On September 6th 1939, I was 6 years old
Gillian asked me to play. She lived across the road and sometimes cars went by, so Mummy said I had to be very careful crossing. Gillian had lots of dolls, but they weren’t as nice as mine. I told her they needed a wash. She didn’t like that and we started to quarrel. Suddenly a loud wailing noise came from outside. Mr. West, Gillian’s Daddy, hurried into the room and said it was a siren and he would take me home. I was frightened and wanted Mummy. I tried to wiggle my arm away from Mr. West. After we crossed the road, I said, “Goodbye, thank you for having me.” I was still trying to wiggle out of his grip, but he held tight until Mummy came running and took me inside. She told me war had broken out and the noise was air raid sirens. They were still wailing up and down. The grownups were all talking at once—nobody knew what we should do. Daddy said now we were at war with the Germans, we should ‘take cover’ in the garage. He moved the car out and took deck chairs into the empty garage. We all put on our coats and Wellington boots. Our neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner and their son Victor, came as well. Nothing seemed to be happening after the sirens stopped. Eventually we went inside and had our tea.
But many changes were about to happen.
Street lights were unlit and house lights had to be ‘blacked out’ with curtains, so no light showed in the streets. Dad made boards instead of curtains to prevent possible shattered glass. Air Raid Wardens patrolled to make sure no light was showing. Street signs were removed. Pig-bins were installed on every street, as household vegetable waste was diverted to help feed farm animals. We were issued gas masks in cardboard boxes attached to a cord to wear over our shoulders. We had to take them with us wherever we went. Ration books were issued to buy meat, eggs, butter, cheese and canned goods. Other food was in very short supply, except for vegetables. Unbleached flour made pale brown bread. We all longed for proper white bread! Park land was taken over to grow food and divided into allotments. Everyone was encouraged to plant their own vegetables, to ‘Dig for Victory,’ as the billboards told us.
The government had prepared an evacuation scheme to get as many children as possible out of London and other cities. Trains and buses took thousands of children to be billeted in the country. I remember pictures in the paper of hundreds of bewildered children, some just toddlers with their names on labels attached to their coats, at bus stops and railway stations, while crying parents waved goodbye.
My Mother would have nothing to do with any of that. She had an alternative idea.
A private school was going to Wales. Mum finagled an arrangement which let me be included with a neighbour’s daughter, who would look after me. She wasn’t keen to have an unhappy little kid with a white Teddy Bear trailing after her and did her best to lose and ignore me. I was told to sleep on a crumpled pile of covers on the floor. I remember lying on the itchy straw mattress, crying. Fortunately, Mum got news of the poor conditions and dispatched Dad in short order to bring me home.
When Mrs. Gardiner and her family rented a house in the country, she persuaded Mum to let me go with them, so off I went. I attended school but it was very strange. Children wrote on slates, and some of them stayed there at night. But Mrs. Gardiner took us to the beach most days after school and made raspberry jam sandwiches for tea. The big earthenware pot of jam lasted forever and inevitably sand got mixed with the sandwiches. I slept on a camp bed in Mrs. Gardiner’s room. When she came to bed, I was often awake, intrigued to watch her remove her corsets, scratching herself with relief. Goodness knows why she wore corsets; she was thin as a rake. I demonstrated this activity to Mummy when I returned home, much to her amusement.
I was quite happy during my stay there, but after three months we all returned home.