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- Ruth Smith
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- 28 September 2005
RUTH SMITH — Reminiscences 14 September 2005
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When war broke out in September 1939 I worked as an Editorial Assistant at the National Press Agency, which was the syndication department for the Westminster Press provincial newspapers. The Westminster Press owned newspapers, morning, evening and weekly, throughout the English provinces. Because of the war, drastic cuts were made in newsprint, which in turn meant staff was drastically cut, because of this situation I gained quick promotion and was appointed Personal Assistant to the Managing Editor. We did a lot of work for the Ministry of Information, eg. on the women’s features; cookery, make do and mend, dressmaking patterns and any specific propaganda features they required.
Travelling into London six days a week, from Greenford in Middlesex, by bus to Ealing Broadway and then to Chancellery Lane, then walk via Holborn and Fetter Lane into Fleet Street. Depending on the incidents, this could take anything from an hour to two and a half hours — no mobile phones in those days, just turned up as soon as you could.
I had five brothers who were all in the services; my parents lived quite safely, having moved to Somerset, so I had no family responsibilities in London to worry me. Thus I was able to live my own life, going to the theatres, cinemas and restaurants in London, without my parents being aware of the dangers.
Food rationing was not a problem as we had office canteens and restaurant food was easily available. I must confess that I was not unduly worried about being in London, I used to go dancing at the Royal Opera House, also first night theatres, cinemas, always in London, I never went locally for entertainment. I spent all of my time in London, if I wasn’t working, I was socialising.
My only experience of any bombing was when a flying bomb was dropped on a bus opposite Chancery Lane underground station, which I had left a few minutes beforehand, turned into Fetter Lane and I was sucked into a wall by the blast . I was shaken but not hurt.
One of my most vivid memories was the Monday morning after the fire blitz on the city, when St Paul’s Cathedral and all the surrounding buildings were burnt to ashes. Fleet Street itself suffered some damage and our particular office would have been very badly burnt, had it not been for very vigilant firewatchers. When I arrived outside the offices, our Managing Editor suddenly appeared with thigh high wellington boots, looking very dirty and scruffy, rushed to welcome me with open arms. I shouted for him to stop, as I was wearing a brand new grey worsted suit. A very precious item of clothing in those days.
On some Sunday evenings, I was at Waterloo Station assisting the WVS serving cups of tea, cigarettes, and Lyons fruit pies to the servicemen as they came off the trains during the night. When there were no trains due, we went underground hopefully to sleep for a couple of hours, and then it would be up and back to work at the office. This was my voluntary contribution. Because I was in a reserve occupation, I had to enrol at the local fire station for a number of hours a month to join the Auxilliary Fire Service. After training; we were issued with quite a smart uniform. There were no serious incidents whilst I was on duty at Greenford Fire Station, but I found it very interesting.
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