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BALHAM IN THE BLITZ

by Elizabeth Lister

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
Elizabeth Lister
People in story: 
BARBARA GUERRIER (Nee Marshall
Location of story: 
SOUTH LONDON - BALHAM
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A7916420
Contributed on: 
20 December 2005

For some time now I have been thinking that maybe I should write down some of my memories from
the second world war and of my life which has now spanned 75 years. My grand daughter Charlotte
Cooper prompted me to make a start as she had to do a project on the 1939/45 war and wanted to
know my memories and experiences of that period in my life, which even now remain quite clear.
I was born in 1930 so at the outbreak of the second world war I was just 9 years old. My brother
Peter and I were on our annual two weeks holiday in Devon in a Boarding House which was the
fashion in those days. On the morning of 3rd September we had gone to Brixham, a fishing port just
along the coast and were sitting in the Moo Cow Milk Bar when the music stopped and ;Mr.
Chamberlain, the Prime Minister came on air to announce the outbreak of war. I can still
remfember the hushed silence as apart from history lessons at school at our age we did not realise the
implications of the announcement. We returned to our boarding house and I can remember the
discussions between my parents as to what as a family we should do. It was decided that we should
abandon our holiday immediately as in those days we did not have a car and we would have to travel
by train. My mother, brother and I were to go straight up to my aunt's parents in Scotland, to the
village of Tillicoultry for what we thought would be the duration of the war. Daddy was to remain in
London. The long train jouorney took 23 hours from Devon to Scotland in blacked out trains, going
through blacked out stations. We were very un-happy at leaving Daddy in London. The first air
raid sirens had sounded. We were made very welcome by the Weir family but eventually after 3
weeks my mother sent Daddy a telegram to say we would be returning to London the next day as we
all wished to be together during.these stressful times.
Most children had been evacuated from London and sent all over the country and many overseas to
Canada. My father had brothers in Canada who asked for us to be sent over there, but thankfully my
parents did not wish to part with us. Some families were parted for many years and some ships were
torpedoed on the way over and many lives were lost. Our lives in London continued, schools were
found, rationing commenced, food, clothes, sweets, household goods, all had ration books and points.
My father joined the Home Guard and after a day's work in the Bank did regular night duty,
mostly guarding the ack ack guns on Tooting Bec Common and also Fire Guard duty at his Bank in
the City.
When the Blitz began we had night after night of bombing. Daddy had an air raid shelter
constructed in our lounge and we all had mattresses in there and so our life went on. Devastation all
round, but luckily our road escaped any bombs. Windows were shattered and as children we all
collected shrapnel on our way to school. It is amazing that we never felt frightened. I can well
remember the night the London Docks went up, the sky was red and we all went out to see lit.
The noise of the bombers and the guns was really quite awful, but the British spirit was always there.
One daylight raid that I can well remember was when a German plane was hit and we could see the
crew baling out and coming down in their parachutes and we all cheered.
Through all this period I had many cousins who were of course older than me who were in the services
and always came to see us on their leaves, happy occasions. We also had many New Zealanders
coming to see us, sons of servicemen my mother had known in the first world war. My mother
always managed to find a meal for them, butlooking back I wonder how, food was so scarce. The
mother of one of the New Zealanders used to send us wonderful fruit cakes, luxury in those time of rationing. Daddy continued to go to work in the City amongst the rubble and devastation. By the
time I was 13 I took an exam to to go the only Grammar School that was left in our area which meant I had
a 3 mile cycle ride to school, across the common, no school buses in those days, as of course petrol
was rationed as well.
Dunkirk and the big evacuation of our troops was another milestone. We had large maps pinned up
on our dining room wall of all areas of the war, so that we could see where our troops were and the
progression of the actions. In this way, we as children learnt both, history and geography as little
flags were pinned at all the strategic places. I had two cousins at Dunkirk, both brothers, one in the
Navy and on in the Army and neither knew the other was there. Geoff the one in the Navy was
torpedoed twice and machine gunned in the water and bears the scars to this day. Their parents
were overjoyed that they survived this ordeal. All my cousins who were in the services survived the
war and we only lost one friend at Arnhem.
The war progressed, food became scarcer and new clothes were unheard of. I can remember having
extra clothing coupons for shoes because my feet grew so quickly! Gym shoes had to be shared
between pupils, hence an outbreak of veruccas! Our school playing field was dug up for allotments,
so sport was restricted to the netball courts. School dinners were dreadful, horrible white lamb
stew, endless cabbage and steamed sponge pudding by the yard, but we were hungry so we ate it.
One vivid morning during the blitz was the morning when Daddy came home from Home Guard Duty
at 6.a.m. to tell us to get our bags packed for evacuation as two landmines had landed wi1lJL~ards of
our road. The whole area was evacuated. My mother went to the larder and put our previous
food in a case, a few clothes and our cat Niggy in his basket and we joined the long column of
residents en route to the Underground Station at Balham to go to my Grandmother's at Morden.
She, poor soul, look so shocked to see us as she thought we had been bombed out. The land mines were defused and we were allowed home. The silk from the parachutes was most useful and was soon turned into nighties and petticoats, a real luxury as there was a massive amount of it.
Those without air raid shelters in their own homes and gardens went down to the Underground
Stations at night. One night a bomb landed in Balham High Road and a bus went down the hole
and punctured the water mains and sewers and all those sheltering in the station were drowned and
many families never returned to their homes.Then in June 1944 we were all shocked at the arrival of the first doodlebug, a projectile fired from the
coast of France. We soon got to know the chug chug of the engine and when it cut out one rushed
for shelter, as you only had a matter of up to 10 seconds before it landed and exploded and an
enormous amount of damage. Some were intercepted and blown up but most landed in an around
Kent, Surrey and London. Throughout all this we just carried on as they cames bothday and night.
My mother had by this time returned to work, hairdressing in Balham High Road. I was cycling
to school one day when a doodlebug went overhead very low, cut out and the next thing we knew it
exploded. I cycled home as it seemed in that direction, only to be told it had landed behind the shop
where my mother worked. I then went down to the shop, my mother looked awful, covered in dust
and fragments of glass and the shop a ruin. Shewas bleeding heavily from her leg, not a mark on
her stocking, but the blast from the bomb had split the skin on her leg, but she was alive and all the
other people in the shop. Needles to say after this we went up to Scotland again for a few weeks to
recuperate and returned in the autumn, in time for F1ying Bombs No 2. No warning, no sound, just
an enormous explosion, doing extensive damage. One of these landed during our school lunch hour
and two girls who had gone home for lunch never returned and we never saw them again. This
brought it all home to us.
By this time, not only food was short, but also coal as not enough men to down the mines and once
or twice I queued up with an old pram to get coal for our boiler our only means of heating water.
Also when word went round that orangeS of bananas were in the market can well well remember
doing my revising for School Certificate whilst in the queue.

It was the 6th June, 1944, D.Day. All night we heard planes overhead, slow droneing sound, to awake in the
morning to news of the D.Day landings in France, which of course have just last year been
remembered. From then on we followed the progress of our Allied troops freeing Europe from the
German occupation.
Time went on and in the summer of 1945 I was on a bus going up to spend a day at the London Zoo
when we heard that a big bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima and then Nagasaki and these of
course, were the atom bombs, laying flat whole cities and killing maiming many thousands of people.
These bombs heralded the end of hostilities and the war was over.
To celebrate VE Day and VJ Day street parties took place over the British Isles and we had one in ,
our road with a large bonfire in the road just outside our house which melted all the tar on the surface.
We opened the windows and my mother played the piano for dancing and singing in the road, oh
how happy we all were. The London Schools had a large celebration concert in the Albert Hall and
I was chosen with others from my school to dance the Sailors Hornpipe in the presence of the Queen
Mother. During the war we had a wonderful childhood considerilng how difficult it must have been
for our parents, food was short, no luxuries, very little in the way of treats. The Girl Guides, the odd
cinema outing and visits from cousins serving in the war when on leave and the support of family and
friends. Although these must have been very worrying times for my parents they never
showed any fright or emotion which meant we children were able to cope. Believe it or not I did
manage to gain my School Certificate in all the subjects I took and then went on to Secretarial
College.

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