- Contributed by
- Elizabeth Lister
- People in story:
- Iris Rhodes
- Location of story:
- Stockenchurch, Buckinghamshire and East London
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 29 July 2005
MY JEWISH FRIENDS
This story was submitted to the People's War site by a volunteer from Radio Berkshire on behalf of Iris Rhodes and has been added to the site with her permission. Iris fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
My experience of WW2 was very traumatic and I feel it has affected the rest of my life.
I was living in the east end of London with my parents and my older sister. My father was too old to be called up. I was evacuated at the age of five to Stockenchurch in Buckinghamshire. My sister, Jean, was sixteen and went to High Wycombe because it was thought she could get a job more easily there. I lived with Mr and Mrs Ashby and their son Jack on a rural council estate. It was all very strange to me - I was not used to the countryside. I started school while I was there and remember how cruel the local children could be to the evacuees - taunting us with tales of bombs being dropped on our homes in London and killing our parents and pets. We tended to stick together and in a way felt superior to these country people. My parents visited as much as they could and Mrs Ashby took me on the bus to visit my sister but I was very unhappy and after about a year my father came and took me back to London and years of terror.
Two of the schools I attended were bombed and I had a narrow escape when the third one was hit. I left school promptly that day to go to the pictures with a friend and her mother to see Margaret Lockwood in the The Wicked Lady, and just missed the bomb. It seemed we spent months at a time in the dark of the air raid shelter. Luckily our house was not hit but there were terrifying times tinged with excitement. I remember sleeping in the underground at St Paul’s when it was bombed and we were trapped for a while. Everyone was rushing around but eventually a train took us to safety.
It wasn’t all bad. In east London we were surrounded by Jews from Russia and Germany. I was particularly friendly with the daughters of one family, Yetta and Gertrude - we went to school together. Sadly my father died of cancer during the war and this family showed extreme kindness to me and my mother. I remember the special Friday evening meals. There was no sense of austerity at all. It was here I enjoyed good conversation and learnt to appreciate classical music and literature. I also experienced with them some anti semitism. I was accepted by the family but only up to a point because, of course, I was not a Jew.
I also remember the extraordinary kindness of the American soldiers. They used to visit us and in return for the odd meal and companionship would give us chewing gum etc. I remember one in particular, named Mick. We were sad to hear that he was later killed in Germany.
We really celebrated at the end of the war. I remember the VE Day street parties - dressing up and listening to Glen Miller’s ‘In the Mood’.
I think of it all as a bad experience but some good did come out of it. I have to thank that time for my love of the countryside now. It was in Stockenchurch I first really heard the birds and saw wild violets and primroses and learnt to eat from the hedgerows - ‘bread and cheese’ and cob nuts. And my sister was very happy in High Wycombe, eventually marrying Raymond, the son of the household where she was evacuated. I was bridesmaid.
But then, on a recent visit to the Great Hall in Winchester, I saw an Anderson shelter on display. In that moment I felt as afraid as I did all those years ago. I didn’t think it possible to experience such a panic attack again.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.