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Volunteering For Wartime Duties

by derbycsv

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Archive List > United Kingdom > London

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Helen J Zielonko (nee Keatley)
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
31 July 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Odilia Roberts from the Derby Action Team on behalf of Helen J Zielonko and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

In a reserved occupation — electricity — I was asked by my boss if I would join the ARP as a Messenger. I was 18 and agreed to serve every sixth evening from 6pm - 8pm on duty manning telephones underneath the new City Police Station in Queensway. The male messengers then took over but we had to be on call all night. If an air raid occurred our job was to take any phone messages, relay them to the Supervisor (male) who would send one of his ‘boy’ messengers off on a bike with a note to the relevant authority. Nothing of this nature ever happened whilst I was on duty.
We girls were billeted in the old City Police Station across the yard. This was a cold and bleak place where 6 iron beds took up one room and we used a room by the kitchen as a sitting room. We soon made friends with each other, chatted, experimented with make up if we could get it, washed and set each other’s hair, read and listened to the wireless.
Our mattresses were thin paliasses, we were given 3 blankets each, which in the bitter cold of winter didn’t keep our backs warm but one of the men explained that if you laid half the blanket on the paliasse, letting the other half drop to the floor, laid the next one from the other side similarly and the third as the first, you then lay on the 3 layers and wrapped each hanging part over you so that you lay in a cocoon, it was much warmer but difficult to turn over in. We had many a laugh as we snuggled down with our hot water bottles, if we got gas to heat the water, our curlers and so on.
We were often scared as the old Police Station was otherwise empty, dark because of the blackout and any noise scared us witless. Our lady superintendent got very cross with us at times when we disturbed her sleep.

We were eventually fitted with a navy blue uniform of tunic and skirt with yellow flashes. I was size 30” bust, the smallest tunic was 32” bust so mine hung on me like a sack.

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