- Contributed by
- Canterbury Libraries
- People in story:
- Judy Ward
- Location of story:
- Herne Bay, Kent
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 17 November 2004
This story has been submitted to the People's War site by Jan Moore for Kent Libraries and Archives and Canterbury City Council Museums on behalf of Judy Ward and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
I was born on the 29th January 1924 and baptised Noreen Kitty Woolf, but known to the family as Judy.
I was educated at the Girdlers Collegiate School in Herne Bay and left when I was 14 years old, in the spring of 1938.
That year, unemployment was high and jobs were scarce. There was a lot of war talk, but nobody really believed it would happen. Most relied on Mr. Chamberlain to 'put things right'.
By the autumn, I was still without a job, then fate took a hand. One evening, my father was talking to the Clerk of the Herne Bay Urban District Council, who told him that the councillors had said that they were going to upgrade the local air raid precautions system, by building an underground control centre beneath the Council chamber.
The enrolment of fire, ambulance and warden personnel was coming on slowly, but they could get no one interested in communications. To finalise the plan, they needed volunteers several times a week to train in using the phone and alarm systems. My father, fed up with having me hanging about jobless, immediately volunteered my services. In those days, girls usually did what their fathers said and reluctantly I agreed to go along, to see what it was all about. I was the only one at the meeting, except for a 15 year old boy called Louis, but we duly signed up and received our ARP badges. Over the next year, we 'volunteered' for everything, from fighting fires, fitting gas masks, bandaging 'casualties' and being rescued from bombed buildings, as well as learning all there was to know about communiations.
In 1939, when I was 15, I had become fully trained and Louis, now 16, had taken on the task of store keeper, armed only with a notebook and pencil (no computers then!). It had been a long hard year for both of us and still no volunteers to help. In September 1939, to everyone's surprise, war broke out and I was finally employed as a fully trained operator; Loius had become store keeper, likewise employed.
I did mainly shift work, a 44 hour week, the wage was one pound, one shilling and sixpence, employed at last!
By then, there were plenty of willing volunteers and the Contol Room was a hive of activity, but I wonder how it would have been if Louis and I had not been there to start things off and keep them going. I also wonder what the townspeople would have thought, if they had known their fate was in the hands of a 14 year old girl and a 15 year old boy. Would they have taken to their shelters if they had known it was I who activated the siren?
After Dunkirk, in 1940, I'd been at the Centre for nearly 2 years and was getting restless. In August I joined the WAAF and after training, was posted to the Combined Forces Unit under the C. in C. the Nore (Chatham), The biggest operational control centre in southern England, hidden 300 feet underground, but well, that's another story!
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