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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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The pianist just kept on playing

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Muriel R James
Location of story: 
Biddenden, Kent
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
03 August 2005

This story was submitted to the BBC People's War website by Eleanor Fell, on behalf of Muriel James, who has given her permission for her story to go on the website and understands the terms and conditions of the site.

I was nearly 21 and living with my parents at Newcastle Farm, Biddenden, Kent when war broke out. It had been a quiet place but an aerodrome was built in Headcorn (the next village from Biddenden), and US pilots moved in with their planes. We could hear them starting up every morning.

When German planes began bombing London and places around, the authorities started to move children out of London. One night a group of children from Downland School came to Headcorn station. They were brought to Biddenden to find places to stay, we were asked to take 8 children and 2 helpers for the night, until they found other people to take some. My mother had 3 staying with us for some time. It was great having them but one of the children we looked after lost her father and mother. Her mother was driving an ambulance that had a direct hit and her father died in a shelter with all of the people who were with him. Someone came and fetched her and we never heard from her again. The other two remained and their parents came to see them when they had leave.

Later on when the war got worse they moved all the children, I including local ones, away from the danger of bombs. Nobody felt really safe when the raids were on. Everyone had thick 'blackout curtains' up at their windows so no light could show outside when the German planes were going over. Otherwise they might unload their bombs.

We had an air raid shelter that my father dug down in our orchard. We all went there when there was a raid - once a bus stopped during a raid and the passengers came down into the shelter. I got fed up with Hitler making me go down into that shelter and one night I told my father I was going to bed even though there was an air raid. He wanted me to go with them to the shelter but I wouldn't. I hadn't been in bed long before a bomb dropped quite near to the house. The windows blew out and the ceiling fell on top of me! After that I always went to the shelter when there was a raid.

Despite this people went about their lives as best they could. Most villages had dances every week. I was at a dance one night when a bomb dropped nearby and the piano slid off the stage - the pianist carried on playing it! Hitler didn't stop him. We were rationed with food and clothing we bought. We had coupons to shop with and if we used all of them we had to go without. My mother gave a lot of people help with eggs and milk from our farm but never charged them anything!

It was a time when everybody helped each other and all stood together.
That's what British people did, we all had that spirit. '

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