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Mother and Daughter Reminisce about Life in London and Dunstable

by Dunstable Town Centre

Contributed by 
Dunstable Town Centre
People in story: 
Ida Raper and Pat Carter
Location of story: 
London, Dunstable
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A3952037
Contributed on: 
26 April 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War site by the Dunstable At War Team on behalf of the author and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

Ida: I was living at the time in Colliers Wood, London, when war was declared during the middle of the day. I’d got Pat, she was just about two years old and in no time at all we heard the sirens go and we thought - this is it. My husband had already been training for over a year as a fireman and so of course he went and enlisted straight away. Then all the neighbours didn’t know what to do, “What do we do, what do we do?” They said. We just settled down to it. I can’t recall exactly how we carried on for the next few months where nothing much seemed to happen; people were getting very, very lax and laid back over things. I remember going out to Hyde Park once and saw men digging trenches; I thought, what on earth are they digging trenches for, what a waste of time, but there you are, they didn’t realise it was a waste of time then.

We carried through that first year where nothing much happened. My mother and father were living at Fulham, which is next to Battersea and one night we had a very bad raid. I can’t recall how I got over to Fulham with Pat and some others. At that time there was lots of bombing at the docks, where it was very, very bad; of course my husband being a fireman was at there (at the docks). I went over to mum’s with Pat and whilst I was there (I was there for about a day), my brother turned up who lived in Dunstable. He had heard that the Battersea Power Station had been hit and knew that we might be in danger, so he came up to fetch mum. Of course when he got there, he found I was there with the baby, my grandmother who was 78 and my husband who had just come off the fires.

The Thames was alight and my husband was resting in the bed when my brother went into see him. He just said, “Take them away, take her and the baby away — if I never seem them again, please take them away, they can’t stay here.” But neither my grandmother nor my mother would come. “No, we’re staying here,” they said, and they did. My brother brought me straight away in the car with no spare clothes, nothing, to his home in Dunstable. My grandmother came later and we stayed with my brother in Great Northern Road. We were made very welcome for a whole year I think, before Dad came down permanently. He was a fireman for a very long while and when we came to Dunstable I remember saying that it felt like it was the place that God had forgotten. All the local people talked about was Vauxhall and how many raids they’d had. I know for them was it was dreadful but for me it was peanuts, they hadn’t seen anything. I remember going past the Fulham hospital in the car and seeing that it had been bombed, the whole place was down, wards torn apart, dreadful. Pat had fits over that; she was really worried about it. We went for a walk one Sunday down Friars Walk in Dunstable and saw some partly finished houses there. The builders had just walked away from it and they had put the Army in. My brother was holding her (Pat, my daughter) and she was screaming her head off, she was absolutely terrified. Afterwards, we realised that it must have been the memory of what she had seen in Fulham.

Pat - It was a long, long while until I was happy to go anywhere near a half built building. To me, it was like a half demolished building, I was only two and a half but I do have a long memory.

Ida - So once we got to Dunstable that was it, it was a completely new life; it was wonderful, nothing ever seemed to happen. However, I found it very difficult to get on with the Dunstable people; I suppose it was terrible for them. What with parents coming from London to be with their (evacuee) children, sometimes just for a day, it added to the general atmosphere, it was a burden for them. I know the people next door said to me once, “Well if you don’t like it here why on earth don’t you go back?” As if I had just come for an outing.

Pat - Did they think you were clean?

Ida - Oh no, many people remarked that Londoners didn’t bathe; they kept coal in the bath and thought we were a dirty race of people. Little things like that you know.

Pat - Did you put them right?

Ida - No I didn’t!
There was one thing I found strange - they didn’t want you to knock at the front door; I wasn’t used to that in London, we were all friends together and this made you feel as though you were different.

Ida - We used to shop at the International, which was more or less in the centre of town. We never shopped very far from home because we had to carry all our shopping home with us. We grew a lot of our food ourselves. Dad took to gardening and grew potatoes, carrots, beetroot and parsnips. He also kept chickens and rabbits. We had everything more or less because we had a fairly big garden, which hadn’t yet been cultivated by my brother.

My brother and his wife started to for a house of their own in Dunstable. As soon as they found a house in Lister Road, a direct requisition order was made on the house in Great Northern Road. He was unable to sell the house so we stayed on (in Great Northern Road). At first we were given a family from Blackheath, they had been bombed out and took over the three empty rooms, which left us with the two front rooms. Then two girls in uniform arrived, very posh, very clever. We had two camp beds delivered for them to sleep on but my husband said, “They can’t sleep on camp beds like that!” So we gave them our bedroom! It was so cold, trying to sleep on the camp beds in the spare empty room; we didn’t know what to do. Then we realised we had some rugs that we made ourselves before we got married. So we put this rug on the camp bed for us to lie on to stop the draft!

It was all very hush, hush. We were told not to converse with each other; they left early every day, just saying, “Good morning,” and came in every night at about 8 o’clock. This went on for quite some considerable time; we hardly every saw them and we never did know what they did or where they went.

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