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A Kentish Girl's Memories of Wartime

by FrancesfromKent

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Frances Elizabeth Pope
Location of story: 
Kent (Canterbury and surrounding area)
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
10 November 2003

I was five years old when war was declared and we lived in Canterbury with my mother, father and younger sister.

My father had been in the first world war (he was fifteen years older than my mother) and consequently was not conscripted for the second. Neverthesless he became an Air Raid Warden and every night would don his tin hat, and clutching his gas mask, flask of hot tea and paper bag of sandwiches would go off to his duty, which if my memory serves me correctly was at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital.

We had to then put up the 'black out' and if any light was showing there was a knock on the door to tell us to 'put out the light'. At first when the siren sounded my mother would put my sister in the push chair and run with us to the nearby shelter until the 'all clear' sounded, later we were given a Morrison Shelter, which was a square iron table top with wire mesh around the sides and was placed in our living room, this was designed to protect from falling ceilings etc., but as I recall not very safe if the house was on fire.

During this period we had two soldiers billeted on us and whilst the 'black out' was in force my mother would bathe us in daylighthours on a Saturday afternoon. My mother later told me that one of these soldiers saved my life. It was during a Saturday afternoon bathing session that we heard the planes overhead (daylight raids were unusual)and the sound of bombs being dropped when one of the soldiers rushed into the bathroom and grabbed me, flew down the stairs and threw me into the Morrison shelter, minutes later an incendiary bome came through our roof and landed in our bath where minutes earlier I had been.
The hole in the roof made our house virtually uninhabitable so we were relocated to a farmers cottage in the grounds of the hospital where my father was now working.He had been Area Manager for Hoovers and worked from Whitstable and Canterbury.At the outbreak of war his position was terminated as I think the company had to stop production. He took a position at the hospital in Chartham
The patients at the hospital had been evacuated although the administrative staff remained.We soon moved again to an empty Doctors House in the grounds of the hospital. This to me was idyllic, as it had a huge garden and we could run and play freely.

The following events are not necessarily in chronological order but as I recall them.

Before we were bombed out of Canterbury, my mother and sister and I were evacuated to Oxford. I do remember waving goodbye to my father at the railway station and I remember the house in Oxford.It was peaceful there and it had a sandpit in the garden where we would play. However my mother seemed very sad and after a couple of weeks told us we were going home to Canterbury and my father.

I'm not sure of dates but after being bombed out of Canterbury we moved to the following places:-
1.A farmers cottage in the grounds of the hospital,
2. A doctors house also in the hospital grounds
3. Lime Kile Cottages in Thanington
4. 'Wynnes' a bungalow on the Ashford Road in Thanington.

We spent some time in Lime Kiln cottages and it was there that one day a Policeman knocked on the door, he told my mother that her father had been killed in Folkestone. A shell had been fired from France and my grandfather had been working in his garden when it landed on the next door house. He was killed instantly as the force of it had knocked him over and into the ground he had been digging. At the same moment my Grandmother had gone to the window to call him in for lunch and the blast had blown glass into her face and eyes, she crawled through the house and was eventually rescued and taken to Kent and Canterbury hospital. My mother visited her and through miraculous surgery the glass was removed from her eyes and face and although she lost a certain amount of her sight she lived for another 25 years.

At this bungalow (Lime Kiln Cottages) we had an Andersen Shelter, this was built into the side of an embankment behind the cottage. We slept most nights in the Andersen. I recall the time when the siren had sounded, as it did most nights but by the following morning the 'all clear' had not been sounded.I was not allowed to go to school, it was thought that some aircraft were still over the country. Everyone was talking and trying to find out why the 'all clear' had not been sounded. This was the first time the 'doodle bugs' had appeared. It appears that they had been picked up on the radar coming across the Channel but nothing had returned. The 'all clear' only sounded when the aircraft that had been spotted coming over had returned, but this day nothing had returned consquently no 'all clear'was sounded.
We later discovered that the 'doodle bugs' had a life of their own and when that expired they fell to earth.
Doodle bugs were eerie in as much as they could be heard chugging along, and even seen, my father was a great 'doodle bug' spotter, but should the chugging cease they would immediately fall to earth carrying their explosive devices with them.

Many dropped in the field behind our house.

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