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15 October 2014
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Living and Working in London during WW2

by cheerfulkayblackwood

Contributed by 
cheerfulkayblackwood
People in story: 
Kathleen Blackwood
Location of story: 
LONDON ENGLAND
Article ID: 
A2456778
Contributed on: 
23 March 2004

This is the story of my life during the terrible times of World War 2. I was born in 1920, which makes me 83 years of age, and I have so many vivid memories it is difficult to know where to begin. Growing up in the 1920s and 1930s was in itself exciting enough, there were so many new exciting things happening but that is another story.

I was 18 years old when war was being mentioned a lot, although at that age I did not worry too much about it. I worked in the City of London and travelled up every day from Streatham, where I lived, by rail to London Bridge and then by Underground to Old Street tube station. This journey, after the bombing started was a nightmare but I will come to that later.

I remember that beautiful sunny Sunday morning when war was declared as if it were yesterday, my Uncle was digging in the back garden ready to put the Anderson shelter up, we all went back into the house to listen to Mr. Chamberlains’ speech on the radio and remember the feelings that I had, nothing would ever be the same again….how right I was. When not long after the warning siren went, we felt so vulnerable, we imagined planes coming over and bombs dropping and we hadn’t even got the shelter up All the neighbours came out into the road, excitedly going over the events of the mornings’ happenings and we all wondered what had gone on. Later, of course, when the war really started we didn’t not have to be told that there was a raid going on.

At the place where I worked, the young boys were being called up and I volunteered to write them each a letter with news of everyone at work and as we manufactured cigarettes sent them a carton. As you can imagine as more and more boys went, I was kept pretty busy but I didn’t mind, I didn’t go out very much just to the cinema and it was a great comfort to the poor kids. They did not know it was me writing to them as I wrote on behalf of the company I worked for — J Wix and Sons I often wondered if they ever found out that it was me writing to them and if any of them ever came back from the War — I do hope so!

J Wix’s factory in Old Street was hit by a land mine in 1940, completely razed to the ground, so as you can imagine, I lost touch with all the boys. The company moved out to Oxted in Surrey, they had with great foresight another factory organised ready to move to in the event of such a happening. I did go with them, they begged me not to leave and I did stay for a while but that is another story that I will get back to at some other time — in the interim I want to go on with the experiences of the war.

The dreadful raids continued and we were beginning to long for an undisturbed night and a good nights sleep, those of us who had to travel to work still had to get up after a terrible night and wend our way to our place of employment experiencing countless difficulties, not able to go by train as stations had been bombed nor by bus as there would be unexploded bombs in the road. A lot of people, myself included used to get lifts from whoever could take us, lorry drivers were very kind and many is the time I got in the back of one of their vehicles with lots of others in the same predicament and I shall never forget ‘strap hanging’ in the back of a Danish Bacon lorry, hanging on to the hooks where they hung the bacon. None of us were too proud to do this, just glad to get home. There were lots of times that I would arrive home after a days work and a horrendous journey and have to go to the shelter with my dinner in my hand. Later on, as we became, not used to it, but let’s say less frantic when we heard the warning siren, we would finish what we were doing first. In the East End of London it was awful for families as they were being bombed mercilessly and it used to break my heart to see them queuing to get a place in the Underground, with all sorts of things with them - blankets and clothes and this was on a lovely hot Summer’s afternoon, they had to queue early to secure a place. Later on conditions down there improved and bunks were built and facilities for food and drinks were on hand. When I was going to work, I would get off the underground railway and practically have to step over the people lying on the platform. (that was until they built bunks for them in the early days.)

I have so many memories of events that occurred during those dreadful times, seeing the rubble that was the factory where I worked, after it had been hit by a land mine, seeing the glow from the fierce fires that were burning after the docks had been hit, time and time again, oh and so many others!!

My husband and I met on the 23rd. August 1940 and it was just after that the heavy bombing of London began, we used to go out to the cinema or a restaurant and have to dash home through a raid, we were stopped once by a policeman and made to go
down the Public Shelter on Streatham Common and could not leave until the “All Clear” sounded. It was most uncomfortable and freezing cold and when I got home was told off for being out all night, was forbidden to go out again, Joe my boy friend was devastated, and poor darling waited on the corner night after night, I could not get word to him, no telephones in those days unless you were a member of the profession, a doctor etc. It was not until the next week-end when we were not at work that I was able to meet up with him again, you see, I had not told him where I lived, just allowed him to see me to the next road, so therefore he would not know which house I lived in . Had he known he would have come to the house but I was afraid to tell my folks I had a boy friend, later on, of course when I had known him a while and liked him, I took him home. The story of how we met was so romantic but that is another long story.

Joe, (that was my boy friends name) and I did all our courting during the blitz, there were times when we were dicing with death, I recall one night when we were dashing to get home and sheltering in a doorway some shrapnel went right through my coat.
More and more houses and shops, hospitals, factories, blocks of flats and other buildings were disappearing after the previous nights raids, it defied description that anyone could live through it I used to see exhausted crews of the Rescue Service and the Fire Service and Civil Defence workers still trying to dig survivors, or bodies
out of the ruins of buildings that had been hit, most had been there all night. What a lot we owe to those brave people. I am writing more but want to place this on the web for the time being until I have written the rest of the story. Watch this space!

The following section was added at 23rd March 2004

After the place I worked in was hit by a land mine, we were evacuated to a factory in Oxted, in Surrey. The company, with great foresight, had another factory, already equipped to move into, in the event of such a disaster happening.

They arranged coaches to transport us to Surrey, which they did for a time but the management said that it was only a temporary measure and those who wanted to stay, had to find somewhere to live in the area. Well, my family did not want me to do that, particularly my boy friend, as he would not have been able to see me, so I had to go into the Director’s Office to explain that I would have to leave as I could not live in the area. The Chief, who was an American named Mr. Dertinger was most upset and was trying to arrange transport for me, to have me picked up every day but I could not agree to that, there would be raids to contend with and bad weather etc.. so although I was very flattered that they would go to such lengths to keep me, I had to refuse, it wasn’t at all practical. I enjoyed working with them all and was sorry I could not continue but I had to go.

I applied for another job, it was at a place called Freemans, which I discovered was a mail order firm, which is still going today, I think it is still in Clapham, London. They employed lots of clerks.

One day, we had to rush to the shelter as there was a big raid on and we heard a bomb coming down, it was terrifying, all the girls, me included dropped to the floor and covered our heads with our hands. We heard later that it had dropped on the warehouse near the shelter. Everyone was shaken badly and they put a record on the P.A. system, it was “In the Mood” and whenever I heard that record my mind went back to that moment. As you can imagine it was a very harrowing experience and we were sent home early. I learned later that there hd been a direct hit on one of the shelters and a lot of office girls had been killed., I remember reading about it but nothing was ever given out regarding the exact location of any incident, in case it helped the enemy in any way. My family and boy friend urged me to leave as I might not be lucky next time. So I began looking for another job, in those days it was not difficult to find work.

I soon found another position in a huge place which made all sorts of equipment for the services, wireless, field telephones etc. It was called T.M.C. and was based in Upper Norwood, wonder how many of my former colleagues are still going strong. I liked it there, I worked in the Pay Office a large office where we were tasked to work out the wages of the workers, who were engaged on this very important work.

I had to collect the “clocking in” cards every day and help work out how many hours they had worked. They worked a lot of hours and as there were 1500 on the payroll. I was kept pretty busy, other girls had the other half of the work force as there were over 3000 employed there. The only thing I didn’t like was being locked in a basement shelter whilst we made up the wages. We had to do it in the shelter as we would not have been able to transport everything should a raid occur and there was a heck of a lot of money involved. There were only about a dozen of us and it was supposed to be an honour to be one of the trusted few, but I hated it, it was so hot down there and once we were down there we could not leave, however I was not able to get out of it and thank Heaven it was only once a week.

I enjoyed my work there and made many friends. I remember doing a “Workers Playtime” one year, they had asked for volunteers and knowing I had been in a concert party, dragged me in. All the other offices had provided “turns” so I could not let them down I was terrified, the canteen was crowded and all the bosses sat in the front row, I was praying that they could not see my knees trembling. Well, we got through it and received tumultuous applause. Afterwards, the bosses took me to one side and said “You have done this before, haven’t you, you were so relaxed “ Little did they know, I was petrified, it was so much worse than singing to hundreds of appreciative servicemen, these were people who saw me every day and would be very critical had I done badly and let my office down. We were congratulated by as many as could get to us and we were invited to a special lunch with the bosses. I thanked my pal, Joan who played the piano, she could not believe the interest we received. All our pals in the Pay Office were delighted. We had a special lunch put on by the management.

It was 1941 by now and I was engaged on my 21st. birthday and married in July, another story, a wartime wedding, we had a traditional ceremony, married in white, in Church and a honeymoon, well, sort of. Family and friends rallied round, pooling coupons for food etc.

The raids went on and we built our lives around the constant danger. Joe and I moved to Mitcham in Surrey and we had more narrow escapes. One evening we were standing at the front door, loads of incendiaries had been dropped and we had to try to put them out with the stirrup pump that was always kept nearby, with a bucket of water near to hand. Also a Margarine factory near Mitcham Common had received a direct hit and hot fat was raining down, what with that and the incendiaries it was dreadful. Amongst all these fires we saw what we thought was a parachutist coming down, on the other side of the road but it seemed to be caught in a large tree and it was not until the air raid warden came round that we learned that it was a landmine and that we had to be evacuated!!!

The whole neighbourhood had to go to a hall and we stayed there all night until the bomb squad dismantled it. What brave fellows they were! It was not until later that we realised how near obliteration we were, had the land mine not been caught in that tree, we would not have known a thing. Someone up there wanted to keep me
alive as there were lots of near misses and it is now 2004 and that was in 1941.

Meanwhile, life went on…………… we went to work, coped with all sorts of shortages, learnt to live with the horror that surrounded us, listening to the news and thinking about our poor boys, miles away from their loved ones and their homes, putting up with God knows what horrible conditions and privation and thinking how dare we complain.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, there was Dunkirk, “D Day” The war in the desert, Italy, France etc, the Battle of Britain- oh and so many more occasions we lived through.

I had my first baby in 1944 and what a year that was - can you imagine the fear when the flying bombs came and praying that none would drop near us, I wasn’t frightened for myself, my darling baby was my main concern — my darling baby was 60 years of age in January of this year!

I remember “D Day” so well. My husband was sent to Chatham Dockyard, he had to help set up a fleet of lorries fitted out as repair workshops that could be sent out to repair the MTB’s (motor torpedo boats) which were damaged, of course I knew nothing of this, I just was told that he did not know how long he would be gone and even when the invasion began I was unaware of the part my Joe was playing.

Those little ships were marvellous, they were so fast, nothing could touch them at sea, I liken them to the Spitfires, speedy and manoeuvrable and they certainly earned their place in history in many of the events that helped shorten the war. They were the unsung heroes of World War Two and were part of the Coastal Forces protection that helped win the war — the Germans were extremely worried when they knew that an MTB was in the area — as they were very successful in dropping torpedoes onto E boats or submarines that were a threat to the British merchant shipping or naval destroyers. Just a couple of weeks ago (March 2004) my Daughter handed over to the Royal Naval Coastal Forces museum at Portsmouth a scrapbook containing all the wartime press cuttings showing all the action that the MTB’s were engaged in — these MTB’s were designed at Fairmile in Cobham Surrey and my husband was on the design team — the Fairmile designed MTB's were called Dog Boats.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - LIVING AND WORKING IN LONDON DURING WW2

Posted on: 23 April 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Kathleen

I very much enjoyed reading your story. You brought everything to life; well done.

Kindest regards,

Peter

Message 1 - living and working in London

Posted on: 10 July 2004 by Biffwix

I was so interested to read your story. I was born in 1950 in London and brought up near Brentwood in Essex.
Quite a coincidence, my father's name was Jack Wix but he was a surveyor and I don't think we were any relation to the company you worked for but it is quite an unusual name.
I now live in New York but am writing a book about an English family between 1936-1958.
You write so interestingly and in such detail, I wonder if you would be willing to answer some small questions of historic details?
Anyway I was fascinated to read your story.
With all best wishes
Elizabeth Wix Schmid
e-mail elizabethwix@hotmail.com

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