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Schoolgirl memories

by Devon Library Service

Contributed by 
Devon Library Service
People in story: 
Lilla Wall
Location of story: 
Bushey, North London and Buckinghamshire
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
09 June 2005

In the summer of 1944 I was twelve years old and at boarding school in Bushey, North London near Watford. It was a girls’ school and we slept in dormitories at the top of the building. During one night I awoke wondering why I had done so and I found I was listening to an engine of an aeroplane droning very strangely. The engine came nearer and nearer when suddenly it stopped. Several seconds later there was an enormous explosion like a bomb. In the morning I asked other girls whether they had heard anything strange that night and nobody remembered anything. This made me think I might have imagined it. However, in the days that followed it appeared that the Germans were sending a new horror to London in the form of pilot-less aeroplanes loaded with high explosive. These aircraft were designed to run out of fuel over the target, delivering fear and destruction without any warning. So I concluded that I must have heard one of the very first doodlebugs, as they later became known, to arrive in the area. Soon after this the teachers became alarmed at the danger for the students so we had to sleep in the air raid shelters every night. This was a strange experience because owing to lack of space each bunk had to accommodate two girls. We were instructed to sleep head to foot. During the day if there was an alarm about doodlebugs coming our way, we had to go down into the shelters to continue our lessons. I don’t remember this happening for very long so it must have been quite near the end of the academic year, but it was certainly an experience that you would remember for life.

My home was in rural Buckinghamshire away from all types of bombing for most of the time. There may have been an odd bomb somewhere though. Therefore my experience of the wartime was more of the lifestyle we had at home. The village I lived in had seven farms and as their regular work people in most cases had gone away to fight or for other essential war work, those left behind helped on the farms. This mainly consisted of women and the elderly. I had a friend who was a land girl and I used to help her with milking the cows, washing down the cowsheds, and sterilising the milking equipment and machines in a big steam chest. I also helped her with the calves. Harvest-time was especially busy of course, and even the children helped by leading the horses who pulled the carts taking the corn sheaves from the fields. This was quite skilled for a small child probably about ten years old. You had to control a very large horse with enormous feet and going through gateways you had to take great care to negotiate the track to avoid hitting the gateposts with the cartwheels. We were allowed to ride the horses back to the cornfields when the carts were empty. From these experiences I’ve always had a love of horses and even cows.

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