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Life in London as a teenager

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posted on 2024-06-05, 19:46 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

This is the story of Elizabeth Dove, who lived near Clerkenwell throughout the Second World War, where her father was a vicar. Because the vicarage had plenty of room, the house was constantly full of people needing help and accommodation for one reason or another.

She was a member of the Women's Junior Air Corps and at the end of the war became a member of the Auxiliary Fire Service.

Elizabeth died 3 years ago but before she died she wrote an account of these times. Joy Mcfall as executor of Elizabeth's will has made this account available, knowing it would be Elizabeth's wish.

Here are some random jottings from my life living in the centre of London with my mum and dad during the Second World War. I was 13 years of age at the outbreak of the war in 1939 and very much a home - lover having no wish to evacuate. There was no schooling as such but I was able to continue my education as well as learning shorthand and typewriting at Pitman's College in Southampton Row. I used to walk down there from my home in Myddelton Square in Clerkenwell, never quite knowing whether I would be able to get there or not! Roads and houses might well have been bombed overnight leaving craters, debris and general disorder. At Pitman's we used to go down into the basement for lessons should there be an air raid.

We lived in a large Victorian house with a church in the centre of the Square where my father was the vicar. Our house front door was always open, day and night for anyone to come in for help or a chat, especially if they had been bombed or flooded out. (The Metropolitan Water Board's reservoir was at the tip of our Square and was often bombed. It was nothing unusual for them to arrive with cases and bags containing the only possessions they had left. One day, after a particularly bad (air) raid overnight we had a house full of people. My mother said to a man something about his wife who was standing next to him and he said "My wife? I've never seen her before!!"

We also had a couple of people billeted on us (large house plenty of bedrooms). One was Storm Brevig from the Norwegian Navy whose headquarters was The County Hotel in Woburn Place and the other was Mr Tarpey, a Special Constable. He loathed his night duties and was always cold on them, so Mother used to bake him two jacket potatoes, one for each pocket to keep his hands warm!

We had a full house of Servicemen from overseas, particularly from Canada, when they were on leave. We managed the occasional dance or party for them.

Every night of the war, Miss Edwards, who lived a few doors away would come in and spend the night with us in our basement. If there was no raid she would take out her false teeth and wrap them in newspaper. There they would remain until the following morning unless there was a raid during the night when there would be a rustle of paper and out would come the teeth!

Mrs Nichols, an elderly neighbour who was a delight, used to go to bed every night fully dressed as he didn't want to be found with no clothes on! (The chances were that the clothes would be blown off anyway with a bomb!). She was always dressed completely in black with long buttoned boots and a big hat.

During the night raids we used to play Monopoly and a card game called Victory, which consisted fo the German and English Chiefs of Staff. The game was to kill off the enemy. Good light-hearted fun and these games certainly took one's mind off the bombing.

The house we lived in had a large basement so we had no need to go to the outside shelter. We lived in the hope that the other four floors would not come crashing down on top of us! My worst fear during the war was being buried alive, but luckily that never happened. I was happiest when out of doors.

The windows of the house were very high and completely blacked out. Curtains were not enough for this so I helped my father make wooden frames which we covered with thick brown paper. These fitted tightly into the window frames. We had some fifteen rooms, so it was quite a job during the rounds every night. Mr Hickman, ARP (Air Raid Precautions) warden would walk the streets every night checking for chinks of light. It was very reassuring to recognise his slow steady footsteps that I can still hear in my head.

Myddleton Square received a direct hit i.e. a bomb exploded on it. Mercifully, it missed our house but it blew the windows out. Much of the time we lived behind boarded up windows.

We did not notice that it seemed to be the same families who got bombed out time and time again. No sooner had they been re-housed, then down came another bomb. Downhearted. No, not at all.

Torch batteries - number 8 if you were lucky! - were extremely hard to come by, so we used to cut out discs of luminous card which you could buy and put them into torches under the glass. They remained bright for a while after the torch was switched off which helped one see in the dark streets.

In the morning after the air raids my father and I would go out and collect shrapnel, which had fallen into the streets from overnight anti-aircraft fire. It was horrible jagged metal - not the sort of thing to have falling on your head! These guns were manned by A.T.S (Auxiliary Territorial Service) girls as well as men.

And then, of course, there were the cumbersome gas masks in their square boxes which had to be carried everywhere!

On the night of the Great City of London fire we were able to read a newspaper a mile away by the light of the blaze. The Church railings and in fact all the railings in the Square, were taken away to make ammunition, as happened all over London. But I gather that they were never actually used.

I used to cycle around the local area delivering parcels and goods for the W.V.S. (Women's Voluntary Service). These included ear plugs to help deaden the noise of the raids!
We had a barrage balloon in Holford Square which was a couple of squares away and it used to be great fun to go and watch the R.A.F. boys and the W.A.A.F (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) girls manoeuvring the great giant. It was a work of art bringing it down as it was housed in a very small space. The most difficult times were when the winds were high. One day the cable of this balloon wound itself round one of the pinnacles of our church resulting in the pinnacle crashing through the church roof. As I sit writing this some sixty years later I still have vivid memories of standing on our first floor balcony watching this spectacle which in its way was exciting.


Some of the folks where we lived did not take their full grocery rations particularly butter and we were sometimes lucky enough to be allowed to buy any surplus so, although food was tight, we never really went short. Occasionally my father would wander down to the local street market and would come back with a large tin of biscuits and a broad grin on his face! Biscuits were not actually rationed but they were hard to come by. Also, instead of buying sweets on the sweet ration you could get sugar and make your own sweets, thereby getting more!

After the War broke out I joined the W.J.A.C. (Women's Junior Air Corps - known at the Jacks) which trained youngsters for service in the W.A.A.F. We were stationed at St Martins School of Art in Charing Cross Road. Such was the lack of traffic that we learnt our squad drill up and down Charing Cross Road. Try doing that this year (2003). We had to buy our own uniforms out of our precious clothing ration. I became a Sergeant and my mother sewed hooks on to my Sergeants stripes so that I could remove them before washing my shirt. One day I forgot to take them off which had a disastrous result - a multi-coloured shirt.

My school was one of the first casualties of the blitz. It received a direct hit killing the army personnel who had been stationed in it.

We lived life to the full, not knowing whether we would see the next day. Talking of which, when I had finished my studies at Pitman's, I went to work in an educational agency in Conduit Street off Regent Street (I was too young to join the armed forces). One Sunday morning a bomb razed this building to well below the ground level. Had it been a weekday and don't forget we all worked on Saturdays in those days, I would not be writing this to you now!

All-in-all I guess it was an exciting time for a youngster to grow up. Everyone was so busy working and helping the war effort that there was no time for nastiness. We all helped one another out, and I was really proud to be a part of it. I am certainly richer for the experience.

History

Item list and details

(1) Elizabeth aged 18. (2) Elizabeth in her Womens Junior Air Corps uniform (3) Elizabeth in Myddleton Square (4) Elizabeth at 90 in her Auxiliary Fire Service Uniform

Person the story/items relate to

Elizabeth Dove

Person who shared the story/items

Joy McFaul

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

Joy Mcfall is executor of Elizabeth's will

Type of submission

Shared at West Meads Community Hall, West Sussex on 11 November 2023. The event was organised by Bognor Regis u3a.

Record ID

108887 | BOG072