- Contributed by
- 2nd Air Division Memorial Library
- People in story:
- Leah Howes
- Location of story:
- Norwich, Norfolk
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 16 December 2004
This story was submitted to the People's War site by Jenny Christian of the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library on behalf of Una Bartrum and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
During World War II Mrs Leah Howes billeted homeless people. This is a letter from Leah to her sister Esther at Lowestoft.
11 May 1942
I guess you'll soon think I've forgotten you; every night I mean to answer your letter but I've been so busy lately that I seem to work harder now than I did when Tom and Russell were here.
You remember we had to send those forms in about billeting homeless people; well they sent round to ask me if I would have a husband and wife and a boy of eight. I immediately said 'No' as it was not convenient to have the boy. I said I would rather take old people and my word I got them! Two dear old ladies from Northumberland Street, one 88 and the other 85, sisters they were.
They were rescued form a burning house that belonged to the eldest one and poor things, they'd been pushed about since the Wednesday night. The result was when they had had a wash and been put to bed on the Saturday night the oldest one was taken ill and died the following Wednesday and the other one is very ill now. I don't think she can possibly last much longer. The old one was buried on Saturday morning at 9.20 a.m.
This dear old soul is suffering from heart trouble; she looks exactly like mother. No one seems to want them, so with the thought of being homeless and having to go in the workhouse she died more or less from shock.
This has been a terrible week, what with being disturbed every night and the raids; I feel I could sleep for a week. We had another terrible raid on Friday night; Jerry came over. I didn't hear the siren, the guns woke me up. I scrambled hold of Tony and ran downstairs. Then I ran upstairs to the old lady. Just as I did, down went a load. Well, the windows seemed they might fall in. Even the handle on the lamp rattled. I flew on the landing and covered her face with a shawl; really I didn't know where to stay. I ran upstairs and down
I felt so sorry for the old lady. There's a Barrage Balloon round the city so they couldn't get in, therefore they had to drop them outside. What a night! one old lady dead in one bedroom, another as bad as she could be in the other, Tony and Una downstairs. I hadn't time to think about the body lying in the front bedroom but thank God we came through safely.
Have you had any raids lately? Poor Norwich; it's terrible to see the destruction. All the shopping centre is gone, Dereham Road and Heigham Street they say was worst of all.
I had to leave this letter last night to see to the old lady and make her comfy for the night. The doctor sent her a tablet and she thought it was a sweet and kept saying it was a hard one. I gave her a drink with it but she would suck it, and then she kept wandering and eventually went to sleep. At 7.30 this morning she was sleeping, I said 'thank God for a good nights rest'. I looked at her again at 8 o'clock and still she was sleeping, so I pulled the blind up, but not to disturb her. I passed a remark to Una that it wouldn't surprise me if she went in her sleep, then I went to make my bed. When Tony went to school (as he goes on his own now) I looked at her again, that was at a quarter to nine and she was still sleeping with her mouth wide open. After I had finished the bed I went into her room again and what a shock I got! She was just breathing her last. I flew downstairs over to Mrs Kennedy's and asked her to come in with her daughter. They went upstairs just in time to see her draw her last breath. So peacefully she went off; what a blessing they both went off in the daytime, one at nine and the other at twelve. She was buried on Friday morning. There were only two relatives turned up and they were disappointed because the old ladies didn't leave them what they expected them to leave. I told them the dear old ladies were lucky to get away with their lives after what they went through.
The old ladies house is completely destroyed, the other one her bedroom ceilings were in. They were rescued from the coal cupboard under the stairs; you know what that’s like, it's a house exactly like yours in Russell Street. Oh it's terrible to see Dereham Road and all the side streets. That old aunt of the Howards is completely bombed out, all that row of houses. I don't know where the people are.
Kathleen and family have been going out to Rackheath Rest Centre every night for about three weeks but that’s closed now. Nellie and George and young Nellie and Maud Neale all came here and slept for two or three nights (downstairs) as they dare not stay in the city, but there's a new order now. If anyone leaves their house the Authority can put homeless people in them, so everyone has got to stay put. I feel as though I could do with a rest now.
Still no news of Russell. If only I knew where he was I wouldn't mind. There was a piece in the Eastern Daily Press the other day about the Prisoners of War in Singapore and it said they were being treated all right and had a Christian General over them. Did you read it?
Now I must close; hope you'll understand why I've not written before. Trust this will find you well, also Miss Rackham, as it leaves us at present.
Love from Una, Tony and sister Leah
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