- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Jean Baldwin (nee Bickford)
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 06 December 2005
Mrs Baldwin is willing to have her story entered onto the People's Warr website and agres to abide by the House Rules.
I was seven years old when the Second World War began. It meant nothing to me for some time except for the fact that my gas mask in its cardboard box had to go everywhere with me - to class, to the playground, to the bathroom and to bed. Meals became uninteresting as my mother struggled to spin out the rations, but life continued much as it always had until the night of the first blitz on Plymouth.
My sister and I had gone to bed but woke when the siren went. We sheltered with our mother, as usual, in the cupboard under the stairs, hearing the planes droning overhead, the thunder of the anti-aircraft fire and the screaming of the falling bombs. My father was helping to put out many of the incendiary bombs which were falling on our home and all around. Several times he came to tell my mother about the progress of the raid and said it looked as though the whole of Plymouth was burning.
After an hour or more of incessant noise, my father said that the next-door building was on fire and we must leave before it reached our house. He took a case of clothes in one hand and me in the other and my mother and sister followed as we went into the night. Everywhere was light as day, for buildings all around us were on fire. Suddenly a bomb came whistling down and my father shielded me with his body aginst a wall as the bomb landed a short distance away. We tumbled into the car and my father drove rapidly through the back streets of the city to my grandparents house in the suburb of Hartley.
The sight of Plymouth burning was one I will never forget. As we sped past Central Park we looked over the whole city which seemed ablaze from end to end. Searchlights moved through the sky lighting up the barrage ballons and occasional aircraft. And still the guns thundered on. In the morning Plymouth was a smoking ruin. As I went to school on the bus, the smell of charred wood and gas escaping from the fractured pipes lay over everything. Miraculously some buildings had escaped the fire but not for long. The following night, the raiders came again and finished off the total destruction of the city centre. I lost my home, my toys, my books, my pets, and I knew what it was to be totally destitute.
When the blitz of Plymouth was over, most children were evacuated to safety and my class at school went down to three. My childhood at war became one of lessons interrupted by day-time raid, nights spent in the shelter, cycle rides in the countryside with not a car in sight and queueing on Saturday mornings for off-the-ration food. It was a perilous time, in turns exciting and dreary and utterly different from any childhood experiences before or since.
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