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Memories of Wartime: A Child in Sunderland

by Joyce Donkin

Contributed by 
Joyce Donkin
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Joyce Donkin
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Contributed on: 
27 February 2004

Memories of Wartime
I was born in Sunderland in 1936. My first memories of the war go back to when I was four years old when my uncle decided to rent a large terrace house, to house all the women in the family, while the men were away.
As it happens he was very fortunate, because the house he and his wife lived in was flattened during the night, in one of the first air raids on the town, and she would almost certainly have been killed.
Most of the time family life went on as normal, but at the same time there was an element of fear in the air, that, as a child I could sense.
At the time, my mother was expecting her second child, and she was offered the chance to be evacuated. I had the feeling she was going to leave me like my father had had to do and I was terrified.
Night after night for what seemed like years, there were air raids, and bombs came down all around us
Nearly every street nearby was hit and there were many casualties but we were among the lucky ones.
My grandmother was a marvellous person, who had no intention of letting the Germans intimidate her, she would deliberately take her time getting to the air raid shelter, and even stand to admire the flares that the German planes had dropped to light their way to destroy the shipyards. Not that they were successful.
They did however cause plenty of damage and many of our town center shops went up in flames.
I can remember one day my mother had my brother in the pram, and we were going to visit a aunt about a mile away from where we lived. When the air raid siren sounded.
We started to dash to the nearest shelter, up above us was a German plane which seemed to be following us, terrified we made it to the shelter, to find out later that it had crashed into the sea after being chased by our own planes.
Even now, over fifty- eight years later my blood runs cold when I hear a certain noise from an aeroplane, the noise those German bombers used to make.
There were two of my uncles, who were sent overseas during the war. One went to Malta and was a gunner. He had a pretty rough time out there because food was very scarce, but in his letters home he never complained, and his only concern was for the family back home. I still have letters he sent to my grandmother from Malta, in which he says what lovely people the Maltese were and how much they appreciated the soldier’s efforts at that time.
The other uncle was an ambulance driver on the front line in the Durham Light Infantry. He did not send any letters, because he went missing in action behind enemy lines, somewhere in Italy. We all thought he had been killed, but it turned out that he had been captured, and had escaped three times, before the war ended. When he came home he was awarded the Oak Leaf,(mentioned in dispaches) possibly for making a nuisance of himself, and persistently getting away. He would never discuss the war but we learned what happened from two pals that were with him at the time.
My father was a chef in the army as he did not pass grade 1 medically,but he was stationed in Portsmouth for a while and although he never talked about it my Mother seemed to think he had had a rough time while he was there.
The best part of the war for us was when we were given a day off school, when the local scools were used to house those who had been made homeless till they could be rehomed.
Then the barrage baloons came to town. Great big things that littered the sky, but they were our friends because the air raids stopped soon after.
In those days children were tought to say their prayers each night.I wonder how many like me said
“Please God don't let there be an air raid, and make the war soon be over”

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Memories of Wartime

Posted on: 23 March 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear josb1936

I enjoyed reading your memories of WW2, full of well-observed detail.

Could I just clarify one thing for you and other readers? Although I fully understand what you mean by it, there is no such thing as 'the Oak Leaf Medal'.

A single bronze oak leaf Emblem usually denotes either a Mention in Dispatches or a King's Commendation for brave conduct. It is not a medal; it is a tiny bronze clasp worn on the ribbon of the War Medal 1939-1945.

Kindest regards,



Message 2 - Memories of Wartime

Posted on: 29 April 2005 by Joyce Donkin

Hello Peter
I know it's a long time since you made your comment, but I have just got back into the site,after a long absence.
I have corrected my mistake, thanks for putting me right.
kind regards
Joyce Donkin

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The Blitz Category
Childhood and Evacuation Category
Wearside and County Durham Category
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