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A Little Girl's War in Guildford: Watching the Bombing, Queues, D-Day Activitiesicon for Recommended story

by bettyford

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Betty Ford
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29 November 2003

I started school in 1939 the year war broke out, so my young years were wartime. I was aged 5 when it started and 12 when it ended.

We lived in Guildford, Surrey, my first recollections of the war were people coming to our house with gasmasks. I wanted a “Mickey Mouse” respirator, because it was red, but these were only for children under 5 years of age. We had to carry these slung over our shoulders wherever we went; at school we had to practice wearing them in lessons.
We had air raid shelters erected in everyone’s back gardens 6 ft deep. They were dry in summer but they had 2ft of water in them all winter then they were unusable.

1941 the bombing got bad, the sirens were going night and day, it was at this time that children were evacuated out of London to the country. The younger children were sent out into the country or some even abroad. Although we weren’t that far from London, they came house to house asking if people could take an evacuee in, nearly everyone did. These evacuees were 15 to 17, although my mother didn’t realize this, and said we’d take a boy, being she had a little girl. Came the day he arrived a knock at the back door, mum shouts” come in” in strolls 15 year old Jeff with 2 grey blankets under his arm, 6ft 3ins tall, he had to duck to walk through the living room door. My mums face was a picture, she had visions of a little boy,not a strapping 6 footer. Jeff stayed with us for 2 years; he left us when he was 17. He joined the RAF, the last card my mum had from him was Christmas 1943, from Scarborough saying he was training for aircrew. We learned in 1970 he did survive the war. The blankets that our evacuee arrived with later made into a beautiful winter coat for me by my mother’s friend. I wore it for years.

I’m now 70, but still have vivid memory’s of those 6 years of my childhood, the German bombers going over our house and looking out of our window and seeing a huge arc of yellow and orange light towards London and my parents saying “the poor devils are taking a packet tonight”. I think the most frightening things were the Buzz Bombs just to see one go over very low and then suddenly shut off its engine and just drop, it was terrifying.

We used to stand in our back gardens and watch the dog-fights between the fighters and bombers, not aware of the danger of falling shrapnel and bullets, until my mums neighbor felt something warm running down her arm, and saw blood she’d been hit with a piece of shrapnel, we never went out to watch again. After the air raids, all the kids would collect all the shrapnel in their gardens and see who had the most. We had a copse at the bottom of our garden, my mum woke me up one morning in summer and said” come and look” out of the back window the trees were covered in strips of silver foil, glistening in the sunlight it was like Christmas decorations although it was summer. The Germans dropped these to break the radar screen at a nearby radar station.

When going to town everywhere you went were queues of people mainly women and children. I can remember standing for hours with my mother, sometimes you joined a queue and didn’t know what it was for until you got it passed down the line from the front, or you got to the front of the queue.

When the air raid warnings were going off all night long, we had many sleepless nights; we used to go to bed fully dressed, with coats and footwear ready to put on quickly and run; twice a month my parents went to my grandmas we’d stay two nights, Saturday and Sunday just to get a decent nights sleep without the wailing of the siren, my gran lived in Salisbury, Wilts.

I remember D Day, my dad came in from working nights on the railways, I heard him saying to my mum “somethings going on”, he had seen trains going down to Portsmouth loaded with troops ,guns, tanks and army lorries. Also on the by pass in Guildford.lorries loaded with troops tanks and guns. So everyone went to see this sight, off our estate. This was D Day the beginning of the end.

VE day was super, I was 11 ½ years old and we had a street party, every house made and gave something, sandwiches, cakes, biscuits etc. I’d never seen such food for 6 years, Although still on food rationing, everyone dug deep and gave a day to remember

Betty Ford (nee Pittman)

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Posted on: 29 November 2003 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Betty

A very interesting story.

I was particularly interested in your description of the trees "covered in strips of silver foil, glistening in the sunlight it was like Christmas decorations although it was summer. The Germans dropped these to break the radar screen at a nearby radar station"

For the benefit of others the British first version were strips of coarse black paper exactly 27 cm long (half the length of the radar's wavelength) and 2 cm wide with a thin aluminium foil glued to one side of the strip, the foil was coated with lamp black to reduce visual reflection. It was known to the British as Window and to the Americans as Chaff.

It was developed independently in Britain and in Germany in 1942. It was so effective in jamming radar that for a long time both sides were reluctant to use it for fear of giving the secret away.

The effect of each strip is to create a false image of an aircraft on screen, the screen is thus flooded with fake images. The Germans called their version Düppel. The German trials of Düppel's use over the Baltic in 1942 were so effective that Göring forbade any further mention of it in case the Allies might acquire the idea, he banned all further testing and had all reports on it destroyed.

It was first used by Britain over Hamburg on the night of 24/25 July 1943, rendering the German defensive system obsolete at a stroke. But the cat was well and truly out of the bag and after the Hamburg raid all major combatant countries used it.

So you would have seen it in in late 1943 or '44.

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