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A WARTIME CHILDHOOD IN NORWICH

by BBC Radio Norfolk Action Desk

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
BBC Radio Norfolk Action Desk
People in story: 
Beryl Edna Burrell (neé Lyon), Edna May Lyon (Mother), Harold Lyon (Father), Elizabeth Mary Ann Cottrell (Great-Grandmother)
Location of story: 
Norwich, Norfolk
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A5355074
Contributed on: 
27 August 2005

This contribution to WW2 People’s War was received by the Action Desk at BBC Radio Norfolk. The story has been written and submitted to the website by Rosalie Davis Gibb (Volunteer Story Gatherer) with the full permission and on behalf of Beryl Burrell.

I was three years old when the war began in 1939. Air raids, sirens, gas masks (my head was too big for a Mickey Mouse mask!), coupons, shelters, blackouts, Americans, injured servicemen and food restrictions made up the only way of life I had ever known.

Those days made a deep impression on me, with lasting memories. The sound of a siren still causes unease. I was aware that a siren sounding, especially when followed by the ‘crash’ warning, could mean death and destruction. I was naïve enough to believe I would be safe in a shelter and couldn’t understand why people got killed in shelters where they should be safe. Sensibly, I was left to continue thinking in that way.

Shelters are among my clearest memories. For the first years of the war, we didn’t have a shelter, but slept in a cupboard under the stairs. One evening, during the blitz on Norwich in 1942, when my father, a Special Constable, was on duty, I vividly recall my mother going into the hall next to the cupboard and opening the front door. “The whole city is on fire” she said.

Eventually, we had our own Anderson shelter in the garden. At first, my father lifted me out of bed when the siren went and carried me down the shelter. Later, when the raids became more frequent, we slept in the bunks in the shelter, so I would ‘go to bed’ by going into the garden. I hated it! My friends who lived in the road opposite didn’t have shelters in their gardens. Instead, communal re-enforced brick ones were built in the roads for the residents. We used to play round them, but weren’t allowed inside!

Most of the raids were at night, but if the siren went during the day when we were at school, we would go into the specially strengthened cloakrooms. On one occasion, when I was older, I was travelling on the 89 bus into the city when the siren went. The bus stopped and we were taken underneath St John’s Roman Catholic Church (now Cathedral) until the all clear went.

For older people, a trip to the shelter could be quite an effort. I have a vivid picture of my mother gently guiding my 93 year old great-grandmother to a shelter in a garden next door to my grandparents shop in Magdalen Street while enemy planes flew overhead.

The sound of planes was particularly significant. I remember lying in bed and hearing the planes going out on their raids, each type having its own particular drone. I knew which were ‘ours’ and which were the enemies’. I would listen to our aircraft returning, often to the sound of them ‘limping’ back and hoping they would make it.

The only ‘war event’ I can recall hearing about was a happy one — VJ day when I was 9 and on holiday in Bournemouth. But I do remember the great anticipation of having my first banana and ice cream after the war finished!

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