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15 October 2014
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Whatever will be will be

by BBC LONDON CSV ACTION DESK

Contributed by 
BBC LONDON CSV ACTION DESK
People in story: 
Peggy Church (nee Shanahan), Joan Dennis, Pete Church, Alice Goss
Location of story: 
Bellingham, London SE6
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A4120165
Contributed on: 
26 May 2005

Pete's friend John Smith in the Lancaster Bombers. He was 20 when this picture was taken. All members of the crew were killed.

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by volunteer Laya Sasikumar from CSV on behalf of Peggy Church (nee Shanahan) and has been added to the site with her permission. Peggy Church fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

LIFE AFTER EVACUATION

The first thing I noticed when I got home after evacuation was that we now had an Anderson air raid shelter in the back garden. My dad had covered it all over with earth and he grew marrows on the top of it — they really did well on it too! He also made a heavy wooden entrance to it for extra protection.

I went back to Elfrida school, but as so many children were evacuated they only need to open one half of the Juniors department, so we were back to a five day week again.

One day my friend Joan Dennis and I were going home for lunch (no school meals in those days), and just turned the corner to go down the hill when we saw a plane in the distance. It was dropping bombs — we were absolutely horrified. We then saw what we thought was a ‘Spitfire’ coming in our direction so we started waving at it. A little too late and we spotted the ‘Swastikas’ on each wing — it was a German plane! The plane started shooting their machine guns into the road. We were terrified and ran into a nearby house, and stayed there until it seemed all clear. We soon went home, and were too scared to go back to school that day. We went back to school the next day with a note from our mums, but instead of sympathy from the teachers we got told off! They told us that although there was a war going on, we still had to carry on as normal as possible. (I think this taught us a good lesson too — to carry on as normal!)

We soon learnt that the bombs that had been dropped off, fell on a nearby school — Sandhurst Road School. It had killed a group of children who were going home for lunch just like me and my friend Joan. There is a permanent memorial at Lewisham Cemetery in memory of those who died.

I left school at 14 and my first job was working for Lloyds in London. It was 1943 and the war was still going strong, but we were just trying to live our everyday lives. I was working as a messenger girl in the Letter Registry department, which was like a mini-post office. I worked with a girl from Dagenham called Alice Goss. Working conditions in those days were so different to the way it is today. All staff had to wear uniform which consisted off navy blue long sleeve tunic, with six gold buttons down the front and a ‘Lloyds’ crest on the collar. Everyday we had to line up outside the managers office in a long line where we’d be inspected for our appearance — and it had to be perfect!

EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON!

My friend Joan and I used to go to evening classes to learn ballroom dancing. When we felt confidant enough we started going to the local dance hall (above the King Alfred pub). It had a lovely floor was very popular, and our dancing greatly improved. We used to go at least twice a week — every Tuesday and Saturday. One night a soldier from the ‘Buffs regiment’ came up to me and asked me to dance. I didn’t catch his name, but we danced all night long. He walked me home and arranged to meet me the next day — but he stood me up!

Joan and I had made a pact that if our dates didn’t turn up, we wouldn’t sit around moping. We’d both just get ready and go out to the Gaumont cinema in Lewisham. This one used to have a restaurant upstairs, so we could go and have some tea and cakes served by a waitress — we soon got over our broken dates!

Life carried on as normal as it could be with bombing raids and nights down the shelter. Then there were the buzz bombs and rockets. Everyone was involved in the war in one way or the other — we were just hoping that it would end soon.

Joan and I were still dancing — sometimes at different venues. We used to go to the Regal in Beckenham, New Cross Palais and even went up to the Lyceum in London. Years passed and we were in our old favourite the ‘King Alfred’, when I spotted the young soldier who had stood me up some three years before! He came over to me and asked me to dance again, and tried to start up conversation by asking me if I was a friend of his sisters. I thought it was a bit of a change from the usual line of ‘do you come here often’, so I decided to dance with him. Again we danced together for the rest of the evening — he didn’t seem to remember that we’d met already so I didn’t remind him!

He walked me home and made a date for the next day, and this time he didn’t stand me up! I bought up the fact that he stood me up the last time — and he remembered. He told me that it had all been a mix-up, as his friend John Smith who was in the air force made an emergency landing in Biggin Hill in the Lancaster bomber, on the same day we were meant to have our date. They all got a few hours emergency leave, so John popped in to see Pete who lived nearby. Unfortunately, the next trip they went on was to be their last. After this, Pete went back to the barracks, and was drafted off to India for three years, so the old saying ‘whatever will be will be’ was true in our case!

Pete and I got married in August 1950. Joan was my bridesmaid, but she soon went off to Canada to get married to Tom Porter who she also met dancing! We have 3 children — Marian, Kevin and Anne, and four grandchildren — Marc, Michael, Joe and Jack. We’ve also got two great grandchildren Shay and Amanda. This year we celebrate our 55th wedding anniversary — and we’re still going strong!

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