- Contributed by
- Wakefield Libraries & Information Services
- People in story:
- Jean Simpson
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 19 July 2004
This story was submitted to the People's war site by Wendy Jewitt of Wakefield Libraries and Information Services on behalf of Jean Simpson and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
In the early summer of 1944 I was one of ten A.T.S. girls working in the war Office and living in a War Department requisitioned house in Wilton Street, Belgravia.
Small, by London standards, it was a delightful house. On the first floor were three bedrooms - a large pink master bedroom and two smaller ones, one blue, one yellow. Each had its own on-suite bathroom, the first time we had met this now taken for granted luxury. I was in the yellow room with Jane, a West Country girl who became a lifelong friend.
We were well pleased with our, to us, luxurious quarters and prestigious address.We even had an aristocratic neighbour.
The tremendous news of the "D" Day invasion had just broken with great rejoicing, although, with little or no media coverage, we did not, at that time, realise the horrific cost.
We did not know that the Civil Defence forces were standing by for an expected alert - the backlash from Hitler.
It came on the night of June 13th. Going to bed as usual we were awakened by sirens. A strange whistling noise sounded across the sky, then deadly silence, followed by a deafening, shattering explosion. The "all clear" sounded quite soon and we went back to our beds. Then, within minutes, the sirens sounded again. This nightmare scenario went on all night. In the morning, exhausted as we went to work, there was a sinister rumour of "pilotless planes". In those days we hadn't been conditioned by science fiction and it was unbelievably fantastic and terrifying.
On June 16th it was announced that Hitler had launched his vengeance weapon - the V.1 - the flying bomb - soon to become known as "the doodle bug".
We had to learn to live with this fearsome situation. We knew that when the motor cut out the explosion would come a heartstopping ten seconds afterwards. Every night we came downstairs in our tin hats and blue and white striped issue pyjamas - we called them "Bovril" pyjamas after the shipwrecked pyjama-clad man in the Bovril advertisements. Sometimes, to relieve the tension, we played games. A favourite one was moving a glass around the letters of the alphabet to tell your future. We optimistically assumed that we would have one - our concern was when would we get married - and to whom!
During this terrifying period many, many thousnads of innocent people were killed, homes destroyed and buildings laid waste.
The aim was to cause maximum devastation amongst the civilian population. Expectant mothers, children and then old and sick were evacuated. Our neighbours, for the sake of their children, departed to the country. Those who lived in what were considered to be safe areas were asked to offer hospitality to beleagured A.T.S. girls.
I had a blissfully peaceful weekend at an ancient vicarage in Baldock, Hertfordshire. In the lovely old church and the old-fashioned garden the horrors, briefly, seemed far distant.
In London the robotic attacks went on most of the summer - until our R.A.F. were able to deflect them, by radar, to less harmful destinations.
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