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- People in story:
- Fred George
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- Contributed on:
- 31 January 2006
I was evacuated with my younger brother the day after the war started. I didn’t like being away from London and the people we stayed with weren’t all that keen to have me in their house though they liked my brother.
As I was nearly fourteen, the school leaving age in those days, I was glad to get home again and when my birthday came on 22nd November, I started work. It was with a jobbing printer and I had to clear up the cuttings from the guillotine. I had to get the tram from Peckham to Kennington. I can remember it was really pitch black by the time I left work at 5.15 because of the blackout and the dark evenings you get in any November. You didn’t know where you were at all. It was so dangerous on the roads because none of the cars had their headlights on — do you know more people were killed and injured on the roads than were killed in the bombing? The cars didn’t know where they were! Later on in the war the cars got hoods over the lights with slits cut into them and cars were painted white around the edges.
I was on 12 shillings and 6 pence a week — I had to give ten bob to Mum. I got the sack on my second day and a clip round the ear because I told my boss I wouldn’t do an extra journey in the dark to make a delivery in the opposite direction from my way home.
I soon got another job because I was cheap and everyone else was being called up. My father, for instance, was called up although he was 40 years old, That was because he was working for London Transport, which hadn’t filled its quota of employees under 35 who had to be released to the forces, so it had to fill up the numbers with older workers. Anyway, I started working as a driller, getting 15 bob a week. After France fell we had so much more work that my wages went up to 32 or 33 shillings a week. The work involved drilling on a stapler machine and it was needed for the Mosquito planes which were made of wood and were stapled together. I loved having to travel on the lorry to Hemel Hempstead where the planes were made. I lost that job when the factory was bombed. After that I got a job with a firm making labels.
I had a friend called Benny who was called was called up just before the war in the militia. I remember him coming home on leave for Christmas 1939. We had big party and Benny got drunk. It snowed that year and was very cold and Benny was put outside in the cold to sober up —it’s a wonder he didn’t get pneumonia. After that he had to go to France with an ack-ack (anti-aircraft) unit and he was machine gunned by a German Stuka plane and shot in the foot. He was brought back and taken into a hospital in Liverpool. He had been due to marry a girl called Nelly in August 1940.
He didn’t have any shoes that fitted his foot, so he didn’t have any shoes for the wedding. As I had been an evacuee with my brother, Len, we had had to have carpet slippers for the house we were staying in. I kept these and lent mine to Benny for the wedding — they were the only shoes he could get on his wounded foot.
Once the blitz on London started we used to have to get to a shelter every night. There were raids every night for 76 nights. We tried all sorts of shelters including St George’s Church in Southwark, a Tate and Lyle factory (for one night) sleeping on sacks of sugar (imagine if there’d been a fire there!), and Elephant and Castle Tube station. I didn’t like being in the shelter. I was always getting into trouble for something or other like disturbing people or, down the tube, sleeping on the platform and letting my legs dangle down the edge. So, if I could I’d go out and see what was happening and help the ARP people. There were some nasty sights and sometimes I was able to help with smothering incendiary bombs with sand.
I used to walk with a 19-year-old girl whose fiance was in the militia. One day as we were walking down Peckham Park Road suddenly the whole place was covered in thousands of pieces of coloured paper, They’d all come from a warehouse that had been bombed.
There were no raids over Christmas 1940 from 24th to 27th December but then the bombing started again on 28th. This was one of the worst raids ever; it knocked out our street, so we left my father behind with the rubble and went up to stay in Wellingborough.
While we were there I got a job as a van boy. once a week we went to Burton Latimer to the Weetabix factory where we had a Weetabix breakfast. That was special because you had to use your ration points to get Weetabix in the shops but this was free.
I volunteered for the RAF in March 1943 and in the June I was interviewed and said I wanted to train for aircrew. They offered me training for a gunner but I told them I wanted to get a trade training and they put me down for wireless operator. In January 1944 I was called up but later that year they said they had too many aircrew and at that time you could opt to become a miner, so in the October I went for training in Creswell colliery and lived in a hostel. It was in Creswell that I met my wife and we were married in 1946.
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Clare George of the BBC Radio Cambridgeshire Story Gatherer Team on behalf of Fred George and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
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