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- The Revd. Canon Ivy Frith
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- 26 January 2006
This story has been added by CSV volunteer Linda Clark on behalf of the author the Revd. Canon Ivy Frith. They both understand the site's terms and conditions.
Once I started working I had high hopes that 1939 would see the holiday gap filled. But no such luck! The threat of war grew darker as the year progressed. I had been invited, by a nurse at Christ Church, to spend a holiday with her family in Cullocoates. But my mother would have none of it. There were too many rumours of war. The Schools were preparing to take all the children out of London. Consequently, when I visited my old Junior School, during the fortnight that I was supposed to be on holiday, they greeted me with open arms and set me to work writing out hundreds of labels. An individual label was to be tied to each child as they left their homes and schools and parents behind. The bright sunny summer's morning of September the third provided
the spine-chilling fulfilment of our worst fears. I did not get to church that morning. We waited by the radio for an announcement by the Prime Minister. He had in an earlier broadcast informed the nation that he had given Adolph Hitler a one hour ultimatum to withdraw his troops or consider himself to be at war. The answer never came. War was declared. The children had been evacuated and life would never be the same again.
It sounds odd to suggest that any war could provide benefits or opportunities. But that was my experience. Opportunities were provided in abundance. They were opportunities destined to gradually shape my future. The first one aptly, involved the Vicar of our church, Nobby Clark. He sought me out very soon after the outbreak of hostilities. Reminding me, that the boys who usually served in the choir had all been transported to what were considered to be safer surroundings. The Vicar suggested that I might get together a group of girls who would fill the gap left by the boys. I was glad to be able to do that.
Nobby Clark was blessed with a very useful falsetto voice, which was a great asset in training treble voices. What is more, the organist at that time was a man called H. A. Chambers, a composer and Musical Director of Novello’s who were publishers of Church music based in the West End of London. Combining their talents they were soon transformed from a somewhat reticent group of girls into an acceptable choir which sang the services of the Church not only on Sundays, but on three or four days a week. I have always been grateful for that golden opportunity. Though I had not the slightest inkling at the time of its real significance for me and for my future. How could I?
The future as far as my gainful employment was concerned was to take another turn. The long term continuity of Friendly Societies such as the Order of the Rechabites was far from guaranteed. Consequently I moved on to another post. This time to Franks Fashion House in the West End of London. Deeply etched on my memories of that period was the day I was asked if I would deliver something locally to a customer. It was probably a pattern cut by experts from a magazine such as Vogue or Harpers Bazaar. I was on my way back to the office around lunch-time, when all hell broke loose in the skies above and along with others I found myself taking refuge in the entrance to the London Palladium in Argyll Street. Fierce air battles between the R.A.F. and Luftwaffe pilots raged for hours; their significance was not immediately obvious. We learned in time, however, that the Germans had decided to take a gamble, a gamble which did not pay off. They assumed that by mounting such a heavy attack, they could destroy our fighter squadrons and beat the R.A.F. into submission, thus hastening the day of their planned invasion of Britain. The losses in men and machines that day was horrendous. But the Germans had provided a lesson for themselves. Daylight air raids were not going to bring them an easy victory. The alternative was to be night-time raids- the Blitzkriege!
Its was that tactic which dictated my next occupational move. The Mary Ward Settlement was situated in Tavistock Place, on the borders of Holborn and St. Pancras and had been earmarked by the local authority as a Rest Centre for victims of the air raids that were expected. The leader of the Girl’s Club was given the authority to open the Centre when it was needed and to appoint necessary staff. I was the first Assistant she appointed when the air raids began. The Girls Club was affiliated to the National Council of Girls Clubs and responsible for my involvement in a B.B.C. broadcast to the Empire. The programme was scheduled for five transmissions.
It was a daunting experience. There were three girls involved. Anne Evans came from Bermondsey in the East End of London, Rose Litwacks from London’s West Central Jewish Girls’ Club and myself from central London. The programme, entitled “On Your Shoulders”, was scheduled for fifteen minutes going out to five continents, on five separate occasions from July 24th to July 28th 1941. We each had to write a script giving a three and a half minute description of what effect the air raids were having upon the youth of the nation. The other four and a half minutes left time for the local B.B.C. announcers to introduce the subject and each one of us to their listeners. We only saw the first announcer. He seemed to be about seven feet tall with a shock of fuzzy black hair and he introduced us to the listeners on the Indian Continent. The broadcast was made from a very small studio located some floors underground in Broadcasting House. Sixty three years later I must express my gratitude to the staff of the B.B.C. Archives departments for their valiant efforts in searching out and providing me with a copy of those scripts from their microfilms.
The Mary Ward Girls Clubs had continued to function until the raids began in earnest. One new activity, however, was due to the emergence of the Girl’s Training Corps. It provided a preparation for service in the Armed Forces. Our uniforms were provided by a local, generous Jewish lady and instructors in military drill were provided each week by different regiments of the Army, presumably, whoever happened to be stationed close at the time. It was hair-raising at times because not all regiments march at the same tempo. The Rifle Brigade, for instance has a much faster step than most other regiments. But I had the honour of being the first Sergeant Major of the Mary Ward Corps. In those days I was sometimes asked to go to other London Companies of the Corps in order to act as a drill Sergeant. Manoeuvring a Company of Marching girls around Hammersmith Broadway takes some doing, especially when the drill Sergeant is only about sixteen.
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