- Contributed by
- Elizabeth Lister
- People in story:
- Alan of Reading
- Location of story:
- London, Yorkshire
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 01 October 2005
This story was submitted to the People's War site by a volunteer from Reading on behalf of Alan of Reading and has been added to the site with his permission. Alan fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
I was six when the war broke out. We were living in Southall, West London, at the time and there were frequent air raids. I can vividly recall the shrapnel from the anti-aircraft guns raining down on the roof. I was an only child, so the entire family could fit without much of a struggle under the Morrison shelter, which was like a steel table placed in the lounge where we slept nightly. The street shelters were not particularly nice. They were smelly, overcrowded and lacked ventilation.
We were so used to the tremendous nightly racket that we woke one morning under our Morrison to find most of the windows broken and the front door blown right off its hinges into the kitchen. It seems we had not even stirred in our sleep! Anyway, we propped the front door back up with a broomstick, but as luck would have it, my aunt who lived in north London arrived just then and pushed the door, only for it to collapse again. She told us that the bombing had been very bad where she was the previous night so she had come across to us to get away from it!!
At school, we seemed to spend a good part of our time in air raid shelters. I remember the cloakrooms were heavily reinforced. When the sirens went, we just retreated there for the duration. Sometimes they attempted some lessons, and sometimes not. My father was employed in building tanks and army trucks. I remember when the VI flying bombs started to come over, he would go upstairs at night to watch, and when a rocket motor cut out, he would race down, since there were then only seconds before impact.
There were few delicacies to be had. There was flavoured soda water but no sweets, and families traded with others, for example, tea for sugar. You might be lucky to get some oranges. Dried bananas you soaked in milk to make them palatable. It was a family treat to go to the cinema but you had to queue for hours.
It was wonderful to get away on holiday once in a while, though travelling was not easy. I vividly recall once going for a swim with others in a river in coastal south Devon. Quite suddenly, a man appeared on the bank, swearing and shouting at us to get out immediately. As we came ashore in dismay, he grabbed hold of us, yelling that the river was mined!
Once the flying bombs began to come down in earnest, I was evacuated along with tens of thousand of other children. I clearly remember a seemingly endless journey, by coach to London and then by train to Batley in Yorkshire. My only possessions, apart from what I stood up in, were a gas mask and the contents of a small suitcase. The first two nights after arrival, we slept in a Zionist chapel. Then for three months I lodged with a kind family, which was just as well, because I was very lonely at school, finding it difficult to integrate with local children. I did know one other child slightly from home, which helped. Things which I remember particularly from that time were the harvesting, which was done virtually all by hand, and listening to the radio, our main contact with the outside world.
Back at home on VE Day, there was a huge street party. Unfortunately, it turned out that the bonfire completely melted the road surface, but nobody was much bothered about that!
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