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15 October 2014
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When War Was Declared

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Dawn Catten, Eileen Catten (Sister), Louis Catten (Father), Kate Catten (Mother), Kate Kerry (Great Aunt), Frederick Utting (Grandfather), Mary Utting (Grandmother)
Location of story: 
Welling, Kent; Kenninghall, Norfolk
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
23 November 2005

I was born in May 1934, so I was 5 years old when the War started. I was living with my family in Welling, Kent. My earliest memory connected with the War is of seeing a team of horses ploughing up the field which was part of our garden, so that it could be used in the “Dig for Victory” campaign- a scheme to encourage the British people to be as self- sufficient in food as possible. All this was very exciting for a child, as you can imagine. As the field was too big an area for my father to manage alone, he divided it into allotments for each of the neighbours, so we all had fresh vegetables throughout the War. This must have happened just prior to the outbreak of war, as my next memory is of the actual day when war was declared. I remember the air raid siren sounding and for some reason all the neighbours gathering in the sitting room of our bungalow- perhaps because my father was a policeman, and people may have expected him to have more news. The atmosphere of apprehension was palpable, although I don’t actually recall hearing Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister, making the announcement on the radio.

To me, as a small child, war meant soldiers and fighting. I remember asking my mother if the soldiers would be coming that day- I had visions of them appearing outside and I felt sick with fear. We had been looking forward to a family holiday in the Isle of Wight, but my father’s leave was of course cancelled. I should have started school in September 1939 but as no provision had been made for shelters, for the first year we met in each other’s houses and teacher came to us. I thought this was great fun and longed to have school in our house, but as we lived in a bungalow and my father was frequently on night duty and so slept during the day, my mother wouldn’t allow it. Somehow we managed to have school every morning. I can’t imagine how it can have been organised, I suppose many of the children had been evacuated.

When the Blitz began the following year, since we were outside the compulsory evacuation area it was decided that my mother, elder sister aged 11, and I, along with my grandparents who had been bombed out of their house in Ilford, should go to my great- uncle and aunt’s farm in Norfolk. When we eventually moved to Norfolk my sister and I attended the village school in Kenninghall, which was so overcrowded because of an influx of evacuees from Wembley, that our classroom had to be divided into 3 by curtains. Not an ideal situation for learning! I thought the school was very old- fashioned as it still had open fires, whereas my school in Welling had radiators. I also found our teacher much stricter than the one at home. It was therefore with great relief that after 6 weeks my mother decided she would rather face Hitler and his bombs, than my great- aunt, who was extremely house proud.

This story is submitted to the People's War Website by Stuart Ross on behalf of Dawn Catten, who fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

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