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Wartime in Simmons Brewery, Reading

by Elizabeth Lister

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
Elizabeth Lister
People in story: 
Irene Bristowe
Location of story: 
Cambridge Street & Simmons Brewery Reading
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
05 December 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by a volunteer from CSV Berkshire on behalf of Irene Bristowe and has been added to the site with her permission. Ms Bristowe fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

When war broke out I was sitting at home in Cambridge Street listening to the radio. I was a teenager at the time. We were all stunned and went out into the street. Almost at once the air raid siren went off. As it was just after Churchill’s speech we all thought it was the real thing, lots of people didn’t know what to do. It turned out to be a practice, fortunately.

Later a brick shelter was built at every street corner and they also gave every household
an Anderson shelter for people to put up themselves in their gardens. My father refused to put ours up, he was an ex —serviceman from World War One and he said that he would not go in the shelter —he said that if he died he would die in bed! My mother and Aunt put the shelter up themselves. They had to dig down about 3ft into the garden to put it up. Inside we had chairs. We didn’t use the shelter much even though our house backed onto the railway line and we could see the searchlights looking for enemy aircraft at night.

I was too young to go in the forces so when I left school I went to work as a clerk in the office of Simmons Brewery. I was a ledger clerk in the general office with about 30 others. The men in the office were all over 40 years old and too old to fight.

There were several American camps around Reading, (The first time I saw a coloured man was a black American serviceman). The Americans used to buy their liquor for the messes from us and the Americans would come into the office to place their orders or pay their accounts. They were some of our best customers. When they came in to the office they would bring treats for the staff. Once an American came in the office with a box full of tins of pineapple for us. They would bring in sweets and ask, “Would you like a little candy?” in their strong American accents. Some of the older girls in the office were invited to camp dances. A lorry would come around and they would all jump on and off they went. We all loved it when they came in the office, particularly the girls.

In the general office there was a big counter and every evening we would start putting the ledgers away at 4.55pm so we could leave at 5pm. We were putting the ledgers away one day when we heard a plane go over and heard bullets ricocheting off the tin roof of the bicycle shed. Next there was an explosion in town. It was a German plane getting rid of its spare bullets and bombs. When I left work I walked around town looking at the damage, there was broken glass everywhere.

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