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23 August 2014
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Contributed by 
Leicestershire Library Services - Lutterworth Library
People in story: 
Shirley Barnacle
Location of story: 
East End, London and Walton by Kimcote, Lutterworth
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A3117999
Contributed on: 
11 October 2004

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Dawn Cunningham of Lutterworth Community College on behalf of Shirley Barnacle and has been added to the site with her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions

I was 5 when the war broke out. It was a very hot Sunday morning and we lived in a downstairs flat. All the ladies upstairs started crying, so I knew something was really wrong. Nothing seemed to happen for a while, although I know now that they were bombing the airfields. Everybody seemed to be quite blasé about the whole thing. I think they called it the phoney war.

Later they started to bomb civilians and I can remember the air raid siren going and my Mum grabbing the clock and the insurance policies. We went to the Anderson shelter, and then the all clear went. It was Sept 7th in 1940 when the blitz started. I was nearly 6 and I can still remember the sky being bright red from the explosions on the docks. They had barrage balloon to try and stop the planes and they were all bright red with the reflection of the explosions. It was terrifying for a young child.

We then started to use the underground when the air raids went. It was a horrible feeling of insecurity because I had seen other people’s houses bombed and I always wondered if our house would still be standing when we came out. The dust and smell was overpowering.

My mum decided enough was enough and we went to Gloucestershire. We were billeted there and we didn’t have any belongings at all. My Dad was away in the RAF. I had 6 uncles fighting. My mum was one of 17. Only one of the brothers was killed, although they were all on the front line.

Mum didn’t like Gloucestershire and I felt really insecure. We then moved to Walton by Kimcote as we already had some relatives that had moved to the village, but they soon left and took all the belongings with them so Mum and I didn’t have anything. We didn’t even have any cutlery to eat with.

Mum was only used to living in the city, so the country was completely different. One day we walked the 4 miles to Lutterworth. My mum thought she was queuing at the food office but she was actually at the recruiting office. We didn’t have very many clothes. One lot of clothes to wash and one to wear, we all had to make do and mend and my mum unravelled two cardigans to try and knit me 2 pairs of woollen stockings. I had one brown pair and the other was salmon pink! I had no brothers, sisters or friends at that time, so I suppose I felt quite lonely then. I did have a papier mache doll that my Dad had given me and I called her Janet. Eventually she was all stuck together with brown tape and her legs fell off, but I still loved and cherished her.

After our relatives left, all the neighbours rallied round and they gave us some cutlery, somebody gave us a table and we had a double bed to share. Considering how little they had themselves, it was really kind of them. My mum took me to the village school and on the first day the teacher said “I have found another little girl who is going to look after you”. Her name was Barbara. It was lovely to have a friend to play with, although I was always late for school because we didn’t have a clock. The teacher said to me “why are you late” and I told her I didn’t know the time and she said “don’t be ridiculous, everybody has a clock”. Of course the people in the village didn’t know what it was like coming out of the blitz in the city.

Barbara’s dad used to run the village shop so when the sweeties came in we all used to dash up for them with our sweetie rations. We also used to pester the Yanks for sweets as they always seem to have some. We used to play a lot of skipping and whip and top.

Gradually we became used to life in the village, although we never did get used to the lavatory. It was a bucket with a plank over it. We did have some laughs though, I can remember when my mum was hanging the washing out one day and we heard a rustle, all of a sudden lots of soldiers with tin hats on came through the hedge on manoeuvres

My mum didn’t know how to garden when we moved to Walton, but she soon learnt to grow lettuces and other things, such as skin rabbits and drawer a chicken. Even though my mum had never done anything like that before, she managed very well.

Dad came back to Walton after the War and expected everything to be the same with Mum as when he left, and of course it wasn’t, because Mum had learnt to be a lot more independent.

I haven’t got Janet anymore, but Barbara and I are still friends. We became inseparable and have remained the best of friends for 64 years.

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The Blitz Category
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Leicestershire and Rutland Category
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