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15 October 2014
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Teenage war

by Rosslibrary

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Kay Williams
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14 December 2004

I was 15 years old when war broke out and a pupil at Hereford High School for Girls. These are my memories.

First the hockey field along the side of our school was dug up to make trenches as a refuge in case of air raids. The macabre thing was that on practice runs we had to run the gauntlet of skeletons laid in the walls of the trenches. Apparently it was the old burial ground of the Blackfriars Church and Alms Houses in Widemarsh Street.

In that September in 1939, becaue of the call to arms and therefore a shortage of man power, the boys and girls of both High Schools, and the Cathedral School boys, were made to give up some of their summer holidays and assist with the hop picking. It was great fun, with the boys up-ending the girls into the hop cribs. I don't think we were an asset to that year's harvest.

The Hereford Regiment was called to muster on the Hereford racecourse and my home was adjacent. Although the body of men were housed in tents, their officers and non-commissioned officers were billeted in the nearest houses. My home was allocated 3 sergeants and a sergeant major. During the first week of encampment there was torrential rain; the tents were awash and we were asked to help dry off and air the clothing. It was a mammoth task - remember there were no washing machines then and irons were heated on the fire or gas stove.

Within a short time the Herefords were posted off to various destinations. The movement of troops increased daily, and there were huge convoys of soldiers travelling the whole of the country both day and night. We lived on the route and the traffic hold-ups were many. At opportune moments we would rush out, teapot in hand, to help cheer them on their way.

The next step in my war was to provide a home for the various London evacuees who were billeted on us - mums with small children, strangers to our country life. Most opted to go back and risk the bombs rather than put up with country living.

The next soldiers camping on the racecourse were the Indian regiments, complete with British Veterinary Corps to look after their livestock. They had horses, and the officers had polo ponies, and of course a flock of sheep for their food supply. We could witness the slaughtering from our bedroom windows. The sadlers in the camp made many articles from the hides.

At Ramadan time 5 or 6 Indians would climb over our garden fence to sit in our house and listen to the Indian service on the radio; they would draw the curtains and indulge in tea and cigarettes. The first time this happened none of my family was at home - in those days we never locked the doors - but they were so appreciative that we let them do it at other times. It was part of the war effort. After some months these troops were posted off to Monmouthshire and to Breconshire.

Another thing I did to help the war effort was helping to serve teas in the YMCA, which was opened to all servicemen. I also joined the Junior Civil Defence, to learn how to build brick ovens in case we were bombed and the gas and electric supplies were knocked out.

When I was 17 I went to work in the goods offices of the GWR. This was a reserved occupation, and it was important that I was not sent into the forces because of my Mother's poor health.

There was much social life with dances in the town every night of the week. Young girls were not short of admirers, with so many American soldiers in Hereford. I remember being pursued by a young GI who constantly begged, "Just one little smooch, honey."

There were difficulties with rationing but we managed to make cakes by substituting fat and sugar with glycerine from the chemist and our dried egg rations. We also made our butter ration go further by beating it with margarine and the cream off the milk. We grew mushrooms and rhubarb and other things in our substantial brick-built air raid shelter. For clothing we made French knickers and slips and nighties from used parachute silk.

My brother, whose was a Flt.Lt. navigator in the RAF brought home, on various leaves, three of his crew men - an Australian, a Canadian and a South AFrican. Every time they came home they would go into town with their ration cards and come back loaded with goodies. We were very lucky in that respect.

Alas, just as the war was finishing my brother was killed in a plane crash over France. He is buried at Grande Luce, just outside Le Mans. His name is on the roll of honour at Hereford Cathedral (Flt. Lt. L.B.A. Elias, DFC).

I am 80 now, and frequently say to myself, "What if?" Yes; that was my war.

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