The day war was declared I was in the lounge with my parents.
When my father heard the message on the radio he said “Oh no, not
again. We’ve been through all that before.” I was 8 years old. At first
we stayed in London. The school I went to looked like a prison.
There were cells and a cellar. Soon as the siren went off you tore
down 6 flights of stairs, into the dungeons of the earth. You spent
so much time down in the depths that you never learnt a lot.
We were taught to read and write though – enough not to get done.
My teacher was called Miss Peterkin. I can still see her! We used to
have a sleep every afternoon on a little camp-bed.
We lived in Finsbury, near Sadler’s Wells. My aunty Edie used to make usherettes’ costumes, and aprons and bows for their hair. She was the best aunty anyone could have. There was not much of a break from the bombings. Sometimes there’d only be an hour in between 1 lot and another. They used to bomb to kill. When the sirens went, we’d to go a place called Northumberland Buildings and congregate on the landing. My mother wouldn’t always come. “Where are you? Where are you?” My father yelled. “Oh I’m having a sleep. I’ve got a headache so I won’t be coming down the shelter,” she’d reply. She was so laid back. Not like me! I was frightened to death by the air raids. Lots of my friends got killed.
I was evacuated twice, but it didn’t work out, so finally I went down to be with my aunt and uncle who were running a pub in a tiny village in Cambridge. We never had any raids there. Sometimes Italian Prisoners of War who worked on the farm, would come to the back door for a pint. Eventually mum and dad came down and they ended up buying the pub. My dad joined the Home Guard. All those old chaps too old for war went to the green on Sunday afternoons. They used to hang up sacks – pretend Germans - and do bayonet practice. My dad made sure he never stood near Hubert because he was badly crippled and he said he might miss the sack and get him.
My first kiss was in that village. It was at the back of a telephone kiosk. He said “Will you kiss me like the filmstars do?” How on earth he knew about film stars I don’t know. There were no cinemas, and no cars!
Clothes were short of course. I really wanted a coat when my cousin got married, so auntie made me one out of a blanket, a lovely light grey. My uncle’s bride wanted a hat, but there were no hats or scarves to be had. Aunty somehow got hold of one – a darling little Juliet cap with a veil, my sister got the netting, someone else stuck feathers on the back, and someone else lent her a fox fur. She made a lovely bride. Sadly she didn’t last long. She caught TB going down the shelters and died.
When war ended we thought “It’s over at last. We can get on with our lives.” There was no housing, no food, and no sweets til 1953 We stayed on in the village after the war, but I pestered my parents to go back up to London, where the action was. After all I was a Londoner at heart. Eventually we went, but I never did find much action.