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A Junior School Child Remembers

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: 
Jeannie Wantstall, Peter Hammerton, Jean Maple, Allan Small, Dennis Small
Location of story: 
Canterbury, Kent
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A6470480
Contributed on: 
28 October 2005

This contribution to BBC People’s War website was provided to Sarah Dyer Volunteer Story Gatherer from the BBC Radio Norfolk Action Desk an event organised by the Norwich, Norfolk and Suffolk Pensioner’s Association. The story has been written and submitted to the website with the permission and on behalf of Jeannie Wanstall.

A Junior School Child Memory

I was only six when the war began growing up in the village of Roughcommon, on the outskirts of the city of Canterbury in Kent.

During World War II we were daily witnesses to the Battle of Britain being fought out in the skies above us. Our home had no Anderson shelter in the garden neither a Morrison shelter in the living room. The cupboard under the stairs was deemed to be the safest place in the cottage. It was cleared of its contents and cushions were put on the floor for us to sit on.

I lived alone with my mother as my father was in the Royal Navy. However, for some months, his navy friend’s family came to live with us. They lived in Dover, too dangerous a place to stay in at that time as it was constantly shelled by big guns from across the channel. So I had two boys, Alan and Dennis, to share the cupboard with. Our mother would stand anxiously in the tiny hallway when the raids were on. If the noise became too frightening, the sweet tin was passed around — a treat indeed when rationing meant no sweets were allowed on normal days.

Sadly Alan and Dennis lost their father when his ship H.M.S Kelly sank off the coast of Crete. I always felt a secret anxiety about my own father’s safety during the war. He was on the corvette H.M.S Kittiwake, chasing submarines away from Atlantic convoys. I remember I would always sing the hymn “Eternal Father Strong to Serve” with great earnestness in church.

My primary school was at Blean, a mile and a half from my home, so I would walk home for dinner at lunch time. I was given a half-way point on my journey, so that I could run on or back if a raid came during my walk. On one occasion I did have to run on alone into the shelters at school, everyone was in them, there was no light and I couldn’t find my class easily. The teachers carried big lantern torches. I remember the gas mask testing van coming to the school. My friend Jean’s gas mask proved faulty, she became very distressed and cried endlessly. We were all frightened and became dutiful gas mask carriers after that.

There were posters on the wall at school showing silhouettes of British and German aircraft so that we could identify them when the action was overhead. We collected money at school for cigarettes for the forces. By chance, my father received a package with a note saying it had come from our school. He wrote to thank the head who mentioned it in assembly. My cheeks went red with pride and embarrassment.

There were church woods surrounding our village which were taken over as an army camp and we were not allowed in them. But boys from the village found the debris of a ditched German plane in the woods. Peter, the boy next door, carved me a small crucifix from Perspex found at the crash site. I was afraid to wear it though in case I got into trouble.

We were almost machine-gunned one day while playing in a field at the edge of the village, as planes would sometimes swoop so low and off-load their bombs on their way back to France if they had been driven off course by RAF fighters.

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