- Contributed by
- Elizabeth Lister
- People in story:
- Judith and Wendy Rolfe. The Stevens Family
- Location of story:
- Merstham, Surrey and Bourton on the Water, Gloucestershire
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 16 September 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by a volunteer from CSVBerkshire on behalf of Judith and Wendy Rolfe and has been added to the site with their permission. Judith and Wendy Rolfe fully understand the site’s terms and conditions.
The Twins move from the path of the bombers to the Cotswolds.
We were two years old at the start of the war and were living with our parents in South Merstham, Surrey. We remember clearly the bombers going over our house on their way to London. On several occasions incendiary bombs were dropped all around us. We can remember the house next door on fire and had a lucky escape ourselves when a bomb landed in our chicken run and the bedroom ceiling shattered and fell in pieces as a result of the vibration.
We remember our father digging a big hole in the garden which was to become our shelter. We were taken there many times of day and night when the air raid warning sounded.
We got so used to the sound of the aeroplanes that we could distinguish between the German bombers and our own planes. We remember the dog fights overhead with Spitfires and were used to seeing the planes caught in the beam of the search lights.
A distinctive sound that we shall never forget was the dull drone of the flying bombs or doodlebugs as we called them, and the waiting for the dreaded silence which meant it was about to fall and explode on impact. One quiet Sunday afternoon we went for a walk with our parents and had to quickly run for shelter under the church lytch gate as incendiary bombs unexpectedly fell around us.
When we were old enough we went to St. Matthews Church School in Redhill, a bus journey away. We always carried our gas masks with us. Whenever the air raid sirens went we were taken from the class room down to the crypt of the church where, to keep us occupied, we were given small squares of material to pull apart thread by thread. We can still remember all the little mounds of different coloured threads.
All the while we were living at Merstham we had a succession of young soldiers billeted with us - one in particular was great fun, Ronnie Cooper. There was a girl named Celia who must have been very young because she didn’t know how to open a boiled egg when given one for breakfast. She got upset and said her mother always took the top off for her!
Father suffered from a duodenal ulcer and because non urgent civilian surgery was cancelled due to the war when priority was given to military personnel, he was not fit enough for active service. He was working in London as a joiner but in order to get the family away from the danger of the bombs he got a job in Bourton on the Water, Gloucestershire as the manager of a joinery firm where, among other things, they manufactured ammunition boxes.
It was 1943 when we moved to the village and remember how peaceful it was after the broken days and nights in Merstham. Our father had already started work there and had been put up by Mr and Mrs Voyce. Mr Voyce was the village cobbler and we often enjoyed watching him in his workshop and remember the smell of the leather. When Mother and we arrived the Voyces kindly took us in too but Father had to sleep on a bed in the garage of Mr. Wilsdon, the butcher.
After a while we moved into a council house on the Springvale estate where we were all together and for some reason our parents took care of the original tenants’ son who was a few years older than us. It was while we were there that our mother’s friend from Merstham came to stay with us for a two week holiday, along with her four year old daughter. Letty and Ann continued to stay with us long after they should have gone home and in fact never left the village! Our mother and Letty began to enjoy a social life as there were often dances held at the RAF camp at Little Rissington and the Victoria Hall in the village. Father was very happy to stay at home and baby sit!
Sometime later the original council tenants returned and we had to move out. Mr and Mrs Minchin kindly put us all up in their small cottage. They had two daughters, Rhoda and Joan. It was all very cramped, we twins and Ann all slept together in the same bed. We remember the tin bath which was kept in the outhouse and came into use once a week to keep us clean. Although we had cold running water in the house there was still a pump in the garden which was operational. And of course the lavatory was in a shed in the garden. For we children it all seemed like fun but must have been so difficult for our parents.
We clearly remember one morning looking out of our bedroom window to see this soldier walking up the garden path. It was Letty’s husband John and the father of Ann, whom she had never known.
Eventually we all moved into Pear Tree Cottage which was situated next to the joinery works. While we children were at school Mother and Letty did their bit for the war effort by working in the workshop. We can remember them in their overalls and turbans.
After a while Letty, Uncle John and Ann moved across the road into Broadlands Villa where Mr and Mrs Pain let them rooms. It wasn’t long before Jill, Ann’s sister was born.
We girls all enjoyed village life - we made friends at school, where there were other evacuees and clearly remember life on the nearby farm where the Land Army girls befriended us.
Then came VE Day. Father was involved in organizing the celebrations and we have happy memories of the bonfire on the green and the music and dancing which went on late into the night. Like a lot of others our age we remember our first banana - didn’t like it all, it was black! We remember, too, the fuss one morning when all the newspapers had horrific pictures of the opening of the concentration camps and the grown ups trying to prevent us seeing them - but we did!
Looking back we had a happy war in the Cotswolds - we eventually came back to London so that Father could have his operation in St. Thomas’s Hospital in 1947. For several years afterwards we enjoyed long summer school holidays back in the village and we still visit our friends there.
The war must have changed the course of our lives - Judith still has a great love of animals and the countryside and Wendy married a boy from the village.
Finally, recently, Jill and her partner have bought and moved into Broadlands Villa where her family spent many happy years. Ann and her husband still live in the village and so does Uncle John, who is nearly ninety. On a recent visit he told us for the first time of his experience in Alexandria, Egypt and Rome, Italy.
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