- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Arthur George Duff; Mrs Pamela Jennings (nee Duff,) - sister; Ron Duff - brother; Jess Jones - aunt.
- Location of story:
- Chatham, Kent; Cwumcarn, Wales
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 28 December 2005
Ron (aged 8,) and Arthur Duff (aged 5.) Wales 1940
Transcription based on an interview held at Gillingham Library (Kent) on July 7th. 2005.
Mr. Duff: I went for evacuation with my brother but we were separated. I was five, just over five and he was three and a half years older than me. When we got to Wales, he was taken off first, and I was on my own. Everyone went out, I didn’t know where he was, I was left there, I didn’t know what was happening, I just sat there, and I’ll never forget it as long as I live.
Right opposite where I was staying, there was this slagheap. I wondered what it was, I couldn’t work it out. In the night, when I had to get up for whatever, I got out of bed — no, I was in the chaise lounge, I’ll never forget the chaise lounge, as you came in the front door, you were inside the room and there was the chaise long, opposite was the fire place. I got out of bed for whatever reason, maybe I was crying, I don’t know, I was quite upset, but there was all these things under my feet, I didn’t know what they were. In the morning I found out they were cockroaches. The whole room was full of cockroaches and they were all making their way towards the fireplace. They were all coming from this slagheap. They were everywhere! I don’t know how long I was there, two or three days or what. My auntie, Jess Jones, she went up there from where she lived in Wales and she told mum about where we were staying and how bad it was. I was moved to where my brother was staying.
My brother and I went down there in 1989, to revisit the place where we lived in. We walked along, walked in the house and there was the lady that had looked after us, sitting in the kitchen. We’d phoned her son up to let him know we were coming. She looked up, my brother Ron went over to her and he said, “Hello Mrs. Bates!” She looked up and she said, “Arthur!” That’s me! She thought it was me, and she said “Arthur!” The only one she knew was Arthur, and she kept on saying, “Arthur, well, where’s Arthur?” I said, “I’m here!” It’s so vivid! They were marvelous people. Some of the other evacuees in Wales weren't as lucky. A lot of people got separated, didn’t they? There were lots of sad things that happened, when you come to think of it.
Another thing that’s really stayed with me is something I keep thinking of. When I had to leave to be evacuated from our home in Henry Street, Chatham, I didn’t want to go. My mum gave me a little purse as everyone was giving me money - I had about £3 by the time I went. I was told to spend it when I got to Wales. So when we left, the purse was in a knapsack on my back, along with my gas mask and on the train on the way there I kept on getting this money out and looking at it. The teacher, I can see her now, kept on saying, “Arthur, you’ll lose that. I’ll look after it for you.” So I said, “Oh, all right,” so she took it off me - I never saw it again! But the thing was, I was in her class every day and I knew she’d got my money, but I never went up and asked for it! So all my schoolroom days were spent looking at her, she had my money, I knew it, but I never had the nerve to go up and ask for it!
Mrs. Jennings: A funny thing was that at first we were evacuated to Sittingbourne. That didn’t last for very long; it was a bit of a silly place to put us really, in-between Chatham Dockyard and Sheerness Dockyard. I remember sitting on a swing with a gas mask close at hand. I have a photograph somewhere but I can’t find it. There were only about two or three photographs taken during the war.
You two boys went to Wales. I remember us girls coming to Wales on holiday, getting on a train, and dad saying we were going under the river Severn…
Mr. Duff: Over the river Severn…
Mrs. Jennings: No, into a hole, in a tunnel. Underwater! I remember also, when we were in bed, we must have been in the same room, and you and Ron were frightening us, by saying that all the Germans were going to come over that mountain and come down and get us.
Mrs. Jennings: I remember the air raid shelters - every time the sirens went off we went down the garden into the air raid shelter. In the end, mum used to put us to bed down there; we slept there because it stopped all the worrying.
Mr. Duff: It's funny talking about air-raid shelters it makes me think of when we lived in Henry Street, Chatham. There were several rows of houses, and one of these rows came out on Waghorn Street; you came out there, opposite Magpie Hall Road and you turn left, and there’s Listmus Road, and you turn and there’s Waghorn Street. I can see it today. A house on the left in Waghorn Street had got a direct hit; we were at home at the time. I remember the whole thing, the windows shattered, worst we’d ever heard. The next day we were all down there, to see this house in Waghorn Street, it was completely ruined.
At the bottom of the garden the air raid shelter was at an angle, almost taken out of the ground. What had happened was that the explosion blast had lifted it up. The whole house was in ruins, yet the air raid shelter was in one piece. I thought, I’m safer in the air raid shelter, after seeing what had happened. That was fantastic.
Mrs. Jennings: Dad was in the Home Guard. I can remember mum crying. We hadn’t got much food, but I remember her taking food down to Chatham Station because apparently there was a train coming soon with soldiers on, and I remember her saying, oh, they must be starving. There was a story about three brothers, our uncles, who were rescued from Dunkirk; I don’t remember when this was exactly.
Mr. Duff: My uncle Joe, he was one of the soldiers rescued from Dunkirk. They came back on the trains and lorries and so forth, I suppose from near Dover. I remember Joe saying that he was separated from his mates. On his way home he was walking up Blue Bell Hill and his mates happened to be at the Upper Bell, you’ve got the Upper Bell and the Lower Bell Pubs on the old Maidstone to Chatham Road. Back then the stretch of road between the two pubs was very narrow - with no room for two vehicles to pass. So when arriving at one or the other pub a bell was rung to signal that a vehicle was coming through so the road wasn't clear for another vehicle to commence it's journey from the other end. On this day, when his mates at the top realized who was coming up, they ran down to meet him and helped him with his kit.
Mrs. Jennings: I can remember a parachute came down on the Lines. Parachutes were made of white silk. All the women were down there with their scissors, cutting; I can remember it because I was walking around watching it all. They were going to make some underwear with it.
Mr. Duff: We’ve all said about collecting shrapnel and things. I remember seeing pictures of the butterfly bombs, they were sort of round, with little wings, two wings, we found out they were German bombs. They were landing all over the woods; don’t think we ever found one. We were told not to touch them, not to go near them.
Mrs. Jennings: I can remember the Doodlebugs used to come over and I can remember climbing up the line pole to watch where it landed, and mum coming to the door, saying “Come in! Come in!” and I’d say, “I just want to see it land!”
Mr. Duff: Another thing I always remember - planes for D Day. I remember coming out of the house and there were thousands of aeroplanes. (Obviously as we’d seen this on the telly since it was D Day.)
Mrs. Jennings: I started to go to school in 1941. I can remember once at school, when a teacher shouted at me in the school playground to go into the shelter. I can also remember, it must have been near home time as I ran along Henry Street to get indoors.
Also, I remember the blackouts - tripping over the steps and the men walking around checking on the blinds. If you were letting any light out they would knock on the windows.
Mr. Duff: When you think about the blackout you can’t remember anything so black, you couldn’t see a thing. It was so black that there were more people killed during that period in the war in road accidents than ever since. You just couldn’t see.
Mr. Duff: We had prisoners of war over here - Italians, Germans or whatever, they had white things on the back of the shirts. Some of us used to take them down a tea or coffee.
Mrs. Jennings: A lot of the POWs were out at the hop farms though. I remember mum saying, they’re somebody’s sons, take them something out to eat.
Mr. Duff: I think some of the POWS were kept out at Chattendene; there was a big area up there.
Mrs. Jennings: That’s a long way away though.
Mr. Duff: Yes, but you’ve got to keep them somewhere, haven’t you? Some one said there used to be a camp, behind a fence, near the Lines.
Mrs. Jennings: I can’t believe that they would have had them on the Lines. Chatham was a military town.
Mrs. Jennings: Well, we never wasted any food. My mum used to be able to make something out of nothing. She had to.
Mr. Duff: I remember now, us children, we never liked our vegetables. What they used to do was to have mashed potato and mix the vegetables, the carrots and whatever, into the potato. So if you wanted to eat the potato, you had to eat the vegetables! There was no way you could avoid it. It was funny.
Mrs. Jennings: We grew food; I can remember runner beans and potatoes. Although it wasn’t a very big garden it was filled with vegetables and we kept chickens and rabbits as well.
Mr. Duff: Talking about those chickens, we had eggs off them and we used to eat the chickens sometimes too.
Mrs. Jennings: Dad would eat the chickens, mum never would. My uncle used to come and kill them, we knew which chicken was which and named them.
Mr. Duff: There was one chicken called Alice; we used to dress her up!
Mrs. Jennings: Alice we had for years. We used to dress them in babies clothes — we had this sailor suit and we used to dress this chicken up in a sailor suit! Alice must have been quite old when she died.
Mr. Duff: She was a part of the family, really.
Mrs. Jennings: Alice used to come into the house. I remember mum nursing her when she was ill. The chicken was put inside the baby's large gas mask to be looked after. Because David was a young baby, his gas mask was a big thing, large enough to put a chicken inside it. It must have been after the war, because it wasn’t being used. Most chickens die of old age, but we kids didn’t want her to die. So Mum and a neighbour mixed some brandy with milk and fed it to the chicken!
Mr. Duff: Ridiculous story, but lovely and true.
Mr. Duff: In Chatham, in an area opposite the town hall, where there are gardens now, they roasted an ox when I was about thirteen. I remember going down to that, everyone was queuing up - it was fantastic. A whole ox.
Mrs. Jennings: I can remember the ration books. Every time you went shopping, you had to have that with you, you were only allowed so much per person. We were better off, because mum had five kids, so obviously, for each child we got a bit extra. Like two ounces of cheese or something for each person. I can remember going round to the Co-op for Mum her saying, “Now make sure that they only take such and such off the tickets”, because obviously if the ticket had been taken out by mistake, you couldn’t have it back.
Mrs. Jennings: Mum worked at Short brothers, just along from the Esplanade in Rochester during the war. Everyone had to do something - we were at war. And when she was at work, obviously, Dad used to look after us. He worked at the Chatham Dockyard and also belonged to the Home Guard. He used to go out training, and then say “We’ve got no weapons, just broomsticks!”
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