- Contributed by
- Location of story:
- Cross Street, Strood, Rochester, Kent, Aylesford paper mill
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 01 June 2005
War work at Aylesford Paper Mill making paper shell cases. Doris on the far right with colleagues.
Transcript of an interview with an elderly resident of Rochester who lived in Cross Street, Strood, and who was 23 when the war broke out. NB: The bomb landed in Cross Street at 7.40pm on 29th October 1940.
I was on holiday in Paris and we should have come home on the Saturday and they sent us all home on the Friday, so we knew something was up on the 1st September when they sent us home. On the Sunday morning, they had just delivered sandbags, because we had cellars and you had to cover the gratings down to the cellars. The siren went off just within about half an hour of the war being declared, but that was a false alarm obviously.
I had three older sisters and one younger sister; so there were five girls. Mum had four children quickly, then she went six years and had two girls and a boy late in life, so there were just us three living at home when war broke out.
I worked at Aylesford paper mill and we used to cycle to work. I got married in 1942, but I had just started going out with my husband in 1939. When I went to work on the Monday morning on the 4th September, he had already been called up because he was in the Territorials. He went over to France and came out at Dunkirk. My sister got married on Boxing Day 1939, three months after the start of the war, because her husband was called up for the Air Force. Both our husbands had worked with us at the paper mill. My husband came out of Dunkirk in 1940 and we got married in 1942 and the week after we got married he went to Africa.
There were air raid shelters at work. That's how I came to join the St John's because they wanted volunteers to stand in for the real St John's people when the air raids were on and people had to go into the shelters. We took the ten week course, my sister and I, and passed the course and so we stood in as spare St John's ambulance people just for work.
Most of the men had gone away, but there were quite a few left, older men like my Dad and my eldest brother, neither of them went because they were working on the barge on the Thames transporting essential goods on the river. There were more women in our section anyway because we made paper sacks but our work came under war work because we made paper shell cases to put over the shells. We had Singer sewing machines to make the sacks. That was the early part of the war.
We didn't have a shelter at home, because we had a cellar, we were told to use the cellar, but it had obviously been used to store coal so wasn't very nice. My Mum cleaned half of it and we put mattresses down there and we went down there 2 or 3 times but then we said 'No'. It wasn't worth it, if we were going to get bombed, we'd get bombed and that was it. When I got Jacqueline, she was born until 1944 near the end of the war of course, but there was no way I would have taken her down into the cellar. But that is what we should have done. We weren't really that much the frightened type. We thought if it's going to happen, it's got to be.
At work, they had built enormous shelters. Being in the St John's, we had to patrol the shelters and we had a bigger gasmask, a tin hat and a white band around our arm with the Red Cross on and we used to stay in the door of the shelters or visit another shelter. They had built them in orchards, there were a lot of big fields around there, now houses of course. Immediately the sirens went we had to go straight out to these shelters.
We cycled to work for quite a long while and we always told that if a siren went off while we were cycling from Strood to New Hythe, we had to get off our bikes and go into the nearest field because. It used to take about 45 minutes to an hour to cycle to work. A couple of times we were half way home and we watched dog fights going off in the sky. Twice I remember that happening.
We had enough food, and I think if people lived on it today, they would be a lot healthier quite frankly. Who these days makes meat puddings or meat pies? You couldn't make things properly in those days. I had a wedding cake with a white cardboard cover. They did manage to get a fruit cake, everyone had collected fruit because you had 2 ounces of this and that. Some things you could queue up for and you got more, margarine for instance you could get a good portion. Of course, my Dad being on the water, we got fish and shrimps and things like that. My father was a bargeman, he had a barge with big red sails, so unfortunately he couldn't get over to Dunkirk because the barge didn't have a motor.
A man in Cross Street, about 3 doors down kept chickens and rabbits. We always had eggs and at Christmas we had a chicken or a rabbit from him. I think we managed quite well. I never felt hungry — but of course we got a reasonably good meal at work at midday. Big factories did have extra rations. You didn't have to give up your ration books for the works meal. You paid for it, but you didn't have to use your ration book. We always had a reasonable dinner; potatoes, cabbage, probably a piece of meat or a chop that they had managed to get. People run down dried egg, but we liked dried egg. My elder sister was a cook at the hospital in Maidstone and she used it after the war and she loved it. It made really nice cakes and things like that. It was quite surprising how good it was. It wasn't on ration so it was reasonably plentiful. My Mum used to make us scrambled egg for breakfast with a piece of toast. Bread was fairly easy to get.
Very late in the war (probably even after the war) my brother went into the Air Force and he travelled over to Berlin on that thing called Marshall Aid that was taking help over to Germany. He was six years younger than me. He worked at the paper mill, so even though he was only 17 he could have been called up.
My Dad and I were fire watchers and we used to do a two hour shift through the night. All the street people did two hours. You went around looking for the hundred small incendiary bombs that they were dropping. You had a bucket of sand and there were buckets of sand stood at the corners. You could pick up the incendiary bombs and drop them into the sand. As far as I remember, I think that is what they said you could do. I never touched one, as we never saw any in Cross Street, but two or three people did in Martin Road which is the next road down to Cross Street. We used to patrol the three streets area, Cross Street, Martin Road and Wykeham Street and part of Brompton Lane. Two of us together, two hours. My brother was in the Home Guard he still lived in Cross Street until 9 years ago.
The day the bomb fell, there was this dreadful whistling and I thought 'Oh my goodness! Well that's the end of us!' By then there were only the three of us; my younger sister was married and living in Maidstone, my brother was in the Home Guard. I cannot remember the year. It must have been 1940, 1941 or 1942. It landed in the front garden of a house at about number 7 or 9.
On VE Day, we stayed up all night and there was a family who lived opposite us in Cross Street, who had one of these old fashioned gramophone record players and they brought it out into the road. We danced all night. There were no men of course, most of the men were away in the service. Pubs stayed open all night of course. They seemed to have masses of beer, I think they had been hoarding it for the last few weeks because they knew the war was coming to an end. Cross Street was a very communal street, everyone was friendly, you left your front doors open, nobody bothered. I lived there 30 years and I don't remember a cross word hardly at all. VJ Day didn't really interest us at all, but all of our family was back by then. My sister's husband was on the Scilly Isles in the hospital because he was a male nurse. My other sister's husband was in Gibraltar. I don't remember anything about VJ Day.
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