The History Place - Personal Histories

A Girl's Life in London
by Margaret

Section Six of Six

The Last Year of the War

There were only three weeks left of the school term, so Mum didn't send me to my new school until September. I was allowed to play in the street, because it was a quiet cul-de-sac with a little green, and Mum's brother and his family lived opposite. There were lots of other children. While they were at school, I played 'house' in the Anderson shelter, and one exciting morning, watched Grandpa burn out a nest of wasps which had set up in the earth covering the shelter. I also helped him in the garden, weeding and planting, and picking fruit and vegetables. And I helped prepare the fruit and vegetables for cooking and preserving. There were still plenty of air raid warnings, but that summer was a happy time.

In September, however, things changed. The elderly couple had moved on, so we now slept upstairs in the house, and I didn't feel safe. I would have liked to stay in the shelter. I hardly saw Dad at all, because he now had a long bike ride to the Underground Terminus to get to work, instead of just hopping on a tram at the bottom of the street. Mum was ill, and so was Grandpa. The children at my new school bullied and tormented me, and the rockets started.

There were no warnings for these, and they were so powerful that even if you were several miles from where they landed, you could feel the ground shake when they went off. Some of the kids called them 'Flying Gas Mains,' but as with the buzz-bombs, Dad was given some guarded information about what they really were, because of his job. Suddenly a Morrison shelter appeared in the front room, and Mum and I slept in it. Sometimes Dad slept there too, and sometimes when he was really late getting home he would sleep in the Anderson. Grandma and Grandpa said they were too old to worry. If they were going to be blown to bits, they would rather be together and sleep in their own bed.

One day I was playing in the street with my doll's pram and a precious doll with a china head that had belonged to my cousin. She gave it to me to make up for losing Teddy and my little black baby doll. A rocket landed close by and shook the ground so severely that I lost my footing and fell over. As I was picking myself up, a man dashed headlong to take shelter in our front porch, knocking over the pram. The doll rolled out and her head shattered on the pavement. I ran after him screaming and punched him and kicked him. Mum opened the door on the row and told me off, and tried to make me apologize, but I wouldn't! I said he was a coward and had broken my doll, and he should apologize to me. Though even if he did, it wouldn't bring my doll back. He said he would pay for another one, but we all knew that no amount of money could buy a china doll in Britain in 1944.

One morning soon after, I refused to go to school. I still don't know why, except that I wanted to stay close to Mum. Dad picked me up, put me outside the six foot high back gate and bolted it on the inside. I sat on the ground crying. A while later, a lady came along the back lane and said, "Have you been shut out?" When I nodded, she said, "Never mind," and reached over and opened the gate for me. Dad was furious when he saw me come in and sent me straight to my room with orders to Mum and Grandma that I was to have nothing to eat or drink until the next day. He took all my toys and books away too.

Another time, the sirens went off while we were all sitting at the table having tea and I ran from the room and dived into the Morrison shelter. Dad hauled me out and said I was stupid and a coward (I knew that!) and made me apologize to everyone for leaving the table without permission. I suppose everyone was on the verge of becoming a nervous wreck. I didn't do either of those things again, so Dad's harshness worked. But I began biting my fingernails, developed a nervous cough and a habit of rolling my eyes back in my head. I also began air-swallowing. None of these habits endeared me to my friends or the family, in fact, they all found me downright irritating.

Just before Christmas, there was a family conference and it was decided that Mum, Dad and I should live in the front room and use our two bedrooms, and give Grandma and Grandpa the exclusive use of the back room. Of course our room had the Morrison in it, so it was pretty cramped in there, and Mum and Dad were very angry and blamed me. What I didn't realize, and they never told me, was that Grandpa was dying of cancer.

But we could now take down the blackout curtains and some of the shops had lights in their windows for Christmas. The street lights went on, though only on half-power. We had a little Christmas tree in our room with real lights. Although there was no stocking that year, when I came downstairs on Christmas morning, there was a wonderful doll's house - an old one, but that didn't worry me, and it had been completely re-decorated and furnished, using great ingenuity. There was even a copper with a lid, made from a little round dye carton. Under the tree were two fleets of tiny boats, made by my Grandpa, from mussel shells, match sticks, and bits of the linen we used to cover the windows when the glass had gone. One fleet was left in natural blue and pearly white. The other was painted gold!

The winter of 1944-45 was long and bitter. Snow lay on the ground for weeks and the roads were icy. Buildings were cold and damp because of the fuel shortages, and we children were allowed to wear our outdoor clothes in the classroom. The buzz-bombs and rockets kept coming and everyone was miserable.

But Spring came at last, and Grandpa got me to help him plant the potatoes and the broad beans. At the end of March, we had seen the last of the rockets and buzz-bombs. Unfortunately, Grandpa died in the bedroom next to mine only a couple of weeks before VE-Day.

It was a school holiday, and we kids found some green gooseberries on the allotments and ate rather a lot of them. I ate the most, because everyone agreed I had the right to more because it was my uncle's allotment. Of course, I was afraid to tell Mum why I was sick when I got home, and she put me to bed thinking I might be really ill. So I had to watch the huge bonfire that had been built in the Close, with its effigy of Hitler, from my bedroom window.

A few weeks later, there was a huge street party. Food parcels had begun to arrive from overseas, so there were things we hadn't eaten for years, like jellies and tinned peaches. There was even some home-made ice-cream. It was really frozen custard, but we didn't care!

But though the bombing was over, and the food parcels were lovely, the shortages got much worse. The men were still overseas, either fighting in the Far East or in the Army of Occupation in Germany.

Then we read about the Hiroshima Bomb and the one dropped on Nagasaki and finally the war was really over. VJ-Day was in August 1945 and there were more street parties. The war had lasted nearly six years, and for most of it, we Londoners had been in the Front Line.

Copyright © 1999 by Margaret All Rights Reserved

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