- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Agnes Tanton nee Henderson
- Location of story:
- Edinburgh and Dover
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 13 December 2003
Approximately 20 or so years ago, my mother, Agnes (Nancy) Tanton nee Henderson, wrote the following in an indexed book. When my father, Henry Ebenezer Tanton, died in 1991, I inherited this book which I kept as it also included drawings done by my son (then aged 7).
I was an apprentice bookbinder living in Edinburgh when the Second World War was started, like many other teenagers I found the thought of war a bit frightening. That Sunday morning after the announcement on the radio the sirens sounded all over the City, and we half expected German planes to fly overhead and drop bombs on us.
As the weeks went by everything was the same as it had always been except for the black-out and a large number of servicemen from all over Britain stationed in and around the City. Life seemed to take on a new meaning as we made many new friends during those early months.
Where I worked many of the young compositor apprentices were already Auxiliary members of the Edinburgh Squadron of the R.A.F. At the beginning of the war they left to join their squadron. It was then we had an inkling as to what the war was all about, as one after another of these young boys of eighteen years of age were reported missing believed killed, it didn’t seem possible that we would never again share a joke or sandwich with these friends who had gone forever.
The first damage of the war was caused by a British Shell, the Royal Artillery stationed on Inch Keith in the middle of the Firth of Forth were having gunnery practice one morning when the shell ricocheted of the water and ploughed through a tenement building down by the docks.
A few days later a German plane did come over and dropped a basket of incendiary bombs in the same area, luckily no-one was hurt in either incident.
Dunkirk meant very little to us, we knew the evacuation had taken place, but it was happening too far away to make any real impact. We had many of these Dunkirk heroes stationed in Edinburgh later that year; they were the first soldiers to be issued with gaiters in place of putties.
It was about this time, that I met the young soldier that I was later to marry, and the City Fathers agreed to the cinemas and concert halls being opened seven days a week for the first time ever.
Every one was expected to take turns at fire-watching at your place of employment; it was good fun really as you had to learn how to use a stirrup pump, and when there was several of you practicing on the roof nearly everyone finished up soaked to the skin.
In 1941 I made my first trip to Dover to meet my prospective In-laws, I had to have a pass before I could come down here. It wasn’t until then that I fully realised the full effect of the war, not only were your movements restricted in and out of the South Coast. Dover itself was rather battered and many places down by the seafront were boarded up. The following year I came back to Dover but didn’t have a pass this time and was given forty eight hours to get out.
As soon as I had served my apprenticeship I left my job and joined the A.T.S. as a cook, my initial training was done at Dalkieth near Edinburgh where I soon found out that if you insisted that you had bad feet you were excused from square bashing. After the ‘powers that be’ decided I was capable of working in an Army kitchen without poisoning the troops I was posted to Fenham Barracks Newcastle-on-Tyne. Shortly after this I was married, and stayed at these barracks until I got my discharge before my eldest son was born.
1943 I came south again, as my husband was being posted abroad. Many times we stood in the Market Square watching German planes weaving in and out of the barrage balloons and shooting them down. By this time Dover was being shelled quite heavily, but strange as it might seem the general attitude seemed to be “Thank the Lord it wasn’t our turn this time”.
I returned to Edinburgh just before the first doodlebugs came over, to find that the City of my birth had come through these five years virtually unscathed.
There was a wonderful atmosphere amongst friends and strangers alike during this time; the thing that sticks in my mind most is seeing flashed on the screen “Germany has surrendered”. At first no one really understood what the message meant, when it did register people didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
I found that hearing and reading, my mothers own recollections and feeling, showed the contrasts between the ‘quiet’ North and the ‘battered’ South. It also illustrates the development of the media reporting.
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