A couple of weeks ago we had one of our afternoon tea parties for our housebound members. I went round all the folk there and asked them to share their war stories with me. So let me now tell you some of the stories –some of the memories people have of growing up in war time Britain. Today is Remembrance Sunday – a day to remember them. These are the stories that we must not forget. These are your stories.
Joyce told me that she had been evacuated from the Channel Islands at the age of 13 with her mother and brother just weeks before the occupation.
Barbara was 10 and remembered well the sound of the sirens in Aberdeen. Her dog sat shivering until they could get into the cellar. She remembered concerts in the back green in aid of the Red Cross and that there was a real community feel about the war period. Neighbours helped neighbours. Soldiers from the local barracks were invited to have tea in family homes. She said the great thing about the war was that you only had to go to school for half a day, because there weren’t enough teachers as so many were away fighting.
David was just a baby but he remembered the blackouts on the windows and peeping out to see the planes when they went overhead.
Elsie too was young but said she has no memories because her family protected her from the horrors and she was never told about it.
Margaret was six and lived in the country with a dairy farm next door so they were never short of food. But prayers were said every night to bring the boys home safely.
Molly’s father was away for 4 years in the 8th Army with General Montgomery and when he came home her two brothers didn’t even know him. She also remembers saving up for a plate of chips at Moscadini’s Cafe in Manor Street, and then losing her ration book there. It took weeks to get a new one so it was a very lean time but neighbours helped out. And even those who had little still collected money to send food parcels for prisoners of war.
Chrissie remembered her first job at the age of 14 and the girls there invited her to a night at the theatre in the Gorbals. That was the night of the Clydebank Blitz and when she came out she realised she didn’t know anyone or how to get home. She saw a couple she vaguely knew and went and asked if she could walk home with them. They agreed and they spent the next few hours dodging in and out of closes. When she got home she remembers her mum giving her the biggest hug ever!
Gladys’ war memories were of being tired. She worked 14 nights and then 14 days in the De Havilland factory in Lancashire. Because of where they were there were constant bombs and air raids.
Dorothy worked in a factory weaving cloth for parachutes. She tried to join the Navy but didn’t get in.
Eve was in Egypt as a typist in the Navy. She met a handsome pilot on board ship from Durban and he decided that Eve should be his wife. There was a sense of urgency in relationships – live for today because who knew what would happen tomorrow, so they married in Cairo Cathedral with just a few friends in attendance.
Freda became a Wren at the age of 19 and was sent to Portsmouth. She had never travelled on her own before and her father asked someone on the train to look after her. Freda worked in the Signals Office and during air raids she had to go below to take signals from ships in the harbour to give to the officer on duty. She met her husband there and when they married in 1943 she had to leave the Wrens. She also had the vivid memory of walking into a lamppost in the blackout!
And another romance took place when Mary met her husband in 1941 at a local dance in Yorkshire. Word had got round that some new soldiers were in town so all the girls headed off to the local school where the dance was held. She remembers walking home with Jack watching incendiary bombs dropping and the flames reflecting in the water. They were so near the Power Station but somehow never hit it. Living in the country that was about as much of the war that she experienced but they did have lots of evacuees from London. Mary was a Chief Inspector of Arms at a munitions factory, a wages clerk in a factory where the Swordfish plane was built, and for a time worked at Montague Burtons Leeds Tailors booking out khaki trousers to despatch to the troops. She cycled 15 miles each day, paying 5/- a week for her bike which was the cost of the bus fare.
Everyone shared their memories of rationing – of 1 egg a week, 2oz of cheese, 2oz of butter and 2 oz of lard. 4oz of sugar (but extra in the summer to make jam) and 4oz of tea. Of eggs in ISIN glass which preserved them for months – no sell by dates then. Of torches with pinholes from the blackouts and sulphur badges which could be seen in the dark.
Many of the stories shared the same themes of community and support, of neighbours helping neighbours, of sacrifices made. There was fear, yes, but bravery too – of having to get on with life amidst the horror of war, of having to adapt to new places and new jobs. And there was love, hurried love but lasting love. Love and separation, love and loss.
These are your stories. Today we remember them and give thanks. And we remember those whose lives were given in sacrifice for a new and better world.