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15 October 2014
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by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Winifred Matthews (née Tear)
Location of story: 
West Sussex
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
29 September 2005

Winifred Matthews in the Landarmy in West Sussex, 1943

This story was added by Eleanor Fell on behalf of Winifred Matthews, who has given her permission for her story to appear on the website.

When war broke out September 3rd 1939 I was sixteen and lived in London at Sturdy Road in Peckham, London. I was one of four children with an older sister and a younger sister and brother. I had trained to be and embroideress at Barrett Street Trade School behind Oxford St W1.

When the bombing in London became more intense my younger brother and sister were evacuated through Peckham Rye School to West Sussex, where they were billeted in different homes which was very distressing for them having to leave their Mother, Father and two sisters. We carried on in London as my older sister and myself were in employment. The bombing became worse and we had some very narrow escapes. One night we were in the Anderson Shelter in our back garden, when some bombs dropped quite close we were trapped in our shelter by bricks and rubble, which had blocked the entrance. We were stuck there until an Air Raid Warden came calling to see if anyone was in the shelter. He said, “Don’t strike any matches as there is a burst gas main and we could all be blown up”. It was dark and he cleared away the debris and by torchlight led us to a local communal Air Raid Shelter.

My father (through health reasons from serving in WW1) and my older sister joined the other two members of the family in West Sussex leaving my mother and me to stay in what was left of our house. On another occasion when we were out the siren went warning of an air raid, so we started for a shelter, once inside a land mine was dropped and we were blasted from one end of the shelter to the other, the experience was awful, it felt as if your whole body was twice the size through the impact of the blast. Eventually my mother and I joined the rest of the family in West Sussex.

We didn’t have a home to start with until I joined the Women’s Land Army on 14th January.1942 No:62929, and the farmer offered us a cottage to live in so my mother, father, brother and myself were together. My eldest sister also joined the Women’s Land Army and worked on a pig farm at Tillington (West Sussex) and my younger sister had joined the Women’s Land Army and worked on a poultry farm at Henfield (West Sussex). I worked on a fruit farm at Kirdford (West Sussex) such a contrast from my trade which was needle work. I found it hard at first climbing ladders to pick apples, pears and plumbs and back aching picking strawberries, blackberries, black and red currants. We also had fields of hay, which had to be cut, put into stooks and finally collected and made into hayricks.

In the Autumn and Winter we would spray the trees with a sulphur solution to prevent scab and aphids on the apples, the smell was quite unpleasant and often made us look a bit yellow if it got on our faces. We wore protective clothing and heaving the pipes about was pretty tough. I remember my first summer on the farm I got very sunburnt and had huge blisters on my arms as my skin was so sensitive being a ‘towny.’

I enjoyed my time in the Women’s Land Army especially during the summer as the farmer used to go to Petworth (West Sussex) to collect about ten women who would help pick the fruit for market; this was a happy time in the fruit fields with plenty of laughs. I, like many other Women’s Land Army conscripts felt we were the forgotten army when it came to getting a gratuity.

I never returned to London and have lived in West Sussex ever since.

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