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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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A Young Wife’s Memory of Barkingside

by Braintree Library

Contributed by 
Braintree Library
People in story: 
Olivia Wilcock
Location of story: 
Barkingside, Essex
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A3935469
Contributed on: 
22 April 2005

In 1939 I was 21 years old and worked in a bank in London. I travelled each day by train from Seven Kings to Liverpool Street by Workman’s ticket, 2s 6d return I think. The trains often had to stop if there was an air raid - one day a German plane strafed the train which was very frightening. If there was not too much delay I got home at about 6.30pm. My memory of the blackout was having to walk from the station to home which was about 2 miles in the dark. I would collect my dinner from the warm oven and very quickly take it down to the air raid shelter - a Nissan hut at the bottom of the garden. My mother and father would already be there. The shelter had 4 bunks, not very comfortable, and there we would stay for the night unless my father was on air raid duty. The men would take it in turns for “look out duty” during an air raid for any fire bombs the planes dropped on the roof or for any other trouble. We would hear the German planes going over and were thankful it was not for us. We usually had 2 young girls aged 5 and 7 in our shelter as well. The family next door had 4 children and a granny in their shelter.

Then for me it was back to work in London the next morning sometimes finding the journey difficult if Jerry had been busy. Our bank was bombed one night, luckily most of the night staff were unhurt as they had gone into the strong room below ground. Then most of the staff were evacuated to Oxfordshire and I was allowed weekends there.

I married in January 1944, a church wedding followed by a reception in the church hall. The menu was Spam and salad, jelly and blancmange and as a special treat, a cake. All the neighbours helped out with rations and a Forces canteen in Barking where I worked, gave us a large tin of Spam which was on ration and the wedding cake — at that time dried fruit was unobtainable. The warden of the canteen worked some magic with no questions asked. I was lucky to have a “white” wedding and I queued at John Lewis’ store from 6.30am for “coupons free” lace so I had a lovely dress and the underslip was made from parachute silk and the bouquet was artificial carnations.

We spent a 2 day honeymoon in Westcliff on Sea. My husband had to obtain special passes to go there as troops were stationed all along the coast. Jerry dropped a huge bomb just behind the hotel where we were staying — a good start! We went to see a film on the 2nd day but did not see much as the air raid warning went off so we had to leave the cinema.

We bought a house in Ilford for £1005 with a mortgage of course. I still travelled to London but did not enjoy going on the Underground. My husband was a traffic coach controller (Green Line) in Oxford Circus which was in the thick of the bombing. Every time a bomb dropped near our house in Ilford the front door opened. Our neighbour was kept busy shutting it for us. We lost most of the windows at the front and a few ceilings but we were lucky.

My husband was in a reserved occupation — he would have loved to have joined the Army or Air Force. He joined the Home Guard and you should have seen the polish on his boots. My husband being in charge of a lot of buses and coaches was in charge of the evacuation of a lot of London children to safer places in England which was a mighty task.

I found rationing quite difficult, 2oz corned beef, 2 sausages and some mince if you were lucky with coupons for everything. We had coupons for furnishing our house and we were able to buy a bed and wardrobe new. Everything else we had to buy second hand including all the carpets.

My husband’s family home was completely destroyed by a land mine. Most of the family had taken shelter in the local church hall. The awful thing was that when they returned to see what they could salvage some council salvage men had stolen what was left. Donald was in the house when the mine fell and he had sheltered under the table tennis table which saved his life. The rubble fell onto it so he was only badly shaken. We had to be very careful in the blackout you dare not show the smallest light , if you did the ARP warden would soon knock you up.

I think the Doodlebugs were the worst, you could hear them coming and when their engines stopped and the nose tipped down you ran for cover. Of course incendiary bombs did a lot of damage but the fire fighting volunteers did a magnificent job.

One sad memory always with me is for all the young men I worked with at the bank who were killed in the War, mostly in the Air Force. They were so keen to go but with such sad results. The lists of casualties were dreadful, I shall never forget them. I will always remember the sacrifices made by so many and pray that war will never happen again.

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This story has been placed in the following categories.

Air Raids and Other Bombing Category
Working Through War Category
Rationing Category
Love in Wartime Category
Essex Category
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