I know it might sound odd but from the moment I heard the news on the radio and the sound of the first siren I felt this buzz of excitement. Of course I was worried about the family but I was never once scared.
I was 13 when war broke out. The High School was evacuated immediately to Hertfordshire. I should have been with them, but my father wouldn’t let me go because he didn’t want mum to be on her own. “They’ll be back in 6 months” he said. Well of course they weren’t! My father fought in the 1st World War but this time round he stayed at home. He was Chief Supervisor at the telephone exchange, and worked nights. He left home at 6 and got back at 8 in the morning. At the end of it all he was awarded a British Empire medal for all his hard work.
When I was 16 I went to work in an office in Woolies. I’ve always been good with figures but what I really wanted to be was a nurse. Dad wasn’t keen, because of mother, so I joined the St. John’s Ambulance as a volunteer helping out on the wards on Wednesdays and Sunday afternoons. I’ve always liked to keep busy.
I remember the day M&S was bombed. I was working in the office at Woolworths one door up and all the windows blew in. We had to clear out the windows, go through the rubble and rescue what we could of the stock. My boss said, “You’ve got dirt on your face, young lady.” Not surprising I thought. Afterwards I watched all the girls light up and I saw it calmed them down. It was the only time I ever wished I smoked. We were lucky our house never got hit. We had a big wooden dining-room table shelter in our lounge that mum and me used to go into at night.
Although lots of iron railings were taken away there was one hotel on the seafront that was allowed to keep its railings so that the Canadian officers who were stationed there would not fall down into the basement when they were tipsy!
There was barbed wire and scaffolding on the beach during the war. Later, when the beach was cleared, you didn’t trust it for a while because of the mines. We used to spend so many afternoons on the beach after the war ended because we couldn’t afford anything else. Things were hard. We learnt to make do and mend and share. Everything could be turned into something. I remember having underwear made out of parachute silk! Quite a luxury.
On VE night we went to see a local variety show in the Old Town. We’d already got tickets before we knew what a special day it was going to be, so it was great way to celebrate – which we did! All of us together.