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World War 2 as a Teenager: Brother Rescued from Dunkirk

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

I was born in 1926 and lived in Shortlands, Bromley, with my parents and younger brother and sister. My older brother was in the army. I remember sitting in the house with my parents, hearing the announcement that war had been declared. One of my first wartime memories was collecting my gas mask, which we hated and were not comfortable to wear. My sister, as a 9-month-old baby, had a cradle-type gas mask. I don't remember being scared; I didn't fully understand, and I was a teenager. We had our own Anderson Shelter, and when the sirens went, usually early evening, we would go in.

My brother, Leonard Town, joined the Royal West Kent Regiment and went to France in 1939. He was rescued off the beach at Dunkirk. He didn't talk about it much but said that he had a tin of sardines and a tin of condensed milk and was on the beach for three days before he could be rescued. On the train coming home through England, soldiers were throwing letters out of the window to be posted to their loved ones to say that they had survived. Leonard went to Wales and from there to North Africa, where he was injured at El Alamein. When he recovered, he joined the Military Police and remained in North Africa until the end of the war. He wrote regularly, but sadly I have lost the letters and photos.

I was not evacuated; I could have been, but my mother didn't want that to happen. I continued to go to school. If the sirens went while I was at school, we went into the shelter. We still played and cycled; the days were almost ordinary, it was the evenings when the bombs started. I do remember seeing the red sky over London during the Blitz and hearing many planes go over. Planes had different sounds, and you learned to tell the difference between ours and the Germans'.

We weren't hungry; my father had an allotment, and we kept chickens and rabbits, another source of food. We did have to queue for rations. We also had an extra milk ration as my sister was a baby. I remember my father winning a live goose in a raffle, and that was a real treat.

My father was a builder by trade, and he was in Heavy Rescue in Eltham, 24 hours on and 24 hours off. I remember a doodlebug nearby which destroyed some homes, and my father was over like a shot, getting people out. Our own home only suffered some broken windows.

I left school at 16, I think in 1943, and went to work as a secretary for a firm that made weapons, so my job was a reserved occupation. It was evacuated from Leicester Square to Chislehurst. I was sent home one day as a message came saying they had bombed Shortlands. Luckily, no one had been hurt, and the bomb had fallen on the church.

I remember many different nationalities at the dances we used to go to. We were not afraid to be out and about in the dark. We used to go to the Times Club, a lovely sports centre, where I used to play badminton, but it also hosted dances. We had a good time with lots of different dance partners, doing the waltz, quickstep, and other dances, and drinking shandy.

I met a friend in 1932, and we used to go to those dances together and drink shandy. The men were mainly Ack Ack from the Royal Artillery. It's amazing that I am still in touch with that friend I met in 1932, and we still chat on the phone.

In 1944, we were cycling in Sevenoaks and were passed by tanks, tanks, and more tanks. It was great fun as all the soldiers were waving at us. Of course, I knew later that they were all moving down to the coast in advance of D-Day.

I didn't go into London on VE Day; we celebrated at the badminton club. I was fortunate that I only knew one person who was killed during the war, and that was a friend of my brother.

Even in the blackout, I wasn't frightened being out and about as everyone seemed to look out for everyone else, and we just got on with it.


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Person the story/items relate to

Doris Salsbury

Person who shared the story/items

Doris Eileen Salsbury

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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

105244 | BOG016