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15 October 2014
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We Didn't Believe it Would Happen

by cambsaction

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Dulcie Carter
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20 October 2005

[This story was submitted to the People’s War site by a volunteer from BBC Radio Cambridgeshire on behalf of Dulcie Carter and has been added to the site with her permission. Dulcie Carter understands the site’s terms and conditions.]

A few weeks before the War began on 3rd September 39, there was talk of nothing else, and we [my family and I who were living on Victoria Road, Cambridge] all had to go to the school [St. Luke’s Church of England School] and be fitted up with gas masks. At 16 years of age, I was very wise, saying, “No, there won’t be a war, people are much too civilized now-a-days”—-how wrong could I have been, even while I write now, they are still at it all over the world. But we were convinced at the time that we put the gas masks on top of a bedroom cupboard out of the way. However, during that very first night, the sirens began to wail, and we all tumbled over each other to get downstairs. Then we heard the horrific fog-horn-type blast from the warning at the electric light works. Somebody said, “There goes the gas” and all hell broke loose. Two of us rushed upstairs to get the gas masks. I stood on the bed and handed them down to my sister and we ran downstairs with them and flung them on the table.

At this stage we had not dared to switch on a light, knowing that our blackout curtains were very inadequate. Our initials were marked on the straps, and there was no hope of finding out whose was which without a light, so we decided to switch on for a few seconds and make a quick grab for our own. This was not too successful but somehow we managed, then switched off again, and fumbled away in the darkness to put them on. Then none of us could hear what the others were saying. However, some time passed, and we all sat there shivering in the dark. Eventually we realized there was really no fear of gas. But what an awful night! We were all quite shaken—the war had begun!

Later on most of us had problems with the black-out, and the shout of “Put that light out” was a familiar one from the air raid wardens, often accompanied by a few choice unrepeatable words, the fierceness depending upon the number of times that people needed reminding. Not least the dear old lady who used to say, “Oh don’t worry, ‘they’ won’t come round the back!” I’m not sure if “they” were the German pilots or the wardens! We used to do our share of fire watching duties in our area, and I shall never forget one clear frosty night. The moon and stars were brilliant, and we danced the polka up and down Holland St. trying to keep warm, whilst wave after wave of German bombers droned over head. It went on for hour after hour, and in the morning we heard that Coventry had been the target. I think this was one of the worst hit places in the whole country.

There was a funny side too. One evening my sister alighted from a dimly-lit bus into pitch darkness. Thinking she was on the road, she began to feel for the kerb, wondering why it was so high. When her eyes became accustomed to the darkness, she found she was already on the pavement, trying to step over a low wall, left after the railings had been removed. Another night she had to visit a house which was enclosed by high railings and gates. She had great difficulty in finding the gates, as it was all the same, so she began shaking them, only to discover after some time that she was just shaking the fence, nowhere near the gates. We used to do knitting for the war effort, and being very industrious my sister used to take her knitting when she attended various meetings. One night, two sisters and a friend went along to a meeting plus the knitting. At the end of it one sister and the friend came home first, kindly bringing the knitting home. But alas, on arriving they discovered that the zip was undone, and the ball of wool had escaped. So they decided to go back and look for it. They had not gone far when through the darkness there loomed the figures of two large men, muttering low puzzled curses, going around in circles, saying “Whatever is it.” They had managed to completely tie themselves and a lamp post all together. Needless to say, when rewound, there was very little wool left worth using, and the one it belonged to never did see the funny side of it, and even long afterwards, she used to get quite cross if we dared to mention it.

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