- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Mrs Viola Gwendoline Mary Evans
- Location of story:
- Niton village, Isle of Wight
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 14 March 2005
I was not conscripted into the forces as I was working on the farm, so I joined the national fire service as a part timer. We used the hall attached to the White Lion Inn in Niton village as our station. There were 3 part time firewomen and 8/9 firemen all working on the farms or on the land, but always ready to be called out. We did not have a fire engine, but a truck with all the equipment aboard and towed a water pump. The 3 firewomen’s jobs was on the phone and keeping the log book as to where the fires were, what appliances had been sent, and how many men had gone from all over the Island. Most call outs were to Cowes as that is where the factories and boat building yards were. Sometimes more water trucks were needed or more pumps or whatever and us women were there answering the phone and arrange ring things from this end.
We only had one very bad air raid on Niton and that was June 1st 1943 when all 3 Lighthouse keepers were killed at St Catherines. The lighthouse tower was never camouflaged as the Germans aircrafts when they came across the English Channel would take their bearings from this as they used it as a land mark, and it was thought it would never be bombed as long as it remained white. On this day when they did drop bombs there it was only the engine room which they flattened still leaving the tower intact. Usually when there was an air raid warning the keepers and their families would go into the tower as they felt save there, but on the morning of the bombing, one keeper was in the garden, one in the tower, and one in the engine room. The one from the tower, and the one from the garden both went to tell the man in the engine room, and that is where all three were when the bomb was dropped.
When we lived at Knowles farm we used to see the convoys of ships going by as all shipping moved in convoy with escorts of naval ships. On one day there were about 25 ships and escorts going by when the Germans kept up waves of bombing raids, some ships just rose out of the water and sunk, some were set on fire. These were bombed again until there was nothing much left of them. One particular boat had been burning all day and just drifting with the tide so for safety to other shipping it was towed around to Ventnor bay and was anchored for the night, but during the night a heavy storm came up and the old wreak broke loose of its moorings and drifted around to the light house and there ran a ground on the rocks. The next day Jerry must have thought that was one boat which had got away so as we stood in the farm yard we watched several planes just swoop in and drop strings of bombs. It looked like strings of very big sausages falling from the sky. This was before they bombed the light house. At that time they just narrowly missed the school with one bomb and this time they dropped several on the village. They hit a hotel called The Undercliff Hotel this was being used as the headquarters for an army battalion. We also had the RAF Regiment camping in fields around the village; this was also what they were aiming for. I can’t remember how many people lost there lives, very few really, there were the 3 keepers, and one old man in his 80s whose bungalow was hit. At the time I was in the house on my own, and all of a sudden there was this terrible noise and shaking of the house I dived under the shelf and sat among the saucepans, windows breaking and glass flying. On another occasion when my brother Eric was in the fields ploughing a plane machine gunned him so he jumped into a ditch of stinging nettles that was better than bullets.
As I say over all the years of the war we did not have all that much happen here. We use to get the planes going over the Isle of Wight on their way to Portsmouth and Southampton and if the search lights and heavy gun fire was too much for them they would drop their bombs and return. That is why we always slept in a shelter. Then there were the Doodle Bugs, they were unmanned flying bombs. They had a distinctive groan, then all of a sudden it would stop, and we would wait, and hope and pray that it was not going to fall on us.
When we were at Knowles Farm and the Army took over an empty house next to the one we were living in. They put about 20 men in there and they were all men who had been evacuated from Dunkirk. Your Great Grandmother and I did the cooking for them, we had their rations from headquarters (which was The Undercliff Hotel, and as I have told you was bombed later on). Army rations were very dull, so we use to make little extra goodie for them, like apple pies as we had plenty of apples in the garden. They went on patrol during the nights along the coast line and would come back about 6 am we would have a fire going by then to boil the kettles for tea. We had no electric or gas, so we had to do all the cooking on the fire and the old fire ovens. There was no telephone in the house which the army took over, so they used ours. During the day we would answer it and then ran next door to fetch whoever was in charge, but during the night someone was put on telephone duty and when we went to bed he would come in to our house and stay the night and go to sleep on the couch in our living room. Everyone always wanted to be on this duty, it was far better than walking around the beaches at “Watershoot” and “Rocken End” in the winter months.
The regiment was the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Fusilier. Unfortunately all these poor chaps were on the D-Day invasion and lost their lives. When the phone rang during the evening and we had to run next door to tell them, and it would be pitch dark we had to have a pass word as there was always a sentry on duty at their door, so we would run round shouting “tea coffee cocoa” or else we might get a bayonet up our jumpers, a bit like Dads Army.
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