Monday, 30 June 2014

Grandma's WWII

My husband's Grandma (Kathleen Hooper nee Richards) was nine years old when World War II broke out in 1939. She lived at 102 Cumberland Road, Hanwell, West London. She was friends with another Kath, who was 2 years older than her. Their parents were friends, through the Salvation Army.

Kath was evacuated from London when she was 10. She went to stay with one of her father's colleagues, Mr Whiteway, (who he met when serving during WWI) who lived with his family in Lyndale, Lancashire. It was a small village and there were only two classes for all of the village children at the local school. Mrs Whiteway was the postmistress. She was middle class and her family were seen as the 'leaders' of the village. She was a kind woman who insisted that the two Kaths drank hot milk every night before bed. It was boiled on the open fire in their kitchen. Kath was happy in Lyndale, but the kids made fun of her London accent. Otherwise, they all got on well. She didn't learn much at the village school - she was too busy having fun.

The two evacuees went with the Whiteways to church on Sunday mornings, and they went for walks in the evening. Sometimes Mrs Whiteway would send the girls with a jug to buy milk from a nearby farm (fresh from the cow.) One evening, they took their time going back home and it was getting dark. They saw some sheep in one field, which was ok, but then they came upon another field filled with large ugly creatures that made a horrible sound. The girls sat down and cried. They were too afraid to keep walking through the field. Soon the farmer found them, sitting there in the grass. He told them that it was safe- the terrifying animals were only turkeys. The farmer put Kath on the handlebars of his bike and leant the other Kath a bike to ride, and made sure they got home ok. They were told off for getting back after dark.

Kath and Kath only stayed there for a few summer months. They saw it as a bit of a holiday but they did miss their families. Soon they went sent back home to London - just in time for the start of the Blitz.

Kath's father was too old to serve in the forces, so he volunteered for home war work. His job was to boil up water at his home in a huge urn, and then take it to the bomb sites to serve tea to those who had just been bombed out. He also used his own car to drive injured people to the closest hospital. It was a harrowing job, seeing the immediate after-effects of the Blitz. No doubt he witnessed many terrible injuries and dead bodies. He found it very stressful, and sometimes Kath would see him shaking in fear as he headed out to help. She quite liked the idea of making tea for people, but was told firmly that "it's no place for children."

People could choose to sleep in the underground overnight if they wished, and many did. Bunk beds were set up and there was a communal atmosphere. There would be sing-songs through the night, as the bombs landed overhead. You would then head back home in the morning to get dressed and go to work. Kath asked her parents if she could sleep in the tube one night, but was told no. They had an air-raid shelter in their garden. If the siren was going off, Kath would be put to bed by her mum in the shelter, and her mum would then head back to the house to make dinner for her dad. They would then join the children (Kath and her older brother Den) to sleep in the shelter overnight.

When there was a lull in the bombing, Kath would visit her friend Kath who lived in Bayswater. She would take the trolley bus to get there. If there was another raid while she was out, she would just head to the nearest shelter. Older Kath lived in a block of flats, and her father (Mr Truman) was the head porter. Her friend had a bedroom in the old maid's room of the building, which was right next to the porters' rooms. Mrs Truman would put the girls to bed and then head back to her room. One of the porters would them let them out and they would sneak out to Hyde Park. They would wander around a bit, buy some chips, and then head back home to eat them. Mrs Truman never said anything, but surely she smelt the distinct odour of chips in the room?

Kath's school was open as education was supposed to continue as normal. On one occasion, their home was fenced off from the school- there were some unexploded bombs that they had to walk past. Kath had to go into school, walking closely past the bombs, collect homework, and then head back home to do it. Not surprisingly, not a lot of learning was actually done during this time. Although Kath did pass her 11 plus and got into grammar school. While she was there, the whole school was evacuated to Torquay. But Kath did not want to go, and her mother did not want her to go either. So she stayed home in London.

When she was 16, Kath attended Pitman's College to study book-keeping and commerce. The college did not have an air-raid shelter, so when there was a raid, everyone took what books or tabulations that they could and sat under one of the stone staircases. They were considered safe as did not tend to fall down if a building was hit.

Kath's brother Den left home when he was 16 to train as an architect. He went to Wessex and stayed with his Auntie Nancy and cousin Ron. Den was called up when he was 18 to the Middle East. Kath is not sure how many countries he served in, but she does remember getting postcards from Egypt. Den helped to design the Bailey bridge - a temporary bridge that was used by the army during the war.
Click for more info on the Bailey bridge.

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