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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Contributed by 
The Stratford upon Avon Society
People in story: 
Patricia Wainwright
Location of story: 
Stratford, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Scotland
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A3911087
Contributed on: 
18 April 2005

25 — Patricia Wainwright, whose husband became a Rear Admiral, recalls her Wartime:

"Yes, the War came about: the telephone came, you are going to be picked up straight away to my husband, you know, war. So he said I think war’s imminent. Anyhow, the maid and I went and we sort of helped my husband throw a few things in a suitcase, and he was taken away with a whole lot of other young officers; disappeared, and I didn’t know what had happened to him for a bit, I was sort of left, and then anyhow, didn’t turn up, didn’t turn up, of course then one day I listened to the Prime Minister’s speech saying that we were at war with Germany, and it was only after then that my husband got through and said I am in a certain place, come along up, so I went up.

Nanny, who had been a trained nurse had been called up, I took the maid, and I went and met my husband first time, the war really just beginning to get going. And then I came back, and I realized then I probably in due course was going to have to follow if I can to see him if he settles, and so I closed my flat and I made the most dreadful mistake, all my wonderful things I left in store (see later), because my mother died in Cairo, and so I never saw her again just after the war had started. My brother also had seen her - I couldn’t, the war started, my mother said come out to Cairo, bring the baby, and you know, and I wrote back and said the Queen isn’t going away, leaving this country and her husband, and if she doesn’t go with the babies, I am the same, my husband might need me, he might be wounded, I can’t come out to you Mummy.

Well the war went on, I did manage. I started moving then, I closed it, all our stuff went up in the blaze in Portsmouth. Now you see Nanny was called up, therefore I was not called up to do anything; I wanted to join the Wrens, no way, I had a baby. My mother-in-law had already joined the Wrens, having lied a bit about her age - she was in, so I thought what am I going to do? So anyhow while I still had Nanny, she was living outside Portsmouth Working at the hospital again, I dumped Rosemary on Nanny’s parents and I shared a flat with my mother-in-law (also in Portsmouth) and I joined of course the Women’s Volunteer Service, so I worked then at the canteen dishing out bacon and eggs and god knows what, to the soldiers in the canteens, that was sort of my first war job. And then my maid of course was called up and so I had Rosemary.

So I decided well, I was just going to have to do voluntary work whenever I can, and so by the end of the war of course she was five, and so I spent one quite happy time, in Scotland. My husband was sent up, they were building the anti-aircraft cruisers Scylla and Charybdis. Well Charybdis was already in commission, Scylla had reached the stage when one of the early people, still in dockyard as it were, the builders’ yard, was the gunnery officer because of course it was the special ship with special guns, and my husband was the gunnery officer, so I was able to go up and be got rooms in Greenock, and he used to go down, had a little office, first of all in the dockyard, and he saw other officers as they came in; one chap who has written a book mentioned this too, and she came back, and Scylla was a beautiful ship, I have got a picture of her in my bedroom, but strangely enough I never went on board her because I was not allowed in the dockyard. She was Christened quietly with a parson, none of the rest of us was asked.

Now my husband merely said to me if one day I don’t come back, give me two more days and give your notice and go back, and this is what happened. My husband went out, see you this evening you know, I hope you’ve got some tasty fish for me (I had) and I didn’t see him again or hear from him for months. Scylla was moved out, she got the rest of her men at a place a bit further up, and she went on the Russian convoys.

My husband did two stretches on the Russian convoys, first in Scylla where they had a very difficult time as they did at that time, and then he was sent home. A lot of them got pneumonia, in awful arctic conditions, for ships had open bridges and things in those days. And so he came back very shaky after having pneumonia and we were sent down to Plymouth.

Now Plymouth had just got over their raids. I found a delicious little flat…at first, in a villa on the top of Plymouth you might say, looking over Plymouth. The raids were few and far between then, my husband went to the barracks, and I got a job then working at a…, I was a waitress in the officers’ club, very genteel wearing the green and purple uniform and a purple bow, very convenient, because they allowed us to take very nice food home with us. So I…, very often my husband came back at lunchtime, I was…, so I was a very good waitress, I could say yes sir, yes madam beautifully, and never ashamed you see.

So we had a flat, big bedroom, kitchen, bathroom etc. you see, and a little sort of snug for Rosemary when she came, but I hadn’t brought her down, she was still in the country. And one night, we met a lot of sort of officers, Polish barracks not very far and they asked my husband and me to a jolly they were giving to celebrate something, and my husband said I can’t come, the man looked wistful and he said you wouldn’t allow your wife to come? So my husband said oh yes if she likes, if you like her. So I said I would adore to…, so he said if there is an air raid warning or anything like that, you will see that she gets back to her house. Now that evening, (what happened, yes). I was getting ready to go out to the Polish party you see and my landlady, she had a little boy of five, she said I do feel nervous tonight, so I said we will be all right. She said you will come out to the shelter with me if there is a raid, we had an Anderson shelter in the garden. So I said well yes of course, I don’t know why we haven’t had any planes over for ages. She said I am just feeling…, so I said I promise and swear to you that if an air raid siren goes, I will come home.

So I went, and it was a gorgeous party and I think I was engaged in, sort of dancing on the table you know, oh!oh!oh! and feeling jolly. Air raid, say the word,I just said — air raid! And I said to them, my host, I said I have got to go - oh stop, I don’t know why, no sound of anything, and I said I promised my good landlady, so he said promises, yes, so he walked me back to the house, took me into the house, so I took off my shoes you see ready to go upstairs, I could see the light in the kitchen, my landlady was there you see, and…, she must have heard me ‘cos she came out of the kitchen: aah, Mrs Wainwright I am so glad, I am feeling so nervous still, I feel that something is going to happen, so I said right, well, I am here. And she said, oh no please come down, I am just making a cup of tea, so I went into the kitchen you see, she started making a cup of tea when suddenly one heard planes coming, and every gun in Plymouth seemed to go off, the house shook, so we picked up our things you see and the child and rushed to the back door, and there was, I suppose I am saying, shrapnel falling down; I said we can’t go out to the …, we would be hit by this stuff that is falling down, dropping from the guns, and half the planes went up you see and all hell was let loose.

So she oh she said, I am told under the stairs is a good place. Now it was a typical Victorian villa, there was a room on this side and there was this big broom cupboard, and so we got into the broom cupboard you see and shut the door, and then we heard this thing shrieking down, one of these shrieking bombs, and there was all hell, there was a tremendous noise, and then our torches went out, we were thrown to the ground and the child screamed, we thought we couldn’t see at first, the lights had all gone out of course, and the house was rocking, and we looked for the entrance and it was blocked, completely blocked. The room on this side, the whole of the wall had caved in over the passage on top of us and we were in this sealed compartment you might say.

We felt our way round but it was dark which was frightening, and so of course…, and could hear, we could hear a lot of noise going on still, and then there was this awful smell of burning — was the house on fire? Oh! We started yelling like mad of course, and the raid seemed to go off, planes, and the guns stopped firing then, and we heard these good old British voices: Anybody here? Anybody here? And so we screamed, and we heard this wonderful voice say, all right me dears, I’ll get you out. I can’t do the Devon way, but I can tell you what it was like, and it took them some time, and we were getting very hot by now, air was going, with three of us breathing we were sort of doing this at the end, but they grabbed… But they gradually made a small hole and then a larger hole and we were hauled out of the hole. But the front…, we couldn’t really see what was going on at the back, her part of the world at all.

What had happened, the bomb dropped on the end house, it killed a mother, her three children and her parents. Her husband who was in the Navy had left two nights before they were dead, and some of the very unpleasant smells what was left of them burning, there was this dreadful smell, but already there was the soup kitchen arrived, and the wardens were taken out and given cups of tea, and they made a passage sort of through.

My bed, if I had gone and slept on my bed I would be dead, the whole of the window had come in all over my bed, great shafts and things, and I went into my kitchen. I had laid out, because I had been so careful about…, eggs were precious, I had got an egg for my husband’s breakfast and there it was on the table, still in its cup with a shaft of glass right through it, otherwise unspoilt.

So anyhow that was my story, and I didn’t realize until after what happened, I was left with the most awful claustrophobia, I can’t bear to be in dark small spaces, I hate the Underground now and I loathe going in lifts, because they shut totally and I am closed in.

My husband was now considered well enough, after all these exciting experiences in Plymouth. He was sent off, and where was he sent? Back to the Russian convoys (on) HMS Jamaica, and she was one of the ones that helped sink the Scharnhorst of course. He was asked to give his opinions of that too, and a young lady once came down from London, f rom the BBC,and she was trying to pry out of him, and she said what did you think when you saw the Scharnhorst going to a watery grave? Or words to that effect.

There was an awful pause for the moment and he said it was dark when we had the battle, but of course towards the end she was a little bit…, because she was on fire as you know, and he looked at her and he said I am a seaman he said, I saw a very beautiful ship and a load of very beautiful men going to their deaths. He changed the subject; he would never talk about that sort of thing at all.

So he did another spell, and after that what happened? The War went on, and I tell you I did all sorts of strange things. I got a job at the barracks, I worked at the little shop, and I did another job at the hospital, I worked in the library, all the sort of things that are necessary but you don’t get paid for, but you do as a volunteer.

And at one time my husband was away for a lot I went down to Lincoln, you have heard of Scampton which had the bomber planes? Now when I lived at Hazelthorpe which was practically the next village to Scampton, of course it was all over weeds, it had been a First World War small aerodrome, and in the war became an enormous place. My mother’s father’s dear friend he died, he was the squire of the village and his wife was still alive, and she had airmen billeted on her from Scampton, which was then enormous, filled with great bomber planes. And she was very old-fashioned and Victorian, her daughter was unmarried, so she was very glad to have me, because with all the servants she had left (there were a lot of servants when I was a child) was ‘old Cookie,’ and ‘old Nannie.’ Well I mean they were all fairly old people and Mrs Wright was, so I was supposed to watch the airmen being brought back in the early hours of the morning after they had finished their bombing raids, and the house had no electric light at all you see, and it was one of these with steps down here, there, to watch out for the airmen to see that they got back to their own rooms, or didn’t break their neck getting to the loo.Very often they were in a very strange state and would start removing their clothes on the stairs and things like that - it was all very difficult. I was a married lady you see, and so I used to help them to their beds. Mrs Wright, the Madam, locked her bedroom door, the virgin daughter had been put with the old servants into the servants’ quarters, and Mrs Wright firmly locked the door between that wing; not that the servants really did, but her virgin daughter might be… Actually she hadn’t studied men very well, because when they had been firing at planes and seen planes going down and their friends killed they are not actually in a lecherous frame of mind as it were — I put it that way. So I was allocated…, and that’s where I met quite a lot of the aces; Guy Gibson was one of my men, and I knew quite a lot of what I called famous names in those days.

Well the War didn’t leave me with absolute joy, because my brother was in India when the war started, he joined the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders (a regiment he always wanted to go in). My mother died in April 1940 and two months later my brother was sent to Singapore with his battalion. Towards the end of 1941 I had one of these ominous things from the War Office — wounded missing. So I went, I knew of course where he was, only I knew a lot about Singapore, and also we got stories of what the Japanese were like to prisoners of war, so I thought have they caught him, has he been tortured, I mean they did all sorts of things, they cut off your head, they did all sorts of things. I felt so dreadful not knowing, I felt…, he and I had a tremendous spiritual rapport. I used to know, and he used to know roughly what we were doing, but suddenly it was completely cut off like a telephone, and I thought he must be dead — but he was actually and so I went the whole war until the end of the war and then I got the letter saying that he has been posted dead, and more will be told to you when the prisoners all come back which they did, one came to me then.

(After the War) my husband did several…., and going up the whole time. He was promoted — first of all he was made Captain of HMS Cambridge, a gunnery school”
[and so began a post war career when eventually the Wainwrights ended up in Stratford].

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Air Raids and Other Bombing Category
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