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15 October 2014
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Christine Harding - My War in Marlow

by Elizabeth Lister

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Elizabeth Lister
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Christine Harding
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09 September 2005

I was nearly 13 when the war started and just going into my 3rd year at Wycombe High School. When we arrived at school or the new Autumn Term, we found that Ealing County girls school had been evacuated to the area and were to share our school. At first we went to school on alternate days (sharing classrooms and desks) but soon other premises were found and we had lessons in various places such as sports pavilions and the Baptist Church in Easton St. Each morning we went on the bus from Marlow with our identity cards (I still have mine — DVLB 172/3) our Gas masks in cardboard boxes and our emergency iron rations, a bar of chocolate and a packet of raisins.

As soon as I was 14 (minimum age) I joined the Girls Training Corps (G.T.C.) one of the pre-service groups formed in Marlow. There was a girls RAF group, and the boys joined the Army Cadets, Sea Cadets or the Air Training Corps (ATC) Our HQ was at Court Garden and the ATC met at Borlase School. Each Monday evening we had lectures and exams on various topics such as First Aid, Morse Code, plane spotting and how to dismantle and put together a gun. We had proper uniforms with Battle dress, forage Caps and white socks! And what I enjoyed most was the drill marching and arms drill with rifles. By the time I was 15 I was the Sergeant Major and I was in my element marching my squad up and down Marlow High St (no traffic then). We also had regular Church Parades with the other groups, the Sea Cadet Band at the head of the parade and we were properly inspected by Brigadier Wilkinson (retired) from the First World War. Other activities were orienteering and Camping weekends.

I was also in a flourishing Church Youth Club and we put on shows and plays in aid of the war effort which included ‘wings for victory’ weeks. One day my friends and I were singing the Deanna Durbin song ‘I can see the lights of home’ at the Abbotsbrook Hall in Bourne End when all the lights went out. Luckily one of the boys from Bourne End Youth Club was a trainee Electrician.

One weekend we were ‘recruited’ as casualties in a mock-air raid situation with the Fire Brigade, Police, ambulance and ARP wardens taking part. I was lying on the pavement in the High St when someone tied a label on my waist and said ‘you are dead’ — get up and go to the Mortuary as we don’t have time to take you! I walked to the mortuary, in the grounds of the cemetery, and the people on duty said ‘you musn’t talk as you are dead- we will take your details from your label’ I presume I had my ID on me at the time.

Marlow did have one ‘real’ Air raid. One day we were in the garden talking to a neighbour when we looked up to see the German bombers presumably on their way to London on a daylight raid. Suddenly Spitfires appeared to intercept the bombers and the planes dropped their bombs in a line from what is now Terrington Hill through Highfield Park, Pound Lane down to the river. If the bombs had been dropped a few hundred yards to the East, our house could have been hit and the High St and bridge destroyed. One man was killed, a Mr Ryan who had an electrical shop in the high St and was a local Defence Volunteer. For some reason he was in the Terrington Hill area, hence the name ‘Ryans Mount’ for one of the cul-de-sacs off Terrington Hill.

As the bombing on London became more frequent and intense, so more evacuees arrived in Marlow. One day my mother was asked to go to the church Hall where evacuees were sitting on straw bales and she came back with a lady and her baby who was installed in our living room, made into a bed sitting room. I remember her , Mrs Hyatt and her husband used to visit her at week-ends. Later we also had a lady, Mrs Bradley and her baby who had a bed sitting room in one of our bedrooms. Mrs Bradley’s husband was working in Coventry at the time of the big raid on that city and all the family went with Mrs Bradley to the Catholic church to light a candle. Luckily her husband did survive the raid. When the sirens went at night we could hear the distinctive throb of the German bombers going over, we used to congregate in one room and my sister, brother (age 5) and I all slept on the floor with our heads under the piano. I suppose this would have afforded some protection! Sometimes, even from our long distance from London we could see the glow of fires in the sky from the incendiary bombs.

I can’t remember going hungry during the war, I think my mother was very good at ekeing out the rations and my father was in agriculture, a reserved occupation, so we had fruit and vegetables from the farm where he worked. We also had lots of Rabbit Stew, although the rabbits had to be skinned first and any spare Chickens had to be plucked. Sometimes my father came home with tins given to him by American servicemen who, after 1941, were billeted in this area.

I reluctantly left school after taking my school certificate in 1942 and by my 16th birthday was working in the office of one of the furniture firms in High Wycombe. During the war weren’t making furniture but were producing wood parts for mosquito aircraft

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