- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Mrs Greta Hewitt (nee Groves)
- Location of story:
- Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 25 October 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Dorothy MacKenzie for Three Counties Action on behalf of Mrs Greta Hewitt (nee Groves) and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
At the beginning of the war, at the age of 10, I was happily installed as a day pupil of a large convent boarding school in Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire. This boarding school, St Francis College, is still there but it is no longer a convent. The school had a Belgian Reverend Mother and was cut off from the mother convent in Brussels for the whole six years of the war. We girls who were mostly English, were encouraged by the nuns, many of whom had family in occupied Europe, to be very patriotic and we sang the British National Anthem and La Marseillaise every day at assembly. We yelled ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, ‘Rose of England’ and ‘The Army Navy and The Air Force’ when potato picking or harvesting on the local farms where there were German and Italian POWs also working. This was our war work and tractors took us from the front of the school in September and early October each year to get in the food harvest. This was all very hard work for young girls, but we were paid four shillings (20p) and sometimes five shillings a four-day week (25p) so we were thrilled to be earning money for the first time in our lives. Also throughout the war some of us knitted socks for the troops. Sister Margaret said that I was ‘the best heel-turner in the business’ so instead of doing embroidery and other sewing, I knitted khaki socks.
After the Battle of the River Plate in which our priest’s brother, Captain Dove, was quite a hero I, and others of the sock-knitting brigade, changed to producing navy-blue socks — no doubt crippling the Navy instead of the Army!! I remember clearly that about six months after Dunkirk, a French lady who was a nurse, came to the school and spoke to us about her escape with the British and French troops across the Channel. She told of the dreadful days of continuous strafing of our boys on the beaches and the carnage after the Luftwaffe blew up our ships loaded with men before they got away. Of course our nuns cried and this sent all of us into a frenzy of patriotism.
I envied my cousin who was old enough to be recruited into the WAAF, helping our brave boys who were hitting back. I remember being so ashamed of myself during the terrible eight months of the Blitz (September 1940 — May 1941) when although Letchworth was not bombed, enemy aircraft passed over three or four nights running, to stoke up the red glow of the fires we could see from London 30 miles away and giving us nights of getting up and taking cover. I became so tired that one night I went to bed early intending to do my homework under the stairs later, but over Letchworth it was quiet all night and I had to give my excuse next morning. On tendering my apologies, Sister said that Mr Hitler and Mr Goering had beaten Greta because they had got her down so much that she could not do her homework, and she hoped that our army was not as ‘lily-livered’ as me. I can tell you that I saw to it that Mr H and Mr G never stopped me working again. I now think what wonderful psychologists those old nuns were to so fire me with enthusiasm for homework!
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