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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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If we are alive in the morning...

by Jenni Waugh

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
Jenni Waugh
People in story: 
Jean Millington
Location of story: 
Sparkhill, Birmingham; & Alcester, Warks
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
A7159395
Contributed on: 
21 November 2005

Jean Millington is 3rd from the front, without a red cross. She wrote 'I hadn't passed my exams at this point so had to unpick the cross from my apron'.

EVACUATION AND THE PHONEY WAR

I was 14 when War broke out and still attending Sparkhill Commercial School in Birmingham. On 31st August we had a rehearsal in readiness for our evacuation the next day to Chipping Sodbury in Gloucestershire. During that night my parents decided that I would not be joining the rest of the school, but instead my Mother would take my sister and I to Alcester to stay with her friend Daisy Smith at No.7 Butter Street. My 83 year old grandfather lived at No.2.

Two days later War was declared and my Mother hurried down to Alcester to take us home, saying 'if we are going to die we will all die together'. So we waited for the bombs to drop but all seemed quiet so I went back to school to join those other pupils who had not been evacuated. Things went on as normal except that we had to black out all the windows and put sticky tape across them to prevent the glass shattering and causing injury. (Even to this day 65 years later, when it is time to draw the curtains I still say I will go and do the blackout - old habits die hard).

NIGHTS IN THE SHELTER

In April 1940 it was decided that I left school as I was only attending for ½ day. Aston Commercial School were attending for the rest of the day as their school had been bombed. I remember the first time the siren sounded, we were asleep in bed and were woken by our parents. We all rushed down into the Anderson Shelter in the pitch darkness (whenever I hear the sound of the siren, perhaps on TV, it still brings a shudder to my spine all these years later).

After that my Mother used to take her double feather bed into the shelter each day around 4.30pm so that we could all get settled down before the siren went off about 6.30pm. There were 5 of us sharing that feather bed, 3 of us lying down facing the entrance to the shelter and my Father and elder sister lay with their heads either side of the entrance. That was how we spent our nights during 1940, listening to the unbelievable noise of screaming bombs falling and the explosions that followed, plus the noise of our guns firing in retaliation. We stuffed cotton wool in our ears to try to lessen the impact of the noise. We lived quite near to the B.S.A. so there was a lot of activity with the Germans trying to destroy it. They did eventually, killing many people.

My Mother would prepare a snack for us to eat during the night as there wasn't much chance of sleeping. I remember our favourite was Bread and Dripping sprinkled with salt (not to be recommended these days!!). Despite all the stress and lack of sleep we always looked band-box fresh the next morning as we went off to work and school. Sometimes the tram had to stop owing to the Firemen still fighting the fires, with their hoses lying across the road. We would then have to walk the rest of the way into town. Looking back it was incredible how we coped with it all, but we were fortunate, we still had our home.

HEAVY RAIDS OVER BIRMINGHAM

On Tuesday November the 19th 1940 Birmingham suffered a tremendously heavy raid during which my Mother said ‘if we are alive in the morning we will go to A1cester for a rest': That morning I went into work to tell them I would be away for a few days and found that the factory and offices had been bombed during the night. There was comp1ete chaos, typewriters, papers and everything else scattered all over the place, with no water to help with the cleaning up, or for a cup of tea. I stayed to help and finally we left for Alcester to stay with my Grandfather.

It must have been a shock for him to have five folk descend on him. Little did we know then that we were destined to live with him for the next 3 years. My Mother began to suffer with shattered nerves and very very painful ears so the Doctor was sent for. He found she had pushed the cotton wool deep into her ear in her anxiety to shut out the sound of the bombs falling.

On Friday 22nd November my Father and I went back to Birmingham (I presume to pick up our wages). On our return we decided to use the train. As New Street Station had been bombed we were told to pick up the train at Kings Norton. The station was very near to the Austin Works where they made Tanks. Suddenly the siren sounded and we became very afraid, especially when the planes came over dropping Flares to light the way for the Bombers. Fortunately the train came before the Bombers.

The next day, Saturday, we were shopping in Alcester when we met some people who lived near us and my Father said ‘are you down for a rest too’, they replied 'no, the whole Avenue has been blown up'. He then had to break the news to my Mother who was still feeling very poorly. On the Monday they went to see the damage and found our neighbours had exaggerated. The houses opposite to us had been razed to the ground but our house was still standing, although there were no doors or windows left. All had been blown out by the blast of a Land Mine. All my Fathers books had been looted during the weekend but it seemed the rest of our possessions were still there. These were taken to Alcester and put into storage until we could find a house to live in. This was to take 3 years as there were so many people from Coventry and Birmingham converging on Alcester to get away from the bombing. Some people with cars came each night and slept in them, returning next morning for work.

MOVING TO ALCESTER

We began to settle down to life in A1cester although we found it difficult at first. It was just a sleepy little town then and the inhabitants didn’t take kindly to us Townies upsetting their applecarts. Eventually we were accepted and to this day my sister and I still think of it as home although we left more than 50 years ago.

We found jobs and my sister transferred from Waverley Grammar School to Alcester Grammar School. After living with my Grandfather for 3 years we found a little house with one room downstairs and two up, with no kitchen, bathroom or water laid on. There was a tap in the yard and two toilets (non flush) which were shared by 5 houses. (I lived in that house for 5 years, until I got married and moved to Solihull.) How my mother coped we shall never know. We had lived in a house with 7 rooms in Birmingham.

The strange thing was that 4 of us shared that one room (my elder sister having married) and there was never any friction or irritation whatsoever. I think that during the war folk accepted what life threw at them better than folk do today. There was a pump in the yard and my sister and I, both teenagers, (although in those days we were referred to as being in our teens) used to put our legs under this pump to get them soaking wet and then we would rub sand over them, having got the sand from the Builders yard. This made our legs look as if we were wearing stockings, which saved us using our clothing coupons.

Back to my story

JOINING THE RED CROSS

When I was 16 I joined the Red Cross and worked at the local hospital each Sunday for 4 years. I loved the work but had my eyes opened, during this time, to all the ills that can befall the human body. My favourite ward was the Children’s Ward although some of the children’s stories were beyond belief. One little girl had been thrashed by her father using his belt and her back was covered in dreadful weals. Another child had been thrown against a wall by his father, breaking both his arms and legs.

On sunny Sunday afternoons we used to take the babies and small children for a walk pushing them in a 6ft long Spinal Carriage made of basket weave. It was so difficult to push when full of babies it needed a pusher and someone at the front to guide it. Oh we did have fun on those afternoons.

PENPALS AND YOUNG MEN

During this time I became a Pen Pal to a Prisoner of War whose Mother worked with me. We corresponded for a couple of years then I met a young man so did not write again to my poor Pen Pal Prisoner, something I felt really guilty about.

In May 1945 my Pen Pal came home having spent 3 months in hospital in Austria after an accident in the Mine where he worked. I had to explain to him why I had stopped writing but he had guessed the reason. He then went into hospital again for another 3 months to finish treatment to his injured leg so I didn't see him again. In the meantime I had parted company with the young man.

One Saturday I met his Mother on a bus taking us home to Alcester. She enquired of my young man and I told her what had happened. On the following Monday her son, Ken, got in touch and asked me to go out with him that night. We went to the pictures and I can still remember the film we saw - Pink String and Sealing Wax and, as they say, the rest is history.

We were married for 54 years, very happily and we had a daughter and a son, both of whom were a great blessing to us. Ken died in October 2002.

The War messed up so many peoples lives, my family included, but if we hadn’t lost our house in Birmingham I should not have met my Husband! (It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good!!!)

To read the story of Ken Millington’s capture by the Germans during the evacuation of Kalamata, Greece, and his experiences as a PoW, read Ken’s War (1940-1945) (bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/A6049802).

Jean Millington's story was entered onto the site by Jenni Waugh, BBC Outreach Officer. Mrs Millington accepts the site's terms and conditions.

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