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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Personal Memories of World War 2

by auntClarkie

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Bartholomew Family
Location of story: 
Surrey and Sussex
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
12 August 2004

On 3rd September 1939 I was 9 years old. I remember listening to the radio and Neville Chamberlain's message saying we were "at war" I had grown up in a houseful of adults, the only child of a mother who lived with her grandmother, moth, sister and brother. We were living in Thornton Heath, an area of Croydon. We were all cared for by a family retainer called Alice.

When the news broke that we were at war my mother immediately took me to my school, where she was given instructions that I should attend school the next day and be ready to leave home, for I was to be evacuated. The chosen destination was to be Brighton, on the South Coast.

On 4th September I duly arrived at my school (Winterbourne Junior - Winterbourne Road) and awaited a coach which took us to East Croydon Station, where we were to board a train for Brighton. I remember feeling slightly excited, looking forward to this great experience. I had a good friend, also aged 9, called Margaret Nicholson, and we kept together. We had a satchel of iron-rations, and the regulation gas mask in a small conical cardboard box, which was slung around our necks.

On arrival at Brighto we were taken to Bevendean where we walked in a crocodile around the area (contryside, very rural and quiet) and one by one we were left at different houses. Margaret and I were the last two in the crocodile and when Mrs Read, the lady who had said she would take in one evacuee and lived at 12 Bevendean Crescent, was standing at the front door, arms folded! I asked her if she was only going to take one of us, when she asked if we were friends. I said "yes" so she immediately decided that she would take us both! I could have kissed her, I was so relieved. I think we must have looked very dejected and tired. We had been travelling since morning and it was now 3 p.m.

That was the beginning of a truly happy period for both of us. Mr and Mrs Read had a family of their own, a son called George and a daughter called Joan. They were both older than us, and I thought it was truly generous to take two small girls into their hhome. For me it was a unique situation because I had a "father" for the first time in my life (my mother divorced my father when I was 18 months old, and I had never known what it was like to live in a true family atmosphere). Mr and Mrs Read were kindness itself, as were their children.

When we had settled in we were taken to Moulscombe Junior school and introduced to the local community. Our lessons were carried out in the morning, and in the afternoons we had time to ourselves, which was wonderful. Bevendean Crescent backed on to farmland, and fairly soon we got to know the farmer and his family, and we spent all the time we could at the farm.

Life continued at a very pleasant pace. When news of a probable blitz my mother felt it was not a good idea for me to be in the firing line on the South Coast, so in March 1941 she decided to bring me back to Croydon, where I spent the remainder of the war.

Ironic really that on Wednesday 16th April we were badly bombed. Out back garden was adjacent to the the groiunds of Mayday Hospital, and this was obviously a target for bombers. The maternity unit was demolished that night, there were incendiary bombs in the front garden, and a land-mine landed in Kingswood Avenue, a road three doors away from our house.

We had no shelter so we had all gone to the basement for safety. My mother was the only family member not in the basement. She was doin some washing in the scullery. This room had three doors in it, one to the kitchen,one to the downstairs hall and one to the back garden. When the hospital bomb landed it blew all three doors into the scullery, thus forming a kind of tent, and although she was slightly cut on the leg her injuries were not serious.

In the very early morning we all went to investigate the damage. The entire house was a shambles. The roof was missing, every room was badly damaged, the stairs were ankle-deep in debris and most things were broken. Because it was an old house (over 100 years) the rooms upstairs had very thick cornices and most light fittings had very elaborate decorations. In my mother's bedroom, on the pillow of her bed one of these great thick pieces of ornate plaster was laying. What a blessing she was doing the washing!

The dame to the syurrounding area was immense. My grandmother, who rented the house from the council, was approached by them to say that if she was prepared to stay in the house they would arrange for a gang of workmen to move in immediately to start repairs. The house was in such a state that it was not possible for more than one person to stay, so my mother said she would stay there on hew own, and the rest of us went to friends in the area. Oh! so brave, my Mum! It took a gang of twelve men over a month to get it habitable for the family, and in June 1941 we were all back home.

My aunt Betty was a reporter on the local paper, the Croydon Times. She spent most of her days, and many evenings too, interviewing local people who weren't over fussy about hygiene, and Betty cntracted a horrible disease called Scabies. It is a highly infectious condition, and unfortunately nearly every member of the family caught it, including me! This left me without schooling for a period of about a year, but thank goodness I had taken by 11-plus before becoming house-bound. When the resulty of my 11-plus were sent I found I had passed, which meant I could go to the school of my choice, which was Coloma Convent in Wellesley Road, Croydon.

The days atColoma were idyllic. I was so happy there, and the only bad thing I remember was when walking ina crocodile going to school one day, a lone German plane machine-gunned us and we all had to fling ourselves on the pavement. Fortunately no one was injured but thatb was an experience I could have done without.

One of the most lasting memories for me was the nightly barrage of gunfire from mobile guns passing by our house. We loved on the main road through to London from Croydon, and these guns patrolled up and down firing as they went. This gave my friends and I plenty of opportunity to search the front and back gardens for "souvenir" shrapnel which had fallen during the night, and great fun was had when we compared notes as to who had the largest piece!

My mother had volunteered to be an Air-Raid warden, and this kept her busy most nights. The Air-Raid post was next-door but one to our house, so she didn't have far to go. She helped to put out many incendiary bombs in the area. I also remember the visits to our local cinemas were often interrupted by a message being shown on the screen telling patrons that an air-raid warning had sounded and asking if we wanted to go to the public shelters or not. It was amazing how blase people became and we would often sit tight and watch the film rather than miss it. The idea of sitting in a bleak shelter was no substitute for missing lovely song and dance routines, in glorious Technicolor!

This part of the Blitz was bad enpugh but I really feel it did not compare to the onslaught of the flying-bomb period, which began in 1944. Croydon was the most fly-bombed area of London, and the nightly (and daily) noise of these doodle-bugs became a menace which had to be endured.

Although our house was not actually damaged by V1's many fell around us, and the daily damage was massive. We became used to that awful silence when the engine cut out, and shuddered whilst waiting for the crash as the bomb finally found it's target. The attacks carried on until September 1944, when an even bigger curse descended upon us. The start of thr V2 rockets began in September, and of these we had no warning at all. They were launched from rocket bases in Holland, and the first we knew was when a rocket actually landed, having come through the stratosphere at a speednever known before. They were truly lethal weapons but, as with everything experienced before, we got used to them.

I can truthfully say that the war, which was supposed to be the war to end all wars (!) was an agony to live through, but it did have some lighter moments, and the wonderful support everyone gave each other was beyond belief. Being aged 9 when the war began, and now fast approaching my 75th birthday, I am amazed at the memories that have come flooding back. I am grateful to the BBC for making it possibe for me to record them.

Sylvia Hawkins

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Air Raids and Other Bombing Category
Childhood and Evacuation Category
Surrey Category
Sussex Category
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