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15 October 2014
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Ten Minutes to Pack

by CSV Solent

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Archive List > The Blitz

Contributed by 
CSV Solent
People in story: 
Ursula Smith
Location of story: 
Seaham Harbour, County Durham
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
06 July 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Meg Harrison and has been added to the website on behalf of Ursula Smith, with her permission and she fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

I was born in 1909 in Seaham Harbour, County Durham. I was 9 when the First World War ended and my brother Alfred, of the Durham Light Infantry, was given the first military funeral in Seaham. I was 30 when the Second World War broke out and still living in Seaham.

Seaham Harbour became known as Seaham during the Second World War in an attempt to play down the fact that it had a harbour. This did not stop the heavy bombing raids on the town which were aimed at destroying the three coalpits and the harbour where the coal was transported from. We were in the shelter night after night and a lot of houses were bombed but the mines were not hit.

I was married before the war and had two daughters when the war broke out. My third son was born at home during an air raid in 1943. My husband put the two girls in the same bed as me and said, ‘If we get bombed we all go together.’ A hotel nearby was hit and set on fire, but we survived.

We lived in a bungalow with fields next to it. Water ran off the fields and flooded the air raid shelter. My husband set up a pump with a pipe and the handle of the mangle and every time the shelter flooded I had to pump out the water, even when I was pregnant. The shelter was very cold and damp.

My husband was a foreman fitter working long hours for the Council. It was difficult to get spare parts and a lot of his work was as a blacksmith helping to keep public services going. He worked long hours, sometimes until 12 o’clock at night. He was also a fireman. If he was on duty he would sleep in his clothes at night and when the firebell went off he would jump into his boots and run down to the single fire engine.

In 1942, during the winter, a very big bomb landed in the garden of the house next door. If it had gone off, it would have been the end of Seaham. I was in the house alone and my daughters were at school. A policeman called and told me:’ You have ten minutes to get out of your house. Leave all your doors and windows open.’ I had meat and a rice pudding cooking in the oven for the midday meal. I had to throw it into the garden which was such a waste what with rationing. I had to pack so quickly that although I collected clothes for my children, I never thought about my husband’s clothes. I had to walk to the school to tell the children to go to their Grandmother’s house and not to go home. We could not go back to our house for a week. Three times my husband walked along the edge of the beach and across the fields and tried to get into the house to get some clean clothes as all he had to wear were his dirty, oily dungarees. But each time he was stopped.

The harbour and the mines etc at Seaham were owned by Lord Londonderry. My father-in-law worked as a private sectretary to Lord Londoderry. He was due to retire at 65 but as the war was on he agreed to stay on his job as all the men had been called up. He went on working for Londonderry until he was 85.

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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 - Ten Minutes to Pack

Posted on: 04 October 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Ms Harrison

Please tell Mrs Smith that I read her story with great interest.

Best wishes,


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