War revisited

When I was browsing on the computer I found this essay which I wrote at the request of our younger granddaughter, Cassie, who was doing a project on the War. John also wrote his experience for her. Although it covers much of what I’ve already written I’m adding it to the blog.

When the war began I was 12 years old. On 3rd September 1939 I was in Kilmacolm Parish Church when, just as the service was starting, a message was brought to the Minister. He told a silent group that we were at war with Germany. Women who had sons wept. The minister prayed, then said we should all go to our homes. My mother and my sister, who was 6, had heard Mr. Chamberlain on the wireless. Annabel and I thought it was very exciting but we didn’t know how dreadful it would be. The air raid siren went off that day and gave everyone a shock, it was such a frightening sound. But it wasn’t a raid – just testing.

There were few bombs in our area, and all were on the fields around the village. Shrapnel from air fights would fall on the streets though. My Dad had a steel helmet when he was on duty fire-watching at night. Incendiary bombs started fires very quickly and buckets of water and stirrup pumps were used to douse the fires.

Evacuee children came from Glasgow with their teachers. A girl called Irene stayed with us for a while, but gradually the evacuees went home. Greenock had heavy bombing and many people were killed. Houses were reduced to rubble and fires were everywhere. My Dad took me with him when we got a bus to the edge of Greenock, then had a long walk to get to my Grandma and Grandpa’s house which was undamaged. None of our relatives were killed. My cousin and his wife had a narrow escape. The bombs had hit the sugar refinery and molten sugar was running down streets. Their house was damaged and they were running to get away with their baby daughter carried between them in her carry cot when a German plane swooped and machine-gunned the street. Charlie felt a thud on his heel and when they got to a safer place he found the heel of his shoe had been shot away. When I heard about that I thought war isn’t exciting at all, it’s dangerous and cruel and wrong.

Peter Fraser [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Peter Fraser [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Rationing was extremely severe compared to today’s diets, but people were healthier on it than many are nowadays. Butter, margarine and cheese – about two ounces per week. Butcher meat and bacon – about one shilling’s worth per week. Eggs – not every week and one per person. Bread was on points, as was clothing, dress materials, bed linen. Grans were never so popular and sometimes had spare clothes coupons! No bananas or oranges for the duration. Babies got bottled orange juice and rosehip syrup. People were encouraged to grow vegetables instead of flowers – Dig for Victory. We only got fruit and vegetables that were grown in Great Britain, no imported stuff. It wasn’t easy to satisfy healthy appetites and the men usually did best. I don’t like sugar in tea or coffee, probably because my Dad had a very sweet tooth!

The Brownies, Guides and Scouts, etc., collected scrap metal such as old pans and kettles, and metal railings were all cut down for the war effort, supposedly to make aeroplanes. Coal was rationed which was a problem for old folk like my Scottish Granny and Grandaddy who lived in a cottage outside Kilmacolm and cooked with a range which burned coal.

I left school when I was 14 years and 8 months old and had a job in an ironmonger’s shop, which seemed more like play than work. Banks had always been a job for the male sex but when the men were called up, they had to employ women and I was among the first women to join a bank. It was January 1941 and I was 15. I was doing a man’s job and also helping the war effort by selling war savings stamps to a group of people I called on each week.

I was a letter writer to quite a list of cousins and other people who were in the armed services. Only one of the people I wrote to died in the war, and he was a local boy and brother of my friend Elma. He died on Hogmanay 1943. My Mum knitted lots of soft toys for charities that benefited servicemen, plus socks and scarves. We followed the progress of the war daily with maps and wireless reports. There were many dark times, such as Dunkirk, but we never doubted that our side would win. We also thought there would never be such a dreadful war again. We were wrong.

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2 thoughts on “War revisited

  1. Lovely evocative post; my parents met in 1944 courtesy of a doodlebug when they were 17 and 18. They remembered the excitement of London though like you were well aware of the horrors too. Extraordinary times

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  2. Thanks for reading this. Good to here from a Londoner, my Dad’s family were Woolwichers who came to Greenock R.N.T.F. In 1910 when he was nine years old. Will look you up later. All good wishes for the new book.

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