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Candles In The Dark

by threecountiesaction

You are browsing in:

Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
threecountiesaction
People in story: 
Peter Cowan
Location of story: 
Harrow, Middlesex
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A4460744
Contributed on: 
15 July 2005

(This story was submitted to the People's War site by a volunteer from Three Counties Action at The Taking It On Event in Luton on behalf of Peter Cowan and has been added to the site with his permission. Mr Cowan fully understands the site's terms and conditions).

I was born in 1933 so at the start of the war and I was on the allotment with my father when the sirens went. The date was the 3rd September 1939. My father said “not again” as he had fought in the First World War in France. He said “I’ve had enough of fighting in the trenched I'm not going to do it again1”

In 1940’s the bombs started falling in Harrow and the school was evacuated as it was taken over by the RAF. We were taught in different people’s homes with 5 or 6 other children so we could continue the lessons. Event the teachers came as well. Then we were able to return to the school in around 1943 /44 as they had built brick shelters in the playground. They were also shelters in most streets taking up much of the width of the streets. There were no lights in the shelters so brought candles and saucers. You had to light the candle, then turn it on its side to let the wax drip onto the saucer and then stick the candle onto the wet wax and then you had a portable torch, but it was only for those who could afford candles! There was an iron mongers close to the school and that’s where we bought them from We used to take a roll from the baker for a farthing and a candle from the iron monger for a hapenny.

Towards the end of the war there were doodlebugs that came over and we didn’t take any notice of them as they were harmless until the engine cut out. What used to happen if by chance the engine cut out you went down the shelter or took cover under the table or under the stairs. At night time you could see them as they had lights from the engine that lit up. From the school we had bicycles without gears and if you heard anything come down you used to cycle out after school to see the damage. We used to get as near as we could.

Once my father dug up a large piece of shrapnel from his allotment, it was in the form of a nose cone. He gave it to me and we kept it on the mantelpiece for the whole of the war. I don’t know what happened to it but I played with it as a boy, we used to play rockets and throw it at each other.

The worst thing was the rockets there was no warning for those, there were no air raid sirens they would come down and then you heard the whoosh there would be devastation. I think they came down in 1944 45 — but luckily there weren’t that many. Again we used to cycle out towards the direction of the bang after school to see what had happened.

I remember in 1939 my parents were asked if my brother and I could be evacuated and my mother said “no”! She wanted the family to be kept together, but my cousin spent the war in Rochester in American. He went there because his father worked at Kodak and they sent to the children to Kodak in America. He did come back after the war but eventually emigrated to America.

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