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Please contact University Archivist Christie Peterson with any questions, comments or concerns, or visit the GW University Archives' main website for information about our historical collections. A great trench was dug by steam shovel across the middle of that neighbouring sports field (and through our local Epping Forest) as defence works. In 1940 my father’s employer moved from Smithfield to Brasted near Sevenoaks (Kent) where I started school. While there, I knew of the rationing, so one day while my mother was shopping I picked, then boiled buttercups on the kitchen range hoping to make butter.
Our cottage was on a hillside so when the warehouses near to Tower Bridge were badly blitzed one night, we all stood in the garden to see the big red flickering glow. Quite a few times in 1940 we travelled back to Walthamstow and I particularly remember several times walking from London Bridge station to Liverpool Street station after a previous night’s bombing.
Platforms carrying pumps were built around the piers of some bridges so as to pump Thames-water into the city via cast iron mains in the gutter or on the pavement (or both). When dad had been called-up, mum and I returned to our Walthamstow house There were about 45~50 in my class and my school held about 600 on three floors but the air-raid shelters weren’t ready. My teacher’s mother had gone to the window in the middle of the night to look at the searchlights, but died from lacerations when a bomb fell nearby. Some double-decker buses had a bag on top containing gas as fuel instead of petrol and others pulled a little trailer for their gas. When paper became short at school, many of us took our 4 page (1 sheet) newspaper to school and wrote our sums and spelling tests in the margins.
Quite often while in the playground we saw fighter aircraft in dogfights at altitude weaving condensation trails. In early 1941 we got away from the bombing for a week to see dad in training at Bridlington. In January 1942 the bombing got mum down again so we went for a break to Helston (Cornwall) and took the bus which was full of airmen to Mullion. One winters night in 1942 the bombing was worse so mum and I went to the communal shelter at the end of our street. As our Anderson shelter was so often wet we mostly sheltered in the small cupboard under our stairs. If we went by tube in the evening, then in some central London tube stations you would have perhaps only 3 feet of platform edge to walk on, the rest being occupied by scores of families in sleeping bags or blankets on the platform.
If we were caught out in an air raid in the evening I would be fascinated by the searchlights scanning the sky as we walked through the blacked out streets. Sometimes the searchlights would latch onto a German aircraft, then the guns in our neighbouring sports field would fire.
Tilers were often needed in our street because so much shrapnel was falling, breaking the rooftiles and then the rain would get in and damage ceilings, etc.. Our nearest bomb obliterated the tennis court at the end of the street, so it was turned into an allotment garden. By 1944 convoys of troops and equipment mostly eastbound along our narrow North Circular Road passed almost hourly and some took a rest on the ground allocated for the second carriageway. Late 1944 we moved to Bretforton in the Vale of Evesham (Worcestershire) and then Badsey village bakery before moving into the servants half of a 14th century manor house that hadn’t been occupied since it held German prisoners of war in 1919. The farmer in the main house once moved his large table to show dad’s colleagues a large slab that tilted and a tunnel below that went out under the orchard. The villagers still talked about the one bomb that had fallen in fields 3 miles away a couple of years earlier. The day we moved there, while my mother looked after my newly born handicapped sister, I was sent 3 miles to the butcher in the next village (past an airfield) with our ration books to sign on with him and bring back some meat to cook. One day in 1944 while walking home from school, I met an American sergeant, the first negro that I had seen.
At Xmas 1944 many local children were taken by Air Force lorries to a party in Evesham Town Hall where we were given toys (mostly of wood and painted with aircraft dope) made by the servicemen at various local camps. After D-day I learnt my geography of Europe by putting a map out of the Daily Mail onto the wall and inserting pins joined by wool to show the state of advance as it was reported on the radio. I helped pick fruit in a market garden in 1945 and went with the horse and cart to the local single siding alongside the London to Worcester line and helped load the wagon. On VE-day everybody celebrated, especially the Canadian airmen (who had a giant bonfire of unwanted aircraft bits). Most classes I had been in had over 40 pupils (two had 70+ with the walls folded back) and some classes spanned several years. Teachers were mostly women and with the class sizes, were friendly but strict and were backed by parents. So, as I started out by saying, for a child it was a fascinating time if sometimes scary, but for the adults there was so much worry, fear, suffering and loss of possessions and loved ones. Nanny was in Cornwall with her mum and sister when war was declared on the radio [on 3 September 1939].
Nanny wasn’t really scared during the war because she grew up with it happening all the time and therefore it was ‘normal’ life for her.
There were days, particularly when there had been a big night raid, when only a few girls turned up.
At home, Nanny’s dad had their hallway lined with steel and heavy boards that could be lowered at night to block the stairs. One night her dad woke her and her sister up to show them a V1, a flying bomb, also known as a doodlebug. Nanny’s dad didn’t go and fight during the war because he was too important to Poplar, one of the old London boroughs.
Nanny never went hungry during the war, but food was in short supply as so much came from other countries by boat and they were sunk by the Germans.
Space was made in towns for allotments (large rectangles of land which people rented for a few pounds a year) where they could grow extra food.
Sometimes a boat would arrive with oranges and huge queues would appear to try and get this precious fruit. In case people were not getting all the right vitamins and minerals there was cod liver oil (ugh!) and a horrible thick syrup called Virol. From the start of the war all households had to have blackout curtains on their windows so no light could be seen by German aeroplanes.
We stood in a group on a small patch of green opposite the entrance to the shelter, the five of us, and mum. About the middle of July 1940 the German Luftwaffe started attacking our airfields in an attempt to gain air supremacy, or at least to diminish our ability to attack their invasion force poised across the Channel waiting for the order to sail. There had been enemy aircraft in the vicinity already and bombs had fallen in the neighbouring countryside.
From the cover of huts and trenches, people looked skywards and witnessed what was to become known as the Battle of Britain - now commemorated each year on 15 September as being considered the decisive day of the battle.
After mum's protestations that in no way were we going to be split up, she finally accepted a place offered where we could stay together as a family.
I had been evacuated since the day war was declared on September 3rd 1939 and was glad that my Mother has agreed for me to come home in 1943 when the threat of a German invasion had long passed. I continued my education by attending the secondary school in Wellington Avenue, but was soon in trouble with the teachers due to my strong country accent which I had picked up in The Forest of Dean. I soon settled down as my form master was also the science teacher and he also took mathmatics which were my best subjects. Along one side of the school football pitch, were a row of brick built shelters, and when the air-raid warning sirens sounded we were taken to these shelters and had to wait in them untill 'The all clear'. After living in comparative safety in the country I now was experiencing the horror of war and I was scared sick when the house shook from the explosions. Mother was always ready to have a laugh, and when she called for me to get out of bed and get under the stairs, she burst out laughing when she saw that I had put on my trousers back to front. We did not always take shelter at home when the warning sounded but waited until we could hear the bombs dropping. One lunch time at school, while we were eating our sandwiches, the headmaster told us that he had an importnat announcement to make 'The Allied Armies had made a sucessful landing in France on the coast of Normandy', that was D-Day June 6th 1944. Next we had to suffer the V2's these gave no warning of their approach as they were rockets which travelled faster than sound. In August 1944, just after my 14th birthday, I left school and started work at The Flexo Plywood Company, where Mother was still employed. After about 9 months working in the factory, Mother decided that she would like to return to Margate and restart the Guest House business once more.
The war ended on May 8th just a few days before I started my long career with the Gas industry.
It was wartime when I was born in October 1942, so I was only 3 years old when the war ended, yet I still distinctly recall the pride and the pleasure I felt whenever my father returned home from his exercises with the home guard in his neatly pressed khaki uniform, shoes and belt, buttons and buckles all highly polished (sometimes to my delight I had been allowed to help him with the polishing beforehand). At that time we lived in Potters Bar, Middlesex, which my parents considered to be rural and safe enough so that I did not have to be evacuated. A research chemist, my father was in a reserved occupation and so was not called up to fight with the forces, but he was happy to serve as an officer in the Home Guard, specialising in teaching others both first aid and how to save people from gas attacks.
Before we finally stand down, I would like to convey my appreciation of the help which you, like all other officers, have given me during my period of command. All of these facts have meant much extra work for officers, both in the matter of keeping up-to-date in military knowledge and in administration. Yet, with very few exceptions, there has been no faltering of purpose; and the spirit of co-operation has enabled us to rise above our difficulties and to stand down as a Battalion, which is second to none.
His materials were also crucial to the success of the bouncing bombs, designed by Barnes Wallis and used by the "Dambusters" to destroy the hydroelectric dams in the upper Ruhr in 1943. I recall with far different emotions the sounds of the bombs passing overhead during the war before exploding nearby. The wail of the siren before an attack was a terrifying lament that signalled us scurrying into the Nissan shelter in the garden or in really bad weather under the Anderson Bed in the living room.

On a train journey to Manchester during or just at the end of the war to visit some friends, my mother gave me a journal to look at and I still remember the feel, the smell (the taste) and the colours of it.
Friends of ours used to keep chickens in their back garden, so during the war we saved all the kitchen scraps, sometimes cooking them to a pulp, sometimes raw (potato and carrot peelings, outer cabbage leaves, old bread crusts and other kitchen leftovers) and every few days my mother and I would walk down the hill to their house and feed their chickens.
On one occasion, in spring, when hens lay most plentifully, my parents managed to buy several eggs at once from the market and planned to conserve them by using Isinglass, a type of pure gelatin, which my father had obtained through his chemical suppliers at work, but it was very smelly, (probably from being made of the swimming bladder of sturgeon and other fish from the Caspian and Black Seas), so they were reluctant to use it.
Instead they acquired some waterglass from the chemist’s (liquid sodium silicate) which they diluted with boiled water and placed into large glass jars, into which they then gently plunged the precious cargo of eggs, topping up the jars to the brim. My father then decided to experiment by inventing a protective coating for the eggs from mixtures of resins and hardeners that would both prevent air entry and toughen the shells. I remember once when we visited my grandparents in Varden Street in the East End of London, the magnificent spectacle of seeing what seemed like millions of barrage balloons filling the sky.
On another occasion, whilst visiting elderly friends of my grandparents, Mr and Mrs Bristowsky, (despite the wartime frugalities, she managed to make the most delicious Cinnamon Balls I have ever tasted in my life), we watched the bright afternoon sky from their kitchen. Visitors such as parents were allowed to come to the school on one afternoon every three months and this was a great day.
One morning I was amazed to see a large balloon in the sky [barrage balloon — large silver balloon with ropes dangling from it to catch planes flying in low] we all thought it was an elephant! We were then told to empty our lockers, collect all our belongings and report back to the nurse who would give us our own clothes which we were to change into at once as we were being taken home.
It was only when we got home we were told the country may be involved in a war and these children had to be brought to a place of safety in case London was bombed. Things were very different at home but I soon settled; only eight of us, out of fourteen children, were at home now with mum and dad, five boys and three girls. All civilians were given an identity number and identity card, a gas mask in a small square cardboard box with a cord attached to it to enable us to carry it everywhere we went. When I met my husband three years after the war I brought him home and he recognised my brother. Our house was in the East End of London and when the air raids started this part of the South of England was given the name of ‘Bomb Alley.’ It was very frightening. Early one morning the police called us from the shelter and said, “Grab what you can from the house as time is short and go to the end of the road.” Everyone took a bundle of things wrapped in a sheet or tablecloth.
I suddenly found myself on my own with elderly parents and I had a much bigger part to play digging the allotment, planting veg, to help rations go round, making bread and standing in queues for hours.
Christmas presents were lovingly made by Granddads who would make trains, boats, cars, out of old bits of wood.
Going out was not a thing we did unless it was necessary, even then we would be sure we could get to a shelter if the sirens sounded. My eldest brother was the civil engineer in charge of the American army camp at Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire.
It was not until I went to Yugoslavia, years later, that I realised how close to England France was.
My sister lived in Romford and we were able to stay in her house until my parents could rent a house.
Although we were away from London the air raids were quite bad and quite a lot of bombs were dropped on this part of Essex.
One is of a sunny lunchtime in our Walthamstow (London E.17) house, another is of our Anderson air-raid shelter being constructed at the end of the garden (most winters it needed baling as it would get several inches of water in it, being deeper than the adjacent sportsfield ditch). Concrete blocks about a metre cube were prepared where the trenches met the main roads, ready to be moved into position and block the road if we were attacked.
Where the mains were in parallel and pedestrians needed to cross them there were wooden boards across. One day in 1940 a neighbour came to say my dad had phoned her that he was moving camp and would be at Kings Cross station till 2 pm.
While mum went to contact dad that we had come and to find overnight accommodation, she told a porter what was happening and left me for a couple of hours with our suitcase (and a luggage label on me) by the water crane on the platform where the London to Bristol trains would stop to refill. Even the cars had their headlights covered with only a 4x2 cm slit (and a 1.5 cm shield above).
One day I had to hand in my collection of shrapnel (supposedly to help the war effort by recycling, but perhaps because of my blisters from the phosphorous on the tracer bullet remnants). Perhaps 2 houses in a terrace gone but bits of a bedroom hanging there on an adjoining wall.
The farm they were on was the only one with a radio, so everyone came to the farmhouse to hear the news. The sound of the German bombers going over shook the house and this is a noise she will never forget. She could have gone to Canada to stay with her nanny’s sister, but her parents wouldn’t allow it. It was the only school in Chingford that was open, so girls came from Chingford, Loughton and Woodford.
One day Nanny ripped a dress and her mum was so angry she made her wear a potato sack for three days.
One day she did see the vapour trails made by two fighters as they had a dogfight in the air very high up. He was the Deputy Borough Engineer of Poplar, which was very heavily bombed in the Blitz because it had the great London Docks where most of the food for England came in by boat. Nanny’s dad had four allotments, two in Poplar and two in Chingford, as well as the garden - so there were always fresh vegetables. Nanny once had to queue for oranges (with ration books, as you were only allowed two oranges per person) but after queuing for four hours the person two places ahead of her had the last two.
However, even with none of the foods we have today, Nanny was never ill except for mumps, measles and chicken pox. This also meant no street lamps were working and traffic lights had shields so that they could not be seen from above. As nanny was only a little girl she did not go out much at night, but she remembers helping her mum to make sure every window was covered with blackout material. The American's had joined us in the fight in December of 1941 and we knew that, given time, victory would be ours.
I was looking out of our rear bedroom window to see if I could spot any planes caught in our searchlights and suddenly I saw a bomber flying so close to the ground that I thought it was going to crash but it was trying to avoid the search lights and our guns.
The German airmen used to throw out strips of tape which looked like the video tape we use today, it was meant to fool the RADAR operaters so that the exact location of the aircraft could not be found.
I was put in the metal work shop where many items were made for the aircraft industry such as Fuel tanks, Seats and exhaust pipes. I handed in my notice and went on ahead while Mother arranged the sale of the house, and lodged with her friend while I found another job. We have lost large numbers of trained officers and men to the regular forces and on re-direction to other industries. The problem here was that, until then, the glue used to hold the Mosquito aircraft together, whilst completely satisfactory in Europe, was dissolving in the high heat and humidity of the jungles and the planes were literally falling apart on the ground.
The problems were that the spherical metal bombs became dented on impact and would not properly bounce but if the metal was thick enough not to dent, the bomb became too heavy for air transport.
Although I was never actually involved in any bombings, for very many years after the war had ended I continued to have dreadful nightmares that a plane would drop bombs specifically on our house! I really disliked my “siren suit” because it had a loose bum-flap at the back, closed by buttons that were both uncomfortable to sleep on and let the draughts in, but to be fair one could go to the toilet without getting undressed. It was a glossy illustrated magazine with soldiers on the front cover, an orange-red-golden glow all around them as fires from dropped bombs burned nearby.
In return our friends gave us the luxury of one egg a week, which my mother always gave to me.
So that the levels of waterglass solution would not drop, they melted sealing wax around the jar lids to keep them airtight.
He succeeded in this, but then needed a hammer or a chopper to open the “strengthened” steel-like shells and the contents became totally inaccessible and unusable! The seemed to go on forever and ever, parallel rows of grey oval bodies, becoming increasingly like tiny dots and minute specks in the distance. They stood me on the draining board of their sink in front of the window so that I could see; she held on to me so tightly (so I would not fall) that I felt I was suffocating, (and she had a lot of hairs on her chin that felt rough and itchy to my young cheek).
The powers that be decided I was small for my age and underweight so I was sent to an open-air school at Fyfield in Essex, where I spent the next 18months, being just a number amongst about a hundred and fifty other girls.
Meals were served in a large wooden hall on long wooden tables and we sat on long wooden forms.
In lines of two, girls at the front and boys at the back we went through country lanes and little villages. Tiny babies were given a ‘Mickey Mouse’ gas mask, it was coloured and they were put right inside it. By this time we were getting used to the routine of going to bed in the shelter night after night.
Then the police told us to find somewhere to stay because there was an unexploded bomb near the house.
There were no buses so we had to walk to the safest station where we managed to get a train, after the ‘all clear’ sounded, to Romford because my sister had a house there.
The war was still on and as soon as I was fifteen I took a job in a factory making wing ribs for Spitfires. When the sirens sounded we had to switch off all machines and make for the trenches in the field across the main road. He came to London on one occasion and I thought it would be nice for me to back with him to his family for a break.
I now had a brother serving in Burma, one in Egypt, another in the king’s flight with the RAF and one had returned safe from Dunkirk.
Then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and the United States of America came into the war on our side.

It was fun to see the girls changing from work clothes into dresses suitable to go dancing in. School was often disrupted because when the air raid siren sounded, all the girls had to go down to the cellar, which the nuns had had reinforced with wooden beams. From the beginning of the war to the middle of 1941, everyone slept downstairs, but after Hitler changed to daytime bombing and the bombing of other cities, Nanny and her sister slept upstairs in their own beds. Nanny’s dad used to spend all week at the Town Hall, working by day and fire-watching on the roof at night. Just before the war, Nanny’s mum stored lots of food like currents, sultanas etc, and because of this she was able to make lots of cakes, biscuits and buns.
Cars, buses and other vehicles also had to have shields and a cover with just a slit for light on their headlamps. Before school next morning I went along the alleyway at the back to see what the damage was and found that the Anderson shelter in their garden was completely blown out of the ground and lay there upside down, concrete foundations and all. On that first day we sat in the shelters at school for most of the day, not knowing what was happening.
None fell near our house and the only one which I had experience of landed in Epping Forest. As an unskilled worker, I was given the most boring of jobs such as filing rivit heads on the fuel tanks so that they could be coated with tin to prevent rusting.
He invented a new type of “glue” so that even in those adverse conditions the layers of wood of the plywood frames plus their covering substances no longer fell apart. My father devised a liquid resin, which was used to fill the hollow metal spheres (built to contain the explosives and detonators) which on curing and drying in huge ovens solidified to produced a light, impact resistant foam, thus when dropped, on impact the bombs kept their shape and were able to bounce as required. Throughout my children’s childhood and even nowadays, at firework time, I always avoid bangers, chiefly because I hate the loud explosions, I think because they remind me of wartime bombs.
When clearing out old papers in our loft after my father had died, I found that very magazine and it was just as I had remembered it. In theory sodium silicate works by sealing the eggs and should keep them fresh for up to a year because the alkali is supposed to retard growth of micro-organisms by forming a protective shell. We gazed in admiration whilst hundreds of parachutists practiced their descents seemingly over and over again. We all slept in long dormitories with one side open to the weather except when we had a thunderstorm.
Brown bread and warm milk, porridge you could cut with a knife and if it was not eaten you went without. Things of interest were pointed out to us and this is where I began to appreciate the beauty of the countryside. Some of the small children had ‘Mickey Mouse’ gas masks so they weren’t scared to put them on. The brothers who were sent to Egypt and Burma went on sister ships and met in Durban, South Africa, before one headed to Asia and the other to the Middle East. The air man came to our house for us to say ‘thank you,’ met one of my sisters, married her and became one of the family! My youngest brother was called up for the navy but he was to be a Bevan boy, which meant he was sent up north to Mansfield, to work down the mines. Suddenly I had grown up and felt I was at last doing something worthwhile to help the rest of my family. If a child had a birthday all the neighbours would give what they could and a birthday cake would appear, and we would all get together for a party. The smallest light could be seen from the air and Air Raid wardens were always on patrol to make sure everyone observed the rules. There was a brick built shelter at the bottom of the garden and my father soon made bunk beds for us and we had a small camping stove on which we could make tea. Coffee or tea was used to dye their legs and they would draw a line at the back of the legs to look like a seam. She asked a corporal at the gate and the word was rapidly passed up the platform that AC2 Wakefield’s wife was at the gate and he was allowed to come and speak to us. Her dad had been called back to London a few days earlier and had driven back to London in the family car. On the night of either the 28th or 29th of December 1940, Nanny’s dad took her to the top of the road, which was on top of a hill. If you went out at night you had to have a torch, which was only allowed to be shone downwards to show you where the kerbs and other hazards were.
I had alook for shrapnel to add to my collection of which I had over a hundred pieces but found none even though I climbed down in to the crater which the bomb had made. When we heard about this we cycled to the site but only found a large hole amonst the trees. When my parents tried to use their preserved eggs, however, something had gone horribly wrong, the clear liquid had turned to a milky jelly and even before breaking open their shells, the eggs stank with the unmistakeably strong sulphuric stench of rotten eggs.
All meals were served in enamel mugs and dishes and to get one that was not chipped was a bonus. We didn’t have time to be afraid someone would see the funny side of the situation and we’d all begin to laugh, every time! My sisters and I made soft elephants and rabbits from old clothes and stuffed them with scraps of rag left over from the cloth rugs we made.
Unfortunately a family were moving house and had left a flat barrow piled with furniture in the road, in the complete darkness.
That was because I would be going through Portsmouth or Southampton and they were royal navy dockyards. Once again I had to get permission from the local police and give them all the details of my intended movements. Underwear was a big problem which some of us solved because we were able to get damaged parachutes. There wasn’t enough room to sit up but with a blanket and a pillow you could be quite comfortable. It was unheated so we lived in the buttery (lined with copper to keep out the mice we were told). About 30 years later, nanny was on another 38 bus with my mum and my uncles, and the conductor was the same man.
Some of the girls in the school did die, but because it was war you got used to knowing people that had lost husbands, sons, mothers and daughters.
He used to phone home every evening to say goodnight and phone again in the morning to make sure all was well. On climbing out I bumped my head on an electric cable which had been hanging from pylons which crossed over our rear gardens but luckily it was dead. The speculation varied from Suicide pilots to a long range gun but we soon were told that these were small aircraft without pilots and propelled by a new kind of engine. And our operational role has constantly altered, by progressive stages, as we became more efficient and better armed. I can’t remember the exact day we were told to line up in the playground for a special announcement. These chutes were made of fine white nylon and providing someone in the family had a sewing machine and a little bit of dressmaking skill the finished garments were beautiful. At that time you could see right over London, as the only tall building was St Paul’s Cathedral. The V2s were worse because they were flying rockets and very difficult to hear until you heard the whistle as they fell from the skies.
Three brothers left home the same day, two went in the air force to France and ended up in Dunkirk and one went to Gibraltar and one into the army ended up in Burma. Strips of old clothes were cut and threaded through a piece of sacking ad knotted at the back and then a huge piece of sacking was sewn on the back. When he staggered in the house, blood all over him, everyone forgot me in the bath and dashed off to the hospital where a very clever doctor stitched his tongue together again. Also if we could acquire an army blanket or even better an air force blanket we could make a warm topcoat.
Nanny reminded him of the two little girls who got on his bus during the war and he remembered them. Many of these houses were the old Victorian slums and after the war Nanny’s dad helped to have new flats and houses built, which were much better.
We soon recognised when these flying bombs were near because of the loud noise these engines made and we felt safe all the time you could hear them, but when the fuel ran out, down they came with a ton of high explosive. Patterns could be made with all the different colours of cloth and some were very grand after they were trimmed. She can still see the images from that night and believes that her dad woke her up so that she would be able to tell people what she saw. Making rugs was a popular pastime, which kept us occupied in the shelters, young and old could all help. Several fell in to the Reservoir which was under construction at the rear of our house but the nearest one to our house fell about a half mile away on a bridge which was part of a new road construction, postponed because of the war. At one time after we had used all our clothing coupons up and we needed new shoes we tried clogs. It blew the sides off the bridge but as there were no houses near, no other damage was caused. We went to see the bridge but the police got there before us and prevented the taking any souvenirs. I ran for help and he was released and was quite recovered after a sit down for a short time.

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