- Contributed by
- Kent Libraries- Shepway District
- People in story:
- Joan Holloway
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 15 January 2004
The following is an excerpt from an interview with Joan Holloway recorded by Rob Illingworth of the Folkestone Heritage Team on 27/08/03. It is added to the site with her permission.
Joan Holloway served in the Folkestone Report and Control centre, underneath the Town Hall (now Waterstone’s) where the response to air raids, bombings, shellings and other incidents was co-ordinated. In 1942 she joined the army and eventually became a cartographer working on the photographs taken by allied planes to create maps for the advancing troops. She remembers the mapping of Arnhem as a particularly demanding task. During this latter phase of her career she encountered Eisenhower with whom she was less than impressed!
”I went into the control room just after Dunkirk… The troop trains came more or less straight through. They did go slowly through Central station; they didn’t stop at the Junction and they didn’t stop at Shorncliffe. They slowed down at Central station long enough for people to hand sandwiches and things through to them. Because the WVS did that and they were also down on the harbour. I did a stint on the harbour for a while. I didn’t enjoy it very much but I did it. The worst thing was… you could hear the guns coming up through France and you could see them because it’s so flat, the country behind the coast there. Dunkirk, I think, really did tell us that there was something really nasty happening…
The population went down from 30,000 to 10,000 virtually over a weekend. At the West end of Folkestone they skipped out very quickly, they even left their animals… I went round with the Police on one or two occasions where constables had reported animals in distress and we found birds, goldfish, cats, dogs…
The control room was under the old town hall. Is it still there? There’s a little alleyway between the town hall and what used to be the old gas company showrooms, which is on the corner of Rendezvous Street. If you go down there, there’s a doorway and that was the entrance to the Police station. And then you go in there. There’s the charge room… Then the other side - actually it was part of the cells that had been shored up, concreted and lord knows what - which was the control room, a big control room with a telephone room just off it…
[The personnel included] Rescue, First Aid, Fire, Police, the Controller (who was either the Chief Constable or [Mr] Butcher who was… a chief inspector), a Civilian Controller, a Plotter, a couple of Runners and then, in the Telephone Section, there was six of us… We would sit at our telephones and either knit, sew, read, [or] listen to the radio. As soon as your telephone rang, you’d answer it and you’d have a pad and all your questions were on it which you to fill in. It was in triplicate! Why in triplicate, I never will know. And you had a Runner, stood or sat in the middle of the room and he or she would pick it up, and take it into the control room where it would be dealt with…
In the control room proper we had a map of the district. Our district finished at Seabrook at the old courthouse, (where the Little Chef is.)… [The map] showed every house, every garden shed. It was an ordnance map which filled that [points to 10” X 10” wall] Because, to get to the top of it, Johnny Johnson had to stand on steps. As things happened you put pins in. You had your pins for your Rescue people and your First Aid people (though we were all trained in First Aid as well [along with] most of the Rescue people.) And the representatives of those, once the thing was sorted, they took over and handled all their side of things.
Our Controller was an ex-Indian Army character, Captain Keary, who was an absolute Poppit, and our second in command was Walter Bateman, the baritone, great fun. A happy bunch.” [ Joan’s colleagues also included other members of the Folkestone Operatic Society and a former Miss Folkestone.]
Between times it was a bit boring. They used to play cards, do jigsaw puzzles and do all sorts of things.
”If you were living inland you had a sort of warning when something was going to blow up. Well here [on the East Kent coast] you got a cloud like that and some nice little friendly pilot would say, ‘Oh that’s nice,’ swoop over, drop a few bombs and swoop back again and we didn’t have time to sound a siren. So we had to work on our own initiative which didn’t please Maidstone one little bit… Everything was controlled from Maidstone, which is a heck of a long way away… When it was drilled home, eventually they realised that we’d got to sound a siren.
When it came to shelling it was a different kettle of fish because you didn’t see the darn thing coming. We [did] have the Royal Observer Corps. Mind you, we had one observer corps member who was an absolute hoot, love his heart, he really was dead keen. I was on the telephone one dusk and got this very excited voice on the end. He was supposed to give his name and give his report, instead of which there was this excited voice: ’They’re coming and there’s droves of them!’ So I sort of tried to keep calm. There was a bit of giggling. And said: ‘Droves of what?’ ’Well, them!’ Them was a flight of ducks. Because, on the next phone, we had the other Observer Corps man from the East Cliff… who was listening in on his line to put us right. But, actually, [the Duck observer] was quite good, he was on the ball, but he used to get a bit overexcited… The time when they dropped the parachute mines [landing on] Beach St… he rang through and said there was something coming down, he didn’t know what, but it was hanging from something. How would you make that out? It was a parachute mine, but he hadn’t seen one before, love his heart. But we were able to do something about it, to the extent we got things ready and by George didn’t we need them.
Everybody … in Control heard what was going on and when we knew what the exact thing was, then they could deploy their troops. There were Rescue sections in various places in the town. I had two uncles up in the one in St Saviour’s Church …The town was divided into sections and it was efficient. It jolly well had to be… The Controller and one or two of us went down [to the Beach Street site] the next morning to sort of have a look around, and it was horrific. That was old Folkestone and a lot of those houses were built cheek by jowl. You’ve got East Street, North Street, Beach Street, South Street. South Street was on the other side of the road, behind the London and Paris [hotel] and that went under the Bayle. It went from High Street to the Pavilion hotel. And there were little shops along there – a lovely little fish shop. We always used to go there for shellfish. It was a Norwegian family and they were wiped out… They were old buildings… You go into the bottom part of the town and you go into a yard [say] Valentine’s Yard… and there’d be about a dozen or so houses round it. They didn’t stand a chance…
But on the whole we were efficient, simply because we’d been well drilled. And it stood us in good stead because there was so little time between there [France] and here [Folkestone.]
We worked a shift, eight ‘til eight, but that was actually the whole Relief. That Relief was broken down into two shifts so you were on call for half of it. So you virtually worked for 12 hours, but you were on call for part of it. But if you were out and you went into a cinema or you went to a dance or something like that, on the side of the cinema screen were a series of lights… They didn’t interrupt the programme unless it was really bad… It would have been disastrous to send all those people out into the street, would have been absolutely stupid…
You felt you were really doing something… I had friends in the town who were working. I had one friend whose boss managed to get her deferred every time her call up papers came. And all she did was work all day in the shop and go out dancing or what have you every night. I think she did a bit of fire-watching, if and when, but, to me, she wasn’t helping anybody. And there was a little group of them - that was what they did.
Our job didn’t always finish [at Report and Control]. They had a spate, at one time, of handbag thefts at the Leas Cliff Hall. It was a little difficult because they had no Policewoman. So one of the constables and I were detailed to go to some of the dances at the Leas Cliff Hall and see if we could get a line on it. Naturally, all the detectives were known in the town… So just a constable and his girlfriend at a dance, would it matter? We did eventually find out what it was, who was doing it…
One lovely sunny morning Captain Keary, the Controller, and I decided we’d go for a walk on the Leas. We were on call and we knew we wouldn’t go far. We’d just go up to the bandstand or the Leas Cliff Hall and back. Just as we passed the Old Bristol Hotel… [we heard] a very nice rumba, played by Xavier Cugat, and Captain Keary looked at me and said, ‘May I have the pleasure?’ Well, being a soldier of the old school, they all had to learn to dance. So there on the Leas were two people, not a sole in sight, dancing a rumba. And we danced the rumba and we suddenly looked and there was a whole line of troops. I got into terrible trouble because they happened to be members of the battalion that my boyfriend was in. But we enjoyed our rumba… Dancing on the Leas, tut, tut! It got back to him that his young lady was dancing on the Leas with an old man. He was old enough to be my father but a very good dancer!”
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.