- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Irene Fletcher (nee Harman)
- Location of story:
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- Contributed on:
- 15 June 2004
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Shona Rose of CSV Media on behalf of Irene Fletcher and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions
In 1940 at the age of 14 I started work in a factory which was soon taken over by the Woolwich Arsenal and used to manufacture trench mortars and demolition shells.
Our family all stayed in London during the war — we were evacuated to the country for 6 weeks but returned as felt too homesick.. My father was a driver on the LMS (London Midland Scottish) railway and when the trains passed to Tilbury where there was a big gun factory the trains were often shot at by German planes — but he survived. My sister had married a soldier and was with her baby in Norfolk — her husband was killed in Burma.
One day a landmine was dropped near our house — they came down on little parachutes — It shattered our skylight, which we were never able to get repaired — my mum used to put our po’ (chamberpot) underneath it when it rained. No lights were allowed of course, due to the blackout, so the next time the air raid sirens went off, the man living upstairs came running downstairs and put his foot straight in the po’. When he complained, my mum told him he was lucky it was only rainwater …….
I remember one stretch of 28 days when we spent every night in the shelter — and of course when you came out in the mornings you would never know who would be there or whose house would be left standing.
I lived in Hampstead where there were a lot of gun batteries and barrage balloons, so we used to go to dances at the soldiers’ camps on the heath. And Regents Park housed a lot of airmen (RAF) who also held dances, mainly on Primrose Hill. We all danced with our handsome airmen during the blackout.
On the gunsite at Primrose Hill there was a huge gun known locally as Big Bertha. If a German plane came close and Big Bertha was fired all the blackouts fell down, and the airmen had to desperately paste them back up. But we all laughed about it, there was a great spirit.
Because we couldn’t get nylon stockings, we would wear Miners leg make-up, with a brown pencil to draw in the seam on the back of the legs. If you could get hold of a parachute (perhaps persuade a nice airman to risk a few days ‘jankers’), you could make lovely blouses out of the silk.
We also used to visit the Chandos pub in Leicester Square. It was hard to get a drink anywhere due to the shortage of glasses, so we’d save ours from The Chandos and take them with us to all the other pubs.
It was a great time to be in the West End — people used to just get on with it. When you’d walk through the streets you’d see the bomb damage and everywhere, but still young women would be sitting on the street (with rubble and glass all around them), at work with their typewriters on their laps — and they still managed to look smart
We would go out every night and dance the jitterbug. We went to Covent Garden and the Hammersmith Palais. There was also the Paramount in Tottenham Court Road but that was a cattle market.
My Handsome Airman
I met Guy Fletcher in 1948. He was a pilot, and had flown Dakotas, which were used to transport troops. He flew from Abingdon, Stoney Cross, and Snaith, up in Yorkshire. I married Guy in 1955 at Hampstead registry office - it was a long courtship — and no hanky-panky! He didn’t talk much about his war experiences. Many things were not talked about until well after the war.
But there was a lovely spirit of community —if someone was getting married, all the neighbours would help by saving up their food coupons so that the bride could have a good spread on her wedding day.
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