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Evelyn Collyer's (Nee Collier) Wartime Memories

by CSV Solent

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Archive List > Family Life

Contributed by 
CSV Solent
People in story: 
Evelyn Collyer
Location of story: 
Portsmouth
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A5258081
Contributed on: 
22 August 2005

The Wartime Memories of Evelyn Collyer (nee Collier)

This story will be submitted to the People’s War Site by Jan Barrett (volunteer) on behalf of Evelyn Collyer and will be added to the site with her permission. Evelyn fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

I was born in 1923, and when War broke out in 1939, I was about fifteen and a half years old. Since the age of 14 when my Mum died during childbirth, I had been looking after my two little sisters aged 4 and 7, and my Dad. Dad used to give me a shilling a week to look after them and keep house.

We lived in Freshwater Road in Drayton, near Portsmouth, and when the air-raids started the council came and put in an Anderson Shelter. The first time we ran into it we were in about a foot of water because it was put straight into the ground — there was no concrete base. The shelters were always cold and damp, water used to run down the sides. During air-raids I was responsible for getting my sisters into the shelter and looking after them. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but I expect the poor little things were pretty scared.

They were evacuated to Winton, in Bournemouth, but after a couple of months Dad brought them back again. Dad joined the ARP and was over there most of the time, leaving me to look after the kids, do the shopping and keep the house clean.

We used to take in some of the sailors for sixpence a night so that they didn’t have to sleep in the barracks or on their ships and were further away from the bombing, which could come at any time. We gave them a cup of tea and some toast and somewhere to sleep.

When I was about 17, Dad got married again and moved out of the district with his new wife and my little sisters. I got called up to be a trainee nurse and went to Windsor to a big mansion house where there were children with TB, but after six months I had to give it up because of my own poor health and I came back to Drayton.

At Portsmouth Train Station, there was a big underground shelter and I got a job there as a switchboard operator. There was a Mr. Thomas there, who, in the event of an invasion, was to be the last one to leave and to destroy everything down there so that the Germans couldn’t get it.

One night the Power Station at Portsmouth was hit, I remember I was standing on my front door step talking to my friend Bill, when all the lights went out.

Christmas 1940 I was in the Royal Hospital in Portsmouth, having my appendix out. A warning came through from Lord HawHaw that Portsmouth was going be bombed on January 10th. He was always saying things like this, but for some reason this time he was believed and those who could walk or be carried out of the hospital left the day before. The hospital was putting on a Christmas Panto — which had to be cancelled of course - my friend Bill has still got his ticket.

I had a boyfriend called Peter then, and he carried me out of the hospital. That night, Portsmouth was badly bombed and we went up to the top of Portsdown Hill. When we looked back down, Portsmouth was a circle of fire. I shall never forget that. The Royal Hospital was hit and some people who couldn’t get out were killed.

The Navy took over Hayling Island (where I live now) during the war and you had to have a pass to get on to it. Hayling was a decoy for Portsmouth during the war. They didn’t actually say that of course, but we all knew it. They put oil waste all along the beach so that if there was an invasion, it could be set on fire to stop the Germans.

Because we were close to Portsmouth and to Thorney Island, there were lots of air raids. Sometimes it seemed as though we never slept at all on air-raid nights. The all-clear would sound about 4 a.m. in the morning, but somehow we didn’t feel like going back to bed then — we used to go off for walks.

Evelyn Collyer
August 2005.

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