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Youth Verus Wisdom

by cornwallcsv

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Betty Cooney (Boon)
Location of story: 
Plymouth Blizt
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
23 May 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War website by Lynn Hughes on behalf of Betty Cooney (Boon), the author and has been added to the site his/her permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

In 1937 I started working in the expense accounts offices, Devonport Dock yard. I was 16 and had been successful in an exam for junior civil servants.

Our office was in south yard in one of the huge storehouses that had been built by French prisoners of war. Everything about these buildings was enormously heavy -granite blocks, timbers, stone stairs, they seemed to have been built to last forever. I remember how impressed and proud I was as I signed the official secrets act. When the “Year of Crisis” came, the Expense Accounts Office was split into sections and moved to various sites in the yard. I was sent with my section to North yard, we took our entire records etc: with us. When the war was declared and when the air raids started, at first they seemed to be reconnaissance raids only no bombs. But when the bombing actually started and were becoming more frequent we ought not to have been surprised when a band of Royal Artillery Soldiers arrived with their Lewis guns and took their positions on the roof of our building.

In our new quarters there were no ladies cloakrooms or toilets, we shared the building with the Recorders these were all male. When we needed to go to the toilet, one of them would go up the stone stairs to the top floor where the men’s toilets were situated to make sure the coast was clear and then we would go up in little groups. One of us would be left outside on the landing to warn off any of the men. Then we would all troop downstairs again to our desks.

On this landing there was a door that led on to the roof and outside this door were the soldiers with their guns. The sound of girlish voices soon caught their attention and they opened the door one-day, and called to us to come and see the guns. It became a habit to invite us and it afforded them some amusement. But we knew we’d be in serious trouble if we even put one foot outside on the roof.

Then they got bolder and would call out cheeky remarks to us as we were trooping back to our desks; we used to arrive in a state of giggles. Our head of section soon became aware of this and he was furious. He used to mutter loudly “they’re MAN MAD! The lot of them, they’re MAN MAD!” We would sit at our desks; ours eyes bent to the everlasting figures and calculations our shoulders shaking with suppressed laughter. When he left the room we used to tell each other that he was jealous and that was why he was so angry and unpleasant to us. Which showed that we supposedly serious minded and intelligent young women, were really just silly young girls.

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