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WW2 - People's War

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by maryjoy

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Janet Waller (Cunningham), William Cunningham, Mary Cunningham
Location of story: 
Paisley, Scotland, Clapham, London
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
09 May 2005

I was 10 when the war started. We lived at 20, Wallis Street, Paisley, Scotland. One day the Duke of Kent arrived, he was very handsome, to inspect the local volunteer firemen. They had green uniforms and drove green godess fire engines. They were all lined up outside the fire station as he came to inspect them, they were very smartly dressed. There was a tenement building behind them, I looked up and saw smoke coming out of the top front window. I knew the lady who lived there had gone out so I told my mother about it and she told the firemen. One of them swore! I ran to find the lady and by the time I got back the firemen had been into the flat and found a big old armchair alight. She had left the fire on when she went out. They opened the window and threw the chair out into the back yard.
Not long after that the Duke of Kent was killed in a plane crash in Scotland.
Clydebank where they built all the big passenger ships and war ships was bombed for four days and nights. There were munitions factories in the same area. All the ships came in with troops on board. They threw us oranges which landed in the water. There was a ferry which went across to Renfrew.
My sister Mary was a florist in Paisley for Malcolm Campbell's. She had to work all night making wreaths as there were so many deaths and they had run out of flowers in Clydebank. Later Mary married a soldier and went to live in London. He was made a prisoner of war and she had to work in a factory which she hated. There was bombing all round. One day she was walking across Clapham Common when a doodle bug dropped quite near her. She was so shocked and in a terrible state so she got on a train, stood all the way, and came back to Scotland. One night we heard terrible screams - she was dreaming in her sleep. Her hair went straight, she lost all her curls.
My father had been in the first war, in the Argylle Highlanders, and won a military bravery medal at the Somme. He was a mechanic and found work hard to get. He went to war again and was sent to England in the Royal Army Service Corps. Then they went to Dunkirk to help rescue the soldiers. Then he came back to Scotland and was put in the Royal Mechanical Engineers (REME). He was not allowed to talk about his work, I think it was plane engine work. I used to take him tea and sandwiches. He did that for two years and was then discharged due to health trouble - he was gassed during the first war.
Mum was busy looking after the family, I was one of six children. One brother in the RAF, one in a reserved occupation with the Cunningham Bus Company (family firm).
I started work at 14 in a grocers shop - I knew all about rationing! Danish butter came in a barrel, like beer! There was a heating pipe along the floor which made the butter melt - terrible disaster. They had to remember to switch it off after that. It was all packed by hand - hard work. Sugar, flour, peas, everything was weighed and packed unless it was in a tin.
One day an aeroplane came over and shot a home guard man at his post. He was smoking! Only frightened and not injured - a lucky man.

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