My earliest memory of the war was helping my brother to set up his
train set in the back yard when the first dive-bombers came over
Eastbourne. I looked up and saw them diving down from the sky. My
father called us in. That was the day Whitley Rd and Bourne St got
At school I spent most of the time sitting under desks, then being sent home. You didn’t go to school for very long. The teachers were dragged out of retirement – one was supposed to teach mental arithmetic but taught us how to mend a puncture on a bike. I had a school uniform made out of two pairs of sailor’s trousers. Where did my mum get the sailor’s trousers from? – Don’t ask!
My father was in the Southern Defences and he came home periodically so that the kids recognised him and the dog didn’t bite him. He’d wash and scrub up, get up, and go.
One day he got up at 4am to find the lane was full of Bren gun carriers and soldiers milling about so he couldn’t get out to go to work. They were trying to shave in cold water, so he said “There’s a copper in the kitchen, if you get wood you can boil it up and wash in the first lot and have tea with the second.” We had enough wood for weeks.
My mum got me up to help out, and my dad eventually got out at some point. He had a passion for playing monopoly and I’d often get hauled out of bed because someone had left the game and they wanted to finish it. Little battleships, top hats, boots, Scottie Dog, little train, a car. “It’s only monopoly money.” my dad would say. One of my grandfathers had the same birthday as Hitler so he moved it to the day before. You got to know the different sounds of the engines – if it was theirs you got out of the way. One day he was leaning on the gate and he said ‘I’m not moving for him,’ when a blast blew him back into the sink – the window went out behind him. He sat there, quite unharmed, in the sink with the bit of the gate he had been leaning on.
It was difficult getting about. On the buses you could never see where you got out – there were no lights, and no signs. You had to develop a good sense of direction. You followed other people. The trains where terrible. Sometimes you got out and there was no platform.
Once mother was ordered out of the house in Eastbourne. A bomb blast had blown in the windows and there were no doors. She went on the bus to Hailsham - with a cat, a budgerigar and my three year old sister. We had to go and live in Hailsham, but we would go backwards and forwards to Eastbourne to check if the house was still standing. At Polegate crossroads the authorities would come on the bus and you had to have a paper to authorise you getting into Eastbourne. It was a ghost town, ie you were only allowed there if you had something to do, like checking your property.
There were plenty of heroes in the war, but in our family we thought we were all heroes. The person who stood out was Grandma Stevens. We would always unload ourselves on the poor soul, and then off we’d go again. She’d just say ‘Oh dear’ or ‘Never mind’. Afterwards you’d feel much better. She was always there. She’d stop, listen and give you a cup of tea. Life went on as it always does.
There were millions of tons of corned beef came in
from Argentina. They were still selling it after the war
The Barnhill went down off Pevensey and people went
down and picked up the tins. They didn't know what
was in them! And they didn't care. It was food!
You joined queues without knowing what you were
One queue led to some cold tripe!