My first memory is of being given our gas-masks. I was always falling over
and hurting myself. I had scabs on my nose, and they knocked the scabs off
when they fitted my mask. Not a pretty sight!
My dad lost three brothers in WW1. No-one ever spoke about it, but I always wanted to know. Now with computers, my son Ian found out all about it and took me over. There were no graves, or names on the plaques. They died at Loos, Arras and Gallipolli. My dad was only 17 at the end of the great war but they wouldn’t have taken him any way because they’d already lost three. If you lost a lot of sons they wouldn’t take any more. Not long after war began, my school - Christ Church infants school - was bombed. Luckily it was during the holidays. My uncle taught me at home for about a year so I knew a lot more than anyone else when we went back to school. Before it was bombed they used to make us do a practice run from school to one of the Martello towers at the Redoubt - that would have been our air raid shelter. The teacher taught us sign language to keep us quiet. We walked up narrow passageways because of machine guns in the streets. There were two sirens with different tones, the warning and the cuckoo siren when bombing was near.
We used to make Teddy’s out of old stockings, knit and sew things like iron-holders, kettle handles, and sell them in our back garden. Uncle used to get hold of old bits of wood, bits of lead he’d melt down to make toys for the boys. I remember making French knitting reins for a baby. We had an uncle taken POW at beginning of war and the Red Cross was allowed to send parcels - especially if they were ill, so all of our proceeds would go to those parcels. There was also Warship Week and Spitfire week, so we were kept busy!
I’m an only child but I had 26 aunts and uncles. My mum’s family had 8 brothers and 2 sisters, gran lived the other side of the road. We mostly lived close to each other. Before they were called up my uncles, who were all in the building trade, built an Air Raid Shelter in our garden. 18” thick concrete with bikes and bedsteads added to it. It had forms all round the edge. One side had a hole to let air in and a piece of wood so that the blast would not blow it in. I was 8 at the start of war. We’d go in all night, I’d lay across their laps and dad would tickle my feet to get me to sleep.
We had leaner-onners – a broomstick with another piece of wood on and you’d lean a cushion on it and put your head down, and go to sleep because there was not much space to lie down. There was mum, gran, dad - if he was not on Home Guard duty - an aunt, a couple of neighbours and, at the beginning of the war, a couple of cousins who weren’t old enough to fight. At the end of the road a whole block was knocked down and we never felt a thing in our shelter.
A friend of my daughter’s bought the house in the late 80’s and the shelter was still there. I heard they tried to knock it down but I wouldn’t be surprised to find it still standing!