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- 12 May 2005
Flying Boat. Cattewater, Plymouth.
My family lived in Plymouth, Devon, all through the war, I am now 88 years old, my father had a wholesale dairy produce business, and supplied most of the shops in the city. I worked in the City Treasury, where I met my husband to be, he worked there for 42 years. During air raids we had to go in an orderly way to the cellars, which were extensive, one male member of staff, a bachelor, used to bring his knitting, he made all his own socks ! I well remember one night in early 1941 when the oil tanks in a suburb of Plymouth were bombed, we were working overtime but had to retire to the cellars, there was a tremendous fire which lit up the whole of the City, and of course while that was burning the ‘All clear’ was not sounded, by 2 am I decided to go home so phoned my sister, she was also sheltering in the Food Office where she was employed, and we met and walked home together, no transport was available, our parents were so relieved to see us, after a very few hours sleep we were back at our offices at 9 am. The fire burned for days, another large fire was lit on the moors as a decoy, but I doubt if it made any difference, or had any effect. One night my father’s business was fire bombed, and butter and margarine was running down the gutter like a stream, he quickly acquired other premises further out and restarted, he would have butter delivered to him in 56lb boxes from New Zealand, he had machinery to cut weigh and pack it into ration size portions, it would have to have salt added, which made it go further.
I well remember walking to work one morning after a terrible air raid, and saw Woolworth’s on fire, it stood where M&S are now, it was an inferno the streets were strewn with hoses, one had to walk either on them or over them, unfortunately I was so intent on looking at the fire I didn’t notice a hole in one of the hoses, I think it was the highest I had ever jumped !
We were married in August 1941, what a year, furniture we had bought and stored in Spooners went up in smoke, to find a wedding ring was nigh impossible, jewellers shops having been bombed, but Bowdens had reopened and they had rescued some rings from a safe, all blackened by the intense heat, however one of them fitted and was polished and is still on my finger after 64 years. For our honeymoon we were only permitted to go within a 30 mile radius from our home, so we decided on Salcombe, we borrowed my dad’s car, there were no signposts of course, but we eventually found it, when bed-time came we were given a lighted candle to take with us, I well remember putting out the light and pulling back the curtains, it was a glorious clear night and a full moon which was shining over the estuary a sight never to forget, and we could hear the drone of German bombers as they made their relentless way once again towards our home city. My husband was a keen yachtsman so on Monday morning we hired a sailing boat and went out and found a lovely little secluded cove, not long after a Naval vessel came out after us, too large to come in to us, it used a loud haler and shouted out that we had gone beyond an‘invisible ‘barrier and must return at once, we took our time actually!
We lived a short distance from Plymouth station and the Royal Eye Infirmary, they were real targets for the bombers, my husband, because of his defective sight was unable to serve in the forces, so joined the Civil Defence I remember one evening he was practising how to present arms with a broom stick, unfortunately the hanging lampshade got in the way ! I became an Air Raid Warden, my station was in the basement of the Eye Infirmary, one night I was on call, I was sound asleep and woke to hear the siren so jumped out of bed and ran down to my post, I was asked why I had come, I said because the siren had just sounded, only to be told that it was the All Clear.One Saturday afternoon we decided to take a snack and go to Wembury just to get away from the city,as we got there a German plane came low overhead, so low we could see the pilot and he could see us, he kept low out of the range of antiaircraft fire, he machine gunned us, we fell flat on the ground and fortunately we survived and were not harmed. 23 days after we were married we were both going on night duty and saw my brother in law waiting at the bus stop, he was a sergeant in the air force, he stood to attention and saluted us, that night he went on a mission with two other bombers, two came back but not the one he was on, he was only 24. We frequently saw Sunderland flying boats take off from the Cattewater, see picture, they always landed facing the prevailing wind and would taxi to their moorings, it was not unusual to see dog fights overhead between two reconnaissance fighter planes. On VE Day we joined the crowds who gathered in Central Park for celebrations, bonfires, fireworks, as though we hadn’t seen enough !there was singing and dancing and general rejoicing, we were there until the early hours of the morning , no more blackout, streetlights on, it was wonderful.
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