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Memories of the War

by Genevieve

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Mrs Margaret Hardwick
Location of story: 
St Albans, London, Henley, Middle East, Cyprus
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
18 August 2005

I was one of a family of seven children and throughout the war we were living at St Albans, where my father was the Dean. We lived in a lovely Deanery just below the Cathedral. I was 12 or 13 at the beginning of the War.

St Albans was only about 20 miles from London but, surprisingly, we had evacuees - women and children evacuated from London because of the threat of air raids. We had a very big house and we had four expectant mothers billeted on us - one of them already had her baby, and the other babies were born while they were with us; my Mother became Godmother to most of them! One of the four women was Jewish - it must have been very difficult for her to get the right kosher food for herself and the baby, especially as they all shared one room and cooked their own meals in our kitchen, which cannot have been easy.

From our upstairs rooms, we could see the fires of London during the Blitz - it was a terrible sight. Although we were only twenty miles from London, St Albans was never attacked, although one or two stray bombs fell on the town. I sometimes went into London and saw the effects of the bombing, and once my sister and I spent a night in one of the Underground stations that were used as shelters during the Blitz, which was very uncomfortable. Some families went down there every night, bringing their own chairs, blankets, and beds, so that the Tube almost became their home for weeks on end.

We were five girls and two boys in the family, and only the elder boy was old enough to go into the Forces. He spent the war in the Middle East, and came through it all right, though he was wounded once - in Cyprus, though I don't know how he managed that! As for us girls, my father was very disappointed with the whole lot of us because none of us was in uniform! (He had been badly wounded himself in the first War and always walked with a limp). My eldest sister worked for the BBC in London and I worked for ICI, though I wasn't too sure which side we were really on as ICI was full of refugee scientists who had escaped to England from all parts of Europe.

On other interesting memory was from a time when we were holidaying on the river Thames at Henley; it must have been in the summer of 1940. My parents slept on the floor of an inn while they bedded us down on punts on the river and told us to get on with it. It was very good for us, but one night a fleet of boats came down the river in the dark and we couldn't imagine what was going on as their wash rocked the punts so much that that, and the noise of the engines, kept us awake. It wasn't until afterwards that we heard that these were boats going to Dunkirk in response to a public appeal to take off the soldiers from the beaches - they did a marvellous job.

Most of the bombing was in the winter of 1940-41, but then in the last year of the War, there were V1s and V2s and they were very nasty. The V1s were the 'doodlebugs' - unmanned flying bombs. The worst thing about them was that if one was passing overhead and its engine cut-out, you knew it was coming down on you and there was a horrible pause while you waited to see where it fell. Though the V2s - rocket bombs - were almost worse in a way as they flew so high and so fast that you couldn't see or hear them coming. They exploded with no warning at all and did a great deal of damage.

I remember the food rationing of course - my mother used to send us out to see if we could get any little extras to add to our rations, and we used to queue for hours. The blackout was a terrible nuisance too - especially because the Deanery had a lot of large rooms with big windows and we had to get wooden frames made for them all covered with blackout material, and put them up every night. The cathedral of course couldn't be blacked out at all, and all services had to be held in daylight. Otherwise, we could only use a chapel at one end of the cathedral, which could be blacked out.

One other thing I remember is that we had a number of Free French (followers of de Gaulle) in St Albans. My mother gave them a lot of hospitality and we saw a good deal of them - she even became an honorary godmother to one of them! Our speaking French taught us a lot, although we must have made many mistakes. Our French guests were very patient with us. They kept in touch for some time, but sadly, we never saw them again.

One other thing worth mentioning - at the end of the war in the East in August 1945, my father was so shocked at the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan that he would not allow the Cathedral bells to be rung for the end of the war.

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by John Baines of the BBC Radio Shropshire CSV Action Desk on behalf of Mrs. Margaret Hardwick and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

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