- Contributed by
- Edith Taylor
- People in story:
- Location of story:
- Gillingham, Kent
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 07 April 2004
AMBULANCE DRIVER-MEDWAY 1940-42 (Part two)
Edith Myra Taylor(nee Messenger) _ Born 8.9.21.
Further memories of WW2
One evening after cinemas had opened again (everything had to close by 10 o'clock) my husband and I went to the Regent to see 'French Without Tears' - we were walking home (no buses or cars) up Chatham Hill and a warning was in progress and Pilchers Bus Depot had been hit at Luton and was blazing away merrily. We were in quite a hurry as both of us had to get changed and report for duty. By this time Gillingham Bus Depot had been hit with the loss of 4 drivers and 74 busses, My husband had to go out to all incidents to disconnect the electricity - not a very safe job but someone had to do it to avoid unnecessary accidents. I went on to Richmond Road Depot where things were beginning to happen, as I was officially off duty I had the job of helping to get people with minor injuries to the First Aid Station (which was also located in another part of the school and manned by nurses), We were told that there were about 20 dead that night in our area 10 of them in Beatty Avenue, 1 in Sturdee Av. 3 in Carlton Av. and 1 in Balmoral Road. I cannot remember where the rest were.
A mass mortuary was built ready for a bad blitz on the corner of the cemetery in Woodlands Road next to the Railway Bridge, fortunately this was never needed and still stands there to this day.
We slept in our Anderson shelter for two years and could only dream of the day when we would be back upstairs in bed. One night a stick of incendiary bombs was dropped across Sunnymead, Toronto and Chicago and my husband and Jack from next door rushed out to extinguish as many as they could with buckets of sand and earth from gardens. When eventually they returned to the shelter, complaining bitterly about their feet, they discovered that one was wearing two right shoes and the other two left shoes. There were complaints the following day from a man who found that his carefully saved earth mound of potatoes had been used to extinguish the flames.
When there were four of us in the shelter which was shared with next door we slept top to tail, reasonably comfortable on the Slumberland mattress which we had moved from our bedroom.
Five o'clock one morning when off duty I heard a voice calling that I was required on duty immediately. There were two unexploded landmines lodged in the front of two houses, one in Saxton street and one in Britton Street.I was needed to evacuate the elderly and infirm whilst the Bomb Disposal Squad defused the mines. Fortunately it is believed that they didn't explode as they had been sabotaged at the factory where they were manufactured.
One bomb dislodged a large tree in Park Avenue which flew into the air and descended through the roof of a house. The owner promptly displayed a notice in his window, "THE BIGGEST ASPIDISTRA IN THE WORLD" (A popular song of the times by Gracie Fields).
By this time my husband had joined the Royal Air Force and was away from home and in 1942 I left the ARP as I was expecting a child.
Early in the war my two younger sisters had been evacuated to Chartham near Canterbury.My mother was notified that they were to be moved to Wales which would be safer for them and so I accompanied her down to Chartham to collect them.On the way back we had to change trains at Faversham. We were asked to move to the other side if the platform and we were surprised to see tables being set up and on these were put tea urns and loaves of bread. Then a train pulled in packed with exhausted and dishevelled soldiers who were hanging out of the windows, many of them wounded. As they ravenously consumed the food I asked one where they had come from and it was the first time that I had ever heard the name "Dunkirk". He said that a week earlier he had been told that it was "every man for himself" and to make for the coast. Rationing was forgotten as everyone on the platform puchased everything edible and cigarettes from the station kiosk to give to the troops. We all left the station feeling very humble and with empty purses
As my husband was away I moved back in with my mother. Whilst sleeping with my young child under a Morrison shelter at my mothers we heard a very loud droning noise and my father said that he could see an aircraft which was on fire and which was headed towards us. We hurridly went under the shelter. The next day we learned on the radio that this was a doodlebug(V1) on its way to London and that we should take cover when the engine cut out.
All went well until the night of 5th June 1944 when we were kept awake by aircraft going overhead all night long. There was a terrific explosion when two bombers, one going out loaded and one returning, collided over Gillingham. The wreckage of one landed in an orchard on the lower road.
I keep remembering odd things about the war like making my sister a wedding dress of curtain net and myself clothes of billiard table baize and black-out material. I was also given an incorrectly packed parachute which made me a lot of underwear ,also, for those days a bare midriffed dress which I wore to a dance at Chatham Town Hall. Its effect was rather amusing as my partners re-acted in various ways, One marine found the bare midriff well and truly and the another when he encountered it moved his hands as if it had been scalded.As make-up was unavailable I darkened my eyebrows with a burnt matchstick. Like most young women I stained my legs and drew in the seams. Unfortunately the stain also remained on ones hands and made it look as if one was a heavy smoker.Just after the end of the war stockings were still unavailable I heard that one could get a pair of nylons by sending one guinea to Gibralter and they later arrived rolled up inside a magazine as they were officially rationed. These very easily laddered and I spent many hours with a very fine hook and egg cup repairing same. I could go on forever about this most interesting period of my life and hope this will be of some interest to other people.
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