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The Telegraph Office

by Eileen_Charles

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Eileen Phillimore
Location of story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
04 November 2003

This story is about my mother, Eileen who was just sixteen at the time.

Eileen lived in Bristol and after leaving school worked for a paint factory where she met my father who was the industrial chemist there. Loathing the job, she went to work for the Great Western Railway Company to train as a telegraphist sending Morse Code messages up and down the lines.

My grandfather, Eileen's father, also worked for GWR as an engine driver and so both of them were working shifts. My grandmother had departed for the countryside to stay with Eileen's eldest brother and his wife so grandfather and Eileen were managing by themselves through the blackout and bombings. Often, Eileen had to go down into the outside shelter in the garden by herself. She always hated that because of the creepy crawlies but felt safer there anyway.

For the duration of the blitz, the telegraph office had been moved to the large caverns beneath the incline and the railway station itself. The telegraph girls were afraid of the rats down there and were aware that the railway station would be a target for the bombers.

Because of the importance of the work and the secrecy of the telegraphs which also concerned the movement of troops, soldiers with guns were posted outside the doors. On many occasions, when my father went to meet Eileen so that she would not have to walk home through the darkness alone, he was stopped with a gun in his chest, being challenged 'Halt, who goes there?'

I find myself amazed by these memories of my parents and wonder how I would deal with these situations now. The rats and creepy crawlies wouldn't bother me but I don't know how I would cope with the constant awareness that my father was at risk all the time driving a train and my fiance at risk in a paint factory.

I also wonder at my grandmother, going off into the country. I know I would have stayed behind for my husband and daughter. Was it this strange time in a young girl's life that made her detached from her own daughters so they never felt she was the safe, secure mother we are to our own children?

Eileen now has the beginnings of Altzheimer's disease and, oddly enough, we are now hearing so much more about this early period of her life than we have ever heard before, even though yesterday is a closed book.

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