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- People in story:
- Kathy Aitken
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- Contributed on:
- 06 September 2005
I was 14 years old when the war started. I lived in a flat in a place called Rotherhithe in South East London. I was working in a shop selling chocolates and gifts with a friend of mine. We had the docks beside us, so as you can imagine that is where the Germans wanted to drop the bombs, to destroy the shipyards. At first things were not too bad but after a while things started to get dangerous. There were war-planes from Germany called “doodlebugs” which would come over making a buzzing sound. They would fly over London, then stop, the bombs would come down and blow something up. You just had to hope it was not you. Then they brought out heavier bombs which could do more damage.
But by then we had air-raid shelters. Underneath the block of flats where I lived there were hideouts, where you would go to sleep during air-raids. As well as the shelter under the flats, there was one just outside, which got a direct hit. Quite a few of the people in there were killed. After a while of so many people going down to the underground shelter so often, it was not very well looked after, so it became filthy and horrible. I did not like that, so I told my Dad, “I'm not going down there anymore — I'll take my chances and stay overground”. He was a warden: those were people who walked the streets to make sure people were put to safety during the raids. He told me that if I was not going to go into the air-raid shelter then I would have to go with him round the streets. So I walked round with him, with the bits of shrapnel dropping near us. They dropped the bombs in three's, so you got to know: you heard the first one, then the second, and then you would think, “the next one is going to be me” so you had to run for shelter, because you were blown up if not.
This went on regularly, and you got so used to it, that you just got on with your life — this was the way I grew up. I got myself a job in the city. You could not live your life in fear — that is what Hitler would have wanted, and we were not about to go and let him beat us. London was a pretty bad place to be as that was where the majority of bombs were dropped. The space where the underground tube-lines are now was used for shelter: people would sleep on the platforms.
A friend of mine had her place bombed down, so I asked my father if she could come and live with us. I only had a single bed, so the two of us would sleep in it in my bedroom, and quite often there were blasts which would put the windows out, and the glass would shatter on to us. We were not hurt though — we were lucky. We were stupid in those days, we were kids, we did not see any danger. For us it was just the way of the world. You would forget that there were soldiers out there fighting for us: it seemed like it was you fighting, to survive through it and remain as normal as you could. Once a bomb hit the edge of our flats and took the side of the building right down. We were lucky because it just chipped the edge otherwise we would have all been killed. But we got on with our lives — started to go to dances; my friend met an American soldier who she eventually married and they went off to America after the war ended. I met a soldier from the North-East (of England) and later married him.
We all had little ration books with your week's worth of coupons in them. You would go to your local grocer's and he could cut out your coupons when you bought things, and when those coupons ran out for that week you could not have any more. It was not too bad being in London, as if you were out you could go to cafes or milk-bars and you could get something to eat there, as you did not spend your coupons in these places, you just paid as normal. But people who lived in the country did not have such things so they had a harder time of it. When I got married, my wedding-cake did not have any icing, because our relatives could afford to give me coupons for the sugar, but not enough for icing-sugar as well. So we just decorated it with wedding figures, it was not too bad. People mostly got married in the registry office because no-one had the time to organise a proper church wedding. You were rationed for clothing as well. You would get 30 coupons for six months, and a pair of trousers would cost maybe seven, even a pair of knickers cost two. So I did not have a wedding-dress, I had a suit instead. It was made to measure, and if I had had a wedding-dress I would not have been able to get a suit as well, and I would rather have had the suit.
My sister-in-law lost her baby in an air-raid. She was living in Kent. They were in an air-raid shelter but it was hit. So I used to think that there was no point in the shelters, you may has well stay in your bedroom as the chances of surviving were the same.
It was great when the war ended. We were still in London, and first we had VE Day when the Germans surrendered and that was a great day — everybody was out on the streets singing and dancing, there were parties with food that everyone pooled together out of their rations. Then we had another one when the Japanese gave in, VJ Day, so that was another celebration. Nobody wanted to drop the bomb on Hiroshima but that was the only way they could think of putting an end to the war at the time, it was just going on and on and on, and it had to be stopped. I was lucky that both my husband and my brother came back alright. Today I do not feel afraid of anything — the only thing I worry about is my grand-children's safety. I think that if I was able to get through the war then what worse could happen to me?
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