What was the impact of WW2 on your family?
Cassiobury Junior School
Miss Sherry’s family story
Last year my Aunt visited Italy with her local church. As part of the trip she visited places that my Grandad, Reginald, was in during WW2. In a conversation about this, one local woman flung her arms around my aunt, both were quite emotional. The whole experience surprised them both. This prompted me to think… What does WW2 mean to your family? Every story might be different but please share.
My English Family: Grandad received his call-up papers when he was thirty-one. He was conscripted into the Eighth Army, a field army formation of the British army in WW2. The Eighth Army was made up of British, Indian, Australian and New Zealand divisions. He was posted to North Africa and sailed across the Med (where he was horribly sick, only time in his life when he was sea-sick) They landed in Alexandria. I know he went to Cairo and also Benghazi in Libya. He fought in the Western Desert Force but the only anecdotes were about the chocolate rations, the toilets and the absurdities of the men in charge. He came home on leave sporting a stripe on his uniform which he was indifferent about. The next time he came home on leave it had been ripped off. He had told someone more senior that he was an idiot!!!
In 1943 they were sent to North Italy and took part in what was known as “The long hard slog”. They fought continuously until the other side were defeated. The terrain was very different from the desert and they had to learn to ski. For some it was literally a crash course. Like most of his contemporaries he rarely talked about it unless it was a funny story. Nana said that he walked around in a daze for about two years.
Nana was a telephone switchboard operator and was sent to work at the admiralty. She was in London during the Blitz and, like everyone else, could identify different types of bomb when they were on the way down, from the noise they made. At some point she was sent to work in Bath which gave her the chance to live away from home and, like lots of young women, had quite a good time. I asked her once what was in Bath and why she was sent there. She said it was some military establishment but you didn’t ask. People didn’t blab then. Looking into it, it seems that there was an admiralty building in Bath near an airfield where planes flew to survey ships and boats in the English Channel.
It was their second war of course. Grandad lost his eldest brother in 1918 and Nana always remembered being hungry during WW1 which along with rationing in WW2 is why she NEVER wasted food!
My Irish Family: My Great Grandfather was born in Ireland but moved to Glasgow as an adult. He joined the British army in 1915 but died later that year. He had fathered 2 children, one of whom became a catholic priest. The young priest rode motorcycles and was an adventurous person and joined the RAF in 1936 as a chaplain, as he feared there may be a war soon. He was sent to Africa to be trained and became a pilot. When WW2 broke out he was stationed in North Africa and often in the front line. He often travelled around on an army motorbike and was quite often found in the hanger with the engineers helping to repair aircraft.
The war in North Africa was hard fought and fast moving. The front line moved back and forward with territory being captured and lost frequently. At one point the British forces captured an area previously held by the German troops. The buildings the German troops had abandoned, were then occupied by British forces and this time Father Sherry was allocated the building which had been occupied by the famous German General Erwin Rommel known as the Desert Fox. Father Sherry was once stationed in Tubruk in Lybia and it came under a serious German attack and there was a danger that Tubruk would be surrounded or maybe captured. The senior British officers spoke to all the chaplains and told them to leave as their safety could not be guaranteed. Father Sherry declined the offer to leave, saying that his place was with his men. He was the only chaplain to remain in Tobruk during the siege, where dive bombers were flying over from Sicily in Italy and attacking Tubruk each day. Tubruk survived the siege and so did Father Sherry. His bravery was recognised and he was decorated by being Mentioned in Dispatched and awarded Oak Leaves, he was also promoted to Squadron Leader.
Father Sherry was a priest and would say mass for the Catholic British servicemen each day. One day before mass, he looked for his silver chalice and found it was missing. Father Sherry made some enquiries and discovered it had been stolen and was in the possession of a group of locals. He could not get it back but heard some news, that the winner’s prize in the local donkey race was a silver cup, which looked very similar to the chalice which had been stolen. Father Sherry decided on a plan to get his chalice back. He asked around and bought a donkey which was said to be a fast runner. He then entered the donkey race and, as you have guessed, won the race and was reunited with his chalice.
Father Sherry served all through the war including the capture of Monte Casino in Italy and resigned his commission in 1947. He then joined a missionary order and worked in Tanzania as a missionary priest until he retired.
Over the last year my dad has journeyed around Africa on a solo bike journey, he finished his journey earlier this year, returning just before lockdown. Before he left Tanzania he donated his motorbike to the missionary community that Father Jack belonged to all those years ago. Both motorbike fans with a story to tell.
The interesting lesson to learn is that none of these relatives held onto any hatred or dislike of other nationalities, if anything they had greater understanding of other cultures and countries.
What is your family’s story?
Miss Cooper’s story:
Both my parents lived in London when World War II was taking place and my mum was 9 on VE day and my dad was 12. I remember my dad telling me, he was evacuated to Wales during the war and unfortunately he stayed with a family that just did not want him there and they were unkind, so he managed to come back to London to be with his mum. Both my mum and dad lived one road away from each other when they were children. My dad’s childhood home backed on to the Handley Page factory (which made arms in the war) so was a target for bombing. My mum was very excited on VE day and they had a street party in my dad’s street. She remembers receiving a post office set as a present.
A Second World War interview with my mum
By Mrs Harrison
At 11am on the 3rd September 1939 War was declared. I was 5 years old. Evacuees were arriving coming from London to Stopsley, Luton. Air raid shelters were being built, and the Government designed three different sorts, the Anderson, Morrison and a brick built shelter.
I remember going up the road to my brother’s garden to an Anderson shelter, consisting of arched sheets of corrugated iron bolted together and set about a metre into the ground, covered with a layer of turf. Some people fitted the interior to make them more comfortable. The public shelters were constructed in the Parish of Stopsley both above and below ground, so when the siren sounded, to indicate an air raid, the people made their way to the shelters. At school we had to practise going across the playground to an underground one, and sat in classes singing songs.
In October 1940, a bomb fell into a clay pit, not far from our house, but luckily some of the blast was diminished, but some windows in Lothair Road were blown out. On 21st June 1944 a Doodle Bug…Flying Bomb fell on an allotment also in Stopsley.
Ration Books – We couldn’t buy food without a Ration Book, and we had to be registered with one of the four local grocers, similarly one of the local butchers. My mother went to the local Co op to get Bananas and Oranges when available, about every six weeks. Whenever possible, householders stocked their gardens with vegetables and kept chickens and rabbits that were fed on scraps, before ending up on the dining room table.
Clothes and Household goods were subjected to rationing. Petrol was rationed..only available for essential war work. Private cars were stored for the duration of the war, One of the first demands was for a total blackout, not a trace of light was permissible as it might give night time pilots a clue to their whereabouts. Household blackouts ranged from brown paper, cardboard, lino and old blankets to wooden shutters. If you had a hand torch, it had to be dimmed with brown paper, visibility was made even worse by artificially produced smoke screens on moonlight nights and then there smoke screen generators. The only permitted lights were from search lights to spot enemy planes..A.R.P and Civil Defence men came round if they saw a light on in the houses.
Gas Masks, even before the War started, it was feared that the Germans might attack with poisonous gas. Consequently we were issued with a black rubber gas mask .respirator. Tiny babies were placed inside their masks. Small children had brightly coloured Mickey Mouse designs which were supposed to calm those who found the devices frightening. Everyone carried them in cardboard boxes wherever they went. At school respirator drill was often practised and the Air Raid Warden checked that they fitted properly.
Stacks of sandbags protected shop windows and vital doorways. One of the most odorous signs of war in Stopsley were the pig bins chained to lamp posts at intervals along the streets. Into these the householders were expected to tip certain items of waste food, which could be converted into pig and poultry fodder Residents soon learnt that pigs would eat bread and vegetable scraps but were not keen on tea leaves or rabbit bones.
At night the drones of British aircraft on bombing sorties to Europe was commonplace. More frightening was the sound of air raid sirens followed by the throb of German planes and later the whine and thud of flying bombs. Quite often all eyes would turn skywards to watch the exciting dog fights between allied and German planes, firing bullets.
My brother Bob was called up, being 18 years old, to join the The Royal Signals in the Forces and was wounded in France when he was driving up to the front line with ammunitions. Fortunately, his co driver took him back to base and he was flown back to England, to the Nottingham hospital and they managed to save his wounded leg.
When the War began in 1939 Stopsley, Luton was alive with troops and tanks, much like 1914. Convoys passed through the village, and village women would make them tea and chat to them.
V.E Day Victory in Europe 8th May 1945 was celebrated with bonfires on the village green, and a noisy torch lit march across the fields. Parties were held on street corners, Jellies and tins of fruit that had not been seen during the years of austerity, suddenly appeared and never tasted better.
A WONDERFUL FEELING to have peace in our land.
Kieran Down – 4 Hazel
This all started on 1st September 1939, where Adolf Hitler was the German leader, trying to takeover European countries. However, he went too far…
Britain then entered the war, and then 6 years later Adolf Hitler shot himself in an underground bunker, & on 8th May 1945, which is VE Day (My older brother Harry’s birthday), we won the war.VE stands for ‘Victory in Europe’.
My Grandad, who was alive during the war, was 8 years old when it started, and 13 years old when it ended. I asked him some questions, & these are his answers:
1. What did you do when the war began?
A. Was at school when it started – the school was evacuated, & we went to the countryside for 4 ½ years.
2. Where were you during the time?
A. In an old village in Bedfordshire.
3. Who was there with you?
A. All my classmates.
4. How did you feel?
A. Felt homesick.
5. Did you still go to school?
A. Walked to school with friends
6. Did you play any games?
A. Played Marbles, Football, Tops, Conkers, Cricket, Cops ‘N’ Robbers, Cowboys, & Indians.
7. Did you know anyone other than your classmates and teachers?
A. Friends with the village children.
8. What kind of food did you eat?
A. Grew their own vegtables, rationed. They killed rabbits & pigeons.
9. Have you ever experienced an Air Raid? If so, when?
A. There were 3 bombs that landed in a field, but nothing was destroyed.
10. How did you spend your time?
A. Go to school, play games outside all day, unless it would be raining.
11. Did you go in an underground bunker?
A. Used to work in one at school, but it didn’t serve its purpose.
12. Did your parents vist you?
A. Only once a month.
13. Did you have foster parents?
My Grandad then returned to Tottenham where he lived with his parents. I asked him about VE Day, but he couldn’t remember how it was celebrated.
So that is what happened with my Grandad during the 2nd World War.
MEMORIES OF WORLD WAR 11 – Alex Young’s Family memories.
The whole family were supporting the war effort
My family were incredibly lucky because although we had several members of family who were called up to serve in the army, they all survived without injury.
My grandmother, Barbara Robinson, (now 83) was only two years old when war was declared on 3rd September 1939. The previous year she and her parents had moved from a flat in London to a new house in Edgware. The suburbs did suffer air raids but nothing like those in London. Her grandparents lived in Camden Town, London, where the bombing every night through the Blitz was intense. In fact, she was told that on alternate weekends the family in Camden Town took it in turns to come to Edgware to get a good night’s sleep. As a little girl she remembers the house being full of people but, of course, she did not understand why. Her mother’s father also lived in Camden Town with two of her brothers. Eventually they came to live at the house in Edgware. The house was very full.
Grandma’s father was an engineer and so was her Uncle Arthur. Their jobs were far more valuable during the war because they were helping the war effort. The factory where her father worked made aeroplane wings. So it was far more important that he stayed at home working. Two of his brothers were in the army and her Uncle George was a Desert Rat. He was a convoy driver in the North African desert. After the British won the battle in the North African desert he fought his way up through Italy and was at the battle of Monte Casino where he lost many friends. Many years later, her father told her that the loss of his friends affected him deeply.
Her mother’s older brother, Jim, was a regular soldier. When he was eighteen or nineteen he joined the army and served in India. He was a soldier for many years but when he came out of the army he was put on a reserve list and when war was declared he was immediately called up. He was in Scotland for a few years but would never talk about why. He was a Quarter Master Sergeant and was in control of supplies. Later in the war he served in Belgium and Germany.
Air raids and shelters
My Grandmother can remember running to the brick air raid shelters in the street with her mother and cousin Harry when out shopping, she would have been 4 years old(1941). When the air raid sirens were sounded, one had to take shelter. The siren made a terrible wailing noise. Most households had their own shelters. The Anderson was a shelter in the garden, but my grandma’s family had a Morrison in their front room. It must have been made from reinforced steel because it supposedly took the weight of the room above in the case of a direct hit. My great, great grandpa would never go in. He sat in a big armchair with his overcoat and hat on. If there was an air raid warning her family slept in the shelter. Before that, my grandfather had shored up under the stairs as an area of protection they kept a pick and shovel under the floorboards of the Morrison to dig themselves out in the event of a direct hit and the whole house collapsing around them! When visiting her Nana, who lived in Camden Town, London, she recalls the platforms on the underground were made up with bunks because many people took shelter in the underground at night and some people were so worried they slept there all night.
Her aunt, Frances, had a bungalow on Canvey Island which she left at the start of the war and returned to London to live with the family. My Grandma had been very ill with measles when she was five and went to this bungalow to recoup and get some sea air. On the way to the station there was an air raid and her father pushed her mother and her into an old dirty garage to take shelter. He told my great grandmother to get down on the floor and she refused. The floor was oily and dirty, and she was wearing her best suit and blouse. In those days people dressed up to travel and no way was she ruining her best clothes! She used to keep them boxed and wrapped in tissue, these were precious clothes! He only wanted to protect them from flying debris, but my great grandmother was not having it. No way.
Everyone carried identity cards, grandma’s was pink and she still has it. The policeman at the station at Benfleet (for Canvey Island) inspected their identity cards before letting them through travel was restricted and like COVID 19 people needed a genuine reason to travel. That night after their arrival, she heard the bombers coming up the estuary to bomb London and the ack ack guns were blasting, she remembers being very afraid because it was much worse than where she lived in Edgware.
During their trip to Canvey Island they sat on the beach – people had lifted the barbed wire which they were not supposed to do so as to access the beach.
At the age of 4 or 5 with her new tricycle, my grandmother was out shopping with my mother and suddenly two planes appeared in the sky. A spitfire and a German plane. They were firing at each other with their machine guns and Fred, who was serving in the Co-op rushed out and grabbed my grandmother and put her behind the counter. He shielded her with his body. A very brave man because there could have been a lot of flying glass if a bullet had struck the window.
Being an Evacuee
My grandfather, John Robinson was the youngest of three children and he was nearly eight when war was declared. He remembered much more than my grandmother does. He had a much older brother, George, who was called up to serve in the army. He served in Africa and in Norway. His older sister, Margaret worked at St Georges Hospital in London.
Mr grandfather was evacuated to Northampton at the start of the war but came home again because the expected bombing was not too bad. He lived in Willesden in London. Later on he was evacuated to Wales. He was supplied with a goody bag containing chocolate and a tin of corned beef possibly as an incentive for this hosting family? One of his tasks within the host family was to collect a cooked lunch for a family member from the local church, kept quite short of food and rations being closely controlled, my grandfather, who loved his food throughout his whole life, was known to raid half the plate of food before he had delivered it to its recipient! He remembers there being animosity and fighting between host and evacuee children, he remembers often being back against the wall and fighting his way out of situations. He recalls the weekends were more fun, they often played wild west
games with the milkman’s horse up in the mountains. This whole experience was not one he remembered fondly; he suggested his hosts were not as nurturing as he required, him being away from home at such a young age. He did though learn various Welsh phrases he used intermittently throughout his life and my mum still remembers the Welsh for bread and butter( Bara Menyn) as he requested various items to be passed to him speaking in Welsh, (accent and all), every Sunday at family breakfast for years!!
On his return from South Wales, my Grandad remembers his much older sister Margaret bringing home various visiting, military boyfriends from France, Canada and America to sample home cooking. Mr grandfather and his father would take them up to London to show them the sights. Unfortunately, Margaret’s favourite boyfriend was killed in action, however she went on to marry another airman Don Pilgrim after the war in 1948 and they lived happily ever after!
My grandfather John, remembers being far too close for comfort on several occasions when German planes flew overhead, chased by Spitfire planes, hearing the machine guns and on one occasion one of the planes exploded, uncomfortably near, he realised he was witnessing V1 rockets in action.
A lady who lives down my road and has always lived there shared this photo from VE Day 75 years ago. It’s the houses opposite my house.