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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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My experiences in the food office and the Heavy ACK ACK

by YeovillibraryD

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Jean Axten
Location of story: 
London, Yorkshire, and Scotland
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
21 May 2004

I was almost 22years old 'the day war broke out' I was working for Jackson Stops and Staffin Curzon Street' London, I with one man was the Town dept, which was shut down i mmediately.I was out of a job.I had done a fortnights training in the Land Army (I am a Farmers daughter) but I wasnt needed.I listened to the announcement that war had broken out in my step-grandmother's house on the wireless.

I had become engaged that year to my Jack. He was already trained as a Paymaster in the RNR (Royal Naval Reserve)being a Bank of England employee. As soon as war was declared he was posted to Malta and left in the plane from Northolt. Actually the day my future father-in-law and I took him to the airport was very misty. We left him there, but his plane could not take off and he returned home, so we had to repeat the whole arrangement the next day which was bright and sunny which made the parting seem a little less awful. Luckily we didn't know then that it would be 3 years before he returned to England because when the conditions in Malta became untenable he was transferred to Haifa.

Women without jobs were simply drafted into something useful. I found myself with a large number of others told to go to a cinema in Harrow where we frantically wrote the names and addresses on ration books for everyone in the district. The task was quickly completed. Another cinema was taken over in Wealdston and turned into a food office. I was kept on with a number of others and given the job of being on the counter, ie dealing with the public. It soon was made clear that in no way should we say if anyone complained about their treatment 'there's a war on'.

After about a year several of us decided we should like to go into the forces, and so volunteered for the Army. The women were named the ATS. We had initial training for a few weeks, then we were sorted out and given more specialised training according to our abilities. I was taught to work on a Height Finder, and others on Predictors with a view to going into heavy Ack Ack. My posting was to Yorkshire to a battery of heavy guns. We were quite frequently moved around. I remember we were in Leeds and Rotherham and Wetherby, and we had some absolutely stinkingly cold weather. Height Finders became obsolete and also Predictors when radar was introduced. My job then was to plot planes in an underground bunker below the guns. I have to say that during my 2 years we did not fire a shot in anger. Quite soon I was made a Sergeant so was responsible for a number of girls, including taking drill.

In 1942 my Jack at last came home and in 2 weeks the family organised a wedding in Harrow-on-the-Hill church by Special Licence with white dress for me and two bridesmaids, and even a proper cake with icing - we were lucky enough to have a friend who ran a cafe in Ealing who was able to supply the sugar, which of course was rationed. We had a week's honeymoon in Malvern where the hotel seemed to be full of elderly refugees from London with their own sauce bottles on their tables.

I went back to Yorkshire and then I applied for a Commission and after going to Hampstead for an assessment I was accepted and sent to OCTU in Edinburgh. I passed out as a Second Lietenant and asked which command I would prefer. I thought if I asked for Southern Command I might be sent to France, or if i said Scottish it would be to the Orkneys, so I settled for Northern Command again. By strange chance Jack had been posted to Lairgs where there was a naval establishment in the Hollywood Hotel. To my amazement when I arrived at my new battery in Yorkshire I was told they were packing up and being posted to Paisley, Glasgow, which is the nearest large connurbation to Lairgs.

Jack and I had a few leaves together, and I soon became pregnant. Another Officer had previously lost a baby so my Commanding Officer, a woman, was only too glad to be rid of me and I was discharged. Jack and I moved into a funny litle flat in the top of a house on the sea front in Largs. Christmas was quite jolly because the Navy put on a great meal, although our own Christmas dinner was a rabbit.

In 1944 Jack was posted to London so I went to live with his parents in Kenton. It was a difficult time. Bombs were dropping here and there and we slept under the stairs. It came to June. Jack had been posted to Portsmouth with the group with Eisenhower working on the D Day plans. One of his jobs was to act as Courier carrying the plans to be printed at HM Stationery Office in Wealsdon, so sometimes he could snatch a few hours home in Kenton. On 5th June I began to go into labour, but our daughter was not born until mid-day on 6th June. I'm afraid that I was not that aware of what was going on in the great wide world. The next day Jack was sent to the Stationery Office for the last time, so was able to come to see his new daughter. A few days later a bomb fell a few streets away, breaking the glass in our front door. My mother-on-law was not too happy having me and the baby to look after, so 2 weeks later I was put on a train to Stafford where I was born and still had relations. I stayed there nearly 6 months. Jack had been posted back to London so used to come to Stafford on a Friday evening returning on a train leaving about 3 am on Monday mornings, which was always full of troops lying about and trying to sleep all over the place. Janet was christened in Stafford and a number of the family managed to come to the event. Thankfully by Christmas things were much quieter and I returned to Kenton. We managed to buy our first house in the following New Year, I think for £2500. It was detached with a garage. I remember the in-laws gave us £500 to pay the deposit.

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