About Me

"Setting the world to rights"...one blog at a time! Plus anything else that comes to mind

Saturday, 17 July 2010

WW II reminiscences

I was looking through some old files and came across this. I'd put it together from conversations with my parents and their friends to help out a little girl with her school project on World War II


I was 11 years old when war broke out and living in the south London suburbs. At first we didn’t have an Anderson shelter so when the air raid sirens went off we would make a dash for the cupboard under the stairs. The cat and dog soon learned what the sirens meant and they usually got there before us. Later we had an Anderson shelter in the garden. Because my father was away in Belgium, helping with the Belgian underground movement, my mother had to build a bunk for my sister and me by herself. It collapsed during a raid and we thought a bomb had hit us.

I can remember doodlebugs flying overhead. They were flying bombs and everything was alright so long as you could hear the engine. Once the engine stopped they would come down and blow up anything that happened to be underneath them when the engine cut out. One day I was walking home from school for lunch and an engine stopped. I didn’t notice it but a man came running across the road and threw me to the ground. Luckily it came down on waste ground very nearby.

Rationing became tight and we kept rabbits and chickens for food. One of the things rationed were eggs. People had to register with a shop or someone else so the government could keep track of where rations went and our neighbours registered with us. Because of this we could buy special feed for the chickens. I would help pluck them for Christmas.

I was 17 years old by the time war ended but we still had shortages for years. Another item that was hard to get hold of was stockings. Stockings had seams up the back in those days so we would draw a line up the back of our legs to look like a seam as though we were wearing them.


When the war started in 1939 I was 13 years old and, when not in school, worked with my friends as schoolboy labour from 1941-42 on the farms surrounding my home in Herne Bay, Kent. We did everything from weeding the turnip fields, to cutting wheat or tidying the hay that was thrown onto the hay-carts by men with pitchforks.

Having passed my scholarship exam in Herne Bay I was going to the Simon Langton Grammar School in Canterbury where we had a barrage balloon moored in the grounds. This was to damage aircraft that flew too near. During the war all competitive sports with other schools in Kent were discontinued as teachers were prohibited from arranging them because there was no insurance. However, various boys and girls arranged matches themselves. Two to three weeks prior to taking the school certificate, Canterbury suffered a horrendous air raid. As usual I had walked the mile from my home to get the bus from the front of Herne Bay pier. When it didn’t arrive I walked the mile home again, picked up my bike and cycled nine miles into Canterbury through the woods. As I neared the school I had to get off my bike and walk it through the streets with the smoking rubble all around me. Although the brick wall surrounding the school was intact the school itself had been razed to the ground. There was nothing left. All our notes and books had been destroyed. Parents and teachers rallied round, prepared abridged notes and helped us swot for the exams, which we took at Kings College on the top of St. Thomas’s hill overlooking Canterbury.

In 1942 I left school to work for the local gas company. Part of my duties involved fire-watching. Fire-watching meant spending all night watching the gas holders to spot and report on any damage during air raids. This could be hazardous as shrapnel from indirect hits would ricochet with a “ping, ping, ping” off the metal holders. Once I was sent to London on an errand and went to see my dad. Dad was too old for active service in the armed forces but had volunteered for the Fire Service. After training in Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey he was put on the fireboats on the Thames. The fireboats did the same work as the fire engines on land, except they directed water onto fires from the river. When things got bad in London they were sent up the Thames to help out.

In 1945 I joined the air force. Apart from the odd errand to London I hadn't been out of Herne Bay before but I was sent first to Lancashire to be kitted out with uniform then to Compton Bassett in Wiltshire for “square bashing”. Luckily for me the war ended before I was needed to join the aircrew, although I didn't see it as lucky at the time, I wanted to "do my bit".


Ron is Mick’s best friend but as he is a couple of years older he spent quite a bit of time in the navy as a ship’s cook. He was a cook when things were quiet but when they went into battle his job was to hand bombshells from the hold up to the gunners on deck. One day a bomb dropped back down into the hold and landed on his foot. Luckily the bomb hadn’t yet been primed or Ron, and his foot, would not have been here now to tell the story.

He was a shy country lad who had never been out of Herne Bay before but was suddenly travelling all over the world, although never going any further than the ports. One day he was walking down a street in an Indian port when he heard his name called. Homesickness was a big problem for him and his shipmates so he was thrilled to see Norman, a school friend from Herne Bay, barrelling down the street towards him. They were amazed to have come so far, amidst so much trouble to find someone they knew from their home town.


Norman had become a “Tail End Charlie” in the bombers when he joined the air force. Tail End Charlies were gunners who sat in the rear of the plane in a bubble, firing at enemy aircraft coming up behind them and it was a very dangerous position…in more ways than one! Most of the flights took many hours and the only toilet facilities in the cockpit were a funnel and a pipe. The pipe ended on the outside of the plane but because of the speeds the contents did not fall away. The force of the air pushed it back up the body of the plane onto the bubble housing the Tail End Charlie – not nice! But it was even worse for the ground crew who had to scrape it off at the end of each flight.


I grew up with my family east of the river Oder in Silesia. During the war I was sent to work in Vienna, Austria and was there when peace was declared in 1945, when I was 19 years old.

As part of the post-war treaty, Silesia was annexed by Poland. Poland took all lands east of what became known as the Oder-Niesse line. Over seven million people were thrown out of their homes; able to take only what possessions they could carry, and forced to leave the country. A great many of those refugees died of the cold during that journey. My mother was one of them.

At the time I knew only that I had no home to return to and no knowledge of where my family had gone. A friend invited me to go with her to her family home so we packed what few belongings we had into a handcart and the two of us pushed it 500 kilometres from Linsz towards Hanover until we managed to get a lift in a coal cart for the last part of the journey.

There were many scares and dangers along the way. In one of them, men coming out of a concentration camp surrounded us. We thought we were about to lose our few possessions to men who had no possessions at all. Luckily for us a German had recently joined us in our walk. He showed the men where he had been branded to show he had also been in a camp and managed to persuade them to leave us alone.

WOMAD comes to Malmesbury

WOMAD comes to Malmesbury next week when Charlton Park hosts the successful and, I'm told, really exciting event. After some problems in the first year it has been well run and organised; the organisers listening to the concerns of us locals to good effect. I hope the weather is as good for them this year as last because it makes a huge difference to the enjoyment of such outdoor events.

I haven't been there myself, I don't need to, I can hear the music from the comfort of my own home and as I'm not fond of crowds I don't feel the need to go for the ambience. I must admit to some curiosity and the thought of all the different world foods is a huge pull, but not compelling enough. Nevertheless, even I feel the excitement in Malmesbury while it's taking place and smile at the happy faces of the festival goers as they take the opportunity to visit our lovely town and stock up on essentials. I just hope the essentials this year don't turn out to be wellies and brollies as they were in the first year. Good luck WOMAD and have fun everyone!

A change of focus

Now the Government is running sites where people can make suggestions for improvement or change in our society I've got a better place to air my views on our society and how it's run. So there's no real point in my continuing this blog in the way I have. In future it could be about anything at all, whatever pops into my mind whether topical, historical, world interest, local interest, trivial or just plain general musings. "Oh good!", I hear you say, "yet another blog about nothing". Well yes, but it'll keep me happy.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

By the way...the continuing story

I mentioned in an earlier post, 'By the way', about the government going to consult the people. Well for anyone who want to get out there and make their views known, go to this website http://spendingchallenge.hm-treasury.gov.uk/
Ther are some idiotic comments but most people are trying to make a difference by making suggestions, some good some bad (in my view!). However, assuming the government is really going to pay attention to what is being posted and we're not being conned, it's our best bet to be heard. Go for it. I'm an optimist...I posted my views...repeatedly!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Eilmer, the Flying Monk

a little light relief...

I was in the high street the other day admiring the banners. 'Eilmer, 1010 to 2010, 1000 years of flying'. For those not in the know, Eilmer was a monk in the Benedictine abbey in Malmesbury who designed himself some wings and launched himself off the top of the abbey. He survived with a couple of broken legs but the abbot refused him permission to try again, this time with a tail.

Well done Eilmer, 1000 years and people are still cheering you on!