- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Jacqueline Ouston
- Location of story:
- London and Buckinghamshire
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 02 November 2003
I was born on 4th February 1936 and subsequently christened Jacqueline Hilda Ball; Hilda being my mother's name.
My Father, who was manager of the Drapery department met my Mother,who was manageress of the Hairdressing department, in the Co-op store in Lewisham. They married in 1935 and I was born a year later - we lived in a house in Abbey Wood.
So, at the tender age of nearly 4 years, my earliest memory is of a large map of Europe which was pinned to the lounge wall and on which were differently coloured flags. I believe that these flags, which my parents frequently moved, depicted the advance/retreat of the two opposing armies in France. I remember sensing an uneasy atmosphere as the German flags moved nearer to the coast.
I can also recall my Father and my Uncle (who then lived next door) digging a large hole in the garden and then erecting what I was later told was an Anderson air raid shelter. The corrugated steel sheets looked somehow menacing to me - softened only by the light and dark blue check blankets which were wrapped around us whenever we went into the shelter.
My maternal Grandfather had his own plumbing/heating business and I believe he had been largely responsible for the heating installation in the Woolwich Arsenal. It must have been at the start of the London blitz in 1940 that he insisted that I, accompanied by my Grandmother, my Aunt and my two year old cousin, should be evacuated to a house which he had rented in Princes Risborough.
Incidentally, I learned later that a week after we had moved out of Abbey Wood, an incendiary bomb had fallen on the house and scored a direct hit on what had been my bedroom; and so I lost the first of my 9 lives!
Around this time, I remember my Uncle suddenly disappearing and being told that he had been called up to help the war in the Navy. I was told later that he was helping to protect the ships which were bringing supplies to the men fighting.
Other events stick in my mind:-
I badly missed my parents and used to cry when they left for London after visiting us over the weekend.
I was sent to a nursery school where we had to wear gas masks for a time every day; I was terrified because I couldn't breathe properly.
One night, planes were flying very low over the houses, making a dreadful noise. I again learned later that these were Luftwaffe bombers on their way to the infamous bombing raid on Coventry.
By this time, my parents had decided that to stay in London any longer was inviting disaster so they both moved out to Princes Risborough. They rented another house in a place called Saunderton near Princes Risborough.
This house was named Linfield and I can recall water having to be pumped by hand into the kitchen sink. Hot water was obtained by emptying buckets into an old "copper" which had a fire lit underneath it. This water was then transferred upstairs and poured into the bath when required. I remember on one occasion, trying to carry a kettle full of hot water upstairs and accidentally spilling it over my left leg. The pain of the scald and the blisters which resulted are burned into my memory!
By this time my sister had come along and one of the worst things I remember was the air raid siren. This meant that I had to sit under the kitchen table while my sister was placed in a cocoon like gas mask and taken into the pantry under the stairs.
Mother used to do hairdressing at home and Father got a job in a nearby factory, helping to make parachutes. He used to bring me lengths of green satin ribbon which were something to do with parachutes - I never knew exactly what.
He, in common with most men of his age, had to join the Home Guard. One day, with his colleagues, he was exercising near our house and I recall asking him 'why are you crawling along the ditch with twigs stuck on your helmet?' "Go home" was the curt and faintly embarrassed rejoinder.
Like many other local people, we were asked to take in two American airmen. To me this was great because they were fun to be with and gave me something called candy and Mother, stockings, inexplicably called glass nylons.
Inoculations, apart from smallpox, were then unknown and I suffered all those childhood illnesses such as measles and mumps, etc. I had been delerious with measles and as I recovered, I remember the Americans cheering me up.
We were of course rationed for food etc. and our American friends now and again brought us one or two small luxuries from their base. These helped us to cope with the difficult living conditions under which we all laboured.
My last remaining memory of wartime Britain was actually at the end of the war. Victory was celebrated in Princes Risborough with a huge V made from bonfires at Whiteleaf Cross on the side of the Chiltern Hills. Everybody was happy, singing and dancing in the streets.
VE night was a marvellous occasion - I knew, even as a child, that we had won and that we would all be safe in the future.
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