I have many vivid memories of living as a child during the Second World War. We had a coal house which had a door directly into the kitchen, which Dad converted into an air raid shelter. I lay on the bench which Dad had made from my child size deck chair, and Mum and Dad sat with their legs under the bench. We were in this shelter during the November 14th blitz on Coventry, which lasted from seven o’clock in the evening until six o’clock the next morning. I recall keeping my fingers in my ears to blot out the constant whistling of the bombs falling.
Dad tried to get to work on his bike that morning and I remember him coming back saying ‘it’s all gone, everywhere is on fire’ and he was crying. Dads didn’t cry, did they.
It was soon after this that Dad dug an Anderson shelter into our back garden. We had this in time for the nightly air raids in April 1941. I recall going to bed in the shelter instead of the house for several nights running. Between these air raids we had an RAF Balloon Barrage site installed at the rear of our house. Twelve airmen arrived at the camp, but as there were no facilities laid on to start with, the residents of the three houses were asked to allow four airmen each to come into our houses to wash, shave, and have a bath. During the April raids I remember one of these men used to come over the back fence and peep into the shelter to see if we were OK.
A little later a hostel was built alongside the site to house young women who were sent from all over the country to work in the munitions factories. At Christmas, us children would go carol singing at the hostels where the girls would give us some coppers or some of their sweet ration. They had film shows once a week in the main hall, and would take us to see the film if it was suitable for us – with our parents permission of course!
Chickens and ducks
Mum and Dad kept ducks and chickens at the bottom of our garden to supplement our rations, so we always had a plentiful supply of eggs. The ducks were like pets and we gave them names such as Spats and Blondie. What a shock at Sunday lunch when Mum said that this is Blondie we’re eating!
At school we had regular gas mask and air raid shelter drill. Our shelter was below ground, which we entered down a long slope. Part of the practice was to climb the escape route, which was via a ladder fixed to the wall. We then escaped through a manhole cover. We girls hated doing this as the boys could see our knickers! This drill was relaxed as the fear of raids and invasion diminished.
The war in Europe was over, time for celebrations. I don’t remember whether we had a day off school, I expect we had some sort of celebration. I remember the excitement everywhere. No more black out, lights could be shown everywhere. I can remember street parties and dancing in the streets. long tables were put up in the street and people brought what food they could for the celebrations. Food was still rationed, but the tables seemed to be laden. I recall someone wheeling a piano out into the street and gramophones being placed on walls for dancing.
A group of us children lit a bonfire on the wide grass verge outside the front of our house which we kept going for days. We had great fun cooking the food our Mums had found for us, I expect we had plenty of eggs. There was always a Mum around to see that we were safe. I think we did these bonfires both at the VE and VJ celebrations in August.