- Contributed by
- People in story:
- megan Bennett
- Location of story:
- East London, London Docks, Whipps Cross Hospital
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 12 April 2005
NOT ANOTHER WAR!
My first recollection of the start of the war was seeing my mother in tears weeping and saying - 'not another war, we can't go through all that again.'
Deep down of course, came the realisation that my three brother were of an age to be called for active service. The thought of that happening must have broken my mother's heart.
I was the youngest member of my family. I had three brothers and one sister. My father died as the result of a road accident and mother was left to bring up a family of five children all under the age of eighteen.
So the thought of losing them to the war must have laid heavily on my mother. She had struggled to educate us into taking apprenticeships for the boys and night school for them to be properly qualified - and my sister to further education. We were all expected to be industrious and responsible for helping run our home as mother was a working parent.
WAR IS DECLARED
As soon as war was declared which came as a surprise following Mr Chamberlain's peace mission, we had as our first job - making backout curtains as London was considered a first target. Next came gas masks because of the threat of gas bombs. Everyone had to collect their gas mask from the local men's club. My mother helped to make canvas bags to carry them in over our shoulder.
I was still in High School when war broke out. All local schools evacuated to the country and my school joined up with Bedford Modern. I stayed in London with my mother and sister as our family very quickly dwindled one by one as my brothers were called up.
FIRST AIR RAIDS
All the remaining pupils of my school and other high schools were joined up as one central school. This meant I had to travel on the buses to get to this school some way away. At this time London was a prime target for German planes to fly over and most of the day I spent in an raid shelter somewhere on my journey to school. Once the siren went off we had to go into a shelter no matter where we were.
It meant that as a fmily we had no idea of each other's safety.
I missed a great deal of school lessons.
Living at home was weird because most of the time was spent in a shelter in the cellar of our house, we ate down there, washed and slept and rarely went upstairs to the house due to the German planes flying up the Thames Estuary. The river was easy for them to follow and helped them drop their bombs on the London dock area of East London which was where I lived.
BOMBS, BOMBS AND MORE BOMBS
I often felt the house shake not only from bombs but also from the big anit-aircraft guns which were mobilised in our road to get at the German aircraft.
Once a bomb had dropped we had flying shrapnell and debris taking off roof tiles, windows were blown out by the blast and if the house wasn't totally demolished - trying to live in a house with an open roof and windows, was miserable, unsafe and cold!
One frightening experience was hearing the swish, swish of a land mine floating down. Land mines did extensive damage to houses for miles around and this one particular mine landed very near to where I lived and totally demolished my church.I lost friends and neighbours and their dog and cat.
EVACUATING OUR HOUSE
In the middle of one night we had to immediately evacuate our house because a bomb had landed very near by but hadn't exploded. We had to walk out with just the things we had with us and were not allowed to gather or go for anything else.
In our shelter we each had a suitcase ready packed, so we took these with us and trundled down the road to find somewhere to stay.
Some friends of ours took us in - for what we thought would be a short while. However, it was much longer because the bomb had landed in soft ground and each time the Army tried to reach it to detonate it, the bomb slipped in the clay soil, Eventually they covered it with sand and had to explode it in the ground.
THE LONDON FIRE
Other scary times was the evening and night of the London Fire when the bombers came over and dropped hundreds of incendiary bombs on the London Dock area. The sky was deep red from the glow and seemed very near and threatening. I was at home alone that evening as my mother and sister were still working. I was very worried for their safety and whether they would be able to get home.
Whilst at High School I joined the Guides as I had been a Brownie. With my friends no longer living in London, the company folded up and all young people were expected to join a wartime service organisation.
As I had always wanted to be a nurse, this was my opportunity so I joined the Red Cross as a cadet and took as many certificates as I could in First Air, Home Nursing, Infant Welfare etc. I was able to use my brothers super bike and became the road's Air Raid Warden's messenger. I would take the messages from our road to other neighbouring roads telling about numbers of people in houses, lapses of blackout and all sorts - lost pets and so on.
I BECOME A NURSE
I left school and became a full time VAD nurse and was able to help in the local hospitals
There was a huge shortage of nurses in the London area at our local Whipps Cross Hospital had wards of 40 patients and covered a big area of East London. I helped at times in the dockland with First Aid support.
WORKING IN THE FaMILY BUSINESS
As well as nursing, I served in my mother's dairy, we owned a number of shops which we were determined to keep going.
Everything was rationed and we all had a ration book. The shopkeeper cut out the weekly square from a page which would entitle you to two ozs of cheese, meat, soap, clothes etc. Many times the shop window was blown out, but out would go the sign "Business as usual".
My mother made one back room of the shop more comfortable for the local mums and babies to use for feeding, changing or just to rest, as many had been bombed out of their homes and had only communal help and sometime needed a motherly touch particularly as often their husbands had gone to war.
As time wend on bombs changed to Doodlebugs and then Rockets. I found the Doodlebugs the most frightening because the sounf would come nearer - a monotinous persisten sound, which would suddenly stop. This was when you counted to ten and waited for the drop and explosion.
The Rockets came over and just landed doing immense damage. Only certain parts of the country could be reached with this kind of weapon and Kent and Essex and the London area suffered the most.
On the lighter side of life - as a teenager I met up with Airmen from Czechoslovakia, the Free French, Polish, Canadian and American forces. Local dances were held to entertain the troops - it was all short time meeting and family orientated.
The Spirit of not giving up was encouraged by the speeches of our Prime Minister who roused us from any thoughts of defeat. Everything stopped and everyone listened to the Radio when Sir Winston Churchill was making a speech.
HOME ON LEAVE
I would be thrilled when my brothers came home on leave. My two eldest brothers were commissioned into the Navy and they looked very handsome in their uniform and gold braid - which was nicknamed "scrambled egg".
THE END OF THE WAR
Finally came the end of the war and victory in Europe was declared. To celebrate there was a huge victory parade through the streets of London and round Buckingham Palace.
I was put on Red Cross duty and enjoyed the excitement of the day. everyone was linking arms and singing and dancing. At home street parties were organised.
Akthiough peace had come to Europe we were still fighting the war in the Far East, where my youngest brother was actively involved with the Japanese and in Malaya.
Eventually both brother from the Navy were safe and my youngest brother invalided out of the Army and home. We had much to be thankful for.
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