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15 October 2014
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From Richmond to Egypt via Blackpool

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Ena Barrett
Location of story: 
Richmond, Blackpool and Egypt
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A4452554
Contributed on: 
14 July 2005

This story was added to the website by a CSV volunteer on behalf of Ena Barrett, who has given her permission for her story to appear on the site, and understands the terms and conditions of the website.

I spent the years from 1940 to 1946 in three very different areas. I lived in Richmond but worked in London in Berkeley Square House. To begin with things were quiet — the Phoney War — but German bombers did occasionally penetrate the British defensives and a running battle would ensure across the sky. I remember watching such a ‘dog fight’ from the back steps of a bus one morning. The German pilots, anxious to lighten their load for a quicker retreat, would unload their bombs as quickly as possible, but they would nobly try to drop them on open ground — that is not on innocent residential areas.

One day I was watching the Wizard of Oz in the local cinema when the siren sounded and I decided to get home where my mother was alone. Almost immediately there was a series of explosions as one of these German bombers released its load across Richmond Park. After the All Clear — I took the dog into the park and saw several craters at a distance. I didn’t investigate, but the park was closed to the public from that day on. It subsequently houses an army camp and anti-aircraft guns, both heavy Ack-Ack as well as lightweight Bofors.

Working in Berkeley Square I was often in Oxford Street at lunchtime and almost casually glancing at the latest wounded emporium and idly wondering which one would be next. At one time the air raids began at an almost regular time in the evening and we would be allowed to leave the office whenever we liked. I remember standing on the platform of Green Park underground station at 4pm watching people beginning to stake their claim for a night’s shelter by spreading out their paliasses and blankets.

At the beginning of 1944 I worked every Sunday night in the NAAFI canteen at Euston Station. This was real war experience with bombs and guns blazing away most for the time. There was usually a quiet period in the early hours but, occasionally, a trainload of troops would arrive from a northern port, all tired and dirty from some battlefront.

I did venture to cycle to London from Richmond only once — it was further than I had realised and the roads were littered with shattered glass. There were two occasions in London when news seemed to get round by word of mouth. It was all very exciting. The first was after the first night of the Doodlebugs. People whispered ‘the planes were pilot less’. We marvelled at what this entailed for the future. The second was after D-Day…’It’s begun, it’s begun’ we passed on — and then fell silent with awe.

I left Richmond for Lytham St Anne’s in December 1940. A great experience. Nearby Blackpool was a boomtown with hoards of evacuated civil servants resident in the hotels and RAF recruits everywhere else, including the holiday camp at South Shore. As virtually the whole of the East Coast of the country was defended and barricaded against invasion, the West Coast was the only playground for anyone lucky enough to get a week off work. To begin with the fun and excitement was intense- dancing and shows every night — and almost no air raids. Although the blackout was strictly enforced there, Blackpool Tower itself was allowed one light at its peak — to help our own aircraft from the nearby airport. We ‘soft Southerners’ found the weather somewhat harsh and the wind, often 80mph, quite something to get used to.

After the first year of fun, I devoted more of my spare time to more serious, but still pleasurable, pastimes like learning shorthand, typing and Spanish as well as helping to run a farm club under the leadership of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, which was also evacuated there.

Travelling was anything but comfortable. The last train at night from Blackpool to St Anne’s was always crammed full. I remember a non-corridor 10-seater compartment holding 28 people! One day, when travelling down to London on leave, I had to take refuge in the guard’s van, which gradually filled up as the journey crawled on. We stopped for some long time at Crewe during a somewhat noisy air raid, but eventually drew into Euston unscathed and I had to stay in the waiting room until the underground started up at 6am.

From Lytham St Anne’s I was posted to Cairo. I had to wait until D-Day was safely launched and I was in the first convoy to go through the Mediterranean. It was all very exciting — my first trip in a liner of course, it had been adapted for troop carrying with lots of bunk beds in every possible corner. Ten or so up the high walls leading down the staircase to the dining room. Egypt was another world to me — warmth and light and gaiety. The war itself had moved on out of North Africa by 1944. Although I was on war work (shipping) I was not in uniform but I was allowed all the advantages of being in HM Service. Such luxury. Of course, I took every possible advantage of it - seeing as much of the Middle East (usually by courtesy of Army transport — not always comfortable) as my leave and pocket allowed. Palestine, Lebanon, Tobruk, Luxor. The pyramids were open for the public to climb up themselves, with or without a guide. I did it twice- with photos to prove it — and each time I tripped but landed safely on the large steps, which were four feet high. The Sphinx had her chin supported by sandbags. There was one day of local political riots when there was a lot of burning and smashing by rival groups mostly in the centre of town. When venturing home from the office, I did see one lorry on fire down a side street but that was all. I remember hearing that the Christian Cathedral, St George’s, had been attacked and damaged.

VE day was very quiet. I think most people were seriously wondering about their futures, specially the men folk. There was a celebratory outing arranged — a river trip to the nearby Barrage which reminded me very much of the riverboats in Richmond.

Peace came as a damp squib!

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