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My Wartime Childhood Years

by elgeece-hurrell

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Linda Hurrell
Location of story: 
Plymouth, Dunoon and Belfast
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
12 May 2005

September 3rd 1939 — I celebrated my 4th birthday. A memorable day for many and especially so for me. I can remember being in church with my older sisters that day and a great announcement was made from the pulpit. It seemed as though everyone left the church and as we made our way up the hill to home we had to avoid all the men running down to Plymouth Dockyard. When we arrived home my grandmother was sitting with my mother by a table in the corner of the room and on this table was a Teddy bear, which I still cherish to this day. He is a bit the worse for wear as he has given 3 generations a lot of pleasure and comfort.

The declaration of war didn’t seem to affect our family very much as I recall as all the menfolk were already serving seamen and would be away for 3 years at a time. I was 2¼ years old when I first met my father. I believed that the picture on the mantelshelf was my father not this man who looked a bit like the picture. I took some convincing as I remember.

In 1940 my father’s ship was due to be stationed in Scotland for 3 months being the mother ship for training midget submariners. Dad found lodgings and Mum packed us all up and went up there to be near him. Whilst we there Plymouth was flattened — including our house — and all we had was what Mum had packed. We lost everything else because what wasn’t destroyed by the fires from the incendiary bombs was looted. Even though my father’s ship sailed away we stayed on in Dunoon as we had no home or family to go back to. We stayed in Scotland for 3 years until Dad’s ship was sent to Belfast where we once again joined him. Again we stayed on after his ship left again for 3 years during which time VE and VJ days were celebrated but Dad was still somewhere at sea. When he did return we were all settled in Belfast, my sisters were working by this time, but they would not grant my father a work permit so we all had to up-sticks once again and return to England.

We saw my father whenever possible during those war years. Because of the Official Secrets Act etc. my father wasn’t allowed to tell my mother where he was but they got around this by my father making a ‘person to person reverse charge call’ to a neighbour asking for my mother. The operator was obliged to ask if Mum was willing to accept a call from the place and person. She had no need to accept it — it told her all she needed to know to get to see him.

My education was rather unusual in that I attended about 14 schools in all. I was at one in Kent for only 3 weeks. I didn’t get much education in Scotland because the ‘climate didn’t suit me’ I was always ill it seemed. I hated it whilst we lived in a tenement in Kirn, near Dunoon. Living in a two roomed flat on the 3rd floor wasn’t easy for a family. We three girls slept together in the bedroom and Mum and Dad (when he was there) slept in the built-in bed in the recess by the chimney in the living room/kitchen. Each flat had a large cupboard on the landing intended as a larder/store room but food could not be kept there as it got stolen, as did any coal you might manage to get hold of. When I had double pneumonia I slept in the alcove bed for warmth as much as anything. I was one of the first to be treated with MMB tablets — the wonder drug of its day which probably saved my life.

I can recall playing truant one day — not very successfully — I thought the day was over when I heard the children come out at midday and went home! I’d eaten my packed lunch at the midmorning break! I also remember aircraft flying low over the hill we had to climb to get school and all of us children throwing ourselves flat on the field then waving to the pilot, who would be quite visible, when we knew it was ‘one of ours’. Another memory is sheltering from the air raids in the tenement washhouse along with some of the other tenants and the adults singing loudly in the hope that we children would not hear the aircraft dogfights over the Forth Bridge — their singing was not successful! My mother used to have a photo of one of the dogfights but I don’t know what happened to it. In fact I have no pictorial records of those years.

Living in Belfast was a very different cup of tea. There were no more air raids and we lived in a typical Victorian 3 storey fully furnished house — and how it was furnished! It had belonged to a doctor who had died and whose son lived abroad somewhere. There were pictures everywhere, massive, highly polished beautiful furniture, ornaments and treasures from around the world. There was so much valuable stuff that my mother insisted on a full inventory being taken before we moved in. It was a truly beautiful house in a very nice area. How different life was then. I regained my health, enjoyed going to school, made friends and loved life again. School work was a big challenge because I had missed so much in Scotland and the Irish education was very advanced. I was learning algebra at the age of ten when we left to come back to England. My very best friend was the niece of Leslie Howard, the film star, who shared my birthday. The years spent in Belfast were the happiest of my childhood. Coming back to England and living in London was horrific at first. Dad couldn’t get work; the only place we could afford to live was sharing a house with a very dirty, sly old man whose odour had to be smelt to be believed! I was picked on because I was ‘different’ and was so much further advanced educationally than the other kids. I have never liked London since.

The post-was years saw a few more changes for our family - mostly for the better particularly when we moved up to the Midlands where people were friendly and accepted you for what you were.

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