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15 October 2014
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My War in the BBCicon for Recommended story

by vingt-et-un

Contributed by 
vingt-et-un
People in story: 
Muriel Withers
Location of story: 
London
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A3817271
Contributed on: 
22 March 2005

My great aunt worked for the BBC during the war and she has asked me to submit the following:

"I worked at the BBC from 1940 to 1971, just in the Monitoring Service and, after the war, in Audience Research. I wrote the following piece a year or two ago and hope it will be of interest for the war stories...

It was June, or was it July? In 1940 when I started work in the BBC. Anyway, I know it was after Dunkirk and after the authorities had closed most of the south coast to any but the military or residents. Just when, after wrestling with red tape, I had joined Mother in a house in Swanage she had taken for the summer. I had been there only a couple of days when an express letter arrived from the BBC telling me to report for work urgently. (This, I may say, some weeks after an application and interview which had, as far as I knew, gone completely unregarded.) It was a bit of a wrench leaving the seaside, where there were, indeed, stories of our planes in dog fights with the Germans — and even possible sights of them — but none of the realities or horrors of war. However, duty was duty — not to mention money (about £3.10s. a week, if I remember rightly!)

They thought I would do admirably in the Monitoring Service — a listening post had been set up in the country to monitor enemy and other foreign broadcasts and I was to be one of a number of 'query clerks' on shifts, manning the Information Bureau in London. The Bureau acted as day and night link by phone and teleprinter between the Department in Evesham and the BBC's News Departments as well as Government Ministries and - for the most vital news flashes such as the daily German High Command Communiqué, No. 10 Downing Street.

The German Blitz on London began that autumn with the bombers over every night and it was often well—nigh impossible to get to or from work at midnight when the night shift took over. So there was this system of booking beds. Beds at first meant mattresses laid out on the floors of BBC premises in London, in the Concert Hall of Broadcasting House, for instance, where an inadequate curtain was no more than a symbol to divide males from females, because you could see over it anyway.

The standard Blitz nightwear of slacks and a jersey was, in any case, not particularly glamorous, nor were the snores rising on all sides and not only from the male section. I was thus already in the premises in one of these air-raid dormitories the night a German bomb scored the direct hit on the B.H. which was heard all over the country during the reading of the 9 O'clock News.

This bomb penetrated to the Information Bureau office — not our daytime office in some of the old unsafe houses round about, but our safe, air raid shelter office right in the middle of the solid structure of B.H. Two of our people were killed and others injured, so I was summoned to duty in a temporary office in the basement canteen. It was a strange night with everything makeshift and rumours of this person missing and of that person dead and finally the ghostly appearance of the man — dishevelled, dusty and one-shoed — who had dived under the table when the bomb hit, taking the phone with him so that he talked to Evesham part of the Unit while waiting to be dug out.

What of the actual news that passed through our hands by way of the broadcasts from enemy and ally? Much of it was, of course momentous : of the German attack on Russia which brought the Soviet Union into the war — of the British disasters in the Far East culminating in the fall of Singapore — of Pearl Harbor and the United States coming into the War. These affected us, of course, in our work but I can't remember much to make them stand out in my memories of day to day happenings in the Monitoring Information Bureau.

There were, too, the times when things were going better for us and we were alerted to look out for the first mention of some Allied invasion, and I believe we were the first to give Winston Churchill news of the success of the Battle of Alamein.

After the German surrender, when all eyes — or, in our case, ears — were turned to the Far East, I had become a sub-editor and made some of the decisions of what parts of the mass of material coming into the office should be teleprinted to our clients. At this time, we received from the monitors constant reports from Japan of hundreds of bomber stories by British and American planes — fifty bombers reported here, fifty there - it was a steady stream and they were duly passed on. Then came a short report from the Japanese News Agency about 'a single plane' flying over Hiroshima. 'So what?' I thought (and wrote) 'what is one among so many?' and threw the item into the discard tray. That was, of course, the plane carrying the first atom bomb to be dropped in anger.

My final memory is of the Japanese surrender. Everyone was waiting and hoping for it, but it so happened that the news from a Japanese source came when I was temporarily in sole charge of the Information Bureau with one teleprinter operator, and I had the excitement and pleasure of telephoning and teleprinting this news flash to what seemed to me then, to be the whole country. I felt as if Japan had surrendered to me and that I was personally responsible for the end of the war."

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