- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Joan Tyler, Ernest and Ivy in Harrogate
- Location of story:
- Harrogate, Yorks
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 30 May 2005
My Phoney War
The author of this story has understood the rules and regulations of the site and has agreed that this story can be entered on the People's War web site.
In February 1939 I left school at seventeen and became a Clerical Assistant in the Research and Development of Engines section (RDE) of the Air Ministry based in Berkeley Square, London.
Early on we were told that in the event of war we were to be evacuated to Harrogate. Soon after 3rd September we were given our travel papers and train details. On 10th September I said goodbye to my family in Enfield and went to King’s Cross to join my office friends on the train to ZA — our destination at Harrogate.
There we were assigned to buses which took us to our billets on the outskirts of the town. Several of us were taken to Starbeck where I was made welcome by my hosts,Ivy and Ernest at Kingsley Road. I had become a “Guinea Pig”, the name given by the local people to the Civil Service evacuees. This was because we had a guinea deducted from our weekly salary to pay for our bed, breakfast and evening meals. The seven shillings remaining from my weekly pay had to cover bus fares to and from Harrogate, lunches, etc!
We started work next day in the Grand Hotel in Harrogate, high above the Valley Gardens with my office looking over towards Ilkley Moor. There was no central heating but as the weather got colder the messengers kept the small bedroom fires well stoked with coal. It became very cold with snow on Ilkley Moor soon descending into Harrogate. The Registry in the Grand Hotel was in the hotel Ballroom whose beautiful sprung floor had to take the weight of all our filing cabinets. As soon as all the files were unpacked and distributed we became very busy and started working most days including week ends. The overtime pay was very welcome as we needed extra clothing to cope with the cold weather.
My hosts fed me very well and also introduced me to members of the local church and its social clubs. Ivy’s father worked as a guard on the LNER. When he heard that my own father also worked on the LNER at King’s Cross he suggested that my parents and sister should make the trip to stay at his home to meet everybody and satisfy themselves that I was in good hands!
Back at the office, conscription had not yet begun, and we were permitted to hold two dances a week in the ballroom at the Crown Hotel, at one shilling per person! For the Saturday night dance we had the hotel orchestra and on Wednesdays some colleagues from the department formed a passable substitute. No transport was available to take us home afterwards, so we would walk across The Stray and several more miles to Starbeck. I can still remember singing “Run Rabbit Run!” on the way home especially through the snow.
I think we had two free passes a year to London and I remember that I used my first pass to go home at Christmas.
As the snow melted, in our free time we were able to find our way on to the Moors and we walked to Mother Shipton’s Cave at Knaresborough. Ernest also took me punting on the River Nidd which was an experience as there was a strong smell of wild garlic and the river had rapids and shallows!
My job in RDE brought me into contact with two aero engine contractors, - Rolls Royce and Napier. As clerical staff we provided a support to the engineers who were involved in the research and development of the Merlin and Sabre engines, but due to financial constraints during the first year of the war I became more familiar with developments later.
I was on leave in London when Dunkirk fell and when I got back to Harrogate the returning soldiers were being sent to an Army depot outside the town. Soon there was an outbreak of poliomyelitis and to cope with the numbers of sick people (civil and military) temporary hospitals were built on The Stray in Harrogate. Fortunately I avoided polio (our offices were sprayed daily) but I succumbed to another epidemic at the time - German measles! When I joined the Civil Service we were not entitled to a free GP and had to pay for a doctor’s services, for which I had to get help from home!
Lord Beaverbrook became Minister of Aircraft Production in 1940 and wanted his staff back in London. There was no time to warn our families and I arrived home before the telegram. I then went to work in Thames House where I stayed until after the war in 1945.
I got home (after “the phoney war”) just in time for “The Blitz”!
I am still in touch with former war-time colleagues and remained in touch with Ivy and Ernest until their deaths after the war, visiting them on many occasions.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.