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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
Peoples War Team in the East Midlands
People in story: 
Rose Triptree Holtham (nee Stoneman)
Location of story: 
London
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A4747386
Contributed on: 
04 August 2005

"This story was submitted to the site by the BBC's Peoples War Team in the East Midlands with Rose Holthams permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions."

My family were all sitting round the table listening to the radio when war was declared. At 8 years of age I don’t think I really understood. I do have memories of other children being evacuated; I never did and stayed in London with my family. My school, next to the parish church, was bombed. The church is still there but not the school. This happened at the beginning of the blitz. We had to share with another school further away, Bradmede School. This school housed soldiers on the ground floor. This school was also bombed so once again we had to go to another school, but only worked half a day for some time.

We also had long walks to go to another school for cookery and house lessons. Also another long walk for swimming lessons to a local pool. When the air raid warning sounded we had to leave the school and go to a specially built brick building with no windows and try and carry on with lessons. Special underground shelters were built and we all had designated bunk beds to sleep almost every night for quite a long time. Father used to bring jugs of cocoa down to us before bed time.

The men mostly stayed outside ready to fight fires or do what was needed if bombs dropped. Sometimes the men stayed in the local pub during the night. One night there was a devastating bang, the shelter shook. This was caused by a bomb – a direct hit on the pub. Everyone thought the flats had been hit but eventually we were told what had happened. Everyone was waiting for news, quite a few neighbours were killed that night or injured. Our flats had lots of damage, windows, doors etc blown away. Sometimes we never bothered to go to the shelter but stayed between floors/stair wells where there was no glass.

I always remember a woman saying to her husband “you can’t go out there Bert, you only have your slippers on”. I can still see those carpet slippers in my mind to this day. I believe she said this more than once!

We could tell the difference between a German or British airplane by the engine noise. I remember standing on the balcony watching the battle of Britain; planes and search lights. We got so used to air raid sirens we often took no notice.

One Sunday morning I was out playing with friends when we saw a different type of plane. We were watching it when it suddenly stopped and dropped out of the sky. The next thing was I was blown off my feet and covered in glass and dust etc. It was one of the first V-bombs, the pilot less planes used by the Germans. I didn’t see where it actually fell but it did a lot of damage. We soon learned what they were.

Close to were I was living was a factory that made shells for guns. This was said to be a target for bombs so caused damage in the area. It was said that Winston Churchill visited the area – I’m not sure because I didn’t see him. The factory was protected by a huge barrage balloon named ‘big bertha’ by the children. It had wires hanging from it and would be taken up and down like a huge kite. Occasionally it would go wrong and land on top of a block of flats – this would cause a great deal of hilarity with the children watching the ARP men in tin helmets etc trying to get this great grey floppy balloon draped over the chimney pots trying to get it down and onto its landing area.

We still had a brownie guide pack to go to. I made a girl guide skirt out of blackout material, it had pleats too, I was very proud of my efforts at dress making.

I’m not sure how it was obtained but maps on silk or cotton were boiled and boiled until you had a nice piece of white material. Very useful when we had limited coupons of material.

We didn’t have many sweets so ate raw carrots and something we used to call Chinese toe nails. I think these were marrow seeds. If mum would spare the sugar; dry cocoa and sugar were mixed together and eaten licking your finger.

Half an hour walk to Battersea park with a bottle of water, a sandwich and an arrowroot biscuit bought from the local pub, was an afternoon out between air raids.

A year or so after my school was bombed, my PE kit and glasses were returned to me. I don’t know how – must have been in a desk.

On waste land designated for building before the war came, a smallish bomb dropped and made a large basin shaped crater. Children used this as a play area – running around the inside of this hole it was a popular play area.

On VE day we had a big party in the grounds. My dad took our piano into the street and parties took place all night I think.

Another time – VJ Day, my friends and I went on the bus to Trafalgar Square. Thousands of people singing and dancing – quite frightening. I was separated from my friends. I must have looked worried or frightened as a young man spoke to me and then took me all the way home. He asked if I would meet him again. My father said I should and to bring him home so that he could thank him. I got halfway to the meeting place and went home. I told my father he wasn’t there. I will never know and still feel mean about that until this day.

One day I was sitting playing opposite the window in the flat when I saw an airplane in the distance above the roofs. A string of bombs dropped out of this plane and the blast made the soot fall out of the chimney all over me. Another time I remember sitting in a boat on Battersea park lake watching German planes going over tree tops.

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