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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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As I remember it.

by stoke_on_trentlibs

Contributed by 
stoke_on_trentlibs
People in story: 
Pat Swann(nee Whitlock)
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A2852660
Contributed on: 
20 July 2004

At the beginning of the war I was seven years old, living in a small market town in North Devon, not far from the cornish coast.
My father owned a hardware shop and a garage, selling agricultural implements as well as cars. We lived "over the Shop". My father had been a mechanic in the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War and had subsequently learned to fly light aircraft, so thought the RAF could use him, however they said he was too old and his involvement with agriculture meant he had a reserved occupation. He became a Special Constable.
Early in the war we received trainloads of evacuees from London, I think the local school doubled in numbers. Of course all these children and teachers had to be housed, my mother was a billeting officer and we ended up with a family from the East End. I think children are unaware of class or snobbery, but realized after that our parents were concerned about the language and habits we might pick up. I just thought it meant more children to play with. How our evacuees managed I now wonder at, but at the time it didn't worry me. There was a mother, a girl about 10 I suppose, and two boys aged about 5 and 8. They lived in our two attic rooms, a bed-sitter and kitchen, with a primus stove and carrying all water upstairs from the bathroom, we all shared the bathroom and separate toilet. Later because my two older sisters were at boarding school, we also had three Bristol children aged 7 and 10 and a little boy aged 5. No-one seemed to worry about what we would now consider the traumatic effect it had on them all.
Needless to say it became terribly crowded when my sisiters came home, added to that we also two others from school, my cousin who lived in Linconshire and didn't want to cross London, and my sisters friend whose father lived in Nigeria and should have gone to her Grandmother in Plymouth but of course that was getting bombed as well. I would find it difficult to believe that I remember this correctly but we have a photograph taken one Sunday morning with all the people I have mentioned and the London father who was home on leave and the Bristol parents who had come down by train to see the children! Some time after this i gather my mother had a nervous breakdown, the Bristol children went home and the London family ere re-housed.

I would love to know what happened to them all, yes, I certainly remember their names and would love to be ablle to apologise for the lack of consideration we must have given them.

I went to boarding school with my sisters when I was 9. The war meant very little to us there, the windows were all crosshatched with sticky paper, there was black out of course, and although we complained bitterly about the lousy food, we were just told to be grateful as children in Europe were starving, to which we replied well, let them have this!
We had a family at school, a girl my age and her older sister, they were from the Channel Islands, their mother used to work in the kitchen, we never even thought to ask what might have happened to their father. There was another girl who had been in a Japanese prison camp, I suppose that was probably after the war, I just remember that she was very thin and was allowed to have extra chocolate. When the domestic staff went to join the forces, we had to do all the washing up in horrible greasy wooden sinks with soda. There was a bread cutting machine and the bread was buttered with a mixture of margarine and dried egg. I remember a lady coming to talk to us about free French and the resistance and we were expected to give them money, I don't think we had much, one shilling a week if we were under 12 and half a crown after, which had to buy stamps, collection, red cross and of course fines if we spilt anything at meal times and to retrieve items confiscated if we left them lying around. I do remember the end of the war, there was a general excitement wondering just which day it would be, we didn't have access to radio. Then one day the gardener started putting up bunting, so we started pulling the brown sticky paper off the windows and the staff said, no not yet.

Living on the main road from North Devon to Plymouth we were aware of ammunition arriving which was stored in Nissan huts which had been erected in gaps in the hedges. These piles of ammunition were guarded by soldiers. One night the whole lot just disappeared - shipped down to Devon.
I remember a camp which housed American soldiers, then Italian prisoners of war and finally German soldiers who were there for quite a while. A few Italians and Germans married local girls. American soldiers were billeted seperatly according to colour.
All our local beaches were mined, although they coastline was very dramatic. I remember a wreck just off the coast when an oil tanker and a supply tank collided.
We had a lot of fund raising events and our garage showroom seemed to be used for most of them. We also kept the emergency food van and the ambulance at the garage.
You could get a ration free meal at the local sunday school once a week. As children we quickly got used to rationing but it must have been hard work for mothers trying to feed a family.

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