeppelins and I thought “I can’t look at the sky now”.
In World War 11 my parents’ home was nearer the docks and all the bombing and they thought it would be safer to go and live in my brother’s house on the edge of Epping Forest. There were no phones then and I didn’t know where they were but my husband managed to find out where they had gone and said “If you want to go and see them I’ll take you”. We had enough petrol and drove there but we couldn’t get back because of the night raids, so we made up beds on the floor.
I couldn’t get to sleep and said to my husband “I’m not happy, there’s something wrong”.
“Oh go back to sleep” he said.
Then I heard someone walking along the road and coming up each path and knocking on the doors.
I can’t remember whether it was a policeman or an air-raid warden, but he said “You’ve got to get out as soon as you can and go down the hill to be safe”. A land mine had landed almost in the garden and its parachute strings had got caught up in a tree in the churchyard at the back of the house but the actual bomb was hanging over the garden.
There was an air raid shelter in the town but he told us that if we got down the hill we would be safe and we could stay with friends there if we wanted to. So we did. When you are told to get out in 5 minutes you never know what to take and I can’t remember what we took but it was something ridiculous. The people were happy to have us for the night and we couldn’t go back home for a few days until the bomb disposal team had been to deal with the mine.
I have tried to put other memories of the war behind me because it wasn’t a wonderful time. But later in the war I had my first baby and because it was wartime I couldn’t go to hospital and had to have him at home with a doctor and midwife in attendance. Sadly I lost my mother one month before my son’s birth and as she was going to look after me, this made it very difficult to cope with. My father came to live with us and my sister, Dora, also came to stay with me for three weeks to care for me and baby Ian.
Young mums used to take their babies to the local church hall to see the doctor or a nurse so that the babies could be weighed. If mums could not feed their babies, they could have suitable formula milks in tins. My in-laws bought me a proper pram albeit stocks in the shops ran out quickly thereafter.
There were no telephones at this time but our neighbour across the road had the only telephone in the street! If we needed help, someone would run across the road and send a message for the nurse to come. We knew nothing about looking after babies — it was all a bit frightening! If the air raid sirens went, we put baby Ian under the bed for protection.
We had a gas boiler to heat water to wash nappies so we were pleased not to have received a direct hit. My parents semi-detached house in Wanlett Road, Plaistow, had its outside wall destroyed by a bomb. They had to leave their home and the Council took over the house. They had to fight to get their house back which they finally did. My in-laws had the front of their house blown out by a land mine landing right in the middle of the road; it killed the man across the road who had just come from work.
Our Congregational Church, which was a very large church with at least three halls attached to it, was the centre of our spiritual and social life. I am still in contact with two friends from that time which is wonderful at the age of 93!
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.