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28 October 2014
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Gas mask drill at Leicestershire school
School gas mask drill

Teresa's wartime tale

By Teresa Keil
Charnwood Museum has been holding an exhibition about childhood during the Second World War. To mark the occasion, Theresa Keil from Loughborough writes about some of her wartime recollections.

I was four years old when war was declared in 1939.

I realise that my experience was a mixture of life going on as "normal" (and what it must have cost the adults to manage that!) and some unusual events that even the youngest of us realised were extraordinary.

Teresa Keil in 1940
Teresa Keil in 1940

We lived in Llanelli in South Wales. We were all issued with gas masks and carried them to our Roman Catholic school.

We had air raid practices where we left our classrooms, walked across the playground and down the steps into the shelters.

We put on our masks and had to keep them on for the length of ten Hail Marys said by the nuns. How we hated those practices.

The shelters were damp and chilly and the masks made us think we were suffocating. The real air raids came at night.

Once they were so severe we were taken from our beds into the Morrison shelter, which was a steel frame of table height, with a thick steel top and mesh sides.

"In the solemn quiet of the morning we knew something dreadful had happened."
Teresa Keil

Presumably it was designed as a safety cage when the house fell about us! It was set up in the middle room of the terraced house and covered with a thick blanket and used as a table during the day.

One night we were tucked up on a mattress in the cage and given the tiniest sip of brandy to help us get to sleep.

The adults turned off the lights and stood on the doorstep, watching the sky grow redder as the bombs fell on Swansea across the bay and the fires burned.

In the solemn quiet of the morning we knew something dreadful had happened. From my cousins I heard that hundreds had died and the damage was tremendous.

Click on the audio link at the top right hand side of this page to hear more about the exhibition and try the weblink to Teresa's husband's wartime story.

last updated: 02/06/06
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