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15 October 2014
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A Childhood in Friern Barnet, North London

by Barry Ainsworth

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
Barry Ainsworth
People in story: 
Greta Morris
Location of story: 
London
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A6675366
Contributed on: 
04 November 2005

I was born in 1930 in Friern Barnet, North London, and was 9 when war broke out. I remember the family all being round the radio when Mr Chamberlain made his speech.
Then the sirens went, and as we lived in flats we all went down to the people downstairs.

The men from the flats built an enormous long air raid shelter in the garden, made up of a line of Anderson shelters, which we used in the height of the blitz. The condensation on the walls got so bad that my mother felt we would be better in our own beds rather than catch pneumonia. The anti-aircraft guns at Sweets Nursery made a tremendous noise.

I particularly remember a very large land mine, which had not exploded as its parachute had got caught up in a chimney. This was opposite our home, and we had to evacuate the flat. My father was in the Auxiliary Fire Service and when he came home could not find us at first. We had been taken to a shelter at The Orange Tree at Friern Barnet, and after that my mother arranged that we live with her sister at Henley’s Corner.

I went to Finchley County Grammar School opposite Finchley Lido. School was often disrupted when windows were blown out and there were days when we could not go to school but I was able to take my school certificate at 11 and matriculated in 1946 just after the war.
We had season tickets to the Lido and it was used for the Olympics in 1948.

We didn’t have holidays. We went to Brighton in 1944. It was after D-Day but there was still barbed wire all over the beach.
It was at the time of the V1s, I got quite hysterical during the period of silence just after the engine cut out and before the explosion.

We saw the glow of the fire when the docks were burning, and became quite expert at plane spotting our own as well as the enemy planes.

My uncle was at Dunkirk, the ship he was on was bombed, but he was a very strong swimmer and managed to swim the last two miles to Dover in his kit.

Before D-Day Finchley High Road was lined with military vehicles.

I grew carrots, beetroot and potatoes and became quite an expert gardener.
My mother was one of the few people who had a refrigerator and she made ice-lollies and became a marvellous cook, doing amazing things with corned beef and spam. We used to have a chicken every week, it came by post from our relatives in Ireland, and those chickens were a luxury food at that time. We were so very grateful.
We used to go to Hadley Wood to gather blackberries, made pies and jams and bottled lots of fruit.

On VE Day there was a big celebration at the flats and we had open house.
We didn’t go into the centre of London until we were a bit older, where we would queue for theatre tickets. Our favourite was the Old Vic and saw nearly all the great actors of those war years.

I can remember queuing up for almost everything where we would use our valuable rationing coupons. Rationing went on and on, in fact it didn't stop until after I was married in 1952.

For the next two yeas we lived in a flat where we had to wash up in the bathroom.
Soon after we were lucky enough to be helped by our parents to put down a deposit and buy our own house.

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