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Life in London - Managing on Coupons

by nottinghamcsv

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

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Violet Armstead
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Contributed on: 
26 August 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War site by CSV/BBC Radio Nottingham on behalf of Violet Armstead with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

I was eighteen at the start of the war. This was just the time when I should have been going out and having a good time. The war occupied much of my youth.
I lived in Downham, Kent, and worked as a secretary in a big office in London. The Board of Trade was on one side and part of the War Office on the other side. We had to carry gas masks and tin helmets and a torch for the evenings. Later in the war we were able to leave the gas masks as they weren't needed.
One day an Army Officer came to our office with a big 'football rattle' to warn us of a gas attack. It was a practice, but we all had to sit at our desks with gas masks on. One lady used a mirror to straighten her hair under the gas mask!
We tried to live as normally as possible. Londoners were stoic. It didn't stop us going out. A night out in London was cheap. We could go to the theatre and then to Lyons Corner House for a slap up meal. We went to the cinema once a week, mostly American films, and a treat would be a bar of chocolate. There were local 'hops.'
People were totally different then. There were no 'must haves.' We managed with what was available. People were very resilient.
Food rationing was stringent, but people helped each other. I think it was a kinder world then.
We had clothing coupons. They were very important to us. We only had 35 for a whole year. They didn't go far - 18 for a coat, 7 for a dress, 5 for a blouse, 7 for shoes and, I think, 4 for a skirt. At work our Office Messengers were from the East End. They had access to black market coupons and sold them to us for two and six pence. We didn't ask questions and were very pleased to get extra coupons!
We often went without stockings in summer. A pair of stocking was five shillings. We had to sew up ladders in our stockings. We got used to shortages. Some girls tanned their legs with cold tea. Others found a cream, but his streaked our legs when it rained.
Once word went round that a chemist in Westminster had Yardley's products. I went round there, but we were only allowed to buy one of each item.
When we heard on the grapevine that there were shoes in the Oxford Street shops - in Lilly and Skinners or in Dolcis - we had to ask permission from work to come in late so that we could get to the shoe shops early. We had to make up the time later. There was much excitement when we got a nice pair!
Once I saw trifles in a shop and bought four of them. On the way home one August at Waterloo Junction there was a flying bomb overhead and everyone lay down. If they stood up the blast might have killed them. I was carrying the trifles and so could only get to my knees. After all this they had melted when I got home.
We spent every night in an Anderson shelter in our garden at home. As we walked down the garden to bed, we would wish neighbours 'Goodnight' over the garden fences. Our shelter had a clothes line in it. My sister called it 'C & A's' after the clothes shop!
Despite all the difficulties and the horrors, which I have described in another story, I thought that they were happy days. There was a general feeling amongst people of being 'All in it together.'

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