You, You & You! Introduction

UUU restored cover_edited-1

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Foreword by Angus Calder (1981)

Angus Calder, 1942 - 2008

Angus Calder, 1942 – 2008

When I first saw Pete Grafton’s manuscript, I was interested, later enthralled – but slightly suspicious.  This boat the Dunera, for instance – the name didn’t seem to be spelt right, and I found it hard to believe the horrible story of conditions on board, and the plundering of alien detainees by regular troops.

Since then, two accounts of the internment of aliens have appeared in print.  They make it clear beyond any doubt at all that the voyage of the Dunera was as scandalous as Pete Grafton’s interlocutor suggested.  One of them shows that the military commander of the ship committed to paper his view that the Nazis who formed a minority on the voyage were fine, upstanding, well disciplined types, whereas the Austrian and German Jews who formed a majority were ‘subversive’ and arrogant.

I will always think that the war waged by Britain, a capitalist and imperialist country, against Nazism was worth supporting.  If Nazism had been left to collapse of its own internal contradictions, the lives of millions in Europe would have been shortened, stultified, mutilated corrupted, even as compared with those they could expect under capitalism.  But victory over Nazism helped the British ruling class confuse the ruled, and even themselves.  The myths of the war which Pete Grafton first encountered in those effable fifties movies suggested that national unity had mysteriously abolished, not class distinctions, but their nastiness.  The uniformly heroic British people had ‘muddled through’ bravely and their triumph against odds showed that prevailing middle class values were good ones.

The myth of 1940 has been especially potent.  It evolved spontaneously, I think.  Churchill’s speeches and Priestley’s broadcasts, uttered at the time, became part of it, gave it headlines and shape, though it could not stabilise until after Hilter’s invasion of Russia and the entry of the USA into the war had made a ‘happy ending’ virtually certain.

The revolt of a few Tory backbenchers against Neville Chamberlain brought to the premiership the man chiefly responsible for Britain’s disastrous defeat in Norway – but according to the myth, Churchill was somehow hoisted to his throne by the Will of the People.  ‘Dunkirk’ was one of the worst military disasters in British history, yet, thanks partly to Priestley’s rhetoric, the word came to symbolise triumph.  The Luftwaffe did not  have planes designed to knock the RAF out of the war, nor to bomb British cities flat.  But technical matters were ignored as the ‘Battle of Britain’ became an epic of chivalry and the negative fact that British morale had not collapsed under bombing was transformed into the positive myth that everyone had acted heroically.

When my book, The People’s War, appeared in 1969, I was both delighted and dismayed by the press coverage it got.  Delighted, because any author likes such wide publicity.  Dismayed, because so many reviewers, especially in the provincial press, either asserted the myth of 1940 as the truth and chided me for not being alive at the time and/or for being too left-wing to accept the truth – or, worse still, praising me for confirming the myth.  I think only one reviewer (not a left-wing one) really spotted that the core of my work, on which I’d expended most conscious effort, was to do with industry in wartime.  Bored women in war jobs, striking miners and absentees, didn’t fit into the Myth.  So they were ignored, just as the internees of the Dunera were so thoroughly forgotten that I’d missed them completely while working towards my book.

So I’d recommend Pete Grafton’s book warmly.  It shows us so many things that have been forgotten because they ‘don’t fit in’.  Neither the heroics of Angels One-Five, nor the delightful comedy of Dad’s Army, represent the dominant strains in British life during the war years.  Boredom, frustration, fear, anger, class, class and class again were at least often to the fore.

We can’t do without myths.  Writing my own book, I was un-consciously forging a left-wing myth, some critics would say a ‘populist’ one.  I think now that it is the task of historians to create myths.  But we need to remake the myth of 1939 – 1945 so that the aliens herded into rat-infested camps, the socialists who, in some confusion, supported the CP-led People’s Convention, the families who trekked from blitzed cities to save their lives, the soldiers who felt trapped in an inhuman military system, cannot be forgotten.  To defeat Nazism, as one poet put it, meant defending the bad against the worse.

Note (2013)  The People’s War has been continuously in print since it was first published in 1969.  It is available in paperback, published by Pimlico, London.

Introduction by Pete Grafton (2013)

“If a mythical version of the war still holds sway in school textbooks and television documentaries, every person who lived through those years knows that those parts of the myth which concern his or her own activities are false.”   –  Angus Calder, The People’s War

Angus was three when the Second World War ended in August, 1945.  I was three weeks old, born between VE and VJ day.  Neither of us lived through those war years, but both of us grew up as young boys  in a Britain where the war – and the victory of the Allies – was continually around us.  The victory was, as far as we knew, down to the British, and if you lived in England, specifically down to the English, and the English character, the English common sense, the innate English intelligence.  Yes, the Americans had the numbers, they had the equipment, but they were a bunch of loud-mouthed incompetent amateurs.  (The USSR didn’t even register in a young  schoolboy’s consciousness.)

The war was tangible, from a young male British perspective, because your fellow class mates, and your friends, all had parents who ‘did something’ in the war.  So and so’s Dad had been in the Navy and was on the first wave of D Day.  Another had been a Spitfire Pilot, or so they claimed.  Another was at El Alamein, and so on.  (No-one however  ever mentioned – in my hearing – the equally important work their Mums did during the war.)  We flicked cigarette cards in the playground – pre-war cigarette cards (their inclusion in packets of cigarettes was banned during the war to save on paper and card), that had pictures of pre-war footballers, Kings and Queens of England  and the images on the cigarette cards didn’t seem that anachronistic.  Meanwhile, our parents, most of them still in their twenties ( who’d worked in munitions at 17,  flown on bombing raids over Germany at 19, been on North Atlantic convoys to Russia at 20, had entered concentration camps as part of a liberating army unit at 21 ) robbed of their teenage years were starting to enjoy Harold Macmillan’s “Never Had It So Good” island of commercial telly, legal betting shops, twin tub washing machines and frozen peas.

And bathed in all this was the comforting, surrounding  balm of a Britain that had emerged from the war intact, still one up on the rest of the world, either economically or morally.  (Neither was true, of course)   Kenneth More in Reach for the Sky,  Richard Todd in The Dambusters easily filled cinema seats, despite competition from American films such as Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett, or Elvis in Jailhouse Rock.

Unlike the Germans, we in Britain never had our face pushed in some dreadful truths.  We never had to deal with (or quietly ignore) certain painful realities.  The French had some painful realities, so painful that there was very little discussion about collaboration.  Of all the occupied European countries, France had one of the worst records of active collaboration (both in the occupied and Vichy zones) with the Nazi regime and Nazi ideology.  This really was a ‘Don’t Mention the War’ scenario, broken only by Marcel Ophul’s  The Sorrow and the Pity, that when first screened in Paris cinemas in 1969 had queues going around the street corners.  So sensitive was this recent history that French television didn’t screen the Sorrow and the Pity until 1981.

As I write, in 2013, the British myths about the Second World War within popular culture are more deeply embedded than they were in 1981 when You, You & You! was published.   There is a far greater – and unhealthy – intolerance now in popular culture (with the attendant  “Help for Heroes” and Red Poppy Day promotions) to questioning those myths.  The fact that the bulk of witnesses from that time still living is negligible is part of the reason. The Boulting Brothers’ 1956 film Private’s Progress or Peter Cook’s 1961 Beyond the Fringe sketch Aftermyth of War didn’t seriously ruffle too many feathers because there would be an amused acknowledgement, for the viewers of the time, of the truths they contained.  The Second World War in British popular culture is now mostly air-brushed and emasculated into the Heritage/Entertainment Business (UK).  In addition, the sense of identity attached to ‘Victory’ results in a pernicious follow-on from these mythologies:  that military aggression is legitimate. The United States, the USSR, the British and the French continued fighting wars, post 1945,  to deny the wish for democracy in their colonies and areas of influence, whilst simultaneously claiming that they had fought the Second World War to preserve freedom and democracy, or workers’ rights (take your pick).  The idea of military aggression as a political strategy still predominates with their governments, and with their main opposition parties.   Thankfully, within post-war Germany and Japan this is not a view largely shared by successive governments, nor by most of their citizens.

Unlike Angus in his 1981 introduction to You, You & You!, I don’t believe it is the role of a historian to create a myth, or a counter myth.  He or she may unwittingly do so, and any intelligent historian will be aware of the constraints on themselves observing things from within their own time, their own class, their own culture, or gender, and their own unconscious need for things as they would like them to have been.  Moreover, the idea of historians creating a myth is a bit fanciful, a bit like George Orwell’s futile idea to have left-wing comics for children, or Freud’s notion in  Future of an Illusion to replace religion with something else.  Like religion, myths are irrational, serving an emotional need about identity, about belonging.

In the meantime, You, You & You! remains an accessible corrective to some of the British Second World War myths, told by a generation – my parents generation – who mostly are no longer with us.  It is for this writer the strangest fact that when the interviews were done in 1975 there was only a period of thirty years from when the Second World War had ended.  It is now thirty-eight years since those interviews were done, sixty-eight years since the end of the Second World War.

“The first myth it seems to me that should be dispelled is that of a fully informed crusading people determined to fight for freedom against oppression.  Some of my generation boast about their sacrifice for their children, like to tell their kids what they done during the war, to save the country from Hitlerism.  I cannae help but laugh, for there was certainly little praise for the volunteer.

The truth is that most people had to be forced by conscription to fight – despite the greatness of the cause, despite the propaganda against Hitler.  The fact is that less than a quarter of a million had volunteered on top of the four and a half million men who were forced under compulsory conscription.  The stories of sacrifice are just not true.  If they did sacrifice, the war forced them to sacrifice.”

       Walter Morrison, army volunteer

Acknowledgements

My sincere thanks to those whose recollections form the basis of You, You & You!

Arnold Feldman, Anita Finch, Joe Jacobs, Terry & Alice Barrett, John Thorpe, Mrs P. Bolton, Mrs Barton, Doug Hickman, Alice Kriwascek, Harold Lewis, Rene and Ern Cocklin, Edie Miller, George Harris, Bill Berling, Margaret Ransford, Enid Ransford, Frank Grafton, Sylvie Burrows, John and Margaret Miles, Mr and Mrs Boyce, Stan and Marge Guest, John (Jack) Cawkwell, Edie Cawkwell, Mrs O’ Toole,  Mrs Cunningham, Joe Byrne,  Cyril and Alice Jones, George Campbell, Dave Shaw, Douglas Kepper, Jim Roche, Keith Waites, Bill Wall, Irene and Danny McNicol, Douglas Sillars, Evelyn Sillars, Ellaline Sillars, Walter Morrison, Nobby and Alice Robson, Gerd Buchdahl, Iris Wiggins, Phil Sansom.

My thanks to Andy Wiggins for conducting an interview on my behalf, and to Ros Kane for allowing me to use an extract from an interview she did with Douglas Kepper.

The interviews began in December 1975 and ended in December 1976.

In addition, my thanks to Ken Weller, George Williamson, Rick Sumner,  Pete Sutton, Andy Wiggins, John Fletcher and the many others who helped me get in touch with those that I interviewed.

Judy Greenway and Angus Calder read the original manuscript of You, You & You, and I thank them for this and for commenting upon it.

I would also like to thank those that I interviewed who kindly lent me photographs at the time for inclusion in the original 1981 book.  Copyright resides with them, or their estate.  I would like to make clear that those portrayed in the photographs are not necessarily the same as the speaker quoted underneath.

The excellent layout and cover of the 1981 Pluto edition was by Marsha Austin.  I would also like to thank Nina and Mike Kidron of Pluto Press for their attempts at the time to get a larger readership for the original longer book through a deal with Macdonald Futura, a deal that fell through.

This restored and extended on-line version of You, You & You!  was proof read by Liz Willis, whose eagle eye has saved me lots of silly text mistakes.  If any remain, the fault is mine, and my thanks to her for her skills.

The original book was dedicated to the memory of Arnold Feldman.  To his name I also now add Walter Morrison.

Decimal Conversion

When You, You & You! was published in 1981 all readers would still know what a tanner, or 2/6d was.  Money decimalisation had come in only a few years earlier.  Anyone born since  the 1970’s would not now have a clue at either some of the expressions they might encounter – e.g. a ‘thruppeny bit’ or the way pre-decimal money was represented, i.e ‘10/6’.   For this reason these items have been mostly footnoted in the text.

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31 Those That Died

Royal Engineer   I lost mates.  But a lot of it was not when we were going into attacks.  The first six, half dozen was three weeks after D Day.  We dug into this field by the side of the river, by Bénouville Bridge.  They was laying out there sunbathing, which they shouldn’t have done really.  I’d been on guard the night beforehand – I was off.  I was laying in my hole.  I’d dug a hole in the ditch and put a door over the top.

They was laying out there sunbathing and they slung about a dozen 88 shells – which was his favourite gun, that 88 gun.  You could hear it for miles.  You’d hear it go: “Pop-pop” and “Wizzz” and “Crack!” – Big loud “Crack!”  I heard them all hollering and I jumped up and run out.

The driver of my section, he had his leg blown off, back of his head smashed in and he was hollering and shouting.  I run over and covered him up with a blanket.  You couldn’t do nothing else.  There was —- —–, our Corporal.  He never had no shirt on, he was sunbathing and he got up and run to save a little kid that came out a farmhouse.  A lump of shrapnel hit him in the back, and came out his chest.  He was laying there, squealing.  And there was a Sergeant, Sergeant ——-.  He had a big old jack-knife in his belt.  A bit of shrapnel had hit that and pushed it into his back.

We loaded them on the three ton lorry.  We went down the first aid post, which was a big hole dug in the ground with a canvas over it. They took them in there, and they all died in there.

Company Sergeant Major  We was in Abyssinia and a chap came from England.  He was a Sergeant who’d been trained in defusing things.  Knew his job very, very well, as I thought.  We was in a sort of – I wouldn’t say a valley – a big hole, with rocks all round.  There was hundreds of these bloody baboons flying around.  Vicious they were.  We had a load of Italian prisoners, working for us with their big diesel lorries.

One of these lorries had picked up hand-grenades and shells  and rifles, because they were still on the run, the Italians.  This place was the first place where we’d had proper roofs over our heads for ages, because normally we was out in the open all night.  This Sergeant had got this little room all his own.  It was painted white, as they are out there.  I went over and had a word with him about this stuff in the corner.  Anything like that frightened the life out of me, because you only had to touch it, and up it goes.

With this stuff being Italian made, he was experimenting.  I’d left the office and gone over to take the Orderly to his room.  While I was there, there was a terrific explosion.  I jumped in the C.O’s car and went flying over there – it was about 300 yards away – and all I could see was this smoke coming out of this room.  A Sergeant and myself, we dived in there.  Apparently this other Sergeant had tried to defuse an Italian hand-grenade.  He was in a terrible state.  He’d got his head blown off.  A Kenya boy, a white boy, who’d been with him, had taken part of the blast, right in his face.  We grabbed the Sergeant and put him in the car.  He was dying.  It was a beautiful car – it was a Chevrolet, with the column change, when they first came out.  We rushed him down to the hospital, with the old siren going.   I was in the operation theatre when they cut his clothes off.  All his veins were pumping out… – like sprays of blood coming out.  I went outside and I was as sick as a dog.  The Matron came over and said to me “Would you like a bowl of soup?”  And that done it.  I passed out.  The young Kenyan chappie, he was blinded for life.

West Country Girl    I remember the first woman who had her husband killed in the village.  I thought about that a bit.  The ………. Bank was opposite where I worked, and he was a bank clerk there.  She used to come to work with him every morning.  They used to stand in the doorway, hugging and kissing good-bye.  She had two little children when he went.  He was about the first one to get killed in the village, and I thought that was awful, because they had been so in love.  You could see it.

Liverpool Mother   One very, very bad night during the Blitz we hadn’t gone to the shelter.   We had stairs in the kitchen, and there was a cupboard affair under the stairs and in there I used to put a mattress down.  I’d put our two little ones in the cot, with one of the old-fashioned tabletops, that you could lift off the table, over the top.  We didn’t have a bathroom.  I had our John sitting on the table, washing him down, and a bomb came down and all the windows came in on top of him.  I consoled him, and there was a hammering at the door.  I took him with me, with the towel thrown over him, and it was the chap opposite with a boy over his shoulder.   He’d been caught in the blast and brought him in.  I didn’t think anything.  We had a parlour and a kitchen.  He bought him into the parlour and when he put the boy down on the settee – he’s got no head.  Our John seen that and he went into a fit.  He was fairly shaken by that.

Army Driver  In Durban, South Africa, our troopship was parked next door to the battle-cruiser Repulse.  When we got up to Natal Street there was a big Naafi there, for all ranks, and we always used to be on leave with the sailors, and had a bloody good time with them.

On our way across the Indian Ocean it was just us and the Repulse, steaming along for a  few days.  We transferred three matelots from our ship onto the Repulse.  Both ships were stationary in the Indian Ocean.  The only worry was from surface ships, as U Boats didn’t have the range for that area.  Then we went our separate ways, the Repulse wishing us God speed, over the tannoy.

The balloon went up with the Japs on 7th December, 1941, with Pearl Harbour.  We were camped in Iraq when we heard that the Repulse had been sunk with all hands. (1)    And we’d been on leave with all those blokes.   You knew them as Jock or Charlie or Bill, that sort of thing, and when you got on your boat you shook hands – “Best of luck”.   You didn’t know the poor sods had got about a month to live.  That was nothing to the Powers That Be, but it was pretty rough to you, and the poor sods that copped it.  But you didn’t dwell on it.

RAF Ground Gunner   When the V2s were dropping I was still in the RAF Regiment.  We are pulled up at a place just the other side of Romford. (2)    It was a little aerodrome.  There was us and another squadron. we’d gone up there to get the guns all made up again, and to recoup.  One night there was a camp dance and I went to it.  I was dancing with this little Waaf out of the office, a little girl with glasses.   We had the dance on the Sunday.

On Tuesday, four o’ clock in the afternoon we had Bofors guns, and I was No.2.  We was in the hangar and the other squadron was in the other hangar.  Four o’clock it was my turn to do No.4 – that was the bloke who loaded the shells in.  I’d jumped onto the gun and I was just reaching down for a clip of shells and all of a sudden it was bedlam.

I was flat on my back and I was looking up, and there was all the corrugated sheeting falling down off the hangar.  There was blokes lying all over the place, and smoke everywhere.  We all rushed out to the aerodrome.  The other hangar was flat.  The rocket had gone straight into it.  The Squadron Leader, an old boy with glasses, he’s standing there with his arm up, twisted back – back round the back of his neck, and he’s crying “Oh my boys, oh my boys.”

We all rushed into this hangar.  Well, I rushed in and stopped, ‘cos the bloke who was my opposite number to me was sitting on the seat, and all he had was his chest down.  His head and shoulders is gone, and there was all steam coming out.  And there was a bloke’s leg sticking out from underneath the gun.  I got hold of the feet and I was pulling them, but that’s all I was pulling – the feet.  I started vomiting.  I run out, and as I run out I saw a Waaf lying on the floor.  Somebody was just putting a sheet over her, and it was this Waaf I’d been dancing with.  She was face down on the floor but her feet were pointing skywards.

They sent the Waafs on the switchboard home and me and a Corporal was put on the switchboard.  There was a Sergeant in ——– Hospital, he was dying and his wife kept phoning up.  Every time she phoned it was muggins who was taking the call.  I didn’t know what to say.  I kept saying to her “As far as I know you husband is in ——– Hospital, and we’re waiting for reports.”

This went on for about an hour, and then I went for a cup of tea, and this Corporal took over.  He was as thick as a bloody wall.  She came on, and he’d just heard that he’d died.  As she came on he said “Sergeant So and So?  Oh yes, it’s just come through.  He’s dead.”   Just like that.  I thought: you bastard.  I went back and said “What do you want to say that for?”  I could have smashed him.  They lost half the squadron.  A lot of our blokes went into ——– Hospital with shock.  It’s a wonder I didn’t go myself, the way I rushed into that hanger and stopped.  I can still see it now.  That bloke sitting there.

1. Three days after Pearl Harbour HMS Repulse, along with HMS Prince of Wales were torpedoed and bombed by Japanese aeroplanes on 10 October, 1941  and sunk off Kuanton on the Malayan coast.  835 sailors died.

2.  Romford, Essex.

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30 Looking Back

If I knew when the war broke out what I know today…

London Woman  The only thing I’m annoyed with Hitler for was he took seven years of my life (although I enjoyed my years on the buses) at a time when I ought to have been doing all the daft things that people are doing now.  We lost our youth.  I want those seven years back again.  When you think we couldn’t go and buy any clothing without a coupon… – I married my old man for his clothing coupons, and I found he’d given them away!  He probably flogged them.

Winscombe, Somerset Girl   It was miserable for a teenage girl growing up.  If I had any money I didn’t have any coupons.  We didn’t get much in the way of clothes.  When my sister was married we got some lace curtains, dyed them and made them up as a honeymoon nightie.  That’s why I love to buy my daughter clothes now, because at her age – God, I had nothing.  I do feel we lost out on our teenage years.

2nd Winscombe, Somerset Girl, ATS    I didn’t have any teens, like they do today.  I didn’t have any clothes or parties.

Her Husband  And yet you gained something I think.

2nd Winscombe, Somerset Girl   No – you don’t know what it’s like not to have nice clothes.  Always that horrid khaki uniform.

Her Husband, ex-RAF Flight Engineer   I happened to be wearing a uniform that I liked and was very proud of.  It’s perhaps wrong to say it, but I enjoyed my war.

2nd Winscombe, Somerset Girl   I enjoyed the comradeship.

Her Husband   I was doing what I wanted to do.  Youngsters are supposed to be more mature today, aren’t they?  But some of them – I couldn’t see them flying over Germany at 20, sitting in a turret.  Our gunner was 18.

Paratrooper   I’ve often said to the boy “You’re lucky.  When I was your age I had to go in the forces.  I had to go.  From 19 to 24.  Them years was taken away from me.  I couldn’t please myself what I done.  If I went and had a tooth out without telling anybody I was put on a charge, all that silly nonsense.

Army Driver, North African Campaign   I resented that some bloody stupid politicians bring wars about knowing bloody well they’re too old to go themselves.  I thought it was an imposition that I should be yanked out of civvy street and put into something I didn’t want to be part of, but I also had the sense to realise that I couldn’t beat the army.  So if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.  And I made the best of it.  But nothing on earth would make me like it.  Nothing.

People were more together then

Liverpool Woman  When I look back at that period they were happy times.  I can honestly say I enjoyed them years better than I do now.   Everybody was more friendly with each other.  The way it is now, everyone says “Oh bugger you” and draw the curtains.  I’m the same.  I don’t talk to a soul in the street.  It’s not right to live like that is it?  Nobody’s interested in your troubles now.  I’ve been in this street nearly three years and I only know the old woman next door.  I only know her because I speak to her if I see her at the door, and I know Sheila across the road only because her little feller knocks here for the time every night.  But the others, I don’t even know their name.

Jewish Army Private    As a result of the war I learnt more about people, in association with them, in this shifting, moving world, which was so different from the area where you lived all your life, the factory in which you worked all your life.   This enormous opportunity to meet people from all parts of the country – the nation – of seeing people in some terrible circumstances.  Even my detention for striking a superior officer, which was only four months, with remission and so on,  an experience that was horrific in many respects, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, because I learned more about people, not only how petty they can be, but how human they can be as well.

It was only the war that cured the depression

Royal Engineer  Being involved in a war must be the worst time in anybody’s life.  But how can you say?  –  If there hadn’t been a war, there might have been an even bigger depression.  I could have been worse off, because you must admit, it was only the war that cured the depression.

Army Driver, North African Campaign, Londoner     Life has been better since the war.  Say, you’ve got a television – you expect it.  The two of us have worked our guts out to get a little car.  In the old days, if somebody had a car, he’s got to be well heeled, before the war.

There’s been a social  revolution.  The so-called better class can’t get away with it – with walking all over you.  It may not have been a completely good thing in as much as the ignorant bloody people like to rule the roost, and I’d hate to see this country run by this socialist mentality.  Give ’em a bit of power, and look out!  At the same time though, the people I meet up the West End – when I’m delivering their laundry – Lady this and that, if they’d have their way mate, they’d have you back to your bloody cap and apron.  “Stand to attention when I’m talking to you.”  They don’t like the evening up of the other class.

I wouldn’t vote Labour if they were the only party

During the war they were obliged by law to keep your job open.  When I came out I went back into the same job I’d done – driving for the same laundry firm.  But if I’d have known what I know now, I wouldn’t have gone back into it.  It’s got no future.

Our boss says there’s a rise in the pipeline, but there’s no point in having a rise if you have to give it back to pig Healey. (1)    He said “There are some people about who say What’s in it for me?”  Well who the bloody hell doesn’t say “What’s in it for me?”  That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?  He quotes that Germany are doing alright.  Japan are doing alright.  They are doing alright, but they don’t tax their people like they tax us.  We’ve got to have an incentive to go to work, get our coats off and get stuck in.  I wouldn’t vote Labour if they were the only party.

Liverpool Mother   I was only saying the other night, we’re going back to the old recipes we used to have to use.  It’s not the shortage of the food now, it’s the money that’s short.  You’re going back to making those meals, and making things up.  I’ve been to a jumble sale and I got a big white tablecloth.  They’re making fun of me.  They’re saying “Me Mother’s going funny in her old age!”  Me daughter said “Mother, you’re terrible, you’re buying all the rubbish that’s going.”  You see this table cloth?  If I put a hem on it, and wash it in Daz, it will come out snow white.  You go and try and buy a tablecloth for five pence!  During the war you’d see little boys running around in jeans made from blackout material, or little dresses with red or blue embroidery round the bottom of it.  They made do.  We’re going back to that.  We couldn’t get the material.  Now we can’t get the money.

In a siege economy working people didn’t grumble a great deal

Leeds Tailor   As far as the general body of working people were concerned, they began to be better off, as soon as rationing came in.  They felt it was fair, that they weren’t being discriminated against.  They felt that what they were getting was barely enough, whereas before they didn’t even have barely enough.  In a siege economy people didn’t grumble a great deal.  They felt that what there is, we’re getting our share.  In fact, even that wasn’t always true.  Sometimes they got more.  My wife had a job with the wartime Social Survey. Her job was to travel around the north of England, finding particular areas where there was dissatisfaction – particularly in key engineering areas like Darlington.  Where there was dissatisfaction the Government made sure that the shops in that area were better stocked with the goods that were in short supply.  They’d send in a bit more cloth, or a few new carpets.

I often think of the war period, particularly now, when the alternative to the Government’s present policy is a siege economy. (2)

Ted Heath is the biggest traitor that England ever reared

Somerset Farmer   If I knew when the war broke out what I know today I wouldn’t have worked a quarter so hard as what I did.  My advice to my child is, if there’s ever another war, she’s not to participate in it, because we didn’t fight two world wars for Ted Heath to give us back to Germany.  We did not fight a struggle and go without, and work all hours that God sent for Ted Heath to give us to the Germans, because that’s what he’s done.  I feel very sick about it.  I’ve had to live through two world wars.  I can remember the armistice of the First World War.  I wasn’t very old but I can remember the celebrations very plain.  In my opinion Ted Heath is the biggest traitor that England ever reared.  We fought two world wars to be free, and now we’re under the dictatorship of Germany, through this European Common Market. (3)

London Woman, ex-clippie    It might have been good for us if Hitler had won the war – Germany have done much better than us.  They don’t take all their income tax away, like they do mine!

This country needs not necessarily Hitler, but it needs a man like him

Ford’s Shop Steward, ex-paratrooper   It’s common knowledge isn’t it that at the end of the war we came out the worst end of it.  From about five years after the war, up until about five years ago, Germany was way ahead of us.  Economically.  In this country we’re dependent all the time on people in the Houses of Parliament.  You’ve either got a Labour Government or you’ve got a Tory Government.  They’re both as bad as each other.  What we need now is a complete change of the system, based on the welfare of the workers of the country.  Not as it is at the moment.  I think the country needs not necessarily Hitler, but it needs a man like him.

Liverpool Woman   I don’t think there was much unemployment after the war.  I don’t remember my brothers being out of  a job.  If you notice the way it is now, regards unemployment – it happened in the 1930s, building up to the war, and the war created work.  There was plenty of work for everyone.  You wonder, is it going to build up to the same thing?  Because something’s got to break somewhere. (4)

Essex Farmworker   In those days I used to get a week’s holiday.  I get three weeks now.  We don’t want no more wars.  I don’t want that lot again.  I had enough of that.  The RAF moved out just after the war.  There’s nothing there now.

It was all horses on the farm then, apart from one tractor.  A Fordson.  It’s all tractors now.  Good job too, that’s what I say.  A tractor can’t feel.  Those poor old horses could.  Hard work that was for them.  I went straight from school onto the farm.  Long time, ‘ent it?  If he sacked me he couldn’t turn me out of the house, even though it is tied.  (5)    I’ll get a pension when I retire.

If there’s another war and the Russians start on us, we don’t stand a chance.  They’ve got different weapons now.  They won’t use the atom bomb.  The Russians got different tanks, don’t ‘um?  Self-loading guns.  Different tanks altogether.  It was on the television the other night.  I don’t reckon they’ll use that atom bomb.  Not in my lifetime.  There won’t be no more war again.  I hope not anyways.

I don’t think we’ll need air raid shelters in the next war

Teesside Man  People don’t want to fight in this country now.  During the war, a man who didn’t want to fight, he didn’t know the answer.  He didn’t know the way out.  They called you up, and away you went.   Basically, people don’t want to fight.  The biggest blow made for that was Cassius Clay, when they took his world championship.  He was world champion boxer and they conscripted him for Vietnam and he said  “No.  I have no quarrel with these people.  Those are my brothers.”  He got that publicity then.  He said “I’m no coward.  I’ll fight, but I’m not going to fight my brothers.”  Nobody could question his integrity.  He wasn’t a coward. (6)

I’ve a son – 21 – and he’d never fight.  They’d never conscript him.  If he was going to fight, he’d fight against it.  There’s nobody he wants to kill.  If it came to the worst he’d be over the hills and far away.

Liverpool Woman   It had its good points the war.  Looking back on it you can laff, but all the same, I don’t think I’d like my family now, to go through what we went through.  I wouldn’t like to think that my sons went in the army.  If I thought there was going to be another war like there was last time, I’d sooner take them to Ireland, or somewhere away from it.  I had no one to think of in the war.  But when you’ve got children, you couldn’t go to work, wondering if they’ll be alright.  When you’re young and single you don’t have a worry.  I don’t think we’ll need air raid shelter in the next war.  It’ll only need a couple of atom bombs.

Chief Petty Officer, Retired   The bloody slaughter and torture that went on, and is still going on in all parts of the world – it’s got to stop.  They thought the 1914 – 1918 war was the war to end all wars, like the last was.  They didn’t know it’s all got to go on forever more until people turn round and say “Here are, here’s a bloody sword each – go and fight out in that field, and whoever wins, let us know.  That will do us.”  I honestly believe people will get together.  I think this has to come.

Ex-POW   Looking back on it I feel that there’s no hope at all, frankly, for civilisation.  Politics really is the end of everything, to me, because you’re such slaves.  There’s no hope for the future at all.  It really does distress me.  I would love to think that someone, somewhere, learnt some sense out of the last war, and individually a lot of people have.  But people seem powerless.  Perhaps I’m too cynical.  We haven’t had an atom war yet.

When the old man had finished I said “You’ve left out all the important freedoms.”  “What freedoms do you mean?”  “Have you ever clocked on?”

Leeds Man   Once the war in Europe was over and there was no chance of seeing active service I was only too eager to get out.  And as I couldn’t get out I took the opportunity of doing a bit of studying and managed to get to Welbeck College and to Cambridge University  for a couple of months.  It was helpful for giving me a contempt for the kind of education that bears no relation to reality.

I listened to one old geyser, a Professor Benjamin, who was lecturing to us one day about the Atlantic Charter – the four freedoms (7)    This was an officers’ course in Cambridge, and I was the only non-commissioned officer there, and that made me a bit bloody-minded and mischievous.

When the old man had finished I said “You’ve left out all the important freedoms.”  “What freedoms do you mean?”  “Have you ever clocked on?”  “Pray elucidate, sir.”  It sounded as if it came out of a book.  “Clocked on – punched a card.”  “What do you mean?  Punched a card?”

“Let me tell you.  In order to earn your living, to eat, and to pay your rent, you’ve got to take a card and drop it in a slot and press a lever that puts a time on it, in the morning.  And before you leave for lunch, you’ve got to do it again.  And if you don’t do it, you’ll lose wages.  And when you come back from lunch you have to do the same again.  And if you don’t,  you lose half an hour’s wages.  And at night time if you don’t do it, you may lose half a day’s wages.  You’ve got to punch a card four times a day, five and half days a week, all the year round.  That’s what I call economic freedom – you’re a slave to the clock, and yet you never mentioned the clock.”   The poor old man didn’t know anything about economic freedom – he’d always enjoyed it.

“Oh”, he says “we’ll deal with that later on.”  That was round about 1945.  It’s now 1976. We’re still dealing with it.

If Churchill instead of his Blood, Sweat and Tears thing had said “Any man or woman in the forces who would like to give it all up and go home, can” – he wouldnae have got the microphone out of his mouth before he’d been trampled to death in the rush

Ex- Fusilier   When they were changing the army paybooks I was the only person who had “Duration of the War” on my paybook.  I had to step forward, and when I stepped forward the whole bloody company was standing behind me.  I was the only one with “Duration of the War” – meaning I was a volunteer.  All my mates are standing behind me and everyone’s going “You bloody mug you!”    That was the kind of thing that showed me nobody wanted to volunteer.  It’s as blunt as that.  Why did the saying “You, you and you!” come up?  Because Britain’s the greatest propaganda merchants in the world.  I still think they are.  They attack themselves and laugh at themselves, but it’s done in a way as a cover up, to cover our faults.  The reason they went “You, you and you!” was because they knew there were no volunteers around.

If this country was a nation of sacrificers it was because they were forced to do something that they obviously didnae want to do, and they done it with a great deal of reluctance, and I would say, without going any further, that’s the myth chopped.  I don’t think there’s any answer to that.  The answer could be, and I’ve heard it said, that people could have kicked against it, despite the fact they were forced – that it was open for them to object.  But they didn’t do it.  They were too old in the head!  It just doesnae work.

People are afraid when  a guy says to you “Mr Morrison, we’ve got a war here, and you’re a person we want to fight for us – will you please come and fight for us?  If you don’t come, you’ll get a fine, or you’ll be put in prison.  You’ll maybe get ten years.  We might even shoot you.”   I think it’s easier without the Emergency Powers, like they had during the war, to protest, but in this country, despite all the talk, we don’t protest easy.  We allow a £10 fine to deter us.  But with a ten years prison sentence, or a prison sentence that’s indefinite, like some of the COs got – a year in prison, ready to come out, give them another year – that kind of thing, and pile it on, I would suggest that’s more of a deterrent than the fear of possibly dying.  It was the threat that they knew, rather than the one they didn’t.  Take it from me,  if Churchill instead of his Blood, Sweat and Tears thing had said “Any man or woman in the forces who would like to give it all up and go home, can” – he wouldnae have got the microphone out his mouth before he’d been trampled to death in the rush.  That’s a fact.

I was listening to the Armistice Service on the television, particularly the big ceremony in the Albert Hall – the Queen there and all the rest of them, marching about with their medals on.

I appreciate the feelings in some of their hearts.  Maybe a longing to relive their lives.  Maybe a lot of them in the parade, particularly the old-timers, would be half-wishing the war never finished, for the comradeship.  When ever I watch the dropping of the poppies on the young soldiers below I often imagine myself and my mates in that position.  I think the bloody last thing you’d be thinking about would be all they poor buggers killed in the war.  Wouldn’t be thinking about them.  Probably be singing different words to the songs they were singing.

But I couldn’t help feeling a wee bit sad about a lot of mates and people that had been killed.  It seemed like a sort of a bloodbath with the poppies floating down on top of them, with the poppies in their hair, and all over their clothes, like blood dripping from them.  The real ironic ending is – they’re going to all get up and go out, brushing it all off themselves, and all the Churchies and Dukes, on their way out, march the poppies under their feet, into the ground.

1.     Dennis Healey, Labour Government Chancellor of the Exchequer when this interview took place in October, 1976.

2.   During 1976, the Pound started to weaken against the dollar, going under two dollars for the first time ever.  Harold Wilson the Prime Minister resigned, citing he had been Prime Minister long enough.  After a three way ballot amongst Labour MPs between Dennis Healey, Michael Foot and James Callaghan,  Callaghan became the new Labour Leader and Prime Minister.  With the unrelated resignation of Labour MP John Stonehouse,  the Labour Government then became a minority of one.  Meanwhile Dennis Healey, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, vowed  “even more vigorous action to halt inflation.”  The Pound continued to slide, and the Labour Government in June secured loans from 10 nations to support sterling.  But this was not enough and in September the headlines read “Britain goes cap in hand to the IMF.”  The Government applied to borrow £2.3 billion to further prop up the Pound.

3.    Conservative Prime Minister who successfully negotiated Britain’s entry into the European Union.  The entry took effect in October, 1972, three years before this interview.

4.     In August, 1976 the jobless numbers reached 1.5 million – the highest figure since the end of the war.  Attempts by the Labour Government at controlling wages met with strikes in the public sector (on November 17,  40,000 public sector workers came out on strike) and in the partly nationalised sector (strikes at British Leyland plants, for instance).

5.   Tied housing still exists in farming, as in other sectors.  In general, there are now more rights for tenants in such housing than there were in the post-war years.  The Rent (Agricultural) Act, 1976, England and Wales, for instance, gave agricultural workers more housing security.

6.   “In 1967, three years after winning the heavyweight title, Ali refused to be conscripted into the U.S. Military, citing his religious beliefs and opposition to the Vietnam War.  He was eventually arrested and found guilty on draft evasion charges and stripped of his boxing title. He did not fight again for nearly four years—losing a time of peak performance in an athlete’s career.   Ali’s Appeal worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court,  where in 1971 his conviction was overturned.  Ali’s actions as a conscientious objector to the war made him an icon for the  larger counter-culture generation.”  – Wikipedia.

7.     The Atlantic Charter was a statement of war and post-war aims, drafted by the United States and Britain.  It was issued in August 1941, and was subsequently signed up to by the other war-time allies, including the USSR.  There were  eight – not four – principal points, including the right to self-determination.

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29 Let’s Face It – Who Cared About the Jews?

I must admit that when I realised the full extent of the horror of what the Nazis were doing I was really shaken

Somerset Teenage Girl   I was at the Odeon in Weston and they had pictures of the extermination camps on the news.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  You’d heard, but you couldn’t believe that people… Until you saw… It was the most terrible thing.

Somerset Teenage Boy   Towards the end of the war they had a cinema at South Petherton, in the Town Hall.  I went there and they showed a film.  And then they showed a newsreel of the concentration camps.  And that really brought it out, ‘cos I knew, as I sat there, that what was happening on the screen, was happening at that very minute.  If you look at it now, it’s a piece of history, but to be sat there and realise that is actually happening… They brought in “X” films that the children couldn’t see, but they couldn’t compare with those newsreels.  They were terrifying.  And now, when they have films with it on, I won’t watch them.

Glasgow Teenage Girl   When we were horror-struck at what was going on – because we saw it on our screens, or heard about it through the wireless – I remember it being said “Yes, but the Germans believe that there are as many concentration camps in Britain as there are in Germany.”   At the time I wondered why it was said.

It was when we first saw the photos of the concentration camps that I realised, and I think most people realised, that they were fighting for something, although maybe we didn’t know it.   As far as I was concerned I could have been fighting for the Russians, for the Germans, for the British, or whoever it was.  It was just nonsense.  But that identified it, at least, and although no-one was aware of that at the beginning of the war, I think possibly it salved our consciences for continuing to fight instead of saying “No, I’m not going to fight.”

Anarchist     I must admit that when I realised the full extent of the horror of what the Nazis were doing I was really shaken.  It was very easy if you were against the war to believe that everything was propaganda.  In the First World War a lot of propaganda had been invented – stories of Germans walking through Belgium with babies on their bayonets, all this sort of thing.  After, it had been exposed for what it was – lies.  So we were ready to be suspicious about anything.

I think it was bloody useful for the British that at the end of the war  the Germans actually showed themselves to be the absolute bastards they were – to justify the whole thing, and it turned a lot of people who had been sympathetic towards them, against them.  I’m sure many people couldn’t help but respect these people who were wiping out the whole of bloody Europe, and nearly knocked out Russia.  The ordinary guy, I’m sure, had a lot of respect for the Germans, for the way in which they pulled themselves up from the depths of depression in the ’20s and ’30s, and had turned themselves into this magnificent fighting nation.  The murderous nature of the Nazi regime was not revealed.  Let’s face it – who cared about the Jews?

Where were they in Germany?  They were nothing.  They had used money as their country, and money was nothing

RAF Bomb Aimer   They had nothing to connect to and they walked like bloody sheep.  I don’t think any nation in the world would have done it like they did it.  They kidded themselves on, from when they went into these railway carriages.  They knew bloody fine where they were going.  They say they didn’t, but they knew bloody fine.  Where were they in Germany?  They had used money as their country, and money was nothing.

German Jew   Germany was my home.  It will always remain so, but so is England.  I feel lovely when I go back to Germany.  I’ve been back two or three times since, and I think it’s absolutely lovely because it’s childhood to me.  And the Germans.  And the language.  You don’t think I speak English as well I speak German?  If I talk philosophy I can only do that in English, but about food – other things – it’s much nicer in German.  The English language at best fits me like a glove, but the German language is like my skin.

Going back to Germany now, and talking to Germans, it’s like coming back to a strange tribe, funnily enough.  A curious mixture of strangeness and homeliness.  In one respect they’re like my old school friends.  There’s a Professor in Mainz (the university was re-opened after the war, Napoleon closed it down) who is very much like one of my school friends in Germany who stuck to me loyally; was a member of the Centre Party – the Catholic party – who graduated with me from school and became a lawyer; was called up; fought on the Russian front.  He had to joint the Nazi Party, even to become a lawyer, but I can assure you he never lost his political sentiments.  After the war he became what you might call a Secretary of the Civil Service.  They call them Ministerialdirigent.    This was in Rhine Westphalia, in Mainz.  When my wife and I went to Mainz in 1955 he was there.  He was subsequently promoted to a larger one up in Cologne.

Don’t I owe loyalties, one of them asked

It was lovely to come back in 1955.  He got together all those school friends still left, still living there, who’d been in the last few years in school with me.  Some of them asked how I could bear to live abroad.  They couldn’t understand how I could be a foreigner in a foreign country.  Don’t I owe loyalties, one of them asked me.  I asked him whether I could be expected to owe loyalties to gas chambers, which of course produced terrific confusion and embarrassment.  I said I didn’t wish to embarrass my host, but if I was asked a silly question, it deserves a silly answer.  But it was all very amicable, never the less.  It was as if nothing seemed to have happened.  Nothing at all.  I must say that my own last form retained its complement of five or six chaps who remained loyal and didn’t become Nazis until the end, until they graduated.

If you keep a sense of humour you are a moral coward.   If you don’t, you’re an hysteric

When the Jews were being persecuted in German, Gentile friends would say to us “Yes, but you’re not like other Jews”, and that has perpetuated itself even after the war.  I lost… – They came for my aunt.  They rounded up all the Jews in  Wesphalia, where she was living.  She committed suicide.  She took tablets.  Another aunt also took tablets.  I lost two.  I lost none in the concentration camps because fortunately my relatives were either already dead or had gone abroad.

There was not a Jew left in Mainz after the war.  They were all rounded up.  Nobody was left.  They all went to Lublin and from there to Auschwitz.  How do you keep a sense of humour about that?  I don’t know.  If you keep a sense of humour you are a moral coward. If you don’t you’re an hysteric.  There’s not much you can do really.  There’s no way you can react to it rationally because it wasn’t a rational action.  The Chairman of my philosophy department in Texas, where I’ve often gone to teach, he said “I cannot understand you.  How can you sit there and tell me that you went back to Germany.  You’ve got no backbone.  You’ve got no guts.  You’re despicable.”  I said “It’s easy for you to talk like that.  Of course I could take the same line, it’s so easy.  it’s equally easy for me to say one must be understanding.  That’s equally silly.”

The standards that apply to individuals do not apply to nations, or peoples, or movements.  it’s not like that.  One can’t talk about forgiveness.  One can’t talk about understanding.  One can’t talk about recriminations.  It doesn’t get you anywhere.  “How many of these people,” I said, “even among my own friends were victims of circumstances? – Who really couldn’t help themselves. Look at my friend Walter Schmidt, the Chief of the Civil Service.  What could he do?”    I said “If there are people here who are that much holier, let them throw the first stone, before you talk.”

In a kind of a way I had a triumphant return to Mainz a couple of years ago.  I’m a moderate Kant scholar and they now have tri-annual, quadro-annual international congresses on Kant.  The Fourth International Congress took place in Mainz.  I had place of honour with one of my papers – as a celebrated Cambridge scholar – not as a German.  They didn’t know I was German, let alone that I was born in Mainz, or that my school was situated directly opposite the building where the Congress took place.  Nobody asked me.  nobody was interested.  I didn’t make an issue of it.

Now I must tell you – the most despicable thing is how people will fawn upon you and say “Oh, if every Jew had been like you.”

Austrian Jew  I’ve been back twice.  Once to see my cousin in 1963, and once in 1968  I took one of my sons to show him where his parents came from.  We went all over Vienna and I pointed out to him where we had lived, where my husband had studied, where I had studied.  I took him to the university.  I showed him where Freud had lived.  I took him on a conducted tour, as it were.  After leaving Vienna we went to Prague.  We left on the evening before the midnight when the Soviets marched into Prague.  History repeating itself.

My first visit was in 1963, after my husband had died.  I wouldn’t go before that.  I didn’t wish to go.   It was a terribly emotional experience.  I met my cousin and went with her to Baden and was told a certain lady who had lived in the same house would very much like to meet me.  I said “No. No.”  I went to look at my old school, but it was summer and the school was closed.  I didn’t wish to meet anyone I had known.  I just went to a chemist’s shop who had Jewish owners.  They had returned from emigration, and I talked to them.  The owner had been my pupil as a little boy.  I visited another Jewish couple who had returned.

On this trip I also went to Vienna and I went to the synagogue in Vienna.  I’m not religious, I’m rather an atheist.  Nominally I’m Jewish.  My whole religious feeling is nostalgia.  It’s purely nostalgia.  I went to the synagogue to see what it was like now.  I felt terribly sad, because it was so close to the place where I had to queue up at the Gestapo headquarters.  It had been destroyed by air raids.  It’s on the embankment of the River Danube and there’s a large plaque: “This is the site of the Gestapo Headquarters and the plaque has been erected by the City of Vienna in memory of its victims.”  It was ghastly.  So ironical, and so hypocritical.

Now I must tell you – the most despicable thing is how people will fawn upon you and say “Oh, if every Jew had been like you.”  The Austrians have a very servile form of politeness.  They’re well known for that.  “Küss die Hand” – kiss your hand – “Gnädige Frau” – gracious lady, is the form of address.  And they will say “If everyone had been like you” or “We didn’t know what was going on.  We had no idea.  We never wanted that to happen.”  And that is so horrible!  Absolutely!  Because you know it’s a sham.  I shall never live there.  Never!  No.  Don’t remind me.  I have a lot of friends in London who say “No.”  They don’t want to see Vienna again.

Winscombe, Somerset Teenage Girl   I don’t think you got hatred of Germans as bad as it was in the First World War, but people still disliked them very much.  Just after the war the Quakers were having a meeting in the village – I think some sort of pro-German meeting, and we were all up in arms about this, and some airman came from Locking to barrack it. (1)

This bloke comes in – “Bloody hell.  Fancy discussing it with them, after all they’ve bloody well done.”

English Jew, RAF electrician   Being the camp electrician I had my own little workshop.  This was back in England, before I was demobbed.  We had German prisoners of war in the camp.  They used to come into my workshop.  I used to put the kettle on and we had an electric fire, which I made myself.  We’d have a good old brew-up and a talk.  We used to have political discussions all bleeding day.  I had a lot of Trotskyist German literature, such as Germany: What Next?, which I used to give to them.  They used to read it and we’d discuss it.

This bloke comes in – “Bloody hell.  Fancy discussing it with them, after all they’ve bloody well done.”  By this time one of the Germans could speak a bit of English.  I said “If you want to discuss it, why don’t you discuss it with them.”  “Got nothing to discuss with them, after all they’re responsible for.”  The German said “I want to ask you a question.  Suppose you lived in Germany, if you didn’t join the National Socialists you were suspect immediately.  If your wife and kids were in jeopardy, would you have joined?”  “No.  No I wouldn’t.”  “So you would have sooner gone to a concentration camp, would you?”  “Surely if there were enough of you, he wouldn’t have been able to do it.”  “Not enough of us could do it.  We weren’t armed.  They were.  You say we are responsible for Hitler, but you live in a so-called democracy and you elected a group of politicians who helped Hitler into power.  Therefore, you’re just as responsible as we are.”  “Don’t give us that.”  “Did you know what they were doing?  Did you know they were sending arms to Germany?  Do you know about the Siemens industry?  Things like that?”  By the time he was finished he didn’t know whether he was coming or going.

It takes a bit of guts and organisation for thousands of people to march up and say “Look – Stop,  Mr Hitler.”

Ex-POW  Before I went into those camps I was completely naive, and I was bloody scared, but I still didn’t believe that there were such things as concentration camps.  After I had been in these camps, which were not concentration camps of course, I saw slowly, here and there, and realised that there was one hell of a lot of evil in Germany, and that I was very lucky to be where I was.  When I realised that the stories of the concentration camps were true and not just German propaganda, I thought:  God Almighty.  What shook me was that I couldn’t believe that any unit of people, en masse, could be infernally bloody evil, like the Japanese.

On the other hand I got on well with Germans.  I swotted German and I got to know them and I realised the average German soldier, and the average civilian were just as bloody helpless, or as human, as we are.

To give an example – some friends of mine were around the other night with a very true blue couple.  These people are very anti-German still.  You know – “Battle of Britain, and our gallant boys” – which I don’t deny.  Don’t get me wrong.  They say “It’s no good you saying half of them didn’t know.”  Alright.  There’s a point in that.  But this other person said “Wait a minute, before you go any further – You know all these immigrants in Britain – Pakistanis.”  “Oh God, yes.”  “Well, what do you think about it?”  What they thought about it is much the same as what I think about it, without being personal to the individual.  It’s not colour at all, it’s pressure of population, but we won’t go into that.

This chap and this girl said “Now what precisely have you or are you doing about it?”  And they sort of looked.  “Yes” he said, ‘in other words you’re like everybody else – like me – in this country.  We loathe it but we do nothing about it.  It seems to us that we can’t.  We’re slaves of this, at the moment, the Labour Government, who don’t want to stop all this.”

Well, there’s your perfect answer about “Why didn’t the Germans stop Hitler?”  It isn’t as easy as that, is it?  What are you going to do to stop immigration here?  What have you done, if you don’t agree with it?  Nothing.  Nor have I.  what are you going to do tomorrow?  You think and think and think, but you can’t do much about it, can you?  Because it takes a bit of guts and organisation for thousands of people to march up and say “Look – Stop, Mr Hitler”, or to march up to the Government and say  “Look here – Stop this.”  I’m talking about the average mass of people.  Not extremists.  You don’t do anything, do you?  There’s your answer,  you see.  What could the Germans do?

“Those bastard Germans” as people say, were exactly in the same predicament – rank and file – as we were.

Royal Navy Chief Petty Officer  I know most of us were very bitter after the war because we saw so many atrocities, but the thing is, we very politely forget the atrocities that we ourselves carried out.  This is why we got our arse kicked out of India.  It so happens that I’ve been to all these places, and it also happens that I’ve seen some of the atrocities we ourselves did on the Indians.  To us they were just bloody slaves – literally.  We treated them like slaves.  We kicked their arse if they dared to ask for a cigarette.

Another point I want to make is this:  in the British Navy, as in all forces – army,  airforce, ectetera, particularly in times of war, and particularly in times of action, the law – the KRRs – was that if you refused to obey a superior officer’s direct command, after being warned three times in front of any witness, he was at liberty to shoot you dead on the spot. (2)

What I want to put to you is this – “These bastard Germans” as people say, were exactly in the same predicament – rank and file – as we were.  Whilst I know that atrocities were perpetrated, these were from the ranks of people like Hitler and Himmler, and the high-ranking officers, and it was handed down.  The German forces were much more strict in discipline – you weren’t allowed to think for yourself at all.  All you had to do was obey and die.  So therefore I don’t like people saying “bastard Germans”, or anything like that, because they were in exactly the same predicament as we were.  They were fighting for their country.  They were misled.  But Christ, so were we.

1.    RAF Locking, near Weston-super-Mare.   A RAF Radio School camp, now closed.

2.   KRRs:  King’s Rules and Regulations.

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28 Back in Civvy Street

When I came out the Airforce I went up the Labour.  I said “Can I have a job please?”

Scunthorpe Man   I was demobbed June, 1946.  I’d been in nearly seven years. They did offer for me to stay on but it was straight away “No”.  I wanted to be out, although, later on, you wonder whether you should have stayed on, for the security, and by then you were just starting to enjoy life, more or less.  You’d got used to it.

When I came out my daughter was a year old and there was no money in baking.  It was the biggest paid job that counted at the time.  Before the war I was apprenticed at the bakery – I didn’t want to go to the steel works, but after the war you could get a bit of overtime there, to make your money up.  So that was it.   I went there.

Commercial Traveller   I wanted to be an electrician when I came out the forces – I wanted to do anything but tailoring, which I’d been in before the war.  You’ve got no idea what it was like in the tailoring trade before the war.  Oh God, it was a real sweatshop.  It was slavery.  I wanted to get out of it.  At first I wanted to be a musician, then I decided I wanted to be an electrician – this was before I went into the tailoring trade.  My old man pushed me into it though, and I forgot about it for a while.

I was very interested in my work as an electrician in the RAF.  I used to love my job.  I didn’t follow it up when I came out of the forces because there was no money in it, and I wanted to set up home.  There was a hell of a lot of money in tailoring, so I went back into it.

Tailor  When I came out there was such a demand for skilled workers because of this tremendous demand for civilian clothing, that in the tailoring trade we were earning three to four times the national average wage.  Employers were even offering us more to leave our employment with one firm to join them.  Our Union, which was very much controlled by the Communist Party, accused us of blackmailing the employers!  Who was in the union?  Nobody bothered about the union – you could earn four times the union rate!  Who the hell was interested in the bloody union?  When I left the services I immediately went into earning good money, to rebuild something of a domestic life.  My second child was on the way…

When I went to the Housing Department at Woodford they said “We don’t want your type here”

East London Royal Engineer   When I came out the army I didn’t know where my wife and sister-in-law were living because they’d been moved a couple of times.  Where they’d been staying had been blasted by a V2.  I eventually found that they were living in a requisitioned house in Woodford – Chigwell Road.  I lived there for a while and started work on the building, but they wanted to throw us out.  The bloke who owned the house wanted it back.  He was a dentist and said he wanted it for his own living accommodation.  When I went to the Housing Department at Woodford they said “We don’t want your type here – You come from Stratford.  You’ll have to go back there.”  I went to Stratford Town Hall and they gave me a requisitioned flat in Romford Road.

I only got called up for Z Reserve, didn’t I?    Everybody who was demobbed was put on Z Reserve.  You was liable for call-up, to keep you in touch with army life.  I was working on the building and I got called up for two weeks training at Ripon.  Instead of getting my wages which I was getting on the building, all I got was army pay.

I didn’t do nothing, ‘cos I went sick all the time.  The old army training came out then – all the skives.  Most of us went sick with bad backs.  If you said you had a bad back you had three days excused duty.  On the fourth day you went up again and got another three days. So you got through your fortnight that way – being obstructive. Resenting it.  Which you would.

When I came out the Airforce I went up the Labour.  I said “Can you help me find a job please?”

London Waaf    She said “What’ve you been doing?  I said “I’ve been doing post-office work.”  She said “You’re not in the airforce now,’ she said “you’re out, and I’ve only got one job here, and that’s on the calculating punching machine.”  I said “What?”  She said at Holborn, in the Customs and Excise.

I went there for a fortnight.  It drove me mad.  I had to work there otherwise they’d have cut me off.  I’d have got no labour money.  I was sitting down at a desk all day, not talking to anyone, so I chucked it in and I got a job up the Odeon, Barking Road.  I was getting £2 a week.  That’s where I met Ern, my husband.   I had my airforce trousers, ‘cos I’d nicked my uniform.    When I was demobbed I got no civilian clothing.  Anyway, I finished up the Odeon.  When I wasn’t working I used to stand on the corner and talk to the blokes I knew.  All of a sudden Ernie came along.  He had a lovely white shirt on.  I said to Jimmy Wilson “Cor bly” (‘cos then he had big long sideboards), “who’s that bloke?  Don’t half look a killer, don’t he?”  He was drunk as a Lord, Ernie.   He was singing I’ll Take you Home Again, Kathleen.

A couple of nights later when I was working at the Odeon I said to my mate “I’m going to have a giggle with this bloke.”  I shows him to his seat and I says “Get in there, boozer.”   In the dark he didn’t know it was me.  I comes out the Odeon after the show and there’s Ernie and his mates standing on the corner.  He says to me “Would you like a drink?”  I says “You’ve only asked me ‘cos they’re shut.”  So he says “Can I see you home?  Can I carry your parcel?”  So I said “Alright.”

When we gets home I says “Would you like to come in for a cup of coffee?” – ‘cos coffee sounds posher than tea, don’t it.  He says “Will they all be in bed?”  So I said “Yeah.”  He comes in and they’re all up, aren’t they!  There was me Dad, there was me Mum.  Me Dad’s standing there with his hand with no fingers and he says to Ern “I know you!  You used to throw apple cores at me!”  Ern sys “Ooh, you never told me he was your Dad.”  When my Dad was a commissionaire at the pictures all the kids used to chuck stuff at him.

Ern used to come round on his old bike.  Bring me 20 fags.  We only knew one another ten weeks and we was married.

I went back into the same job I was doing before I got called up.  I was back there three days and it didn’t seem as if I’d been away

Paratrooper  I’d been away four years and I was sitting indoors.  Boiling hot day and the old lady said to me “Why don’t you go out?”  None of my mates was at home.  I said “Alright, I’ll go out for a walk round.”  As I goes out, I gets into the Heathway and I bumps into a bloke.  He said “You been down the firm yet?”  I said  “What the bleeding hell do I want to go down there for?”  “They’ve got some money for you.”  “Eh? What?”  “Yeah” he said “you know they paid out for holiday bonus” – (they used to give you £5 at the start of the summer holiday) – “well, they’ve been putting that away for blokes in the forces.”  I went down and saw about it.

I went down on the Friday.  I walked into the firm, and honest, I was glad to get out!  The noise was deafening.  After being away all that time I’d forgotten just how bad it was.  There was all the banging and clattering.  I thought:  Sod this.  I went up the office and I picked up fifteen quid.  I saw some of the lads.  “Look at him” they said, “the old Red Berry on.”  I said “Yeah, it’s a load of shit.”  There was blokes there I’d worked with, before I got called up.  They hadn’t got called up.  They had things wrong with them.

All the time you was in the forces Briggs kept you on the books and when I came out the forces things was bad.  There was a fuel crisis.  There was no coal.  You had to queue up for coal.  I still had my army greatcoat, and I was glad of it.  I daresay that if I’d looked ’round I might have found something different, but at that time I was married and the first child was on the way.  I said to the wife “They’ve kept me on the books.  The least I can do is go back and see what’s there.”

I went back into the same job I was doing before I was called up.  I was there three days and it didn’t seem as if I’d been away.  I thought:  I don’t know – all that what’s happened – you’ve been up at 2 o’ clock on cliff tops, jumped out of planes, God knows what, and you come back and you’re doing exactly the same job!  After a couple of days it seemed that all that four years was nothing.

We were going to try and start a business.  I was mad keen on having a business

Company Sergeant Major  At the end of the war I was going to volunteer for another six months.

His Wife  Until he mentioned it to me!

Company Sergeant Major  You see, I was stationed at a place called Bottesford. (1)   I used to take the parade in the morning at 8 0′ clock – the whole company – and I used to pass it over to the Duty Officer for that day.  Then he’d say “O.K.  March them off.”  Right turn – off they went.  As soon as they were out of sight – straight back to the billet. I got my pack on and off I went.  Detailed a van to get to Bottesford Station and I was away.

The funny part about it was, there was a shop in the village about quarter a mile from the camp.  I was walking past one day and who should come and say “Hallo Mr —–” but a manager I knew when I was with Sainsbury’s.  He was making a pile down there – getting all these pies and cakes – no signatures being given and then he’d write to the railway, saying that he hadn’t received this or that, or that it had arrived damaged.  He was getting credit for it, and flogging the stuff behind the counter.  It was a fiddle between him and the drivers.  I got to talk to him and eventually I landed up at the back of the counter, helping him to weigh up all the butter and sugar – ‘cos it was all rationed in those days.  I used to go down there twice a week of an evening.  Do you know?  I never used to get an ounce out of that bloke, did I?  I got all that I wanted – eggs, bacon and so on, but I had to pay for it.

I was demobbed January 8th, 1946.  I was mad keen on having my own business, in the food trade.  I personally think I would have done well in business, but my wife’s family was in business all their life.  It was a tied-in life, especially with their trade.  Being pawnbrokers they had to have iron bars up on all the windows, and somebody always had to be on the premises otherwise they couldn’t get it insured.  My wife threw all that sort of thing at me.  You work all day and all night, which is quite true, but I wouldn’t have minded it.

His Wife  Our child had been born and we went to the council in Stratford  to see if they could offer us anything, because I’d been bombed out in Forest Gate.   They said “We’ve only got one flat.” – they tell you this tale – “Here’s the key.”  It was nearly a riot when people saw you’d got a key – it was dreadful.  The flat was a turning off Carpenter’s Road, Stratford.  It was terrible!  It was vile!  It was like a stable.  It stunk to high heaven, ‘cos Yardley’s soap factory was there.  We called in on friends of ours.  During the war they’d bought a house.  They said “We’ve got a couple of rooms to spare.  Come over here.”  And that’s what we did, and we stayed with them until 1949.

I don’t think anyone knew about the squatters until they were in

Scunthorpe Man  One family started putting furniture in, and then quite  few followed, before it got in the press.  Once it was known, it went all over the country, in the south.  This was at Saltcliffe.  It was an army camp place.  It had been a searchlight unit that had been there.  The nissen huts were still there.  They were all local folk, all from the town.  One chap came out of there and lived door to us at Newlands.  Mr Gregory.  He’d been in the navy.

For about a year or two after the war there were squatters in different parts of the town – anywhere where there empty camps.  It wasn’t politically motivated.  (2)   It was just people coming back.  Some were living in with people, and perhaps with a child – this sort of thing.  The idea of squatting just caught on.  Even where the civil aerodrome was – it had been a big bomber base – you could see, going on your way to Grimsby – the washing hanging out.  They were still squatting there long, long after the others had got cleared out of different places.

Before the war finished, anyone who was in the services and belonging to this area could put their name down on the council list.  We got a place – a prefab – straight away on account of having the baby and TB in the house and overcrowded.  When the housing position got better the folk who were squatting moved out.  Scunthorpe housing were soon on top of the situation.

When the war came to an end I was thinking of staying just until I could finish a course I was doing, get the degree out of it, and go back to Jamaica

Airgunner   At the end of the war I don’t want to stay on.  We had so much spare time on our hands that we was getting bored in camp.  Quite a few, like myself, applied to Benett College in Bristol to take a correspondence course.  I apply and got everything through.  Then I were posted down to Burtonwood here and I continues with the course. (3)   I had the intention that when I came out the airforce I would continue with it.  But when I came out I find that you got to work.

At that time I got a job near Rochdale – Castleton Moor.  In those days the fog was very bad.   As soon as, say, three o’ clock come, down come the fog.  It was very thick and two or three nights I had to walk it from Castleton Moor.  I was living up by Denmark Road, here in Manchester.  I had an attic room I rented.  When I had to walk it I didn’t reach home until half past one, for the buses, they used to come from Rochdale, and they used to turn ’round at what they call The Boundary, between Manchester and Rochdale.  They didn’t go further than that because the fog was so bad.  Everybody had to get off the bus and walk it. It was just impossible.  I couldn’t work and study, so I had to give up my studying.  When the war came to an end I was thinking of staying just until I could finish this course I was doing, get the degree out of it, and go back to Jamaica.  But it didn’t work out that way.  I’ve never been back to Jamaica since I left.

1.    Bottesford, Leicestershire.

2.   This was not necessarily the case by the time squatting reached London.

3.   Burtonwood, near Warrington, Cheshire.

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27 Demobbed

Demobbed?  I finished up in Palestine!

Scunthorpe Army Man  During the war the only exciting thing that was going to happen to me was we were earmarked to go the Far East.  The next step was getting kitted out and going over there, but fortunately, or unfortunately rather – ‘cos I was looking forward to it – the Japs packed in.  I thought: Champion!  Go and see a bit of the world, but that was it.  We didn’t go.

London Paratrooper  When the war in Europe finished this officer came round and said “You’ll still have your chance.  We’re still fighting out in Japan.”   I said “Bleeding good luck to you.  I don’t want to go to bloody Japan.”  But then the war in the Far East packed up and we got sent to Aldershot, about the time of the Stern Gang turn-out in Jerusalem. (1)

When we heard we were being sent there, all the young kids, because by that time I was twenty-three, getting on twenty-four – all the kids about nineteen or twenty, they were going out and buying themselves bowie-knives and they were practising throwing them – how many times they could stick it in a wall, that sort of thing.  I said to ’em “They’ll be a lot of good to you when you get out there.  You won’t want bowie-knives, you’ll want a few hand grenades.”

They sent all the paratroopers out there.  I was on the lorry, with my kit bag and everything, and as the lorry was revving up to pull out of the camp, the Company Runner came running down.  Handed a note to the Sergeant.  Sergeant looked round, looked up, saw me and said “Want you.  Get off.  Fetch your bag off.”  I thought: What’ve I done now?

By this time I was married, and the wife had had a nervous breakdown.  She’d heard I was going to Palestine.  She was in the London Hospital and the surgeon at the hospital wrote to the whatshisname and got me taken off.

I was still in the services when a lot of my mates came back from Palestine.  I was in the Naafi one day when a crowd of blokes came in.  I turned round and there was some of me mates.  They were saying “You was a lucky git.”  “What happened?”  The first night they were there they was put in a big encampment in a placed called Netanya, and it was all barbed wire ’round.  First night they were there this Stern Gang got in and machine-gunned the tents.  A lot got killed.  They never knew what it was about.

Royal Engineer  Demobbed?  I finished up in Jerusalem!  Helping out the Palestine Police.  Now that’s the part that got me – I was called up for four years fighting against the Germans to protect the Jews.  When it ended, they flew us, as an emergency, from Germany to Brussels airport to Cairo, to fight the Jews!  They were killing British Palestine police.

What happened was, they changed the division over into a Flying Squad effort, being the Light Infantry Division.  It was snowing when we left.  We was at Knokke first, Knokke, Belgium and then we went to Brussels.  They bunged us all on planes and we was away.  Landed at Cairo West airport, with all our gear.  They put on lorries and it took three days to cross the Sinai Desert, and we had no issue.  We were still in khaki and sweating like pigs.  Lips coming out like balloons.  Three days.

When we got there, there was another balls-up.  First job we had to do was building nissen huts to put all the extra infantry in, that was landing.  I thought to myself:  I don’t know – I’ve been chasing Germans for the last four years to protect Jews and now we’re chasing the Jews to protect ourselves.  We was all a bit perplexed, but no one was really interested, though, in what was happening.  After that sort of time you just followed orders.  You woke up in the morning, someone says such and such and you say “Yeah, alright.”

We were getting up at five in the morning and stringing barbed wire all around the streets and capturing all the Jews and taking them to the detention camp.  Being the RE’s we was also on explosives.  It took us three months – this is laughable – it took us three months to put barbed wire around the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.  We hung it around the roofs, we hung it around the doors, we hung it everywhere.  Three solid months – rolls of barbed wire.  One morning two milkmen walk in the door, with their white coats and a churn of explosives, stood it in the door and blew the fucking lot up. (2)

I left a couple of days afterwards, ‘cos I got compassionate posting home.  The wife was in hospital.  It took me fifteen days to get home.

There was a camaraderie in North Africa.  There wasn’t here

Ex  North African Campaign soldier  These bleeding skiving so and so’s that stayed over here – maybe they crawled, or maybe they were lucky, but they thought that if somebody like me turned up from abroad, that I wanted a driving job.  You’re pinching their nice cushy little number they’ve had all those years.  In fact, my soldiering over here, apart from the fact that I was married, was the most miserable of my whole army time.

At first I was at Croydon.  It was alright there.  I could get home occasionally, but then they started to reshuffle.  I thought it was too good to last.  I wound up at Ashford, Middlesex.  Three miles from Staines.  In those days there wasn’t a London airport.  It had just started.

Back in Blighty the bullshit drove you up the wall.  It was ridiculous.  I mean, your name goes up on Orders.  You’ve been told you’ve got to scrub your kit, and you’ve got to do khaki green.  So you do it khaki green.  You polish your brasses.  You lay it out on yer pit, ready for inspection.  You’re happy with it, but your name goes up – “Driver Robson will report to Company Office.  Kit was not satisfactory.”  You breathe on your brasses, rub them up and take them in the Sergeant-Major.  “Brought my kit in, Sergeant Major.”  “Yes, that’s alright.”  “Thank you, sir.”  You think: stupid git.  All I’ve done is breath on it and rub it with a piece of rag.  You’re stupid enough to become a Brigadier.  I eventually got demobbed 10th of May, 1946.  I was Group 28.

I was at Aldershot when I got demobbed

London Paratrooper  We was getting called in one by one and getting told “If you like to stay on we’ll make you a Sergeant.”  I said “You’ll make me a Sergeant?  What about three months ago?  Why now?  I wasn’t good enough to be a Sergeant three months ago.  No mate, you can stick your bleeding army.  I’ve had enough.”

We went down to Guildford to get our demob suit.  You was all the same – Majors, Colonels, Captains – you was all waiting in the same place.  All together.  There was this Captain, he still had his tunic on, so you could see his pips, and there was this little trilby hat all alone on a shelf.  I was making for it and he came round the other way, but I got there first.  He said “Oh damn and blast!”  I said “And damn and blast you!”

We had the old pin stripe suit, and you could keep your great coat, respirator case and socks.  I remember walking down the turning where I lived with my mother-in-law, down in Stepney, carrying all me civvies gear in a big cardboard box.  My soldiering days were over.

I was in one of the units that was training for the final assault on Japan

Fusilier   It was the Black Watch.  We’re paratroopers, we’re an airborne unit, and we were training in the jungle to maybe land in a city!   When we found out this was what we were training for we were sweating blood!

When the war finished, I remember that as clear as day.  I heard all the noise coming through the different parts.  It was like somebody had lifted a ton weight.  You didn’t realise it was there – you’d become so accustomed to it.  But suddenly it wasn’t there and you say “I’m going to live now!  I’m no going to die!  I’m going to live!”  And your outlook was completely different.

When the war was finished and we were still in the jungle they came around, a day or two after we’d heard the news, looking for volunteers to jump into prisoner of war  camps, to bring in medical supplies and food – to let the lads see that the war was over and that they were thinking about them.  But a lot of us knew that the Japanese were still fighting in places like that, and we didnae want to do it.  A mate of mine who was a Corporal comes up to me and says “Morry, if you want to live, get the hell out of it.  They’re coming looking for volunteer to jump into these different prisoner of war camps.”  And you couldnae find a man in the place!  Everybody had disappeared.  Nobody wanted to die after the war finished.

I was medically examined for repatriation.  It was discovered that because of a serious illness, connected to heat exhaustion I’d suffered, that my eyes had been affected.  I was downgraded to B1 or B4, but I was warned that my demob would be more straightforward if I’d agree to being classed as A1.  Lower grades, apparently, had to go through two courses of remedial treatment, which was intended to upgrade the disabled soldier before demob.  Like others – not unnaturally – I chose to be upgraded to A1, in order to speed up my journey home and out of the forces.  Later I learned that had I remained B4 I’d have been entitled to a war pension, and it makes me wonder how many blokes got this treatment to save the authorities money.

Prior to repatriation we were sent to special education class which took the form of brainwashing.  They were trying to  prepare us for our homecoming.   They were telling us we shouldn’t be resentful when we found that our people back home just weren’t interested in the war, or who had won it, or what you’d done, or where you’d been.  They were too busy getting on with normal everyday living.

When I did get home, and I came off the train at Central Station and went to Hope Street to get myself a bus – loaded up with kitbags and God knows what, piled on top of my shoulders – despite the fact that I had been demobbed, had a demob suit and all the rest of it – I just couldnae get a bloody bus!   Everybody jumped in and passed me to get on the bus.  I was so angry about the whole situation that I walked the whole bloody road home rather than suffer the indignity of having to fight to get onto the bus.  Nobody cared an arse about the home-coming soldier, or the veteran with his medals.  Maybe that was to the good.  People were totally disinterested.  The show was over.

1.  The Stern Gang was the name used by the British and others to describe the Zionist terrorist group Lehi “Fighters for the Freedom of Israel”.  It was led by Avraham Stern, and at first was ideologically fascist, then became bolshevik.  It was founded after a split within Irgun (see below) in 1940.

2.  Bomb attack on 22 July, 1946 by the right wing Zionist terrorist group Irgun.  The King David Hotel was the headquarters of the British administration in Palestine.  Ninety people were killed.

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26 VE Day and the Labour Landslide

We all had visions of socialism then

East London Teenager Boy  VE Day was one of the most emotional days in my life. (1)   There were Union Jacks out and every one was saying “We want the King!”  Everyone was shouting for the King.  Men and women.  Mind you, they were shouting for Louis 16th a few weeks before they cut his head off.  You can’t go on the emotions of… – People were so pent up.  There was mass shagging in the streets… – No sort of class distinction.  I walked into a posh hotel and everyone was offering me drinks.  Everybody.  What amazed me was where they got the drink from!  No one ever had it.  At least, we didn’t, because before this, pubs were closed. People had to walk miles to get a drink.  A bloke would say to another bloke “I know a pub that’s got some beer.”  The pub would be packed solid until they drunk the beer out.  So I don’t know where they got the drink from.

East End Girl  On VE Day I watched my Dad dance up and down the street.  He was dead drunk, my Dad.  He tap danced all up and down our street.  My Dad used to have cups for tap dancing.  Everybody was out on the street, drunk.  We watched from the windows.

Somerset Girl  On VE Day they had bonfires on hilltops.  They took weeks building up huge bonfires on all the hills – on Street Hill and Wearyall Hill, between Street and Glastonbury, and all the hills around.

Somerset Boy  From Ham Hill we could see all the other fires.  A sailor at our fire actually threw himself in the middle of the bonfire and they had to haul him off.  He was in flames.  They had to roll him down the hill to put the flames out.  He was drunk.  That was Victory night.

2nd Somerset Girl    VE day in Winscombe was very dead.  We were longing for something.  We could have gone to Weston but there wasn’t a late bus to come back.  We really felt left out of things.  You read about all these marvellous things going on in London – dancing in the streets.

Paratrooper   I was in Ireland on VE Day.  There’s a bay there called Dundrum Bay and I was sitting on a little bit of grass thinking to myself:  “Well, I don’t know, all this bleeding time, all that square bashing, all them manoeuvres, for me to be sitting here when it’s all over.  I’m still here.  And them poor sods I joined up with, who I was working with before the war, are probably blown to bits, or something like that.  And what for?”

The following day we was on a road run.  They took us on a road run all round the country lanes, and we were running  down this slope in this little lane and an old Irish boy’s walking along, with an old hat and a bloody great knurled stick in his hand, and as we’re running past he said “What the bloody hell are you running for?  The war’s over!”  We was pissing ourselves laughing.

Liverpool Mother  I spent my VE Day in Southdown Hospital.  After going right through the war, when all the celebrations were on I took appendicitis and was taken away.  I could hear all this singing going on and I was saying to myself:  Ooh, I’d love to be out there.

Liverpool Teenage Girl  On VE Night there was a gang of us got together.  We were still working the railway, this gang.  We were on 2 to 11 shift, my mate and I.  We got that much drink, we walked up from Central Station and the next thing we remembered doing was sitting in Abercromby Square Gardens about 4 in the morning – singing.  Everyone went mad those two days.  I don’t think anyone slept.

Teeside Boy Soldier  We were stationed in Catterick and a gang of us went to Middlesbrough.  There was a lad from Newcastle and he took a box of hand-grenades and a bloody great box of flares.  In Middlesbrough he was throwing hand-grenades in park.  We finished up in Acland Road.  We came across a pile of road chippings and barrels of tar.  How we did it I don’t know, but we got about three of these barrels stacked one on top of the other and set fire to bottom one.  And we were dancing around them.

Staffs Miner   VE Day they gave you extra money to stop in.  I was on nights when word came through – day’s pay and home Jeeves, and don’t spare the horses!  Extra pint in pub! Extra ale!

Royal Engineer   I was in Germany on VE Day.  Our division took Bremen and another division took Hamburg.  We went into Bremen brewery, me and the engineers.  We had to take a lorry and pick up the company’s beer.  We all got pissed and nearly drowned because down in the wine vaults of the brewery the maniacs had knocked the pipes off and the sherry ran all over the floor.  You was wading with sherry up to your knees.  No lights on.  We were shining torches.  And the stink!  You was intoxicated with the smell.

According to the propaganda it was only the Germans who bombed hospitals

RAF Flight Engineer   On the 26 of June we took our ground crew over Germany, to show them what they’d helped us do.  What we called Cook’s Tours.  We went from the flooded areas of Holland to Cologne, from Cologne to Bonn, from Bonn to Mainz, Frankfurt, Dortmund, Düsseldorf, Duisburg, Essen, Wuppertal, Wessel – which was nothing left at all, as far as I remember – Arnhem, Nijmegen, Rotterdam and back to base.  What I saw I thought was disgusting.

Cologne was just rubble.  The railway station was like Paddington, but all you could see were the arches.  The Cathedral was standing right next to it – the spire was still standing.  It looked reasonably whole but apart from that you couldn’t see a building that was standing.  All the bridges were down, or seemed to be.  At Frankfurt I saw a hospital, like a “U” sideways.  It had great Red Crosses on the roof.  One wing was completely gutted and the other one had bomb holes in it.  Obviously you can’t see what you’re bombing at night, but according to our propaganda it was only the Germans who bombed hospitals.

RAF Cook's Tour013

During the 1945 election I was stationed at Hunstanton in Norfolk

Leeds Man   The government had agreed that soldiers could take part in the elections but not dressed in army uniform. (2)   Any soldier who wanted to take part in elections had merely to inform his Colonel and wear civilian clothing if he was conducting any activity.  There was nothing in Hunstanton.  I thought “I’ll have to do something here.”

I went to the local Coop and I asked to see the manager.  I was in uniform.  I asked him “Are you a member of the Labour Party?”  “It so happens I am.  Why?”  “Where is the Labour Party?”  “We haven’t got any Labour Party.”  “How about forming one?”  “It’s a good idea.  Look” he says, “go down the railway station.”  The railway station clerk was the stationmaster, signals, porter, clerk, luggage man – he was the whole lot.  And he was delighted.  I said “Do you know anybody?”  “Yes” he said.  “I know a bus driver and his wife who are Labour.”  And there was also the War Agricultural Officer, the man who looked after the farms.  I went to see this lad and I’ve been friends with him ever since.

“What are we going to do?” he says.  “We’re going to form a Labour Party.”  We called a meeting.  We had about a dozen people.  None of them were public speakers.  I was the only one who could stand up in public.  The bus driver had a belly as big as Fatty Arbuckle’s (3).  He lent me a pair of trousers and a coat.  I used to go to this Agricultural Officer’s house, change into the trousers, sew them up the back to make them fit (he always had to have them back the same night, so I always had to sew them up every time), and I’d go travelling ’round the villages making public speeches.  Our candidate was a Major Wise.  The headquarters were Kings Lynn – but we won the blessed seat.  We won it!  Everybody was shattered that we won it.

Conscript   I was on a boat going to India when the election results came over on the tannoy.  When we heard that Labour had won – now this is a true story – all the soldiers on this troopship, thousands of them – got up and sang the Red Flag.  The officers couldn’t stop it.  They didn’t try. (4)

Arran Farmer  The great highlights of the Second World War were Churchill’s speeches.  A remarkable man.  When people felt thoroughly down old Churchill would come on the radio and by the time he was finished we were quite sure everything was OK.  It was Churchill that won the war.  It was him and nobody else that pulled the nation together.  It was a terrible reflection on the British people that they could do such a thing to a man who had done so much for them.

Army Mechanic, North African and Italian campaign   I believe, in fact I’m bloody sure,  that when the war was over and the Labour government got in – not that I’ve got any time for them now – I believe it was because of the fact that at the time the Tories were in power.  They felt the Tories were to blame for not seeing the wood for the trees and arming earlier so that they would be in a position to say to Hitler “Pack it up.”

East London Man   A lot of people knew unconsciously that Churchill would be a great war leader because he was such an aggressive bastard.  Years and years after the war, when Churchill died, they tried to set up a memorial fund for him, and they even had the temerity to put it to Trade Union branches.  The war was in 1939.  There were men who were adolescents in 1912 when he did the Tonypandy killings.  Thirteen years before 1939 Churchill had been very, very  active in the ’26 strike. (5)

Churchill was also  well known in Stepney for bringing the military into Sydney Street.  Even people who knew nothing about politics knew that guardsmen and artillery machines came into Sydney Street, in their area, to destroy a couple of people who were non-existent anyway. (6)   In the whole of the East End people detested Conservatives, even without knowing what they were.  But Churchill was known to them.  Even people with hazy memories knew he was a ratbag, and that he was a Tory.  Five years later in 1945 the extent of the people voting for Labour proved this, and the Tories and the Times and the Telegraph and the Observer couldn’t understand it.  They were saying “How can they do this to our great war leader?”

At the time of the General Election the Daily Mirror invited youth to write an article, and I wrote an article on saying how I thought Labour would deal with it.  I was really proud of seeing me name in print.  I showed it to everybody.  In those days I thought Labour was the be-all and end-all of everything.  We all had visions of socialism then.

Paratrooper, Londoner   When the Smithfield porters were out on strike we were detailed to go and work in the Smithfield market. (7)   We were supposed to blackleg.  We had three ton Bedfords, down at Shorncliffe. (8)  I was driving them at the time.  They said “Right, make your way to Smithfields.”  I was in the second lorry and my mate was driving the first one.  There was about twenty to thirty blokes in each lorry, and there were four lorries.  I said to my mate “Do you know your way to Smithfield?”  I haven’t a fucking clue” he said.  “Follow me”, I said, “I’ll take you to Smithfield.”

Know where we ended up?  Hastings.  We had a great time, mucking about on the beach.  I wasn’t going to lead those lorries to Smithfield.   All the drivers were put on a charge.  I took the responsibility.  I said “Look, I thought I knew the way to London, but I must have took the wrong turning.”  They couldn’t do nothing about it, but we was confined to camp for five days.  I wasn’t going to go up there and do that – break the strike.  All the lads were in agreement.  We all had a day out, down at the seaside.

1.  VE Day – Victory in Europe – was on 8 May, 1945.

2. Whilst the war in the Far East was still on the British wartime coalition government announced  that a General Election would take place on 5 July.  Campaigning for the election started on 4 June, 1945.

3.  Fatty Arbuckle, a well known American Silent Film comedian.

4. The results of the British General Election were announced on 26 July.  (Postal votes from troops and personnel overseas were one reason for the gap between the polling day and the announcement of results).  The Labour Party had a majority of 145 seats.

5.  Churchill, a Conservative, had switched to the Liberal Party before the First World War, and was Home Secretary in November 1910 (not 1912) when he sent in troops to reinforce the police in the Tonypandy area in the South Wales mining area, following riots by locked out miners.  Only one person died, allegedly as a consequence of being hit by a police baton.  During the 1926 General Strike, in support of miners, Churchill was Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Conservative Government.  With no newspapers being printed the Government produced the anti trade union British Gazette, which Churchill edited.

6.  The Siege of Sydney Street, 3 January, 1911.  As Home Secretary Churchill sent in troops to Stepney to flush out alleged Latvian anarchist bank robbers.

7.  Smithfield Meat Market, London. This strike was during April, 1946, eight months after the Labour Party came to power.  Chuter Ede was the Home Secretary.

8.  Shorncliffe Army Base, Kent.

 

 

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25 Advance Across Western Europe

The flying bombs were dreadful bombs.  That’s when they were on their last knockings

London Lad   There really were dreadful bombs.  You never knew when they were coming.  There was no warning.  There was not even an air raid siren.  They just came down and exploded.

London Woman  Them flying bombs were shockers.  They were the V1s.  You’d see what looked like a little flame, and it’d go sailing over and you’d feel quite safe – safe whilst it was moving and making a noise.  There was no harm at all.  But the minute it stopped!  Pandemonium would break out.

Her Husband  Remember when that one stopped over here?  That day?  There was people in the pub opposite and they run over here and stood in our passage, with their beer still in their hand.  I don’t know what they thought, because they were as safe over in the pub as they were in our passage.  It was just panic.  And then there was the rockets – the V2s.

RAF Flight Sergeant   Towards the end of my tour we started doing daylights over France.  The buzz bombs and the V2’s were getting bad and our targets were the various V2 bases.  I was astounded to see field after field pitted with bomb holes – this was before our troops had got that far.  There didn’t seem to be a field in France that wasn’t pock-marked with craters.

Company Sergeant Major  I was on leave from Africa and every time one of those fly bombs used to come over I used to get frightened stiff.  It felt as if they used to go off every time you sat down for a meal.  The siren would go and as soon as it went,  my stomach turned over and over.  When the siren packed up and you came back to have a bit to eat, you didn’t want anything.  Everything went to my stomach.

One of the finest sights I saw when I did come home was a thousand bomber raid.  We were going over to friends that evening.  A fly bomb had dropped near Prince Regent’s Lane and I wanted to see it. (1)  All I saw was people picking up their beds and walking along the streets.  They were filthy.  I hadn’t seen things like that.  On the way there we were going along the sewer bank and there was this tremendous noise and we looked up and the sky – you couldn’t see it for planes.  It was a wonderful sight that was.

Airman, RAF regiment   In 1945 we were in Holland guarding airfields.  It was terrible because the Germans had blown up the dykes and everything was flooded.  I used to see the planes going over in Holland.  It must have been hell in those German cities.  They were bombed by the British during the night and by the Americans by day.  I could imagine what it was like.  It must have been terrible.

None of our lot deserted in Germany,  but I think there was quite a few Infantry blokes who went on the run.

Royal Engineer  They’d had enough to it.  Once they got in a town I suppose they thought:  why go any further?  They’d had enough.

As we’re advancing through Germany I got fourteen days leave, from the Dortmund-Ems Canal.  We was putting a bridge across there, to get our Infantry across.  There was a little village and the road ran straight down to the canal.  We put a folding boat bridge across.  We were sleeping in a farm, a mile back down the road, and they started shelling the boat bridge.  They’d wait until you’ve finished it, then they’d blow a big hole in it.  This Corporal, Bill Berry –  he was a nice bloke –  when I got back he said to me “You’ve got fourteen days leave, starting tomorrow.”  It was a rota system.  Only one of you went, and it had come round to me.  And then he says “They’ve blown one of our boats out the river – Come on, we’ve got to go back up there.”  I said “You go and get stuffed”, I said.  “I’d rather be shot than go back there, Bill.”  “I’ll have to report you.”  “You’ll have to shoot me.  I’m not going back there.”

I got back to England by train and boat.  The driver took me to the nearest town with the water cart the following morning, and I got a train from there.  I still went back to my unit though.  I must have been fucking mad.  I must have been potty.  Mind, I was five days adrift.  I let them keep going forward.  Trouble was, they stopped and I caught up with them.  I suppose the fact I came back was part of the British Army inborn discipline – ‘cos you’d do it in England.  They’d say “Fourteen days.  Report back so and so a day, 1200 hours.”

Funnily enough, a lot of blokes on active service were glad to get away from London and back to the front.  If they came on leave they couldn’t stand it because they hadn’t experienced air raids, being on army service.  They’d say “I don’t want to know this.  I want to get back to my unit.”   Same as our infantry used to say to us, if they came back for a rest.  “We don’t like it here.”  They wasn’t comfortable.  “We want to get back to the front.  All we got to face up there is rifle and machine-gun bullets.  Back here”, they used to say “you get shells and mortars.  Up there we can dodge them little bullets.  Keep your head down.”

They were very strict on fraternisation with Germans.  Very strict.

I never heard of anyone getting caught out with a German girl.  They were too crafty to get caught.  It was as much to do with the German population, as anybody, because they didn’t want to know you, even if you wanted to fraternise.

It wasn’t all Germans you could get off with.  You got Dutch – all kinds.  One place in Holland the locals had to go from one town to another place to collect their potato rations. I was working on the road there, and you’d see these girls carrying half a hundred weight (2) in a sack, walking along the road.  Blokes would give them a bar of chocolate and they’d hop over the hedge and have a jump for a bar of chocolate.  It was survival.  Couldn’t blame ’em for doing it.

With kids, you couldn’t really stop fraternisation.  They couldn’t understand, could they?  If they spoke to you – what could you do?  Couldn’t just kick ’em up the arse.  But I don’t mind the Germans myself.  I found them better than anybody, because they were the nearest to English people that I’ve seen.  The English breed.  They had exactly the same habits, in all ways.  The same attitudes.  I mean, you could offer them a fag and they’d tell you to stick it up your arse.  Some of the others, they’d come crawling up for fags.

At first they was allowed to bring back anything, but they had to put a stop to it

Some of these people were bringing back furniture.  I seen one bloke when I went on that home leave, he had a small baby piano on his back, strapped on his back, coming down the gangplank.  A little German miniature piano.  I didn’t have nothing – No, yes I did –  a kind of horse blanket I’d been using to sit on.  It was black on one side and leopard skin on the other.  I’ve still got it, in fact.  But it got so bad they had to stop it.  They were looting everything.  It was mainly the blokes behind the line – artillery and corps troops.  They was packing it up in packing cases, labelling it and sending it home.  But they had to put a stop to it.

Because of the secret radio we had in the camp we knew about the D Day landings and the advance

Guernsey POW  We even had maps.  It was pitiful – ‘cos towards the end we had a map pinned in our prison cell, with makeshift pins it, and the German guards used to come in, nod to us, and look at the map to see where they’d got pushed back to.  They were really crumbling fast towards the end.  Whether they were losing or winning, I must say that they always behaved correctly with me, with all of us, really.

Towards the end we were constantly getting air raids from the American Flying Fortresses.  We used to spend days down in the dungeons, with our German guards.  Other times you could hear rumblings, bombs and some sort of firing, which we all agreed was only a few miles away.

Finally the German Commandant called up our Chief – our Representative – and said “I’m here to do my duty and I intend to continue to do it.  I can’t put up a white flag of surrender – I’ve got to fly the German flag.  If I put up a white flag, as I’ve told you before, there are other people in Germany, besides the German Army.”  I think he was frightened that the SS and the Nazis would then come into the camp, and he wouldn’t then know who he was fighting!  To give them their due, many of the SS were fighting to the last.  So we had to keep the German flag flying.

Another week went by and I was out on a pass.  The locals were frightened out of their bloody lives.  I’ve never seen such fear.  I told them “I had it five years ago – I saw the same thing in Guernsey.  You’re only going through what my people went through.”  That was the only way I could help them.  I went along this path and there was a load of dead Germans shot through the back of the head, so I knew someone had been there in the night.  But who?  We’d seen no one.  All this was highly unpleasant.

The German Commandant called most of his staff together, promoted them – a typical army thing – shook hands, gave them civilian clothes, told them to filter out of the camp and God be with you.  He himself stayed on duty with a remnant of his staff.  They decided they wouldn’t desert – which I’m glad they didn’t, as we were able to save them being shot by the Americans.

One of the prisoners said, of all things, could he go out of the camp on a bike with a white flag and try and find some Americans!

We kept hearing gunfire.  One day it would be to our left, the next to our right, but you never saw anything.  I went out and I tried to put through a telephone call to a German civilian some miles away.  I got through to the Exchange and it was dreadful – I could sense the fear.  I said to the telephonist “Have you seen any Americans?”  This poor bloody girl – I could sense how scared she was.  It’s dreadful.  it’s not laughable at all, because I’d felt like that five years before.  It’s indescribable.  You could almost feel the telephone trembling.  “No – nein, nein.”  I said “Don’t you know where they are?  Are your lines still open to so and so?”  Yes” she said “they’re still open there.”  But this German guard said “Come off it, Mr Hickman.”  I said “I’m only trying to get some news.”  I said “I can tell you this mate, it’s your army, but there’s no Americans there, there and there.”  He said “That won’t help me much. Come on, let’s get back inside the camp.”

One of the prisoners said, of all things, could he go out of the camp on a bike with a white flag and try and find the Americans!  The German Commandant said “If you go out with a white flag and there’s any Nazi troops left they’ll probably shoot you.  If you go out with no flag at all, or a German one, the Americans will probably shoot you, and ” – he had a bit of humour – ” I’m not going out there.  I’m staying here.”

Finally, however, this guy did go out on a bike with a white flag and he ran into an American panzer column – spearhead – and they promptly clapped guns on him, and what they weren’t going to do to him is indescribable.  He finally told them that there was a British camp five miles down this road.  We were in the camp when two American jeeps came up the road in a cloud of dust with about five Shermans, and our feller was sitting on the radiator with two guns pointing in his back.  They suspected a trap.

The bloke jumps off and says “You see?  I told you so.”  The German Commandant and his staff walked out and clicked their heels, saluted, and surrendered to the officer in charge.  The Germans still kept the gates locked, they were still on duty, apart from those who had walked out to surrender.  We were so pent up we went up to the wire and I saw one guy actually claw his way through the wire.  He went berserk – “Freedom!  Freedom!”  He ended up the other side an awful mess, but he didn’t feel any pain.  He was completely berserk.  But do you know what?  I almost did it myself.

There then followed about six weeks of chaos.  It was total anarchy.  The Americans bowled into another camp near us, which they thought was a concentration camp.   “OK guys! – You’re free!”  Clang.  The door opens and out stream all these men and women in these horrible pyjama suits.  But they were ordinary German civilian criminals.  They were a right shower.  It was dreadful.

I ran into some of these pyjama clad boys along the road.  They had an old car, which they had pinched.  It was like a cowboy film.  It was packed with women and fellers, all firing guns up in the air and waving bottles of hooch about.  They came slap on me, jumped out and said “Who are you?”  I couldn’t speak French or Polish, and I thought it was best not to speak German, so I spoke English.  Nobody seemed to understand me.  They were poking guns in me and examining my clothes, so I spoke to them in German.  I said “I’m a prisoner like you.  Our camp has been freed.”  There was a lot of natter amongst them.  “You’re a prisoner?  Shake hands!  Have a drink.”  I said “Ooh yeah, I’ll have a drink.”  But what horrified me, the geyser with this huge whisky bottle said “Ah, there’s hardly any left – we’ll get some more”, and he goes ’round the back of the car and syphons off the petrol – it was the SS petrol they were drinking!

I was too frightened to say I’m not going to drink it.  I was quite convinced I was going to be done to death.  “Here’s to freedom!” they said, and I drank the petrol.  The funny thing is, it never had any effect.  My stomach was so seized up because I was frightened,  that I could have drunk sulphuric acid and it would have passed through.  Later on, when some sort of control was exercised all these guys were rounded up

The Americans were slap-happy.  They were front line troops.

I saw two of them shoot themselves in the stomach, right in front of me.  The whole thing was hell – it was like Dante’s Inferno.  I went out with them as a sort of unofficial interpreter, with this 3rd Infantry Division.   Things were still pretty dicey.  They were still running into pockets of Germans who were fighting and in a rough and ready way they vetted everyone.

One day I was sitting up near Berchtesgaden, in this jeep. (3)   You know how these Yanks have always got these big cigars?  It is true what you see on the pictures – Yanks were like that.  This guy was sitting in his jeep, sprawled back, his feet up on the windscreen, smoking this big cigar, and he said to me “Well Mr Englishman, whadya think of the American army?”  I didn’t know what to say.  I was quite horrified, to be honest.  While I was thinking what to say he said “You don’t have to worry.  I’ll tell you something boy – half these geysers I’ve got under me,”  he said  “they were playing with guns when they were still in nappies.  They were always shooting each other way back in the States – so it don’t make no difference.”  I began to think, Christ…   He was some executive in the Pennsylvanian Railroad.  Quite a nice guy.  He said “Don’t worry about them.”  But I did, all the same.

After a time I was given a pass and flown back to England.  Coming home finished me off altogether.  I finished up four months in a mental home.  I had such a colossal nervous breakdown, and I’ve been nervy ever since.  I couldn’t cope with it all, at all.  The end of the war for me was worse than the war itself, in a peculiar personal way.  I just couldn’t cope.  I was thinking in terms of committing suicide.

1.   Plaistow, East London.

2.   Half a hundredweight (UK) equals approx. 25 kg.

3.   Berchtesgaden is a small town in the Bavarian Alps, 30 km south of Salzburg.  It is particularly associated with Hitler’s Berghof and his Kehlsteinhaus – the “Eagle’s Nest”.

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24 Disaffection of the Forces

The maximum sentence for disaffection of the forces under regulation 1AA was fifteen years.  We didn’t know what to expect.

Anarchist  During the war the anarchist movement was pretty well a closed shop, as of course it had to be.  There was the overt activity – the open, public activity, and there was the underground stuff going on.  There was the whole business of having to protect deserters and people on the run.  There had to be security.  And so the Anarchist Federation, as it was then called, was something that you were only invited to join.  You couldn’t just bowl up, or write in and say “I want to join you.”

When I first went to Belsize Road, where the Freedom Press was, I was fascinated and I was interested. (1)    I felt I had come home, inasmuch I had found people of similar attitudes.  The overt activity of the Freedom group was things like public speaking at Hyde Park and publishing War Commentary, which had an uninterrupted run through the war.

All papers had an uninterrupted run through the war, with the exception of the Daily Worker that was banned for a year after 1940.  Because of the invasion of France Herbert Morrison (2) decided that freedom couldn’t be extended to the Communist Party any longer, and their paper was banned until Germany attacked Russia and the Communists changed their line overnight from opposition to support of the war.  They started publishing again and became the most outrageous patriots of the lot.  Anyone who opposed the war was denounced as an agent of Hitler and the Trotskyists. (3)   They were absolute bastards.  They used to hassle sellers at Hyde Park.  You’d be jostled and papers would be knocked out of your hands.

We sold the bulk of what we printed.  We had good sales here in London and a very, very good and active group in Glasgow at that time.  Best working class orators I’ve ever heard speaking every Sunday at Maxwell Street, in the heart of Glasgow.  In the summer outdoors, and in the winter they took St. Enoch’s Hall and had big meetings there.  It was the most influential working class group in Glasgow at the time amongst anti-war people.

Glasgroup, the one

The ILP were very strong too.  It was still the time when people talked about “The Red Clyde”, and that period of the strong ILP.  Besides us and the ILP, the SPGB was the other political group totally opposed to the war. (4)

In fact, they were one of the few organisations where you pretty well only had to go before a Conscientious Objectors Tribunal and say “I’m a member of the SPGB” and you’d get off automatically.  They had a splendid record of getting people off and a lot of it stemmed from Tony Turner, because he would go and speak for somebody.

Stepney, London Teenager   I became a socialist when I was fifteen.  I was a member of the SPGB.  My Father, who’d been a docker,  had died so there was no political influence on me at home.  I met this bloke at work who was in the SPGB, and he introduced me to them.  He took me to a meeting by a man called Tony Turner, and he’s probably the greatest speaker I’ve heard in my life.  He was fucking Moses.

Anarchist  Tony Turner was often on Christian name terms with the Chairman of the Tribunal – “Well, Tony, what you’ve got to say about this one?”  The two groups that were usually recognised were the SPGB and the Friends – the Quakers.  The Jehovah Witnesses were continually turned down.  I never quite understood that, except they’re a pretty intolerant bunch, and never really recognised as a proper religious body.  But Tony Turner was a brilliant speaker.  The story goes that on the day war broke out he spoke for about nine hours continuously in Hyde Park.  One report said there were thousands of people listening to him.

We had a problem of where to put a rather special deserter who had just come out of the army to join us

As I said earlier, one couldn’t simply bowl up and join the Anarchist Federation.  They sized you up for a long time.  I’d been selling newspapers in Hyde Park and doing drawings and sign-writing posters, for a whole year, and I’d just started writing articles for them,  before they finally decided I was a fit person to be invited to join, and then I was right in the bloody thick of it.

I had a nice little studio then, in Camden Town, in Camden Street, which was a very nice secluded place behind a church, with an alleyway leading to it.  We had a problem of where to put a rather special deserter who had just come out of the army to join us.  He was a chap called John Olday.   He was of German origins who’d been in the German anarchist movement before the war and had come over here just before the war.  He’d been drafted into the Pioneer Corps and was in it for a couple of years.  He was a cartoonist and had been sending his cartoons to War Commentary – very, very sharp, acid and funny cartoons.

Cartoon:  John Olday

Cartoon: John Olday

The time came when he decided he could no longer stand it and wanted to pull out.  So we had to give him some place to live and this little studio of mine was just right.  He came and lived with me in that studio for quite a few months.  He established a network of communication with dissident soldiers.  He started a regular monthly newsletter – soldier’s newsletter – which was duplicated.  He sent this out to a list of about two hundred soldiers.  His special knowledge of the army gave him the opportunity to talk in their terms and establish rapport with soldiers which us conches didn’t have.

Besides publishing War Commentary we also turned out an unending stream of little penny pamphlets and sixpenny booklets.

Lon group, the one

In the autumn of 1944, when the State decided to attack us, I was off on a book-selling tour.  We’d drawn up a big itinerary starting from London up to Bristol, up the west country, up to Glasgow, across to Edinburgh and right the way down, covering every major town.  I did a sort of whistle stop tour with my little bag of samples of all our pamphlets.  It was an absolute joy.  I sold £500 worth of literature in six weeks!  I was sending orders down  and they were having to get some things back on the press because they were right out.

It was at this time that John Olday got picked up.  He was carrying a typewriter home late at night and a policeman stopped him and asked him what he was doing, and where he was going, and where his card – his ID card was.  He had to go down to the station and he got nabbed.  He kept stumm for a long time – wouldn’t say who he was, but eventually they found out and it coincided with some things we were saying in the paper that they were objecting to.

They raided my studio and found all his stuff – the duplicating machine and discovered that letters had been circulating among soldiers.  As a result of this they raided Freedom Press and because I was on this book-selling tour they found my Ration Book and they said “What’s this?”  You could stay one night in a hotel without a ration book and so I was living for the six weeks without the thing and I’d left it behind for other people to pick up their rations.  They also found in my studio a lovely great big sheepskin coat which I’d bought from a soldier when I had been working on the land, and had a motorbike.  It was something left over from the Norwegian campaign.

As a result of them raiding my place and Freedom Press, as a consequence of picking up John Olday, the whole bloody balloon went up.  By the time I got back to London I had to go into hiding.  They’d nabbed three of the others.  They’d picked up Vernon Richards, who nominally was the owner of Express Printers, the movement’s printing press, and John Hewetson, who was a doctor, and he was nominally the owner of Freedom Press.  The third was Marie-Louise, Vernon Richard’s wife, and an activist in her own right.

Vernon Richards

Vernon Richards

Philip Sansom

Philip Sansom

Hew-Mar L001A short while after I got back I was jumped on at a friend’s flat.  Someone had squealed that I was staying there.  We suspected it was CPers, but we never knew for sure. (5)

When we were attacked the amount of support we got from all sorts of directions, including people like Orwell, was astonishing

So there were the four of us.  John Olday was already in nick.   The maximum sentence for disaffection of the forces under Regulation 1AA was fifteen years.  The Disaffection Act of 1934 had laid down two years maximum but the wartime regulations upped that to fifteen years.  We didn’t know what to expect.

A few months before us, four trotskyists had been done for inciting a strike in Newcastle – the famous Apprentices’ Strike, and they’d got six months, I think, just for that. (6)   And our thing seemed to be getting a hell of a lot more attention.  We were anticipating two, maybe three years.  Not so long before us a chap called T.W.Brown had got eighteen months on a similar charge.  He lived out at Kingston and he’d produced his own anti-war leaflets.  He’d actually gone around handing leaflets out to soldiers and members of the Wrens and the Women’s Airforce, and things like that.  He’d given one to a Waaf who immediately went straight to the police, had been picked up and had got eighteen months. We thought: surely we won’t get less than that.

We didn’t feel at all isolated.  For one thing, if you’re a member of a group, or a movement, you get this little cocoon around you and the rest of the world doesn’t exist.  It’s like living in London – you have your own community and the rest of London is like a desert as far as you’re concerned.  When we were attacked the amount of support we got from all sorts of directions, including people like Orwell, was astonishing.  They rallied around in an absolutely marvellous way.

Freedom Press had an enormous amount of prestige at that time and a lot of affection going for it, and a lot of respect.  It had grown out of the Spanish war, which was still not all that far behind, and so a lot people rallied round.  I’m never going to hear anything against old Herbert Read, on account of what he did at the time. (7)   He roped in all the bloody intellectuals, with his name behind us, and Ethel Manning and old pacifists with prestige like Reginald Reynolds, and a few other people like that.  And he got M.Ps on the Defence Committee – Michael Foot, Fenner Brockway, Sidney Silverman – I think.   The Left M.P’s joined up – Bevan joined us as a patron of the Freedom Press Defence Committee, and people like Orwell wrote, and the whole thing began to thunder. (8)

We set up a Defence Fund and we raised £2000 in a very short time, with the result that we were able to buy the services of top flight barristers.  We had John Maude, who afterwards became Recorder of Exeter; Derek Curtis Bennett, as he was then.  He afterwards became Sir Derek; a chap called John Burge, who seems to have sunk without trace, but was a very, very able guy.   He was my bloke and spoke very well.  We were also able to hire the services of someone called Seaton, who became a real right bastard of a Recorder later on.  He was a right wing sod and we retained him simply to stop him being used by the other side.  He just sat there looking glum and not saying a word all the time.  And as a junior – nice little twist – a chap was assigned as a junior to Curtis Bennett.  He’s now a Labour councillor and lives just up the road.  A short while ago he advised me on some rent trouble – a little battle I was having with my landlord.

We put it forward, and it was accepted as a Freedom of Speech thing.  This was Orwell’s attitude

He made it perfectly clear he didn’t agree with us about the war, but he was concerned about the freedom of speech issue.  He spoke on our platforms, both before and afterwards.  The Freedom Committee was kept going after the trial as a sort of alternative to the NCCL which at the time was heavily CP dominated. (9)

When I was arrested the police found that I hadn’t notified my last change of address on my Identity Card.  Because I didn’t seem to have an address they wanted to hold me and I was charged on two accounts, besides the Disaffection charge.  One, for not notifying my change of address and two, for being in possession of government property – the army sheepskin coat I’d bought off this soldier.  I was given a month on each account, just to keep me in while they were cooking up the main charges.

I was in nick when the first hearings began in the magistrates’ court for the general charges against Freedom Press.  There was quite a battle to get me bail.  They fixed bail at £1000.  They were prepared to accept two people at £500.  I actually had three or four people in court prepared to do that, but none of them would swear on the Bible!  The bloody old judge wouldn’t accept them!  They were prepared to affirm, but not take the oath.  There had to be an application to a Judge in chambers, who declared that it was quite illegal for the judge to have refused to accept affirmation, so I was finally let out.  I was out when the main trial started.

I had already done a little bit of prison sentence in Brixton, which was a first-timers’, remand prison then.  When we finally got weighed off at the Old Bailey and got nine months each we were highly delighted!   We’d been expecting a lot more.  After the sentencing we went in different directions.  Hewetson had been in jail before, as a conscientious objector, but that doesn’t count as a criminal offence, so he was able to go to the Scrubs, which is a first-timers’prison.  It was also Richards first time, and he went to the Scrubs.  But I, as a second-timer, I was sent to bloody Wandsworth, which was a hell of a jail.  Marie-Louise was found not guilty on a technicality.

They put me to work in the print shop.  Here was I, having been done for making propaganda to disaffect the forces, actually being taught how to print

After a few weeks at Wandsworth I applied for a transfer to the Scrubs, where the others were, but instead they sent me to Maidstone, which was a lovely little nick.  I had no complaints at Maidstone at all.  It was mid-summer by this time.  They put me to work in the print shop.  Here was I, having been done for making propaganda to disaffect the forces, actually being taught how to print.  I thought it was marvellous!   Unfortunately I was stupid enough to  write out and say this in my letters and the Special Branch were of course reading them, so after a week at Maidstone I was hurriedly sent back to Wandsworth.

I applied again for a transfer and eventually they did send me to the Scrubs.  There we had a great time.  There was this chap T.W.Brown, there were us three and there were about two others sympathetic to us.  One was an ex-Communist.

Apart from the criminals in there, who were not a great lot, most of the chaps were deserters

There wasn’t a hostile atmosphere in there.  We set ourselves up very quickly to become a kind of advisory body, and Hewetson, as a doctor, always had his ear bent to various complaints.  We became quite a nice little influence.

The Deputy Governor was a young keen Rhodes scholar from South Africa, who obviously had ideas on rehabilitation of prisoners.  He thought he was going to set up a sort of educational thing, for one thing, to show us up for the idiots we were.  First he started off discussion groups where we’d read the daily papers and he’d pick out items and say “We’ll talk about this.”  There’d be a polite discussion, but because our ideas came through it got up his nose.  So he said “Right, we’ll have debates about this.”  They set up debates on all sorts of issues and we wiped the floor.  Hewetson was a very good speaker and the ex-communist – a little round-faced man – turned out to be a great speaker.  There’d be about a hundred prisoners coming to these debates, and we won every time, hands down.  The people they were putting up against us were toffee-nosed officers who’d been cashiered out of the army for fiddling funds, and this sort of thing!  After about three of these debates the deputy Governor decided he’d had enough, and so he stopped them.

At the time of the trial the print order for War Commentary went up five and six thousand.  The comrades in Glasgow really went to town.  They had enormous meetings up there and stirred things like hell.  They took a thousand, two thousand copies and sold them at their meetings.  The trial happened at a time when the war was obviously coming to an end and the Allies obviously winning.  Had it happened in the atmosphere of 1940 it might have been quite a different story.  But by 1945 people were pissed off by the war.

1.  Belsize Road, north west London.  The anarchist Freedom Press was founded in 1886 by, amongst others, Charlotte Wilson, and the Russian Prince Kropotkin.  It remains an anarchist publishing house.

2.   Herbert Morrison, 1930s leader of the Labour controlled London County Council, and Home Secretary in the wartime Coalition Government.

3.  Trotskyists.  Followers of the theories of Leon Trotsky, prominent Bolshevik at the time of the Russian Revolution and founder and leader of the Red Army.  Ousted during internal power struggles in the 1920’s, expelled from the USSR,  and assassinated on Stalin’s orders in 1940.

4.   ILP:   Independent Labour Party, a British democratic socialist party founded in 1893.   It was affiliated to the Labour Party from 1906 – 1932, and had several prominent MP’s, including Ramsay Macdonald, Manny Shinwell and James Maxton.  Its parliamentary significance declined, with its three remaining MP’s going over to the Labour Party in the 1940’s.   SPGB:  Socialist Party of Great Britain.  A Marxist party critical of Lenin and the Bolsheviks at the time of the Russian Revolution,  and continuing to be critical since, of Trotsky, Stalin, etc.   Still in existence.

5.   CPers:  Members of the Communist Party.

6.  The Apprentices Strike of 1944 was led by the Tyneside Engineering Apprentices Guild, resisting apprentices being drafted into coal mines as part of the Bevin Boys.  Trotskyist members of the Revolutionary Communist Party were charged for aiding them.  Their role has been described as ‘advising and supporting’ the strike leaders.

7.  Herbert Read, an anarchist and writer on Art,  sullied his name among many anarchists when he accepted a Knighthood in 1953 for  “Services to Literature”.

8.  Ethel Mannin:  novelist, essayist, feminist and left libertarian;  Reginald Reynolds: Quaker, active pacifist, married Ethel Mannin in 1938;  Michael Foot: co-author of Guilty Men (1940) and Labour leader in opposition, 1980 -1983;  Fenner Brockway, active pacifist First World War, member of ILP, co-founder of War on Want and Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Labour MP from 1950;  Sidney Silverman:  active pacifist First World War, Labour Party activist and MP, campaigning for the abolition of capital punishment, often in dispute with his own party;  Nye Bevan:  Labour MP from 1929 and Minister of Health 1945 – 1951 in the post-war Labour Government.

George Orwell, in 1944 was, outside of the Left, not generally  known.  He had completed Animal Farm in February, 1944.  It was rejected by his publisher Victor Gollancz, and also by publishers Jonathan Cape and Faber and Faber, on political grounds.  It was published by Secker and Warburg in August, 1945.

9.  NCCL:  National Council for Civil Liberties.  The Freedom Defence Committee continued to take up other cases until it folded in 1949.  In the summer of 1945 the Freedom Defence Committee was as below:

Free defence C

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23 D Day

When we was getting near France and I realised this was it, I was like a jelly – nerves.  I wasn’t no hero

Brodick Farmer, Isle of Arran   The commandos trained here.

His Sister, House Owner, Brodick, Isle of Arran   By jove yes, and the damage they did.  I didn’t know until afterwards that I could have claimed compensation.  Oh, they smashed everything.  Some of them were just like wild animals, wetting their beds.  The place was almost practically new and the mess they made!  Some of the hotels closed down and went away.  They cleared out.  But me –   the authorities came to me and said I had to take these commandos.  I said I couldn’t take them – I was all alone.  Oh they insisted!  I had to.  There was no escape.

Brodick Farmer, Isle of Arran  The commandos, the first time they arrived here, I think it was a January afternoon, a cold blustery afternoon it was.  There was a dozen places on Brodick beach they could have landed them quite sensibly, and the Navy were bound to know, because Brodick is probably one of the best examples of a sloping beach in Britain, and there was no difficulty in getting them to land their landing craft on Strabane beach – right up.  But of course, Commander So and So, whoever was in charge, landed them out in the damn sandbanks, and the poor fellers had to get into the water, and make a human chain and load all their stuff across, some of them standing up to their shoulders.  And believe me, that water is cold!  We were absolutely sweating, watching them.  There was a score of places on the beach they could have run the landing craft right up and landed them and run their stuff ashore.  They learnt that later on, but this was the first lot that came in.  I said “My God, look at the Navy!”  Some of the fellers must have been in a devil of a state because they were standing for a long time, and they were handing their gear from one to another, and on to the shore.

And then there were a lot of young “brilliant” officers – hard fellers – they were in it for the money, and straight away they’d take them for these fearful route marches and then walk them straight down into the sea with all their kit on.  On one occasion one fellow put them right over the end of the pier and they struggled their way ashore – to make them tough.

I remember poor old Charlie, he was the Brodick Hall keeper.  He and John MacBride were two of the greatest assets Brodick ever had.  Charlie was having a dance in the hall. It was full of the commandos.  He put down his jacket to sweep something up, and when he went to get his jacket they had rifled his pockets.  Charlie was a great philosopher.   He said “Isn’t it a terrible thing to think that anyone would be low enough to rob the pocket of a working man.”

Fusilier   During the pre-D Day landing exercises at places like Inveraray and Rothesay guys were throwing their weapons overboard.   I can assure you this was no just a matter of them larking about.  The real reason for throwing phosphorous grenades and dumping their bullets and bombs overboard was that they just didnae want to know.  They didnae want to get their faces burned or a bullet through the bloody head.  It’s as blunt as that.  The whole area must be loaded up with enough weapons and gear to start another bloody war!

Leeds Man   We had a particularly nasty bully in the ——— Infantry.  When they went abroad on D Day  I went to a holding battalion, and then on to another holding battalion and bumped  into two or three of the old ———- Infantry men there.  One night we were talking and I asked “What happened to Captain So and So?”  “He was dead before his feet reached the sand.”  “What?  They got him so quickly?”  “No, they didn’t get him.  We got him.”  His own troops shot him.  They shot him in the back as they landed on D Day.

Wanstead, East London Woman   We knew when it was going to be D Day because they were on the Flats, all the soldiers, getting ready.  My mate lived in Sydney Road.  We used to talk to them from her upstairs window.  They told us something was going to happen.  They said they didn’t know exactly when they were going.  They weren’t allowed out at all.  That’s why we talked to them from the window.  You couldn’t talk to them otherwise.

Winscombe Girl  We served the Americans in the shop and delivered papers to the Headquarters, for the Commanding Officer.  He had heard that my Father had died and came into the shop to say how sorry he was, and to cancel the papers and pay up because they were all leaving for France.  They were supply troops.  This was a week after D Day.

East London Boy  I had a marvellous experience at work.  I was supposed to have studied French at school and I had a vague knowledge of it, about enough to say Hallo to somebody.  I worked as an apprentice making radios.   I got one of these radios going and they announced the D Day landings – in French.  It hadn’t been announced in English.  The bloke I was working for had been a pilot in the Spanish Civil war, on the Republican side, and I called him down.  It kept giving out these reports, and he could understand.  I ran out into the street and I told everyone the army had landed, and nobody would believe me!  I was really upset as I knew the armies had landed.

Fusilier  At the height of the Normandy landings almost every police station and detention camp in Britain was jam-packed full.  In Glasgow alone, at places like Blythswood Police Station, deserters were twelve to a cell.  Maryhill Barracks was like the Black Hole of Calcutta – Edinburgh Castle likewise, and that story was repeated up and down the country.

Sketch:  Walter Morrison

Sketch: Walter Morrison

I was in the first wave on D Day.  It was supposed to be half past six in the morning, but we was late again!

Royal Engineer  The British Army was late again!  8 o’ clock we got there.  We went from Gosport.  We was kept up there for six weeks in the “cages” – a bit white camp, all under canvas.  You couldn’t get outside the perimeter wire.  They had guards on it – Redcaps and dogs.  We had all our last minute secret training in there, but no-one knew when it was going to be.  They was all over England, these camps.  You kept doing the same thing over and over again.

Once a week we had to all put on our battle order.  We had special assault jackets, different to the army uniform.  They put us on lorries and took us to Gosport harbour.  We embarked on tank landing craft and they took you out into the Channel.  Maybe four hours.  The next week you thought: Hallo?  What’s going on here?  We were away, so we thought.  But they brought you back.  Back to the routine.  We didn’t know when we were going out whether it was training or for real.  Of course, the last time they took us out I thought to myself:  we’re out here a fucking long time.  And the blokes are saying “What the fucking hell’s going on today?  We want to get back!”  Then the Captain who’s driving this fucking boat came round and gave you the word – that this was the real thing.  The old padre came at us, and you’re going “Cor, fucking hell!  I wish I’d known this!  They wouldn’t have got me out!”  But up to that time you were in the routine.  You was taking orders.  The preparation was so strict and intense, from the time we got to Gosport.

You was all split up into your little groups.  They split everybody up into small groups so that in  case of casualties – in case a whole lot got wiped out – you still had a unit.  There was only me and a mate of mine – us two engineers on that one boat.  Then we had anti-aircraft gun, bren carrier, few infantrymen, few ambulance men – all mixed, so that whoever got there, you had something of each.

You had your map reference when you landed, where to go.  If you were interested.  Course, some went that way, and some went the other way!  But where could you desert to?

You took a chance whatever way you went.  You didn’t know what you was going into.  When we were getting near France and I realised this was it, I was like a jelly – nerves.  I wasn’t no hero.  I don’t think nobody was.  I was a coward.  I admit that.  It’s a sensation you can’t explain.  It’s a gradual process.  It’s like indoctrination.  After a couple of days you’re getting used to it.  Someone’s slinging shells at you and it goes Bang! bang! – and you’re diving in ‘oles.  It becomes a matter of – like a rabbit – you come out to feed and do something, and every time the noise goes – you’re down your ‘ole.  I was the fastest of the lot!

You see some weird things in war.  Once you get involved in war, I don’t care who you are, if you’re up in the forward area, where there’s any action at all, I say every man turned into an animal.  The conversion was gradual.  From the time you got there you started living like an animal.  You got involved in casualties.  In dead bodies and living in ‘oles in the ground for a while and in old bombed houses.  You gradually changed.  Didn’t matter how timid or what sort of person you was, you became an animal.  You didn’t notice it.  When you first arrived after D Day and you see a couple of bodies blown to bits, it turns you up, and you’re looking to see if you could do anything. Three weeks, a month later, they’re still lying there.  You just walk past them.

John thorpe005

When you landed on the beach you was like a load of – how can I say? – a load of kids on an outing

We landed on Bénouville beach, though no one tried to tell you what your objective was.  Ours was Bénouville Bridge.  We had to meet up with the 6th Airborne who’d landed in front of us and captured the bridge.  But we didn’t know whether they had captured it or not!  We had to walk there.  Find our own way there.

When you landed you had all your colours – gold, red – and your boats went for that.  We were getting shells.  The Beachmasters landed first – blokes on the beach with flags, waving them in.  They were fucking heroes – all them blokes.  Them and the M.Ps I think.  They talk about M.Ps being bastards – the Corps of M.Ps might have been,  but your own M.Ps that was attached to your unit, they was alright.  They’d stand on point duty if they was putting an attack in, and the transport had to move up.  They’d be standing on point duty on a branch road in the country and they’d be getting knocked out right, left and centre.  About six in one day we got killed.  As soon as one got killed, they’d say to another one “You – point duty” and as they were going up there – Bang!

You got so it was your last day.  Do what you could today – it didn’t matter about tomorrow.  Anything could happen.

When you landed on the beach you was like a load of – how can I say? – a load of kids on an outing.  Everyone’s wandering around, once you got there.  As soon as they realised the first attack had gone in and it was serious they started slinging a few shells back.  Where we landed was only a narrow beach, about fifty yards wide, and the tide had started going out.  We were supposed to have got in on a full tide, but as we were late it was on its way out.  We was about fifty yards out but the Captain of the boat said “You’ll be alright, I’ll run you right up the beach”, which he did.  They was all doing that – banging them right up onto the beach.

I hung on the barrel of this anti-aircraft gun, so I wouldn’t get my arse wet.  I wasn’t going in the water for no fucker – I’d have sooner gone back.  Everybody was on the beach.  It was jammed up.  They had a casualty clearing station up one end, dug in some cliffs.  They were taking the casualties in there.  There was a little stone wall – a parapet wall along the front and we was up behind that, crouching.  All of us.  No fucker would move.  They was all piling up behind there.  No one knew how to get to where they were supposed to go.  You’d say “Where you going mate?”  You walked, run or got a lift up there.  They was all going to the same place – Bénouville.

It was everyone for himself when you got there.  There was a bit of an opening where the road came down to the beach and they was all making for that.  And the first thing I see, laying in the middle of the road was a green beret and a blown up bike.  All smoking.  Bits of rag.  He got a direct hit with a mortar, this commando.  They landed with them folding bikes.  That was the first one I saw.  I thought: Oh no.  I didn’t want to know much, so me and my mate Tosh thought:  Let’s fuck off and get out of it.  We shot up the road into a churchyard.  We sat in there for a couple of hours.  Had a fag.  Thought: fuck it, what are we going to do now?  We gradually worked our way up.  As we were going up they came over and dropped another load of airborne troops.  The 6th Airborne went in first – the old Flying Horse Pegasus.  They called it Pegasus Bridge afterwards.

I was in the forward area all the time.  It was a three mile area, which wasn’t very nice because you was getting the short distance shells, and you went up with the infantry

Some of the Infantry wouldn’t move without us, and we wouldn’t move without the Infantry – that’s how you used to argue!  It’s unbelievable.  If they had to go out on a night patrol and they came up against a minefield they’d send back for us.  “Fuck you”, we’d say “we’re not going up there to get shot” – and you’d be standing there arguing.  That’s how the army was running!  The officers would sort it out.  A sapper in the RE’s was equal to an Infantry lieutenant.  When the poor Infantry used to shake in their boots at a lieutenant, we used to tell them to fuck off.

After a couple of days at D Day the next wave landed and they went up to take over from our division, but they ran into a counter attack, and got knocked back.  Our division, our infantry had to hold on where they were.  It was six weeks before we got a break, we got a rest.  We got stuck at Bénouville Bridge, on the River Orne.  Our objective was the town of Caen.  Our infantry got there, but they got knocked back, so we were stuck where we was.  First thing we had to do was lay two thousand mines, right across our own area.  This was all night work.  Couldn’t do it by day – they’d see you.  You had no time that was your own. You lived from day to night, day to night.  Working and sleeping, working and sleeping.  By this time you was doing things automatically.

You’d be lying in your ‘ole, clothes on with your boots on.  You could never take your boots off.  You were never allowed to.  I suppose the idea was if you got caught and you tried to run with no boots on rough ground….  – Anyway, you’d be lying in your ‘ole and a Corporal or one of your mates would come and say “Come on Spot, we’ve got a job to do.”  They called me ‘Spot’ because my name was Thorpe – from the poem “Under the thorpe, there’s a little town, Half a Hundred Bridges” – Tennyson’s Brook.  “By thirty hills I hurry down, Or slip between the ridges, By twenty thorpes, a little town, And half a hundred bridges.”

They’d say “We’ve got a minefield to lay.”  You’d go and get your box of mines and put ’em on the lorry and take ’em as near as you could.  Then you’d have to hump them across fields – two thousand of them, in the middle of the night!

Months afterwards, when everything has moved forwards, you was the only ones who had a map of the mines, so you had to go back and clear ’em.  You had to leave the forward area and clear your own minefield.  We lost one once!  We lost one of our own minefields!

I was a nervous wreck on mine clearing

You had to keep your wits about you.  Our own mines were bad enough, but the conditions when you was clearing German mines…  We didn’t use the mine-detector for the simple reason that they was useless.  Once you’d put those earphones on you couldn’t hear the shells, so we slung them round our necks.  They were cumbersome and they were too big, so they issued us with a long steel knitting needle, three foot long.  That’s what we had – probes, they called them.  With an ordinary landmine it wasn’t heavy enough to set it off.  But they surrounded them with little shoe-mines – little wooden box shoe-mines.  If you touched those  – they was away.  But you could, if you was clever, get your points in ’em and throw ’em up in the air, and they’d go off!  That’s how you got – you couldn’t care – “Get out the fucking way!” – and we’d sling ’em, and Bang!, off they’d go.

They was catching quite a few, with them.  A half-track or small vehicle would pull up in a field and a bloke would jump out and step on one of these little shoe-mines.  Bang!  It used to split your bone up your shin.  They was all losing ankles, so they used to issue us out with wellies.  Wellington boots  and a three foot knitting needle to stop ’em!

All the time I was there, right through to Germany and 1945, I only came across one journalist in the forward area.  The rest were well behind.  They took the army handout.

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22 “A Relaxation of Morals”

When a lot of guys were abroad the other guys were kipping up with their wives

Enlisted Male Londoner   Of a night time we’d be in our Anderson shelter, in the back garden.  I used to get books out the library. Do you know what I was reading when I was sitting in the shelter of a night?  The Russian Revolution.  My old lady used to say “What the bloody hell do you want to read about that for?”  I was reading about where the women were left behind and the only bloke left behind was the postman, and he was raping every one of them, night after night.  A woman would be bending over her cot, looking after her baby and he’d have his hand up there – all that sort of thing.  And where they – the women –  were behind the sandbags, firing at the Royalists, the old squaddies would be up them at the same time.  I was reading all this whilst the bombs were going off.  My mind was on the fact that at any time I was going to leave, go in the forces, and this book – I wasn’t interested in what the postman was doing – it was that all the blokes were away, and it was parallel to the situation that was coming up at the time.  I thought to myself:  supposing all the blokes are away from here?  There’s my mother and my sisters, all left behind, and the same situation applies.

Fusilier   When a lot of guys were abroad the other guys were kipping up with their wives.  That’s something that’s no said much about the war, yet I think it’s something most people know about.  I done it myself.  I slept with a couple of women when their men were abroad.  They were getting their money every week, buying the booze with it – all that stuff.  There was no really a good deal of loyalty.  The other side of the coin was when I was in India, guys I knew would get “Dear John” letters.  Some of the guys took it pretty bad and shot themselves.  I got a couple of “Dear John” letters myself, but I was young and I could fend it off.

Woman Warworker   Me and my mates, we got on this pen friend thing to lads in the forces, and we put “Miss” instead of “Mrs”.  We got loads of letters back.  And then they’d write “I’m coming home on leave, looking ever so forward to meeting you.”  And we’d write back and say we’ve moved and forget to give the new address.  It was just a joke for us.

Girls in uniform were often referred to as “Officer’s Groundsheets”

Fusilier  When we were in Kalyan in India hundreds of ATS girls had just come out from the United Kingdom, and they were herded into special camps.  The first night we – the ordinary rank and file – were able to meet them was in places like the Toc H.  (1)     But after the first night the ATS were put out of bounds.  In fact, we heard, they were warned of the danger of going out with other ranks – in other words: us!  As a lot of us hadn’t seen white women for over a year and the officers and others in authority apparently felt the girls would be in some danger.  They’d get raped, or something like that.  They were told by their own officers that the male officers’ mess would be made available, and that there was plenty of facilities there for the girls, and that they should go there.  If any other ranks wanted to go out with any of the ATS girls,  he was compelled to sign his name and number, stating the time he took her out and the time he brought her back.  Bloody insulting.  No wonder the lads called the ATS “Officer’s blankets and groundsheets.”

RAF Flight Sergeant  Girls in uniform were often referred to as “Officer’s Grounsheets”. In our case I don’t think airforce men went out with Waafs particularly.  In fact, just the opposite.  They tended to shy away from women in their own uniform and to go for women in other uniforms – Wrens, Land Army.  Most stations I went to you usually got a lecture from the M.O about V.D.  The day I got my wing and my three stripes I was ushered one afternoon into a camp cinema to see a horrifying film on V.D.  God!  There were people passing out right, left and centre.  It was a camp cinema.  The idea was, in some people’s eyes, aircrew had a certain glamour – you found it easier to get girls because you had more money than other people, so now that you were a sergeant and you had a wing, this is what you could get unless you were careful.

There was this attitude about girls in uniform, that they were easy, but really speaking they weren’t

Waaf   There was this attitude about girls in uniform, that they were easy, but really speaking they weren’t.  They weren’t any different from other girls.  The girls I knew were a really good lot.  You always had a real good friend.  There was none of this backbiting and bickering.

At Torquay we had the Dutch airman.  They was ever so polite.  When we used to have dances in the Grand Hotel, in the ballroom, if they asked you for a dance they used to come up to you, click their heels and bow.  I’ll tell you what, though, our blokes in uniform…  Once I smacked one round the chops.  This was at Gloucester, at a dance.  Me and my mate, we used to put our civvies underneath our uniform, and then we’d go in the cloakroom and take our uniform off.

I’m dancing with this airman, he was a sergeant, and he didn’t know I was a Waaf.  “You’re a nice girl”,  he said “Can I see you home tonight?  ‘Cos”, he said “these Waafs”, he said “they’re nothing like you girls in civvies.”  We’re dancing around the floor and I’m kidding him on.  “Oh yeah?” I says, “Don’t you think girls in uniform aren’t nice?”  “What?  They’re the lowest of the low.”  “Oh?  Do you think so?  You know what you can do, don’t you?”  I gave him one round the chops and I walked off the floor and left him.  He came over and apologised, but I didn’t half give him a mouthful.

When we was at Torquay we used to go to Newton Abbot, to the Yankee dances.  We used to have a real good time with them, and they always used to bring us straight back.  They always treated us with respect.  A lot of that feeling against them was just jealousy.

Somerset Teenage Girl   I came home from work one day and I found all these Americans along our road.  That was very thrilling.  Very thrilling.  I was about seventeen.  The first night they were there I was at a dance when all of a sudden they all came in.  I remember dancing past one of them with somebody.  That’s where I met the one I got engaged to.  The first night he was there.

Stoke under Ham, Somerset Boy   With the Americans on Ham Hill, when they went off with their girlfriends, we used to watch!  They’d go off and have it away on the hill.  One day there was about six of us and there was an American and his girlfriend having it away in what they called the “Frying Pan” – it’s like a shallow circle where Romans were supposed to have Cock fighting.  These two were lying in that and we all sat around watching them.   He kept getting cross with us.  We were interested.  Every now and then he’d shout “Clear off!”   Must have spoilt it completely.

The thing that struck me as a young lad was the change in morality

Teeside Lad   The thing that struck me as a young boy was the change in morality. Around Middlesbrough you were poor but you were honest.  You try take a ha’penny out of your Mother’s purse and she’d chop your fingers off.  During war, when husbands started going away, everything went.  Fourteen year old lassies, fifteen year old lassies, used to have Polish seamen, Yanks, Canadians – the bloody lot.  They’d cock their legs up for a couple of bloody coppers.  (2)

I had a mate and I used to spend a lot of time at their house.  He got a sister about seventeen years old, and his Mother was a barmaid.  Her husband was in Royal Engineers and he was in Reserve.  As soon as war come he were called up, and she were having it off. They had an Aunty living with them, and this Aunty was married to a feller called —– —- He was what they called a Dems gunner on merchant ships.  They used to have a big 10,000 ton tanker and they used to shove one of these fellers on board  with a little bloody Lewis gun up front.

The feller had done about five convoys to Russia.  One time when he come back he’d bought all these Chinese dresses – silk, high collars and split down the side, and he’d bought a great big astrakhan coat.  He fetches them all and lays them before his wife, but she couldn’t care less because she was cocking her leg round at —— Hotel.  She was kipping with the Americans, Canadians, the lot.   She was living the life of luxury – all the clothes she wanted, all the cigarettes she wanted, nylons.  He lays it all before her.  “I just can’t be bothered tonight because I’m working.”  Poor cunt, he’s come back from Russia, touch of the D.Ts and God knows what, and he’s sat with all this fucking gear.  I would only be about thirteen and sat commiserating with him, smoking his cigarettes.  He was pouring his bloody heart out and I was only a young lad.  What can you do?   He only got about two days, and back he goes to sea.

RAF NCO   With the Americans there was terrible racialism.  They had separate units, depending on whether you were white or black.  White Americans would have their own pubs, and coloured Americans would have separate pubs. There was terrific animosity between them.   There was more fighting I think between white and coloured Americans, than there was against Hitler.

Somerset Farmer  They brought a lot of white Americans round Shepton Mallet and Evercreech.  There was a lot of – what you call it?  Cohibition?  Cohabitation? – that some of the authorities and some of the people were a little bit disturbed, ‘cos most of the women were married and their husbands was fighting for the country.  So they took the white Americans away and brought a lot of black Yanks around.  They thought that would stop it.  Well, these women that were cohabitating with the white Americans, they started cohabitating with black ones.  Not one of those fell pregnant until within three weeks of their going abroad.  When they men went abroad they didn’t know they were pregnant, but they knew they were pregnant after they were gone!  And none of them could claim off of them, you see, ‘cos they were gone.  And one of them was a ———-‘s wife.

Somerset Teenage Girl   There were two girls in the village who married Americans and went back with them, and they were living in terrible hovels – what we would call hill-billy.  Terrible.  I and my friend nearly did, as we were engaged, but we broke it off after a year because they were back in the States, and it took so long to get over there if you weren’t married.  You had to go on a list and I was beginning to think:  I can’t remember what he looks like.  So I sent the ring back.  There were one or two married women who had affairs with Americans.

Although you were looked down on if you went out with an American, most of the single girls who went out with them had quite steady relationships and were quite decent

A lot of it was jealousy.  And yet, the American I went out with was far more straight-laced than any English boy I’d been out with.  He was from South Carolina.  They spoke to each other as “Yanks” and “Rebels”.  They were all white.  They were supply troops. They were in the village a year.

They had their own mess – the GI mess.  A lot of the people in the village used to go down and eat in the GI mess, but I wasn’t allowed to.  People used to say “Haven’t you been there for Sunday lunch?”  It was fried chicken and ice-cream, but no, my Mother wouldn’t let me.  Most of the Americans in the village were a very well behaved lot, and I think most people in the village liked them.  Most of them were over twenty.  Mike was twenty-five.  (3)   He used to give me chewing gum and candy bars and Camel cigarettes.  I still love Camel cigarettes.  They came from a different world.  They’d talk about the “Top Ten”.  I didn’t know what they were talking about.  It was a different way of life.

As I say, they were very straight-laced, most of them.  They had old fashioned manners.  I was used to opening gates, but they used to rush to open gates before I even got there.  I couldn’t get over it.  In some ways I found it a bit irritating, and in other ways it was rather nice.  Around D-Day they were confined to their camp, and then they left nine days after D Day started.  Mike went with them, of course.  We were all out to wave the great convoy off, as they went through the village.  All the girls cried.

We wrote to each other all the time. About a year later, one day after my Mother and I had been out, there was a knock at the front door.  Mother answered it and I heard her gasp.  She called me.  It was Mike.  He’d come on leave from Germany.  We put him up and he stayed for ten days, and we got engaged in those ten days.  Then all the business started of all the forms.  He had to get permission and I had to get a reference.

You know how awful villages are for talk.  I was so hurt by this

He had to go back and report at Grosvenor Square, at the American Embassy.  They all had to congregate there.  He wanted me to go up to London so that we could have another day together.  My Mother wasn’t very keen.  My sister, who was married, said “Write to my mother-in-law, you’ll be able to stay the night there.” She lived just outside London.  My sister suggested this as my Mother didn’t like the thought of me staying the night in London.  Even though the war in Europe was over, the trains were still awful, still crowded and took ages.  We eventually arrived where my sister’s mother-in-law lived.   When we got there and looked up times of trains back to London we found Mike wouldn’t be able to get to Grosvenor Square to report at seven o’ clock next morning.  He said “I’ll have to leave you here and say goodbye.  I’ll have to go straight back to London now.”  I said “No.  I’m coming with you.  We’ll find somewhere to stay in London.”  My sister’s mother-in-law looked at me most peculiarly and said “Do you think you ought to?  What will your Mother think?”  I was eighteen.

I was determined that I was going to see him a bit more.  When we got back to London – to Liverpool Street – we met another American, a friend of his who was also going back, and had nowhere to stay.  So the three of us got into a taxi.  We went all over London in this taxi trying to find somewhere to stay the night.  By now it was about half past ten – eleven at night.  The taxi driver said “If you like, I know somewhere you can stay.”

He took us to some back-street and a woman came to the door.  We said we wanted two rooms.  “Yes”, she said, she had two rooms.  I had one upstairs and they had one downstairs.  Later, I heard her speaking to Mike and he came up, in a temper.  “Right, get your bags.  We’re not staying in this house.”  She said to him “You’re a bit daft – I thought you wanted the double room for you and your girl.”  There was no lock on the door, and it definitely was a brothel, because all night (he’d shown me how to wedge a chair under the door handle) there were men and women calling out, and going up and down the stairs.  I never told my Mother.  She would have had a fit!

We got out of this place about 6 o’ clock in the morning.  I didn’t know the Tube ran in the early morning.  We walked and walked.  It seemed to be miles.  We walked all the way to Grosvenor Square.  We said good-bye there.  I then found my way to Paddington and got a train home.

About six months later I had flu and I was away from the shop for a week.  Everybody said I was pregnant because everybody seemed to have got to known that I’d been to London – I’d been seen at the station, and coming back the next day.  I didn’t know, but everybody said I’d had a miscarriage.  You know how awful villages are for talk.

One day my friend came into the shop in an awful temper.  She was so upset she was crying, and she’d just had a row with somebody who had said something.  In the end she told me what they had been saying.   I was so hurt by this.  For weeks afterwards every time I seemed to walk down the village there seemed to be a group of women, and they would all stop talking.  Of course I was terribly sensitive.  My Mother heard, and she was terribly upset.  Someone said she should sue.  I was terribly, terribly upset about that.  Really upset.  I thought:  My God, if they’d known where I’d spent the night.

1.  Toc H was set up during the First World War, a Christian based charity offering ‘rest and recreation’, regardless of rank, and a self proclaimed alternative to any ‘debauched’ recreational facilities available elsewhere.

2.  Coppers = pennies = pence.  There were 12 pennies to a shilling and 20 shillings to a £1.  A decimal one pence is approximately two and a half pennies.

3.  Mike is not his real name.

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21 Interlude: Somerset Children’s War Experiences

Pilton  Girl    I hadn’t long started school, so I must have been about five, and one of my earliest memories of the war was the horrible machine they had in the village.  This is how I first came across it.

You come out of the village and you come along the flat bit and then there’s a very steep hill that runs down by the church, and the churchyard’s on the side of the hill.  Well, sometimes for fun we used to run through the churchyard and come out the gate on the side of the hill and go off down that way.  Some older kids had gone on that way and I ran on after them but what I didn’t know was that they were taking down the railings in the churchyard, around the family graves, and they had this lorry.  The lorry was backed into the churchyard.  I was only small, only five and it was a monstrous thing, huge and black.  It had a huge cabin and an enormous trunk thing, and this terrible noise coming off it, like awful grinding noises, and there was steam coming out of it.  And I just sat there and I screamed – I was terrified by it.  That was the first time I saw it, in Pilton churchyard.  Sometimes, later, I could see this blasted thing coming up the road, and I would go into Gould’s Garage, because I was terrified to go on down the main road, and it wouldn’t be until someone told me that they’d seen it go up over Whitston Hill that I would go on, to go to school. (1)

Street Girl   The biggest effect around Street was the New Zealanders coming here.  Now they really did do something.  They were huge men.  I remember them as being enormous men.  They upset the local neighbourhood because they used to go riding calves, and throwing steers, and any horse in a field, they used to get it out and ride it for miles.  Different cows use to disappear, and they’d find them in fields somewhere else.  That caused a lot of upset.

Stoke under Ham Boy   I lived in a police station at Stoke under Ham most of the war.  My Dad was a copper.  The police station was always an open house to anybody.  So you wouldn’t take in evacuees, you couldn’t.  If a soldier or an airman needed somewhere to stay temporary, we had to put them up.  We were always putting people up. The evacuees at the school were a pretty rough bunch.  It was the evacuees who would pick a fight, but it altered after a while and we all mixed in.  The evacuees didn’t know a thing about the countryside.  They really thought milk came in bottles, and not from cows.

Street Girl   It was disturbing for the children who were evacuated from London – some were very young – and it was disturbing for local children, where there were evacuee children in their home. They had to share or give up their bedroom, and to give up their toys, and give up perhaps their clothes.  They had to share.  Perhaps they had never had to share with anyone before – especially in an insular community where it’s still – not so much now – each keeps to his own.  Each little plot of land.  Each house.  It didn’t used to be so much an open house as it was in London for a lot of these children.

Pilton Girl  I remember when some evacuee children came to Pilton school, ‘cos some of them were billeted at East and West Compton.  They used to come all the way down over Burford Hill and walk to school.  They weren’t terribly well dressed because their clothes weren’t terribly good, and certainly they were jeered a bit.

My Aunty had a super boy billeted on her called Billy Roe, from London.  And when he finally returned to London – I think the bombing was over – he used to visit her, and cycle down, all the way from London.   We thought it was incredible of him to cycle all that way, because to us London was like one hundred thousand miles away.  When Aunty would say Billy’s cycling down next week, we all thought that was fantastic and everybody would be waiting for him.  And then when he went off again, everybody would be down the bottom of the council houses to see him off.  It was like the Tour de France.  He used to knit, which was incredible too, because at that time it was a ludicrous sort of thing for a boy to do.  Aunty had two boys of hers about the same age, and he taught them to knit as well, and they all did French knitting with the reel – the cotton reel – and the  four nails bunged in the top.

Stoke under Ham Boy  Everything found was brought to the police station, whatever it was.  Once it was a big square  silver kite which the Germans dropped – they were supposed to land in the telegraph wires and put them out of action.  I used to fly that up on Ham Hill.  I used to try and direct it towards the telephone wires but it never got them.  Another time my Father brought this bren gun home one day.  It had a great big round cartridge thing round the barrel.  Looked like one of those things the gangsters used.  My Grandmother had gone to the lavatory outside, and I stood outside and waited until she came out and I had the bren gun and I went “Rat-tat-tat!”, and she passed straight out.  They got this blue bag of smelling salts to bring her round.  By the way, you were forever being told at school not to pick anything up – fountain pens, anything – because we were told the Germans could make a bomb disguised as anything.

Pilton Girl  My Uncle —– from somewhere or another got this great big supply of hand grenades.  The grey council houses were up then because we were living in them.  The red ones were not up then, and where the red brick council houses are, ’round by the side of the grey ones – that was waste ground.  In fact it was called the Waste Ground.  If you were going out to play you said you were going out to the Waste Ground to play.  There was an enormous sewer at the bottom.  The thing I remember about the council houses, growing up there, wind being in the wrong direction, this filthy smell.  You use to say “Sewer’s stinking today.”

Anyway, Uncle —— had all these hand grenades, and he had to get rid of them.  It was Sunday afternoon after tea, and he was out on the waste ground and it was in the summer and he was pulling the pins out.  I was playing outside our front door and I could see something exciting was going on up there.  But when I went up there I was terrified.  Every five minutes you’d get this explosion and my brothers ——- and ——– are also  just picking the pins out and chucking them.  And then something terrible happened.   ——– didn’t pull the pin out quick enough or he didn’t let go quick enough and he got blown up.  He got burnt.  The next thing, the ambulance was coming down.  My grandmother hauled me in the front room and was shouting abuse at my Uncle across on the waste ground, and my Mother was going mad.  And there was —— shuffling down the garden path like an old man, with burns on his arms and legs from the grenade, and there was Uncle walking ’round in a trance.

Stoke under Ham Boy  As kids we were brought up to hate Hitler, and we did.  I wanted to stick a pitchfork in him.  You absolutely hated him, but you didn’t really know why.  That’s terrible, en’t it?  One of the good things about the war was all the pictures, the films you could see.  They used to have a cinema in Stoke under Ham, in a house.  A huge room with all these chairs and they were nearly always George Formby films.  That was put on as a booster.  They used to have cinemas in vans as well.  On the back of a van.  I saw an Arthur Askey film on the back of a van.  When the Americans came they used to put on parties for all the kids in the village hall and they showed films every week.  I can remember the films as clear as could be.  For instance, Hellzapoppin’ was great. A really fantastic film with weird effects.  You’ll see the film and then a shadow of a person goes across the screen, and then the words come up on the screen ‘Will the person walking about kindly sit down.’  All that kind of stuff and I loved that.

Pilton Girl  We had a fish and chip van that came on Friday nights.  We thought that was fantastic.  We thought that progress had come!  The fish and chip van came when the Land Army girls came.  Before, we had to go to Shepton for fish and chips.  One of my earliest memories is being pushed in a grey pushchair down to the Post Office, some kids much older than me, by my side, maybe my brother, talking to my Mother about bananas and ice-cream.  I was able to speak and I said to my Mother: “What are bananas?”  And she said “Well, you might get some after the war.  You won’t get them until the war’s finished.”  I can remember the first cluster of bananas I ever saw in my life and I couldn’t believe that’s what they were. When fruit started coming into the country again, you bought them whether you needed them or not, because we were very poor and really didn’t get fruit unless it was at the week-end or had won on the horses.

Stoke under Ham Boy  When the Americans were here I think a lot of people got a lot out of the Americans, because they were poor and not well off, and they got masses of presents from the Americans.  In my case, not just me – they had Clothing Exchange shops.  There was one at Yeovil and every time I used to go to Yeovil I used to go and change my jacket for another one.  That’s how I went on right through the war like that.  But as I say, the Americans had lots of stuff and would give it to you.  They’d give girls nylons.

At Ham Hill a lot of the Americans were based there, in tents.  They had shooting ranges up there and we used to have a fantastic time.  Gangs of us kids would go up there.  I lived next door to a fish and chip shop and these Americans soldiers would always want fish and chips.  So what they would do is, if we got the fish and chips, they’d let us play up there and we could use their tents.  And do you know they left the tents with all the equipment in – machines guns, ammunition, all that was left in the tent, and we used to play in there.  Fortunately nobody loaded anything.

The Americans also gave us rides on the Jeeps.  Ham Hill was completely ripped up by tanks.  On top of that, Ham Hill is full of banks that go up and down – it used to be a Roman fortress.  They used to tell us to hop on the back of a Jeep and they’d drive as fast as they could over these hills, and this Jeep would literally take off, and there’s all of us holding on.  They didn’t seem to have no responsibility of the fact that you’d probably get killed falling off the thing.  Though you didn’t think about it, as kids.  They even shot a bazooka through the Prince of Wales Hotel in the village.  Right through a bedroom window.  That’s how irresponsible they were.

1.   There was a compulsory campaign, began in 1940, to salvage metal for the war effort, particularly railings, and gates.  The ‘lorry’ was probably either a steam wagon or a traction engine.

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20 Court Martial & AWOL

I’m on a charge of striking a superior officer

Jewish Private   I had been in a graded battalion because I only had one good eye and also because my Father was never naturalised.  Graded battalions were attached to various infantry regiments.  I went into the Glosters,  then I was transferred to the Wiltshire Regiment, back to the Glosters, from there into the Green Howards and I finally ended up in the Royal Army Ordinance Corps.  Not only was I fed up with all this shunting around but I was also frustrated at the pettiness of army life and quite honestly, I wanted to get out of the army.  I wanted to get away.

I was eventually sent to a Selection centre.  They had people from all over – from different units – for various reasons, medical, psychological, whatever.  They were sent to the Selection Centre to be sorted out and sent to more suitable units.  This was at Aberystwyth.  It was a great big unit, based on the town, with teams of psychiatrists to sort all these oddballs out.

My papers didn’t arrive with me.  They got lost, somehow.  So instead of doing the usual fourteen days of routine inspections, testings, and then being finally posted, I was there for twenty-eight days, by which time I was thoroughly pissed off.  Incidentally, about 35 to 40% of people passing through this centre were given their tickets.  They were just useless.

I was in a genuinely serious nervous condition.  In fact I was being given luminol. (1 )   At the same time, which was an expression of the same thing, I had developed piles.  This was around Christmas.  Having been told not to go sick or else I’d be charged with malingering, I asked for an interview with the Commanding Officer, and I got it.  I explained the predicament.  I want to go sick, but if I do I’m told I’ll be charged with malingering.  He arranged immediately for a special sick report to be made out.  I was told to report to the Medical Centre.

“Oh these bloody people are all the same” – so I could tell straight away he was anti-semitic

When I arrived there, there was a lance corporal – a medical orderly – and he had this little bit of paper in his hand, which was the special sick report.  I waited for the Doctor to arrive.  It was Boxing Day.  I’d been down in the dumps for a couple of days and the blokes had persuaded me to come to this bloody Christmas do.  I had probably eaten too much and the piles really came on.  I was bleeding and I was in a nervous state.  The Medical Officer on duty happened to be one of the psychiatrists who I understand, though I’m not sure, was filling in for someone else.  He came into the room and during a short conversation between him and the medical orderly I heard him say something like (because on every form there is your religion) “Oh these bloody people are all the same” – so I could tell straight away he was anti-semitic.  He turned to me and started to abuse me.  “I know you buggers, I’ll have you on a charge”, and all this.  I said “Hadn’t you better examine me before you start making all these accusations?”  He said “Yes!  I will! – Get undressed!”  And as I turned he shoved me in the back.  Well, I turned ’round and all hell was let loose.  I really went for him.

I finished up on the floor, with one bloke kneeling on my  neck, one on each of my limbs.  I’m stretched out, practically unconscious.  They even started to interrogate me, but then they decided to sit me on a chair and give me a cigarette.  They let me go, so I went for him again.  Well, that was it.  They calmed me down.  They gave me treatment for my piles, so there was no question of having been a malingerer.  That bit was dropped completely.  Next morning I’m for Company Orders – I’m on a charge of striking a superior officer.  I explained all the circumstances and they said “If your allegations are true it’s still no defence.  You complain about the misbehaviour of your superiors, you don’t strike them.”

I was charged and remanded in custody, pending a court martial, because it was a court martial charge.  I was kept in close arrest, the term being close arrest, not custody.  I was marched through the town three times a day under escort, for my meals to the cookhouse.  I had to parade every day for Company Orders, for 24 hour remands.  This went on for six weeks.  I was visited by a rabbi towards the end, who half suggested to me that if I would agree to a report to the effect that I wasn’t responsible for my actions, that I might make an easy case of it.  I said “If anybody wants to say that, they’re welcome to, but don’t expect me to agree with them.”

They sent me to see a psychiatrist.  I managed, on the way back under escort, to find out the contents of the report – which is a normal thing in the army.  You very seldom travel with documents relating to yourself that you don’t try somehow to find out the contents, which I did do.  In fact I objected to the use of the psychiatrist’s report because in all the answers to the questions, set by the convenors of the court martial, there were traps.  Like “Will this man suffer from, or benefit from punishment?”  And he said “Neither.”  And things like “How would you regard his mental state?”  And he would say “He’s a very stubborn man.  Will not be bested in an argument.”  All that sort of thing, so I wouldn’t stand a bloody chance.

This carried on for six weeks before the court martial convened because I kept refusing to have any representation.  I wanted to conduct the defence myself.  Then I discovered, through the Regimental Police Sergeant, that there was an officer in the unit who was a solicitor, and he had done some good court martials.  When I asked for him to represent me the Commandant nearly went bloody mad – “You can’t have him!  You’re not holding up this unit’s work, just to suit yourself.  You’re not running this show.”  And then he reverted to pleading with me that in my best interests I should have an officer to defend me.

Eventually they parked a bloke on me, who worked on the defence that I couldn’t get out of the charge – which I knew – and that my reaction of being pushed was one of a trained soldier – to react to violence in a violent way.  In the event I was found guilty and I was sentenced to six months.

Even the RSM of the unit wished me luck

At Aberystwyth, amongst the Regimental Police, there was one bloke who was very regimental, but the actual Regimental Police Sergeant and most of the blokes who were lance corporals or privates were very good, very sympathetic, treated me very well.  Matter of fact, on the way away, going to the Detention Barracks at Chorley, they sort of said goodbye to me, even the RSM wished me luck, and all the rest of them.  You see, once a bloke had got into trouble and providing you hadn’t done something despicable in their eyes and you defended yourself from somebody who had struck you, that was OK.  By this time some of them were a bit pleased – this was my impression – I was challenging the authority in all ways.  I’d contacted the local press, from my detention cell, I got in touch with the British Legion local branch, I tried to get publicity for it, and I did.  The whole case was reported in the South Wales Echo.  A lot of the blokes were pleased to find someone standing up to authority, who wouldn’t give in.  There were a lot there who didn’t like the Commanding Officer.  As I say, they were very good to me.  In fact, the escort, the Corporal and a Private from another unit in the command, who escorted me from Aberystwyth to Chorley did me a favour.  I’d written some letters previously that I wanted to beat the censor on – not to have them seen, that I wanted to post.  I was contemplating how to post them – passing them to a civilian on the way, if we pulled in somewhere for a cup of tea at a station, or just dropping them on the train somewhere, hoping somebody would pick them up and post them.  But I took a chance and told the Corporal.  He said “We’re not looking.”  So when we got near a post box I stuck them in.

My troubles really started when I got to the detention barracks in Chorley

Immediately I came across a Staff Sergeant on the section, on the first morning I was there, who looked at my charge sheet, where it said “Striking a superior officer.”  I was the only prisoner in the jail on such a charge.  The first thing this bloke said, on reading it, was  “Six months?  You should have got two years!”  I thought:  I’m well away with this bloke.  I immediately dived across the room, and I was grabbed and held.  I made a bit of an altercation – but that did what I wanted it to do – it got me in front of the Commandant of the detention barracks.  I explained the situation to him.  I said “The two of us can’t live in the same room.  You either put me on a different section or you take him away.”  He wasn’t a stupid man.  In the event they put me in a different section, and they noted, not for the first time, that I had been a tailor, and would I like to work in the tailors shop?  That got me through my detention in relative comfort.  Nevertheless, it was no picnic, particularly the trauma of reception and search and bathing and all the incidents that occurred.

The vast majority of cases in detention, when I was in, were what they called “non-reporters”

These were youngsters who, nine times out of ten, were illiterates – people who couldn’t either read or write – they couldn’t read their notices for call-up.  They were really backward, nervous young people.  When they were caught they had to do a short period – three months or less, I believe, before they entered the service.  The others would be people who were absent without leave, or longer than a certain period, otherwise it would be dealt with by confinement to barracks.  They were a large proportion.

Fusilier   The problem of absenteeism and desertion was so great that one of the best known slogans of the war was “You Can’t Spell Victory with an Absentee”.  To combat it they had special squads of military police and civilian police who were used in an attempt to round up men and women on the run.  In Glasgow they raided places like St Vincent Street, where there was a mobile coffee stall.  Quite regular the squads would raid such places in an attempt to pick up deserters.  Sometimes this meant quite innocent people – disabled people, wounded people, people on leave – were picked up and taken into custody to be checked.  If the Gestapo came to Britain there certainly would have been lots of candidates amongst some of the civilian cops that I met.

You never deserted without taking all your kit, and looking smart.  That was the system

I used to travel up and down the country regular for nothing.  You took your rifle and bayonet, your gas mask and your helmet.  You walked into a station.  You knew most of the time M.Ps would stop you and you wouldnae get on the platform with the ticket inspector.  So the secret was to take the bull by the horns.  Walk up to the MP and say “I’m Fusilier Morrison.  I’m with an escort.  Did you see a Corporal here in the same regiment as me go onto the train?”  And they would say “I’m no so sure, Jock.  He might have went on.  Away in and look.”  You walked in and climbed onto the train.  You’d say the same thing to the ticket inspector.  Once you were on the train, that was it.

When ever the inspector came round you said the same thing.  “We’re in an escort and the Corporal went away ahead.  We thought he was on the train but we cannae find him anywhere.  He must have gone on a train before.”  He’d say “You’re on an escort.  Fair enough.  What’s your name, anyway?”  Take your name.  And that was it, and if you were really brass necked, just tell them you were absent – bluntly.  “I’m going back to my unit.”  “Where’s your unit?”  “My unit’s in such and such a place.”  “O.K., that’s fair enough.”  And that was you.  Another one was, if you met an ATS, go into the toilet with her and when he came around, and came to the door, let her pass her ticket out underneath.  In they days they werenae as permissive in their thinking as they are today.  These were the ways we travelled all over the place.  (2) 

Jewish Private  Besides those who were in Chorley because of absent without leave, there was a strange category of people who had trained as paratroopers, but when it came to it, wouldn’t jump.  They were given 84 days as a standing thing, if they continued to refuse to jump after their training period.  The most interesting group for me were the conscientious objectors.  They were kept separate from us by the authorities.  They didn’t mix with us in the Association Rooms.  These were a large sort of room with three brick walls and one side would have a wire mesh front, and the patrol would patrol outside the wire.  There were also, of course, the isolation and punishment cells.

Thirty or forty of us would be in one of these Association Rooms but the opportunities for chats were not as you might think.  You were kept so busy doing things – your bed board were scrubbed twice a day.  They were as white as driven snow, but you still scrubbed them in the morning and in the evening.  You were constantly employed on cell tasks.  Your bog was a couple of pails in the corner, during closed periods.

When lights out came we had one Staff Sergeant who was constantly screaming his head off about “If I’ve got to stay up all night, you buggers aint going to sleep either.”  He didn’t like night duty.  We used to call him “Nosebag” because what this bastard would do, after lights out, say about half past eight, nine-ish (that’s if you’ve been privileged that evening to get your cocoa, and don’t forget, these were all young boys who were doing very heavy military training and were on a very severe diet – they were constantly hungry) – what he used to do, after lights out he used to listen and if he heard the slightest sound he’d switch the lights on.

“Right, everybody out, out of your beds!  Equipment on!  Full service marching order!”  All equipment was in little pieces, and shined and blancoed to the last degree, and then, to cap it all, he’d say “Right, gas masks on.”  That’s why we called him nosebag.  All this would take an hour to do.  He’d be around at three or four in the morning, and he’d say “Right, go to bed.”  You’ve then got to get all the bloody equipment off, and set out in a particular way for the morning set-up, on your bed, for inspection.  By the time you get all this done and ready, the bleeding bugle’s gone and it’s time to get up.

We used to put fights on for him because organising a smoke was a very difficult thing to do

On the other hand, we managed to exploit some of the eccentricities of some of the guards, in a very interesting way.  There was an old soldier, a Staff Sergeant, who’d done a lot of time in India.  He had three of these Association Rooms to patrol.  We used to laugh our heads off with him.  He used to boast about his prowess as a soldier.  He’d give us a detailed explanation of a heliograph – we pretended we didn’t know what he was talking about.  He’d explain how he’d catch the sunlight and signal back, and what he did to these natives, and all the rest of it.  One of his foibles was his ability to slope arms, up his back!   Which is unbelievable.  Incredible.  While one group was getting him at it, trying to show them how to do this, this relieved the other two cells so that they could organise a smoke.

This is a highly organised thing.  There was another character – loved a fight.  He’d do anything to provoke blokes to fight, ‘cos he loved watching a fight.  He was a sadist, no question about it.  So we used to put on fights for him because organising a smoke was a very difficult thing to do.

We had bunk beds – one up, one down.  We used to sling a blanket down one side, not the side facing the wire, and the procedure was as follows:  whoever had the tobacco, say a Woodbine, would break it into three.  That meant three cigarettes, provided you had the toilet paper to roll them.  Then you had to find a bloke who’s got a tinder, which was the way of getting a light.  Second-timers and people like that used to come in with flints that you bedded in a piece of wood.  Then, with an old razor blade and a cellulose handle of a toothbrush you’d scrape off some of the cellulose and you’d spark it and get enough glow to puff up quickly.  The other problem was that smoke would appear around the lights – so it means less than four people can’t have a smoke, often more.  You’ve got to have one with the tobacco, one with the shit paper, one whose bunk it’s on, and one or two blokes to fan around the lights.  All this was organised, but the problem was, how to get rid of the screw?  Once you got him sloping arms backwards, or you put on a fight, you had fifteen to twenty minutes to have a smoke.

I was in detention just after the Chatham manslaughter charge, in which two Staff Sergeants were sentenced and dismissed, for beating up a prisoner who had TB and killing him in the process

As a result there’d been a big switch round in staff and a new system of so-called “checks”.  (3)  One of the inmates at Chorley was a bloke who had escaped from Poland at the beginning of the war, and when he arrived here in England he volunteered.  He was in his middle-forties.  He was one of those people who had two left legs and two left arms – he just could not drill.  He was the constant butt in his unit – he was in the Pioneer Corps.  He was an intelligent, educated man.  He could speak English.  After a while life became impossible for him – he was the butt for everybody’s whatsisname.  Not only that, physically he couldn’t do a damn thing, and he’s suffering.  So he deserted from the Pioneer Corps and he got caught and court martialed.  He finished up in detention.

Course, here he was at an even bigger disadvantage.  Here there was no escaping at all.  They tried to persevere but there was no way they were going to teach him to slope arms, keep in step, whatever.  He just couldn’t do it.  So they gave him a job in the industrial part, which was to clean the baking tins and billy cans that had come back from field kitchens.  That means they were black, and I mean black – thick and crusted with burnt fat.  You had to bring them up with brick dust.  That was the only cleaning material that existed in these places.  He was in a hut kind of place which was near where I was working in the tailoring workshop.  This was a flat roofed outbuilding to the main buildings.  It was an old mill, this place in Chorley.

On the other side of this flat roofed building was a tower with a couple of hosepipes hanging down.  Instead of ascertaining whether these hoses were fixed at the top, or just hanging to dry, he decided to escape one day.  He climbed on the roof, grabbed the hosepipe and fell to the ground.  The hosepipe was simply hanging to dry.  Before anyone had any chance to see if he’d broken any bones – it wasn’t any great height – they pounced on him and they beat the shit out of him.

They were beating him all the way to the cells

An old boy who’d been on the sewing machine with me, who’d landed in the chokey for something he’d done, and another young bloke, were either side of the Pole’s cell.  They heard him being beaten up, crying and screaming, and this was the time, as I say, just after the Chatham manslaughter charge.  There was a new system in operation that meant that the inmates of the detention camp were paraded – I think it was every Friday morning – one day a week.  A Major or Field Officer would come from the surrounding command.

You’d all be paraded there, and a statement would be read out, something like “Anybody wishing to complain, double out now.”  Well, no one ever did!  Who was going to stick their neck out and complain!  But on this occasion this old boy and the young feller were so outraged by the way this bloke got beaten up that they decided to complain.  They doubled out and complained.

Of course, normal thing – “There will be a Court of Inquiry, blah, blah, blah.”  Unknown to them, though, the authorities got hold of the Pole and told him “Don’t make too much fuss and you’ll get your ticket after the Court of Inquiry.”  By this time he was medically and mentally unacceptable to the army.  When the Court of Inquiry came he said no one hit him!  And these poor two sods were on a charge of making false accusations.

This is the nature of the organisation.  This is the system that keeps everybody in order.  There is no way in which you can defeat them without drawing to yourself the direst consequences.

A lot of my troubles came about almost naturally when I met the same attitudes in the British Army as I had been learning about in fascism

Fusilier   Some of my worst experiences were in India.  A small group of us – privates and a Corporal – had been in a hill station and we all decided to go back to camp a day early and visit a place called Muttra.  We’d been there before.  It was a brothel.  I didnae want to go back and neither did some of the others.  It was old hat to us, but some did, particularly the Corporal. We got to the foot of the hills and because of a landslide the train was late.  Another train turned up and the NCO was determined to get to his brothel.

The train that came was an old tumbledown shackle thing that the Indians used to use – betel nut spit all over the floor.  The Corporal saw the RTO – the Transport Officer.  He says to him “Can I get a compartment cleared out for the lads, because we want to take this train.”  I said to the Transport Officer, a Sergeant “We’re not due back until a certain time.  If we catch the morning train we’ll be back in time.  Is that OK?”  He said “Yes.”

“Well, we’re refusing to take this train.  We want to take the next one.  Besides, we don’t fancy going into these compartments with all the betel nut and all the rest of it.”  But the Corporal was determined.  They held the train up.  There was seven of us who refused.  The Corporal gets the rations and puts them on the train with the help of some privates who decided to go.  Then he says to us “I’m asking you once: are you going to follow the rations?”  That’s one of the things that makes it an order – you’re supposed to go where the rations go.

“Are you following the rations?”  “No.”  “Two:  Are you going to follow the rations?”  “No.”  “Three: are you going to follow the rations?”  We were a wee bit hesitant.  He’d told us he was going to give us three chances.  We gave an explanation why we werenae going to go – to keep as evidence.  “Are you going to follow the rations?”  “No.”  That’s it.  They went on the train.  The train pulled away.  We went to the RTO, got our passes signed, saying why we had done it, and that if we get in on time we wouldn’t be classed as absent.

As luck may have it, we were late.  The train was late and we reported ten minutes after our passes were up.  The Corporal, apparently, hadnae got to his brothel, which meant he got back to the camp in Delhi early.  He was annoyed, so he put in a charge against us.  As soon as we came into the camp we were put into the guardroom.  Taken out in the morning, charged and put in front of the Company Commander.  The Sergeant Major who marches us in said “Where is your evidence?  Where are your passes?”  Foolishly, we handed them over, and they disappeared.

The Company Commander got our explanation, and without any further chance to explain, he told us that he was giving us seven days CB for being late – absent without leave.  (4)    We refused the punishment.  We asked to see the Commanding Officer, which we were entitled to do.  He asked us if we were prepared to accept his punishment.  We said “No.”  We were remanded for Court Martial, the charge now being “Inciting Mutiny” against me, being the oldest soldier.  I had led the other six young soldiers into refusing to obey an order.

I lay in prison for seven months, along with everybody else – without even being tried!  The padre came up regular (this is where I took a dislike to padres) and pleaded with me to give in.  Mind you, if I’d accepted seven days CB I’d have been out.  They were all saying “Give in” and making threats about never seeing our mothers again, but the principle was more important to us, and we stuck it out.

In between that time we seen things that I’d never hope to see again

We were in a compound that was surrounded by barbed wire.  At that time the First Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers had the biggest police force that I’ve seen in a unit I’ve been in.  The reason for that was as follows.  Delhi Cantonment – the camp we were in – had what they called an invisible perimeter.  The Indians used to herd their cattle around it, and sometimes into it.  From time to time the cattle would stray onto our Cantonment.  The Battalion HQ Quarter-Master Sergeant Major had a notice put up in every dining room in the camp, informing all fusiliers, which we were, that if they found these animals straying into our property it was our duty to bring them to the Quarter-Master’s stores, or to the battalion cookhouse for slaughter.  Right.  That is the situation.

When I was imprisoned in this compound I discovered that the police acted as rustlers.  They used to go outside and force the cattle in, under the authority of the Sergeant Major who was in charge of the police.  They’d collect the money for the cattle they’d rustled, and then when the cowman came looking for his cattle, into the perimeter, they whipped him into prison.  They stripped him of everything – looted all his stuff, gave him nothing, and left him there.  They wouldn’t give him a place to shit.  They done that with us too, by the way.  They done this until the poor wee guy was crying to get out – and I mean grovelling – to get out.

And then they would form themselves into a gauntlet, with their truncheons and sticks, and the man would have to run through the rank.  The rank was never under twenty and sometimes nearer thirty men.  He’d run down, getting slaughtered – slaughtered – as he went out.

Sketch:  Walter Morrison

Sketch: Walter Morrison

With us, we’d get sent out with the prisoners who had already been tried, to what they called the maidan.  It’s an open space, and the police, or whoever was in charge of you, would sit under a tree.  It was like an American chain-gang.  They used to have us cutting grass with the edge of a shovel in the height of the sun, when the Indians and everybody else were kipping it up from two o’ clock to four o’ clock.  That’s what they had us doing.  I’ve seen men with the skin literally raised off their back, and the blood’s running out of them, the blood caked up and dried.

You’ve probably heard the tales of picking the sand up, bits of sand up – that’s true – and guys sadistically standing over you.  Wouldnae even give you a drink.  Men collapsing and the guy coming along with a bucket of water and throwing it over them and dragging them in, and throwing them in a cell.  That’s a fact.  There’s no shenanigan about that.  That all happened.  They done it to me.

In the meantime my hair had grown fairly long, and the Sergeant Major decided that I was to get a haircut.  I always stuck by the rules, as I seen them.  It was only when they pushed that wee bit from the other side that I started to kick and I really kicked.  “Get a haircut.”  So I decided to get the first haircut.  They took me out of my cell.  It was an Indian.  He cut my hair.  Made quite a nice job of my hair, and that was it.

The Sergeant Major came along in the morning and said “Right, turn around Morrison, let’s see the back.”  Turned ’round – I was always regimental – everything was done military style, in drill.   “Oh, that’s nae use.  You’ll need to get more off.”  Anger creeping in.  Following morning, out again.  More off.  Without dragging the story out, it took about three days, maybe four days until I was only left with one tuft of hair on the top of my head.  One bit.  My patience is getting tried.  “That’s the end of it”, I said to myself.  I asked the Orderly Officer who came ’round the cells at night “Sir, do you think I need a haircut?”  “No.”  It was obvious I didnae.  “The Sergeant Major has said I’ve got to have a haircut.”  “In that case Morrison, if that’s what Sergeant Major says, you’ve got to get it.  Get that man out for another haircut.”  The Corporals know me and they say “The barber will not be around till tomorrow.”  Sympathy was beginning to grow up, with certain people.  The Officer says “Have him out for a haircut tomorrow.”

“What do I do now Walter?”  That’s what I said to myself.  “What do I do now?”

I searched around the cell.  I was in a cell about nine feet long and roughly about my arms width, with a wooden bed and a pail.  That was me.  I’d done a big drawing of myself on the wall, and I used to box it, shadow-box it, to keep myself fit, and to let them see there was no mug in the cell.  I happened to see on top of the cell doors, which were iron railings, an iron bar attached to the railings with screws, and on top of that was sharp rusty spikes.  Besides the cell doors were storm doors that came in to keep the sandstorms from blowing in.  When the police went off at night the military guard came on and I says to the guy “Will you shut my storm door?”

He closed the storm door and I unscrewed this iron bar and managed to get it off, which meant I was left with a gladiator-type weapon which I managed to hide.  First thing in the morning the Orderly Officer comes around again, to inspect the guard, and he comes ’round the cells to take anybody who wants to go on the sick.  I had it all planned out.  I asked to go and see the Medical Officer, which to me seemed the logical step because I was not only wanting to ask him about my hair being any shorter, but I was now being affected mentally, and I couldnae see any other way that I could have this brought out into the open.  If anything happened I wanted references back.  They took me over.

I says “Sir, I’m here to see you about my hair.”  There was a notice up in the battalion that because of the sun you’d only to get your hair cut to a certain length.  “The situation’s this, sir – I’ve been told to get another haircut.”  “If Sergeant Major says so, you’ve got to get it done.”  That’s one thing about the army – you can be the biggest villain under the sun and they just throw their  weight behind each other.  “Well, sir, if anybody comes into my cell to take me out to get another bit of hair cut off, I’ll kill them on the spot.  The reason I’ve come to you, sir, is that I’m hoping you’ll take it seriously, because if I do, then you being a medical man, you should understand people’s minds, and you’ll be held responsible.  I’m telling you – it’s going to happen.”  I went on about how I’ve been trained by the army to fight for what I think is right: that I knew how to kill people, and this seemed like a time I was going to have to do it.

Christ!  They were shitting themselves.  I had a name that if I said it, they knew I would do it.  They took me back to my cell.  Now by this time – you take it from me – the place was buzzing – “Hear Morrison’s doing this.”  “Hear Morrison’s doing that.”  Everybody in the unit knew.  It’s getting nearer and nearer for the barber to come.  Talk about High Noon!  High Noon was nothing on it.  I’m sitting there with this iron bar, getting worried and worried and worried.  I’m saying to myself “What if it’s big Jimmy that comes in?  What if it’s so and so?  I’ll have to kill them.”  Take it from me – it was there to be done.  The first person that would have come in my cell would have copped it.

Would you believe my cell door wasnae opened for – och – I was going to say seven days – I cannae remember the thing, because everything became such a “Where am I? – What have I done?” that I don’t remember.  But it wasnae that day, and it wasnae the next day, and all the food was fed through the bars to me.  The piss was running over the top of my bucket and they wouldnae let me out for a shit, but I never had another piece of hair taken off my head.

The lesson from that was, for me – Oh Christ, I don’t want to be in that position again, because I would have killed some poor bugger.  That’s what turned me to pacifism, actually.

After months and months of sitting in jail we were finally taken before the Commanding Officer

We were waiting on confirmation of the Brigadier’s report on the Court Martial.  Everybody seen me getting sent away for a good long time.  The padre came round asking, would he say a prayer for me?  The seven of us were taken up in front of the Commanding Officer and marched in.  Everybody was in front of me, then I was taken in.  I was given one hundred and fifty six days detention, as I was picked out as the ringleader.  The rest of them got, we’ll say, in the region of twenty eight days field punishment.  We’re marched out.  And then: “Prisoners and escort – caps on!”  We put our caps back on.  I said “What’s on now?”  “Quick march!”  Back in again.  The Commanding Officer: “In the case of Private Morrison, blah, blah, blah, although you have been given such and such, blah, blah, blah, the Brigadier has failed to confirm the sentence, and you will be released immediately.”  Same for all of us.  So we won, in a roundabout way.  I was released, given some leave and all my back-pay.

That night I went to the garrison theatre to see a film.  There was a big searchlight shining into the place where we all stood queuing, waiting to get into the pictures.  Big lines of all the lads, and the padre comes up on his bicycle.  He comes up to me.  “Morrison, can I speak to you.”  “Yes, what is it?”  “I want to congratulate you on your release and on your stand.”  “Away to fuck, you of little faith.  I don’t need your help, or anybody else’s.”  And all the boys are going “Whe-heyy!”  How can you have faith in people like that?  They talk about a guy called Jesus that’s no prepared to surrender certain things and yet, when it comes to the crunch, they’re pleading with me to give in.

1.    A sedative used particularly in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

2.   Similar strategies on trains are accurately described by “Coxey” (Richard Attenborough) in Private’s Progress, Boulting Brothers, 1956.

3.   1943 news cuttings from The Times, and listed on Godfrey Dyke’s website, at the bottom of his entry.  Click Here.

30 APRIL 1943

JUNE 26 1943

4.   CB = Confined to Barracks.

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19 Mutiny and The Underground

“Last night’s action was bordering on mutiny!”

RAF Electrician   The conditions in Gibraltar were really bloody horrible.  A few days after arriving they said “We want a volunteer for Station Electrician.”  I was a trained aircraft electrician but I didn’t fancy working on aircraft, so I thought: OK, I’ll do that.  One of the finest things I ever did – in a way it was.  Later on it rebounded on me.  I had a workshop of my own and instead of going on parade like the rest of them, I didn’t have to.  And there was a lot of opportunity for skiving.  Oh yes.  As station electrician I could skive.

As station electrician I could skive

As station electrician I could skive

For instance, the officers used to have their refrigerator break down and I would tell them “I can get it done if you let me go to the RASC and rewind the motor.”  They were only too pleased to let me go because they wanted their bloody refrigerator, so I used to drag the job out.  I used to go to the pictures in the afternoon – all sorts of things like that.  The other thing I did which was different to most of the others was I learnt to speak Spanish, and I began to talk to the dockers.  Mind you,  there wasn’t much you could do on Gibraltar.  There was just one cinema with hard forms.  You could go there once a week and queue and wait your turn.  It wasn’t a camp cinema.

The only thing in Gib was a main street with umpteen pubs.  Booze was dirt cheap and you could get as pissed as a newt.  Lots of them became alcoholics because of that.  To make matters worse, all the civilians – the women, children and old people – had been evacuated.  The Gibraltarians.  They had been evacuated to England.  There was no women.  They used to import Spanish labour for the shops.  They used to come in from across the border.  They didn’t work in the camps, of course.

Blokes used to try and get off with these Spanish girls, but they didn’t have the time really.  The Spanish girls used to come at 7 o’ clock in the morning, and they’d go home at 7 o’ clock at night.  Also their customs were different.  Strictly speaking, a girl who went and walked along with a bloke was considered a prostitute.  The Spanish blokes didn’t want to know her, in the same way that many English blokes wouldn’t want to know an English girl who’d been out with a Yank.  So it was very difficult to walk with, never mind go out with a Spanish girl.  There was no bloody where to go out!

So the result was: three square miles, bloody hot, in the night time, we were sleeping on petrol cans, in the day there was the levanter – a sort of steam on top of the Rock, which at night  used to come down and you got absolutely bloody soaked.  It was like being in a vapour bath.  When you woke up in the morning and the sun came out you were sweating, so you couldn’t get dry.  You got terrible dysentery, and with the flies and whatnot, it was bleeding horrible.  The result was that the M.O. wouldn’t guarantee the health of anybody who stayed more than eighteen months.  So the tour of duty was eighteen months.  Afterwards you got sent home.  All the previous draft on Gib had been sent home after eighteen months.  It was so bad there that blokes used to throw themselves off the Rock.

It started off in the Seaplane camp.  They got hold of all the Naafi furniture and they burnt the bleeding lot

As time went on they didn’t do much about the blokes’ quarters, but they gradually put concrete over the race course.  They turned it into a proper runway to take more heavier things.  As they’re laying the tannoy cables they’re concreting them in.  Being the Station Electrician it meant there was only two people who knew where these tannoy cables were – me and the Electrical Officer.

Something was in the air.  They started to import Spitfires, boxed in crates.  Blokes were assembling them, working right through.  They worked two, three days at a stretch, with hardly any sleep.  Working like the clappers.  Again I was lucky.  As Station Electrician I could skive.  Eventually it broke: The African Campaign – Montgomery’s victory.  Terrific cheers.  Everyone all pleased.  At last a breakthrough.  Everybody’s looking forward to going home – some of them only had a couple of months to go.  Then all of a sudden a notice is posted on the DROs (1)   “As a result of the African victory the tour of duty in Gibraltar has been increased to eighteen months in Gibraltar, followed by eighteen months in Africa.”  The blokes just could not believe it.  As I say, some of them were just about to go home.

It started off in the Seaplane camp.  They got hold of all the Naafi furniture (before they did they took out the sparking plug of the fire-engine) and burnt the bleeding lot.  They were saying “We’re not tolerating this.  We didn’t work our bollocks off for this.”  It was a     spontaneous reaction.   Then the lads in our camp, the Land base, they discussed it.  “What shall we do?”  “Let’s not go to work tomorrow.  Let’s have a strike.”  Most of them thought they were a bit daft at the Seaplane camp, ‘cos they were really sticking their necks out.

The officers were dead quiet.  Not a word.  This was in all camps – including the radio camp on top of the Rock as well.  They were all discussing it.  “What shall we do?  We’re certainly not going to stand for this.  This is not on.”  Nobody went to work next day.  Well, very, very few.  Eventually the officers realised it was getting out of hand.  It really was.  So they put up on the DROs “We recognise that the decision to extend the tour of duty was very unpopular, and therefore we have decided to form an Answer Back committee.  Officers will be present in the canteen and any airman who cares to come along can ask questions.  All formalities will be waived.  You can ask whatever questions you like.  There will be no disciplinary action taken.”

You’ve never seen anything like it!  A dozen WRENS and two hundred blokes, excuse me dancing all the time!

We went along to this meeting.  The CO got up.  “Look”, he said “I feel just as bad about this as you do.  I’ve made representations to the Air Ministry to tell them how bad people feel about this.  I’m waiting for a reply.  Meanwhile, whilst we’re waiting, there’s no reason why things couldn’t be made a bit easier.  If any of you have any questions or any suggestions…”  We kept on for a little while about the eighteen months tour of duty.  Is it fair, ectetera.  The CO said “I can’t reply to this one.  I’ve made my protest to the Air Ministry.  I’m waiting for a reply.  Now anything else?”

Up to that time we had been sleeping in the most uncomfortable conditions.  There was one or two huts by then.  “Why can’t we have decent conditions to live in?”  “We’ll see to that.”  “We think it disgusting that in weather like this not to have sheets or pyjamas.  Can we have some issued?”  “Yes, you can have that issued.”  And we complained also about the canteen.

Not very long before all this happened an incident occurred where the officers had had a dance.  There was no women on the Rock so they got the Wrens from the Naval base.  There were a few there, but you hardly ever saw them.  Before the officers had their dance they got the lads – who didn’t know what was going on – to put sackcloth screening all around the officers’ mess and they made it out of bounds.  The dance occurred and the Wrens came in.  And the penny dropped – “Oh boy!  What a shower of bastards!”  They were really resentful.

At the Answer Back committee one of the chaps says “I think, sir, we ought to have a dance.”  “Dance?”  “Yes!”  “Who are you going to dance with?”  “You had the Wrens here, didn’t you.  We’ll have them here, to dance with us.”  “But there’s so many of you and we’ve only got a few Wrens!”  “Alright, we’ll have excuse-me dances, all the way along.”   They postponed their decision until the next Answer Back committee, but we had our dance!  You’ve never seen anything like it!  A dozen Wrens and two hundred blokes excuse-me dancing all the time!  Mind you, I don’t know what the fuss was all about.  They were real bloody crabs.  They were a snooty, middle-class lot.

As a result of our action they compromised and cut the tour of duty down to two years.  They also built a Rest Camp on the Rock.  It was very nice to go there – in fact, it was bloody marvellous.  By the way, they held the NCO’s responsible for any further acts of mutiny.  Although a terrible amount of damage was done no one was charged, as far as I know.

Another result of the mutiny was that some of the lads were allowed to go to Tangiers, after they’d done eighteen months on the Rock.  But when it came to me – No!  The Electrical Officer had gone back to England and I’m the only bleeding one who knows where the tannoy cables are!  Every time there was a fault, I had to repair it, so they said I couldn’t go.  You couldn’t put it down on paper, when it’s under concrete.  It was something you knew instinctively.  You knew where it was.  You’d been inspecting it time and again.  I knew where it was because I made nearly all the joints in the bleeding thing!

I could speak Spanish and I got to know one or two people who claimed they were working for the Spanish Underground

One bloke in the town, he used to work in a typewriter shop and was talking about “Viva La Republica” and all the rest of it, but he wasn’t very political.  But there was a girl who worked in a tobacco shop I used to go in.  She was very political and very interested in working against Franco.  One day,  when she got to know me sufficiently well, she gave me a text.  “There’s an underground movement in Spain and we’d like to have this duplicated.  Do you know anyone who can duplicate this?”  “Let me have a look at it.”

I thought it the most bloody innocuous stuff you could imagine.  It was asking that women who were prisoners of Franco should be allowed to have milk, and that prisoners in general should be allowed to have books.  I said to her “I don’t think very much of that.”  “You’ve got to start with small things.  You’ve got to get the sympathy of the population.  We feel it would be a useful exercise.”  “You know better than me, but I still don’t see anything brilliant about it.”  “You don’t live under a Fascist Dictatorship, so you don’t bloody well know.”

So I took the text and went to the feller in the typewriter shop who was always talking about the “Republica.”  “Tell me, what do you think of this?”  He read it.  “Marvellous!  Where’d you get it from?”  “Never mind where I got it from – can you get some duplicated?”  “Certainly.  What’s it for?”  “To be taken into Spain.”  “Certainly, with the greatest of pleasure.  Come back on Tuesday, I’ll have them all ready for you.”

I went back on the Tuesday and the chap says “Here you are, here’s your duplicated leaflet.”  And standing there is a soldier.  “Hey”, I said “perhaps he can understand Spanish.”   “Yes, he can.  I’ll introduce you to him.  So and so, Corporal, member of the Security Police!”  I thought: bloody hell.  He shakes hands with me.  “Pleased to meet you.  That’s a very good leaflet you have there.”  I says “Yeah, as a matter of fact I wanted to send a few to send to my friends, who’d be interested in what’s going on in Spain.  I couldn’t tell him I wanted half a dozen, so I told him to print a few more.”   “Don’t give us a cock and bull story like that.  I know they’re going into Spain.  Who’s taking them in?”  “Nobody’s taking them in.”  “Don’t you kid me.  Don’t get me wrong – this is a good leaflet.  It’s useful.”  “How do you mean?  Useful?”  “Well, we know for an absolute fact that Franco is sending wolfram (a stuff for making steel) to Germany. (2)  If we have leaflets like this we can get to know people in the Underground and if we tell Franco who they are, we can have some bargaining power with him.  You want to see the war won, don’t you?”  I took my bloody time.  “As far as I’m concerned”, I said “if I could help you, I would.”  “Perhaps we’ll take them in?”  “You can do what you like with them.” In fact he allowed me to keep them.  I went back to the camp, got rid of the bloody things and decided not to go back to the girl.  A friend of mine, a Scots laddie, went and tipped her off.

A couple of weeks later, in the middle of the night, they suddenly woke me up.  “You’re being posted”

“What?”  “You’re being posted.  Get your things.  Pack your kit.  We’re going in two hours.”  “Where?”   “Sorry, can’t tell you.”  I packed my kit and thought: What the bloody hell.  I didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye to anyone.  They took me out, onto a boat, right out into the Med and then they transferred me to another boat.  When I got on that boat there was a lot of RAF blokes – and they’re all yellow!  They told me they had come from Takoradi in the Gold Coast (3),  and they’d been taking Mepacrine tablets against malaria, which had made them yellow.  They also told me we were on our way home.  I thought: marvellous!

One of the band came along and said “We’re on jankers.”

On the boat were all services – navy, army and airforce.  The conditions were rotten, really rotten.  Every night an announcement used to come on the tannoy that went something like this: “The time is now twenty-one hundred hours.  All other ranks will go below decks.  Officers and first class passengers may remain on deck until twenty-two hundred hours.  Please extinguish your cigarettes.”  That was standard apparently on all troop ships, and of course it really got up blokes’ noses.

On the boat I came across a bloke who’d taught me to play the trumpet as a kid.  He’d been to the Gold Coast and was in this RAF band which was aboard.  Every evening the band used to go into a room and entertain the blokes.  One day one of the band came along and said “We’re on jankers.  The CO called us into the office and said we had to play for the officers and first class passengers, and that there wouldn’t be a concert for the lads tonight.  We told him we’re a RAF band, and don’t think it’s right.”  “Right’, he said “you’re all on jankers and they’ll be no concert at all tonight.”

The story got round – “Bleeding bastards!”  That night the blokes decided they were going to occupy this bloody room.  We were going to have our own party.  We crowded into this room and didn’t allow anyone else in,  and we started to put on a concert – singing songs like Eskimo Nell, telling dirty jokes and things like that.  The funniest thing was, I think the officers and the first class passengers must have had a better time than if the band had played, because they were all outside, looking through the windows, absolutely killing themselves with laughter – absolutely rolling up.  We had the most marvellous evening.

The CO’s walking backwards and forwards – “Last nights’ action was bordering on mutiny!”  And they pissed themselves laughing

And then, the stupid bastards, they went and did the announcement over the tannoy: “It is now twenty-one hundred hours…”  They couldn’t have been more tactless.  A howl went up and they all burst out on deck, all these yellow faces.  They’d been drinking, as well.  “The rotten sods!”  “We’ll throw the CO in the sea!”  And they started singing the Red Flag and the Internationale.  Then, through the tannoy “Will all ranks go below decks.”   “Fuck you, you rotten bastards, we’re not going below decks!” they shouted back.  It was murder!  It went on till about 1 o’ clock in the morning.  They let it fade out gradually.  Everyone drifted down.  Everybody felt really good.

Next morning all the NCOs were called in to see the CO.  One of them comes back – “Look lads”, he says “they’ve made us personally responsible for any other occurrence.  We’re all going to be on a charge.”  “We’ll stand by you, if they put you on a charge.  They won’t put you on no charge.”  The lads still wanted to carry on with it.  The NCOs were called in again.  The CO asked them to assemble all the lads below decks.  So everybody’s down below, all ranks, all services.  In fact the airforce and the navy were the most militant – the army wasn’t, funnily enough.  In walks the Adjutant.  He comes marching along.  All of a sudden there’s a snigger.  “Shut up!”  Really “SHUT UP!”   He’s pacing backwards and forwards like a bloody, bleeding rat.  Backwards and forwards.  Then suddenly the CO comes in.

There are more sniggers and the Adjutant is really screaming “SHUT UP!  SHUT UP!”  The CO’s walking backwards and forwards – “Last night’s action was bordering on mutiny!”  And they pissed themselves laughing!  The Adjutant’s going mad – “SHUT UP! SHUT UP!”   The CO says “I don’t understand what all the discontent is all about.  After all, you’ve all had good food.”  More guffaws of laughter.  “Isn’t the food good?  You’ve had fruit!”   The chaps were laughing.  The Adjutant’s going “SHUT UP!  SHUT UP!” and eventually quietens them down.

“Why – Haven’t you had any fruit?  Have you had any fruit?” he says to this chappie.  “Well, Sir, I’ve had one small apple.”   “And the food’s been good, hasn’t it?”   “No, sir.”  And the Adjutant says “Don’t answer back!”   “Well, all I’m saying to you is this, I can promise you any further action like this and the whole lot of you will be arrested as soon as we dock in England.”  The lads were dismissed.

The lads went on talking though, and there didn’t seem any sign that it was abating, so they stopped the boat there and then.   There where it was.  Just stopped.  Dead silence.  Nobody knew what was happening.  Nobody knew what to do.  They kept it like that for nearly a day.   Then they said “Start unloading the hold. Get your kits ready.  We’ll soon  be landing.”   We didn’t know where the hell we were.  The boat started to move and we discovered that we were off the coast of Ireland.  Eventually we came to somewhere near Morecambe and disembarked.  And that was the end of it.

1.  DROs:  Daily Routine Orders.

2. Wolfram, more commonly known as tungsten.  

3. Ghana.

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18 POWs

The guard was saying “Don’t go near that, you’ll die.  It’s electrocuted.”

Londoner   I was on Guernsey.  After about a year, or two years – I don’t quite remember – the Germans issued an ultimatum that all “non-islanders” as they called us who were of British birth, and not Channel Island birth, had to report and that we were to be sent to Germany.  Some managed to duck it, but for the rest of us it was very worrying because we had no idea what to expect.  We could not get any information as to where or why.  We’ve learnt since it was a political trick – “I’ll pay you one” – for something I’ve been told our forces did elsewhere in the world.  (1)  

They took many, many hundreds of people.  We got a week’s notice.  We were told to wear what warm clothing we had, and sturdy clothing and a pair of decent boots if we had them,  and that was about all.  The bare necessities for marching.  There were single men, women, girls, boys and complete families.  They transported us by boat to St.Malo and from St.Malo we were put on a train – not on cattle trucks, we didn’t have that unfortunate experience – but a French third class train with wooden seats.

We wound our way through France and Luxemburg.  On one occasion the RAF bombed the line in front of us and we had to be diverted by another route.  We slept in the train a couple of nights.  It was blue murder.  They issued us with sticks of German sausage.  It was German Army rations, which just about kept us going.  But we could never get enough water.  The train was packed and the driver obviously couldn’t keep giving his water up for drinking purposes.

We passed through Cologne and the train stopped.  The guards sprang out on the platform and ordered us to pull the blinds down.  It was a semi-secret job, you see.  We didn’t all do that though.  I and another feller got the window down.  The place was packed with German civilians – men and women going to work.  We rattled our dixies and asked them for water.  Some of them probably got us water without knowing what nationality we were – which they did from the fountain on the platform.   One man asked me “Who on earth are you?”  I’d learnt a bit of German and I said “We’re English.”  He seemed most surprised and smiled.  We didn’t have any animosity.  The guards, of course, came rushing up with their rifles.  They didn’t like it because it was their orders that we weren’t to do that.  They didn’t sock us, especially not in front of their own civilians.

The guard was saying “Don’t go near that, you’ll die.  It’s electrocuted

We ended up first in a camp called Dorsten, which formerly had been a military camp – Ilag Six they called it.  Our Infantry had been prisoners there sometime previously.  The diabolical thing about this camp – and we think it was done purposely – was that our camp was down below two elevated canals – the Dortmund and the Ems canals.  If the RAF had bombed the canals we would have got drowned, as we were locked in.  We didn’t fancy that but there was nothing we could do.  The German guards at least had a chance of doing a bunk.

The other intolerable thing was that we didn’t have enough food.  We lived on what the Germans called “Army Rations”, but as we pointed out to them,  in England, besides your army rations you had a few bob in your pocket and you could go out and get some unrationed chips, and so forth.  It was really miserable.  It was so bad that three or four of us went out on this small gravel exercising enclosure.  There were some sunflowers and I knew you could eat sunflower seeds, although I’d never eaten them before.  We gathered a few seeds and I stuck my hand out to get some more, because they were seemingly growing wild, all around the barbed wire, when one of the German guards up in the tower started bawling and waving.  I then realised he was talking to me, and he was saying “Don’t go near that, you’ll die.  It’s electrocuted.”  That was my first experience of electrification.   I didn’t quite comprehend it.  Even then I was as green as grass.  I passed the word around.

We were there about two months.  Somewhere in the vicinity were some English officers – prisoners – who by some chance got to hear of us and they sent some Red Cross supplies, which helped us.  This place was an assembly point for us crowd.  They took all the married people and the single girls, and the very young fellers who were about fourteen, fifteen, sixteen – they took all of them to what they called a married camp.  The rest of us were shoved through Germany, right down to Bavaria.

When we got there the food situation was just as bad

There were dungeons in this camp, but we were only in those later on.   The camp was a typical old German castle, like the pictures you see of them.  In addition pill boxes had been built and you had  machine guns and searchlights and barbed wire, and dogs yowling away.  Salzburg was the nearest big town to our camp.  We were right on the Austrian border – although it was all one then.  There was a bridge over to Austria, over the River Salzach.  (2)

In the camp there were about two hundred American civilians, who had been working or were living in Europe when America entered the war.  For instance, there was the American announcer of the English programme for the Lublin radio station.  There were also a lot of Polish Jews who were nominally American citizens.  They had American passports.  They were dual-nationality.  Many of them couldn’t speak English at all.  You couldn’t really describe them as Americans.  It was a legal technicality that’s all.

When we got there the food situation was just as bad.  I’ve walked out – several of us – and gone to a garbage bin and picked out the least of the filth and eaten it.  After a time the International Red Cross got weaving and we had more or less regular supplies of Red Cross food, which frankly kept us alive.  I had T.B. and probably would have died of it, had I not had this extra food.  We also got mail, through the Red Cross.  But we got the worst of both worlds.  I sent a letter once which was not censored by the Germans, but it was censored by the English when it got over there.  One letter I sent,  there was only about three lines in the middle that was still there.  The British had censored the last half and the Germans the first half.

We were in a most peculiar position.  We weren’t officers, we weren’t other ranks.  We were something a bit apart

For instance, they couldn’t make us work.  Provided we got out and obeyed their roll-calls, we could lie on our beds all day for three years, if we wanted to.  The Germans stuck to the Geneva Convention as far as we were concerned.  But of course, if you did lie around all day you’d soon go raving mad.  Most of us did a little bit of work.  We tried to improve things.  It was the sensible thing to do.  I occupied myself in the camp as a maintenance man.  We organised our own work.  As I say, we tried to improve things.  You wanted grub – so you’d do a bit in the kitchen and peel spuds.  Then there were the market gardens outside the camp and you could volunteer, if the Germans didn’t think you were too risky.  Quite a few of them did that.

We had to elect our camp leader.  In fact we had to have two.  They were sort of figureheads, to negotiate with the Germans.  They didn’t have any real power.  It was more committee things.  You built your own parliament.  Different committees for different things, for hygiene and so on.  There was no politics, but there was the same hoo-ha you get anywhere – pettiness, back-biting.  There was class-distinction here and there, but I think there always is.

We had a gentleman from the German Foreign Office who visited the camp.  He was connected with Lord Haw Haw

An old German sergeant major came clomping along and said “You’re wanted.”  I got carted up to the office, and there’s a gentleman sitting there, wearing a beautifully cut English suit and smoking Players English cigarettes.  “Come in,” he said.  “let’s see… I’ve got your papers here.  You were born not far from Dagenham  – Leytonstone.  Not that far.  Fords at Dagenham.  We bombed it last week.”  As much as if to say “Do you know much about it?”  There was all that sort of gear going on, but I didn’t have anything to do with him.  He was offering us pretty girls, good living and a good job in Berlin if we’d go on the German radio.  We had to be very careful, of course.  I said “Very interesting.”  But I wasn’t going to Berlin.  God!  I’d have been put in the Tower when I got back.  Shot!  I had that much sense.

The only news we did get was from the German controlled radio, but after a year a boy did knock up a secret radio, which we had in the camp, so we could pick up various English broadcasts.  In fact it was so secret 90% of the inmates, including myself, didn’t know where it was.  It was a little one or two valves, which is now in the museum in Guernsey.  The Germans after a time realised there was a radio in the camp and began to make searches, without any luck.  One of the chaps on the Liaison, he told us that the German Commandant had said “Look Mr So and So, we know there’s a radio here.  If we have visitors” – he didn’t say what he meant by ‘visitors’ – “it’ll be very bad for you, and it will be very bad for me.”  He was obviously referring to the Gestapo, but these chaps wouldn’t play ball.  They more or less said that if there is a radio it’s up to him to find it.

“There are other people in Germany.  My guards may not be able to help you.”  It sounded rather funny.  He actually used the word “Help”

I got myself what they called an Ausweis – a pass.  Because I was on the hygiene and maintenance squad I had to go to the local railway station to get various bits and pieces.  When I got the pass I had to go before the Commandant.  There were swastikas and pictures of Hitler, in his office, and he was sitting there, with his Iron Cross.  He said “I want to warn you that this pass takes you from A to B.  When you get to B you do what you have to do.”  He was describing it in broken English.  “You don’t look left, you don’t look right.  You turn round and you come back here.  I’m telling you this because if you wander off these tracks, either to the left or the right, there are other people in Germany and my guards may not to be able to help you.”  It sounded funny – he actually used the word “Help”.  I didn’t actually really understand, at the time, what he was on about.

I’ve realised since that there were two Germany’s.  There was the SS and the Gestapo and the Nazis – meaning your local gauleiter,  or Lord Mayor,  and all the bumph and officialdom, who were in the Party, and there was the ordinary German plus the German Army.  What he meant was if I strayed out of his district – well, god knows.  I took care not to, I might tell you!  I also had no intention of trying to escape.  I was quite attached to the guy who was my guard and I had no intention of getting him into trouble.  It was a case of “Keep quiet while you’re lucky to be able to walk.”

They didn’t really believe it all, some of them

In the camp we were under German army discipline, more or less.  Some of the soldiers guarding us were from the Russian Front, who had been wounded.  Several of them had the Iron Cross. These were the daytime guards.  At night they went off duty, air raids permitting, and a separate detachment of German infantry guarded the camp.  Both the daytime and night-time guards were the ordinary army – Wehrmacht.  This is a totally different thing to the SS and the Nazis.  There’s just no comparison.  I spoke a bit of German and I got friendly with some of them.  In fact I had a letter a couple of months back from a girl who said “Do you recognise my husband, because he was one of the fellers who was guarding you.”  And would I pay them a visit?  Which I’m hoping to do.  A peculiar relationship sprang up between us and the guards.

They employed one or two German civilians in the camp.  They had to wear a special – a green – armband.  Although the authorities didn’t encourage fraternisation, I spoke to quite a few civilians.  They weren’t particularly Nazis.  I can only say that it was the same over here – it’s like anyone here standing up for the King.  They’re not particularly patriotic, but if I came along and sat down…  I got friendly with one or two German girls too.  There were girls, for instance, in the censor’s office, who used to censor our Red Cross letters on the German side.  The Bavarians didn’t like the Prussians.  You could tell.  For instance, Hitler had an association called the Bund Deutscher Mädel – the Association of German Girlhood – probably something like our Girl Guides.  Some of the German girls I knew used to say “It’s not the ‘Deutscher’ but the ‘Dummer’ – Dumb – Girls.”  They didn’t believe it all, some of them.

I used to secretly sneer at them

The Polish Jews either held forged or authentic American passports.  With them, there was real hatred, and I can only assume it was something that they had seen and endured that I had not.  The Germans put them in a ghetto – a room of their own.  They didn’t mix with us.  Well, they sort of mixed with us.  It was more – this is my room and that is your room, and if you want to come into my room that’s up to you.

They had a rabbi, and to this day all this religious hoo-ha turns me not on, but off.  I wasn’t too keen on them.  They all seemed to be mumbling and praying about something.  I got on alright with most of them but I didn’t have much time for the rabbi and his crowd.  As they were nominally, on paper, Americans, the guards didn’t ill treat them.  I don’t think they liked them, but quite frankly – some of them – neither did I.  I used to secretly sneer at them.  I thought it was ghastly – you see, they were so servile.

If a German officer came in, these Jews would spring up and say “Oh, won’t you sit down?”  You wouldn’t get me doing that.  I mean, our fellers would never do that.  If somebody shouted an order – “Bloody well get up!” – well, we slouched to our feet.  But I thought, perhaps I’m being a bit naughty here.  If I’d been through what they’d probably been through I might be different.  They had two wars.  They had the Russians on one side, the Germans on the other.  It seemed to me they suffered just as bad at the hands of the Russians.

My people died whilst I was in prison

I never saw them again.  It was a terrific shock when I got this message.  I was feeling pretty ribby and there was a German officer who so used to aggravate me.  I said to an under-officer, who was friendly with me “Look” I said – in fact, I lost my temper – “You tell that geezer of yours I can get hold of a gun, and anymore nonsense out of him, I’ll pop him off.  I’ve been in this place so long, I couldn’t care less.  You’d better tell him that when I say ‘Good Morning’ he says ‘Good Morning’, and doesn’t swear at me.”  I did in fact get a gun.

I never saw this officer for a couple of weeks after this, and then by chance I ran into him.  He looked pretty foul, but he did say “Good Morning.”  I thought: somebody’s been talking around this joint.  I didn’t know whether I was going to be hauled up or what.  Three days later the under-officer came up to me and I said “I saw that goddam officer.  Is he back off leave?”  He told me that he’d spoken with the officer, and he said “You know he lives in Munich?”  “No, I don’t”, I said.  “Well he does, and I thought I’d tell you that three weeks ago your airforce came over and bombed it, and he lost his wife and child.”  I told him that I’d heard at the same time that I’d lost my people.  There was a sort of understanding.  I could understand why he was mad.  He must have hated Englishmen and sub-consciously I equally hated Germans, at that point.  We were really going for each other.  It was madness, but understandable.

We had an Italian prisoner of war.  He was worse than the Land Girls

Somerset Farmer   We applied for one when our Land Girl went.  He was in his twenties.  They were free to go where they liked after they finished work.  Once a week they did go back to the camp.  He went down to the camp one evening and when he came back he told us the boys were going to mutiny down there.  Something about conditions – the conditions weren’t good enough, and they were going to mutiny – and they did!  This was at Wells.  Our people who were looking after the camp, I think they went in with their bayonets fixed on their guns.  They drawed a bit of blood on one or two of them and that quietened them down.

I billeted the prisoner in my house, and I don’t mind telling you – every night we went to bed, the door was padlocked.  I never trusted that fellow.  He could read the English newspaper.  He used to spit and go “English pigs.”  He was a bit fuddy-duddy about what he would eat.  One day I was going to have a tin of pilchards for breakfast, because they were on coupons that day.  “Me no like pilchards.  Too many pilchards in camp.”  So I cooked him an egg, fried an egg for him.  My husband and I had pilchards.  When he saw the egg he picked up his plate – he was going to fling that at me!

If I was ever in the house there was always a poker or a bottle handy

I never trusted him.  If he’d come towards me, mind, I should have hit ‘ee.  I’d have made sure I got the first blow in.  I don’t know how hard you have to hit a man to kill him, but I always had a bottle or a poker handy.  I was doing some ironing one day in the kitchen and he came in.  My husband was working in the field up by the railway line, and it was “Mrs Boyce, you afraid of me?”  “What do you think I’m afraid of you for?  Whatever gave you that idea?”  “You always seem to keep de table between us.  Down in de camp, de men that is out in farms and in billets, de English women, they like de Italians.  There is a farmer’s wife, she bought him a bicycle.  She buy him this, she buy him that.  And here there is no woman.”

I had the blinking iron hot – heating the iron on the primus stove because we never had the electricity, you see.  I had the damn thing hot, and I picked ‘un up and I held it at him and I thought:  Yeah, you come near me man, you’re going to have this across your face.  He said right out “We come out on farm for women, but out here there is no women.”  “No,” I said “and it’s no good for you to think that there’s a woman in this house for you, because there jolly well isn’t.  The best thing you can do is go on up to your room and stay there.  I mean that.  And I don’t want to see you down here until my husband comes home.”  And he turned round and he brought out a string of Italian words – God knows what they meant.

When my husband came in I told him the Italian would have to go back to the camp the next day.  I said to him “If you don’t take him away you’re going to come in here one day and I’m going to be stretched out or he is.”  In the morning, after the milking was done, he was told to pack his bags.  He was a good worker though.

His father owned a  vineyard and probably a small farm as well.  He knew a fair bit about farm work.  He used to read our English papers and if there was anything about the army he used to spit and carry on, in temper.  “Lies! Lies!” he used to go.  Then he had a letter come from his parents and he reckoned the English had confiscated his father’s tractor and his father’s horses – “English, they are thieves.”  Another time he went on about when they were in Abyssinia and how when they were raiding a village they did go in and take women and children and fling them out of the bedroom windows and smash ’em down on their heads and kill ’em.  (3)

1.    In 1942 non Islanders and those Islanders who served as officers in the First World War were deported, on direct orders from Hitler, as a reprisal for the internment, by the British,  of German nationals living in Iraq.  For every one German interned, the order was that twenty non-islanders and First World War officers were to be deported.  The majority, such as the speaker, ended up in  prisoner of war camps in southern Germany.  Approximately 1,275  were deported , including women and children

2.  This was Ilag VII.  (Ilag: Internierugslager = Internment) During the course of their internment forty of the Channel Island deportees died in the camp.  Most other Channel Island deportees were interned  in Biberach an der Riss at the Ilag V-B camp.

3.    According to one source (The Imperial War Museum online site) when Italy surrendered in 1943, 100,000 Italian POW’s imprisoned in the UK volunteered to be ‘co-operators’ which meant mostly working in the building trade and agriculture, and were given considerable freedom and mixed with local people.  However in “An Italian Prisoner of War Remembers Somerset” (BBC2 People’s War online site) the implication is that co-operators volunteered before the Italian surrender, and it is remembered that they were regarded as traitors by some of their fellow POWs.  It is also possible (the evidence is conflicting) many of these co-operators would also be in digs, prior to the Italian surrender, such as the Italian POW remembered by Mrs Boyce, the farmer.  There were two camps used to house Italian POWs near Wells in Somerset.  The main one was 107G Penleigh Camp, and the other was 666 Stoberry Camp, that only came into service June 1944, after Italy had surrendered.  Local online media report that several Italians married  Somerset women and settled in the area after the war.

 

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17 The RAF

You went to war for 6 hours and you came back to clean sheets and ham and eggs

Waaf   I was posted to Regent’s Park.  It was ACR – Air Crew Receiving Centre, like for night vision, and so on.  Bentinck Close was our digs.  They said to me “What do you want to do?”  I said “I don’t know what I want to do.”  First of all I was put down as ACHGD – that’s anything. (1)   Like cleaning anything out.  Then this officer, she said “There’s a job here – you can either work in the cookhouse or you can work in the sick quarters!”  I thought to myself: I don’t fancy the cookhouse.  So I said “I’ll work in the sick quarters”, even though the sight of blood made me faint.

I was in sick quarters a couple of days and I see a Waaf who I knew – Flo Ward.  I knew Flo from before the war, because Mr Newton, who had a furniture shop in the Barking Road, used to be a tally man.  Our Mum used to get our clothes off him.  Flo used to measure me for my coats when I was little.  She was his buyer.  She was very brainy.  She was a typist and she bashed into me.  “Hallo Rene” she says.  “Oh Flo” I said “I’m working in sick quarters.  It ain’t half hard, cleaning all that place up.  I can’t stand it.”  Our sick quarters used to be Barbara Hutton’s house, the Woolworth’s heiress.  “‘Ere, look Reen,” she said “I’ll put you wise.  I’m doing typing and I know they want postal clerks.  Go in for that.”  “What can I do?” I said.   “Look” she said, “don’t put no make-up on – wash your face – and put on a sorrowful look and go and see the Waaf officer” – (‘cos I look sorrowful when I got no make-up on, sallow like).   I make an appointment don’t I?  I sees this Waaf officer. Left, right, left, right, left right.

“Yes, Airwoman, what do you want?”  “I’m working in sick quarters Ma’am, and it’s making me feel ill.  I can’t stand it.”  “Yes, you do look rather ill” she said, looking at me.  “Is there a trade you want to go in for?”  I thought:  I’m alright here.  “I would like to be a postal clerk” I said.  She phones up and I had to report down the Post Office at Holme House.  Down I goes there and I gets in with Kit, my old mate, and that’s how I started doing the post-office work.  I did it all through the airforce.

At Regent’s Park I used to come home every weekend on a 48 hour pass.  I used to bring all the Waafs home, didn’t I?  My mate and me were sort of ringleaders.  The girls used to say “Can we come with you and Kit, Reen?”  We used to stop coaches and get rides in them and bunk in everywhere – up Tottenham Court Road, all over.  We used to have a really good time.  She was a good mate to me, Kit was.  Honestly, I think people were more friendly then, than they are now.

The Corporal stands ’em all to attention.  “Waaf” he says, “Come Over here”

Our Roy, my Mum’s sister’s boy, he was a navigator in the RAF.  He was at Regent’s Park, and I was looking for him.  Me, I was permanent staff, but he was only there for aptitude tests.  I was looking out for him and all of a sudden I seen him marching along by Viceroy Court.  I said to my mate Kit “‘Ere, look – that’s our Roy over there!”  I shouted out “Roy! Roy!”  Course, as I’m shouting out all the Flight turns round, don’t they.  The Corporal stands ’em to attention.  “Waaf” he says “Come over here.”  I goes over and he dresses me down in front of the lot of them.  I didn’t half feel a fool.  “Don’t take the attention of my airmen.  You should know better, airwoman.”  Our Roy stood there and went all red.

rene raf_edited-1

From Regent’s Park I went down to Torquay.  I was stationed with the Canadians there.  I was two years down Torquay.  We were in the Grand Hotel, and being in the post office I used to collect all the mail.  I used to go from Paignton and Babbacombe.  We used to ride all the way around, with the Waaf drivers, picking the mail up.

The Canadian girls were very, very nice girls.  They were great big wenches and ‘cos of me being little they used to say “Come on, Kid, we’ll take you out for a drink” ‘cos they had a lot more money than we did.  I used to say to my mate “‘Ere, leave the window open, I’m going out with so and so tonight.”

Do you know who our Waaf officer was?  Know Attlee?  His daughter

I got away with murder myself. as far as discipline goes.  I used to come home in civvies. I used to have silk stockings on.  I was on a couple of charges, but I used to get out of it, me and my mate.  Do you know who our Waaf officer was?  Know Attlee? (2)   His daughter.  We used to have Domestic Night – one night a week you had to stop in and darn all your things, and all that, and then you had to have a kit inspection.

I was a rare one for walking about in me drawers – I never used to wear me trousers.  My mate and me, we used to pluck each others’ eyebrows and do our hair, and this Atlee, she used to say to me “Airwoman, every domestic night you’re always improperly dressed.”  I thought: you right cow.  Why shouldn’t I walk around in me drawers?   I enjoyed myself down in Torquay.  I signed on for another 6 months.  I done four and a half years in the RAF.

There was three strips there, and whether they like it or not, they had was to respect it, but occasionally you hear “Hallo Sambo” or another one he say “Eh, darkie” – “Snowball”.  All kinds of names

Airgunner, Sergeant  Before the war they might have seen the odd coloured people from the West Indies, but I don’t think they had seen them in such great number.   How can I put it?  There wasn’t – I don’t know if you could call it prejudice – we had a lot of questions thrown at us.  Different type of questions.  Some people say “Where’s your tail?”

In camp there was three stripe there, and whether they like it or not, they had was to respect it, but occasionally you hear “Hallo Sambo” or another one he say “Eh, darkie” – “Snowball.”  All kinds of names.  I was just that type of feller that I never take much notice of it.  I don’t care what a person wants to call me.  The only thing a person can do to me to make me retaliate is take me few coppers out of me pocket, otherwise I don’t care what he do.

There were a few in the camps who kept themselves distant.  You might have good friends in the camp – English friends – and when you go outside some of them act as if they don’t want to know you.  But then you have others, and you leave camp together and anywhere you go, they go.  They’re always there.   At the dances you get a little bit of jealousy, especially when you get to know most of the girls.  Some camps, like Henlow, used to have civilian dances. (3)    At Henlow I got to know plenty of Waaf, and around Henlow you’d meet other girls, visit their houses, and they expect me to go and dance with them.  You’re dancing and all of a sudden somebody tap you on the shoulder, and they say “Excuse me.”

This Yank just sweep the bar, swept off all the drinks, about six drinks off the bar.  He said “Niggers are not allowed in here”

With the girls, that was very sensitive with the Americans and the English lad.  It was very, very sensitive.  When I was at Henlow we used to go to Luton a lot, and the Americans had three bases around Luton.  You go the dance hall there and 90% of the people there would be American and they seemed to have all the girls that was going, while the others just stand as wall flowers.  Just looking.  So there was a lot of resentment with the Americans.  I can remember having a few arguments down at Luton.

There were two very big Americans – white lads – that I knew well.  They were stationed just outside Luton and we always meet when we go to Luton.  They had extra rations – double what we had – cigarettes – everything was double, even treble sometime.  I used to go back to the PX with them, and we used to go to dances together, we used to drink together – everything together.  We went to a pub one night.  The regular pub we used to go into.  We walk in and go to our table.  We had another Jamaican lad with me, but he was a much smaller lad, so he wants to show that he’s as big as anybody else.  He’s first to order the drink.  In comes three tremendously big Yanks, big white Yanks.  They walk up to the bar, just as this feller is about to pick up his drink and walk back to the table.

The Yank just sweep the bar, swept off all the drinks, about six drinks, off the bar.  He said “Niggers are not allowed in here.”  He didn’t say anything.  He re-ordered the drinks.  They done the same thing again.  The bartender – I think he was scared – he didn’t want to get involved.  Well myself and the other Yanks and two girls was sitting at the table, and one of the white Yanks at the table, he’s shouting “Re-order the drinks again.”

He re-ordered and the bartender serve him the drinks.  The Yank gets up from the table, walks over and stands behind the Jamaican lad.  The other Yank means to do the same thing again, but this other Yank catches his hand and stopped him.  He said “What do you want to do that for?  His money is as good as yours.”  He said “Niggers are not allowed here.”  “What part of the State are you from?”  He said “Texas.”  “How long have you been here?”  “Oh,” he said “we’re just coming in.”   “Well,” he said ” have you ever had to chase a bullet up your backside?”  These Yanks at our table had just come back from the Front.  They just get their leave, and these others are coming straight from America.  “If you want to see my wound, it’s here.”  He said “I didn’t know it was your friends.”  “Yes, they are my friends, and you’ll pay for the drinks you’ve tipped over.”  They bought their drinks and came over to our table and we was the best of friends after that.

These Yanks and we was like a pea in a pod.  Once we leave camp we never go anywhere without them.  For we had to get the bus from Henlow to Luton, or we go down to Hitchen and get the train.  But these Yanks, they used to come down with their jeep and pick us up, and take us down there.  I was there six months and I can’t remember ever spending a pound.  It was the most money I ever had since I joined the airforce, for I didn’t spend a penny.  They were doing all the paying.

The only regret I ever had was that I never had the opportunity of being in an operation

I was an air gunner but all the time I was on stand-by.  I’ve seen it all – I’ve seen the planes take off, I’ve seen it come back, I’ve seen the dead come back, I’ve seen the wounded come back, I’ve seen the plane come back shot up, come back on one engine, come back on half a wing, and I’ve never gone.  It might sound funny, but that’s the one regret I have.  I never went on an operation.

Between Henlow and Lincoln there was two Bomber Command stations, which was about three miles apart.  I’ve seen three – four hundred Lancasters take off each night.  You haven’t got time to fall asleep, from 3 o’ clock every morning until half past two or three next day.  It’s a mass of noise from taking off.  Then you have an hour in between, where you get a little lull – they disappearing.  But as soon as they disappearing you have another loud noise.  When you look up at the sky it’s full of plane from another base, heading in the same direction.  I’ve seen forty, fifty, sixty of them come back, shot up, twenty-five missing, and you have to run down as they’re coming in, pulling dead bodies out and helping the wounded to get out, and sometime, as soon as they’re landing they’re exploding.  When I used to talk about my not flying they used to say “What you’re doing is just as important as what they’re doing up there.”  But I said “I trained for up there, so why put me down here?”

The first time someone shot at us in anger – and they happened to be Americans – I got the fright of my life.  I was in the foetal position, making myself as small as I can

Bomb Aimer  After you’d finished your training they put you in a big room – fifty pilots, fifty navigator, fifty air bombers, a hundred air gunners, fifty engineers – and they let you mix for a couple of days.  Then they came in and said “Who’s the crews?” and they marked them all down.  I don’t know how the other crews picked themselves, but I know how we picked ourselves.  We were all Scotsmen, more or less.

MacNamara came up to me and said “I’ve got a feller from Aberdeen in the rear turret and a feller from Galashiels in the mid upper – do you fancy joining us?”  “Aye, alright.”  We couldn’t find a navigator who was Scottish so we picked a Geordie.  We got an Australian – Lowry – as a wireless operator and a Cockney as a flight engineer.  We didn’t get on too well with him, but if you don’t work together you’ve had it.  There’s no question about that.  There’s no-one there to see if you’re doing it right or doing it wrong.  You’ve just got to work together.

Being aircrew you all had to be reasonably intelligent, so that was different.  Everything was different in aircrew – the whole set-up.  You went to war for six hours and you came back to clean sheets and ham and eggs.  No one else did.  There was a Waaf who used to serve us our ham and eggs.  She was beautiful but no-one would touch her with a bargepole.  She’d been engaged to different guys.  Every time she got engaged to one, he died.  That was quite a thing in this modern day – the superstition of aircrew: never turning back, for instance.  You never turned back if you’d forgotten a map.  Anything.  Another one was, if someone had bought it and their clothes were lying around, you grabbed them – their trousers, their jackets – anything – on the theory that it wouldn’t happen to you.  Do you know what we had?  Most of  my crew were Catholic, and we used to have a priest come and give us the Last Rites.  I used to hate that.

I never dropped a bomb in my life

We were a protection society for the rest of the main force – try to kid the Germans on the main force wasn’t coming their way.  It was a hell of a job.  Airborne Cigar was one of them.  There was only one squadron of you, so it’s hard for them to find you.  You would go up and switch your navigation lights on.  You used silver paper all the time.  The idea was it would show up on their radar and you would time it, say when you’ve left the coast.  The silver paper was in long sheets, about eight foot I suppose, but it was folded and you ripped it and pushed it down a chute.  It opened up, as it got out of the aircraft.  Each silver strip would look like an aircraft in their radar.  Everybody, say at 10 o’ clock, would for four minutes throw out silver paper at the rate of one a minute, and as you got nearer the coast you kept throwing out more and more and more.  This would attract their fighters.  Once their fighters were up in the air looking at happy valley – that’s Nuremburg and all the other places – the main force would go for Berlin, and they couldn’t divert these aircraft up to Berlin.  They hadn’t the fuel.  It was quite a good idea, but I don’t think it worked very well. But the worst trips we had, and they were absolutely horrible, was to go out and sit along the coast, and do nothing.

The only thing the crew hoped was that I wasn’t the second pilot when the pilot died

We were based way out at Wells-on-Sea – North Creake – near Fakenham in Norfolk.  We used to go up to 20,000 feet and circle for six hours round our own arse.  Round and round and round.  We had three wireless operators in the aircraft and they jammed the radar of the Germans, so you had a complete screen from Denmark to France.  The idea was that when the main force broke through the screen the Germans only had time from the coast to the target to get their fighters up.  Oh, but that was agony.

One night a Focke Wulf came up and saw us going round and round.  This was just off Denmark.  We’re watching this Focke Wulf looking at us, saying “Jesus Christ, we’ve had it now.”  A Focke Wulf had 20 mm canon with a range of about a mile and we’ve got these wee pee-shooter machine guns.  They shoot a lot of bullets, but they don’t go very far.  But he buggered off and let us all clean our pants up.  It’s frightful you know.

The first time someone shot at us – and they happened to be American – I got the fright of my life.  I was in the foetal position, making myself as small as I can.  I looked at my mate Eddie and said “For fuck’s sake, let’s no do this any more.  It’s alright for a joke, but let’s chuck it now.”

I would normally have been an air bomber, but in this group we had no bombs to drop, so I became second pilot, second air gunner, second everything.  I was running up and down the plane like a blue-arsed fly.  The only thing the crew hoped was that I wasn’t second pilot when the pilot died.  I used to fly it home and they’d say “For Christ’s sake, you’re making us seasick.”

Your chances run out.  Your courage runs out.   I went away for three months

They did a Catch 22 on my crew.  It had gone on too bloody long.  It was during my first tour.  They said to us “If you do another ten we’ll give you a long leave.”  And then it was “If you do another five trips we’ll give you an even longer leave” and it was going on and on and I said “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”  Your chances run out.  Your courage runs out. They said “You can go away.”   I went away for three month, up to the Highlands, and I never came back until D-day.

His Wife   Within a year of one another your Mother and Father died.  I hadn’t met you very long and I can remember you phoning from Ma Simpson’s, speaking to this Adjutant.  He wouldn’t believe that your Father had died.  You were shouting down the phone “But my Father’s dead!”

Bomb Aimer  It was the LMF thing.  (4)  I had a cold once and this doctor started looking at me.  I said “Look, I’ve got sinus and it’s bloody sore.”  You’re locked in this light pressure at 20,000 feet and you come into heavy pressure – it starts getting to your head.  But no.  They begin to look at you funny, and start to ask questions about how you feel about flying.  You can’t say “I feel fucking awful about it.”  No.  It’s “I feel alright.”

His Wife   I knew a guy who was recorded as Lack of Moral Fibre.  They shoved him up in an aeroplane.  Every time they put him in a plane he went into hysterics, and they wrote him off: “Lack of Moral Fibre”.  It was written across his brain.  Every time he talked to you it finally came up in conversation.

Bomb Aimer   One thing about the airforce, and I believe it was true of all the services, you were fighting some nebulous thing.  Few Britons were fighting a personal war…. You had to get the likes of the Poles and the Czechs, in Fighter Command, for instance, who knew what it was all about, what they were fighting for.  They never mention about the Poles and the Czechs in the Battle of Britain.  They were the ones who really got tore into it.  They knew what the war was about.  We didn’t.

I enjoyed my first flight.  I really did enjoy it

Flight Engineer  I passed out as a Flight Engineer on Stirlings and I got sent to Waterbeach. (5)     It was a 16/51 Heavy Conversion Unit, Waterbeach. They usher you into a room and in that room you find lots of other aircrew.  All these other aircrew are already a crew – mostly Wellington and Whitby crews – twin engined bombers, and they’re looking for an engineer.  You milled around and spoke to various crews – I don’t know how it happened – but you finished up with a crew.  They’d all flown before, though not necessarily in operations.  My crew had been flying together for some months on Wellingtons, although they hadn’t done any operational flying.  We were being converted to four engined bombers.

I was a right sproggy.  I hadn’t done any flying whatsoever.  I knew the theory but I’d never seen the inside of a Stirling.  So I get in it and there are two instructors.  One for the pilot and one for the engineer.  They’re called screen pilot and screen engineer.  They cover you in fact.  My instructors really looked old to me – he must have been all of thirty!  He said “My God, they must be robbing the bloody cradles!”  I was twenty.

I enjoyed my first flight.  I really did enjoy it.  My instructor taught me a hell of a lot.  He was a real stickler.  He insisted I wore all my gloves – which was three pairs: silk, wool and leather.  He insisted I wore my goggles on my forehead, above my eyes.  All around his eyes he had a scar.  He’d fought a fire on a Stirling and he’d pulled his goggles down and that saved his eyes.  The chamois leather had burnt off the frame, and the frame metal had burnt into his face. He said “I may have a scar around my eyes, but I’ve still got my eyesight, and I’ve still got my fingers.”

Then we did what were called familiarisation – circuits and landings, or “circuits and bumps” in airforce jargon.  After not many hours – six in fact – we were fit enough to go out on our own.  They loaded you up with a heap of dummy bombs and they send you out on what they call a loaded climb.  We were then posted to Mildenhall, to a squadron.  The Flight Commander took Jack, the pilot, and I up – just the two of us, to see how we coped on Stirlings.  He passed us as being fit for flying on Ops.  We did some operational climbs, taking off and landings and then they suddenly decided that we were going to convert to Lancasters.  They sent us  after Christmas, 1943 to Feltwell –  No.3 Lanc. Finishing School at Thetford in Norfolk.  The conversion course was a matter of hours.

Compared to a Stirling, a Lancaster was a beautifully simple aircraft from an engineer’s point of view.  On a Stirling there were fourteen petrol tanks and you could have four in use at any time or six in use.  To change tanks you had great big levers you pulled and you pushed.  It was like being on a ship.  It was really grim.  The Lancaster in comparison was very simple, although all aircraft have got things wrong with them, and these were pointed out to us.  We were now ready to fly ops.

Lanc photo 4x6006

Nobody could explain to you what flying on an Op was like.  Nobody could really tell you what to expect.  Jack had done one trip, just before our first Op, called a “second dicky”.  He got taken up to be shown what it was like.  The rest of us hadn’t done any operational flying at all, so we didn’t know what to expect.  When we were ready to fly we had a lecture from a chappie who had escaped from a German prison.  He’d got back to this country, like many airmen.  We were escape orientated.  We all carried escape kits: compasses, and so on – not because the RAF were doing us a favour, but because we’d cost so much to train that we were supposed to try and get back.

The first trip we did was to Essen and I must admit, I was dead scared.  Every time I saw a great big bright light I shut my eyes.  If I’d only known, it was the easiest trip we ever had, or were ever likely to get.  It was a very, very cloudy night and all these bright lights I kept seeing were the reflections of bombs flashing back on the clouds, or searchlights playing under clouds.  It was nothing – but you don’t know what to expect.  I was supposed to keep a log every fifteen minutes – logging engine temperature of four engines, logging oil temperature, speed, boost – a heap of stuff.  Well, you don’t.  You’re dead scared.  You don’t want to know.  It was a big laugh when  I went back next morning and I said I’d lost my log book, because obviously they knew – first time out everybody lost their log!

The second trip we did was Nuremberg, which was the worst air battle of the lot – but we didn’t know that, did we?  We had nothing to compare it with

It was a running battle from the time we crossed the Channel.  We didn’t know, though, that this was unusual.  Other crews would, but this was only our second trip.  By the time we got to Nuremberg we were shattered.  You didn’t need a navigator.  You could navigate by the combats going on ahead of you and by the aircraft burning on the ground. We were shattered.  There’s no other word for it.  We hadn’t lost our morale – we were all doing our jobs – but we were scared.  Dead scared.  We had logged 32 aircraft going down until Jack said “Pack it up”.  I remember him swearing at a Lancaster which was going down in flames – he wanted it to blow up because the longer it kept in flames the easier it was for other people to see us.  And Jack was normally a very mild sort of man.  We buckled our parachutes on, which I never did again.

We took a vote because the rear turret wouldn’t work, whether we should turn back or not.  It was the skipper’s decision, but we always reckoned that as we were flying as a crew we should vote.  We all voted to go on.  Over the target two Junkers 88’s attacked us.  We were sitting ducks.  The wireless operator got down on his hands and knees and prayed to Christ.  He had the intercom on, and it came over the intercom.  Who knows?  It might have had some effect because they sheared off and shot down people either side of us.

Back we had a quite trip.  Sharma the navigator, who was a crack navigator, reckoned we were over Brest, which was a heavily defended area.  There was a hell of a lot of searchlights which made us think it was Brest.  We got quite a scare.  We were busy shoving out “Window”, the stuff that puts their radar off, and we had a gadget which messed their searchlights up.  It had no effect whatsoever.

We thought, any minute now they’re going to open up and blow us out of the sky

I’d let a tank run dry – which shows what state we were in panic wise, and I had trouble restarting the engine, and that engine ran the radar set.  Suddenly, the searchlights started crossing – to-ing and fro-ing – and it was Manston, Kent.  Not Brest at all.  I always remember feeling – I don’t know what the word was….  Besides anything else, we were also out of fuel.  The winds we had been told to expect were wrong and we had been flying against headwinds.

Manston was not only a fighter base but also an emergency landing space for bombers.  You could get several aircraft down at once in that place.  That was the whole idea of it.  As we were coming in to land there was a chappie coming in hard behind us and he was listing what was wrong with his aircraft.  Terrible things – he couldn’t get his wheels down; he had so much shot away from behind; he had so many crew members dead – I thought “Christ Almighty, what have we got to complain about?”  He was asking for the fire engines and all the usual appliances.

I never really knew what happened to him because the following morning we were able to fuel up again and take off.  The place was littered with bombers, all round.  When the news came on they said 70 aircraft were lost, which of course was wrong.  A lot more than 70 were lost.  (6)    When we got back to our airfield and looked down at the aircraft there was very few of them around.  We thought most of them had been wiped out, but like us they’d landed elsewhere.

We were really shattered.  We thought if this was going to be like this, we haven’t got a chance in hell

Nuremberg took us six hours forty-five minutes, from take-off to return.  Lots of people used to reckon the Germans knew we were coming.  It seems obvious, but I can’t really believe the allegations that they had been informed by our own Intelligence.  You wouldn’t have sent that many aircraft would you.  700 was a hell of a size force.  (7)    You’d have sent a smaller force.  They’ve slain this book that says the Nuremberg raid was leaked.  They say his facts are all up the creek. (8)   But we were really shattered. We thought if it was going to be like this, we haven’t got a chance in hell.  As it happens, we were one of the few crews in our squadron to complete a tour.

Nuremburg log book003_edited-1

Each aircraft had its own ground crew, and each ground crew had an NCO – a corporal – in charge.  Ours was Corporal Tich Yates.  There were so many aircraft to a wing, and over that wing there would be a Flight Sergeant, a chiefy, as we called him.  He would be in charge of all the ground crew.  We were out on dispersal – not altogether, but in a pancake, apron, call it what you will.  The ground crew used to dig holes in the ground and make all sorts of shelters.  They almost used to live out there, alongside the aircraft!  Our particular lot had lost so many crews, they hadn’t had any time to develop any feeling for the people they were servicing aircraft for.

We had a very old Lancaster.  It had already done Ops and been used for training when it came to us, but it was a fantastic aircraft – T for Tommy, LM443.  We survived one, two, three, four, five trips and they realised that the way things were going, they could well have a crew.  There was a fantastic feeling, fantastic comradeship growing up between us and them.  Aircrews and ground crews didn’t always get on so well together.  So much so that when we had an air test, the corporal or one of the chaps used to fly with us, because if they had done a rotten job and they knew they were going to have to fly in it, they’d make sure they did a good job.  So it was standard practice that one always had to come, but with our lot, they all wanted to come!  In fact we had an armourer who was boss-eyed.  He was dead keen to fly and Jack used to get out of the seat when we were airborne and this chappie used to fly.

In an aircrew you were like a family.  That was the whole idea

You’ve got to know how the other will react. On a trip there was very little said.  All this stiff upper lip touch is a bit overdone but there isn’t much said because if you do, someone could be saying something that’s absolutely trivial when something happens and somebody’s got to be able to hear what another person is saying.  So normally there’s nothing said.  The pilot goes through all the crew. Calls them up, makes sure they’re all there, all OK.  The only time anybody speaks is if you’re being attacked.  It’s usually the gunner who speaks.  I might break the silence to say I’m having trouble with a particular engine, or the wireless operator, who might receive a wind being broadcast.

We lived together as a crew, in the same billet, until Jack got his commission and moved out.  It didn’t make any difference for when we weren’t flying together we were eating together or drinking together in Cambridge.  Everything we did was together.  Jack was from British Columbia.  He was very quiet spoken, but Bob Brigham, our bomb aimer, was from Toronto and he was as different again.  All he did was gamble, gamble, gamble.  They used to have much better uniforms than we did.  Better tailored.  At that time airmen didn’t have battledress, only aircrew had battledress.  We had buttons on our battledress.  They had a zip.  Bob came home one night – early one morning – undid his zip and pound notes cascaded out.  He’d been playing craps.

You couldn’t pack it in and say “I don’t want to fly anymore, please” could you?

Before an Op there were rituals like peeing on the tail-wheel, and you’d joke such as “You haven’t got a chance in hell tonight with your lot”.  Or “You’ll find that bloody aircraft won’t see you back for breakfast.”   Or “You’re for the chop tonight.”  It was said all the time, even if someone was killed.  You just carried on.  If you didn’t joke there was dead quietness.  In the American airforce you could suffer from what was called “Combat Fatigue”.  In the airforce you suffered from “Lack of Moral Fibre”, which was stamped across your paybook, all your documents – LMF, and you’re stripped of your rank.  And this could lead to trouble because you might have a crew member who was going round the twist and in doing so was endangering the rest of the crew.

We all had our own personal mascots.  I had a little airman my wife gave me.  Jack, as he came from British Columbia, had an Indian totem pole.  There was only one crew member who used to leave a “last letter”.  For us to leave a last letter was considered bad luck.  It was asking for it.  You couldn’t pack it in and say “I don’t want to fly anymore, please”, could you?  We were dead scared but on our third trip I don’t think we thought “I wonder what’s going to happen to us?”  Our third trip was eleven days afterwards, to Laon in France.  That was a railway marshalling yard.

The only time when we were on Ops I can remember about people as such, as distinct from cities and industries, was when we were going to Essen.  Our Intelligence Officer was giving us all the old madam and then he said “You’ll be arriving when they’re changing shifts”.   That was about the only time I ever thought exactly what we were going to do.  We were not only going to bomb a factory and its plant, we were also going to bomb two lots of work people, and among those work people were probably Russians, French, apart from the Germans.  He actually mentioned people, instead of aiming points, which was usual.

In Frankfurt the Post Office was being use as the aiming point.  That was getting near Christmas.  A great joke – it’s bound to be full of goodies for the troops out in Russia.  It’s going to lower their morale.  People weren’t talked of.  It was aiming points and targets.  You didn’t think, did you?  It was orientated that way.  It was like aerial combat.  The first time I saw a German fighter in the moonlight I was fascinated.  I wasn’t scared at all.  You didn’t think of the man sitting there who was trying to get a bead on you.  You thought of the machine, not the man.

I.   Aircraft Hand – General Duties

2.  Clement Attlee,  Labour wartime deputy Prime Minister, and Prime Minister 1945 – 1951.

3.  Henlow, Bedfordshire.

4.  LMF: Lack of Moral Fibre

5.   Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire

6.   96 bombers, not 70, were shot down.

7.  The figure was almost 800, not 700.

8.  The Nuremberg Raid by Martin Middlebrook, Allen Lane. 

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16 The Royal Navy

I don’t want to sound rotten about this, but in my opinion, having mixed with all parts of the other services, I would say the comradeship is highest in the navy

London Dockers’ Son   Around about the time of the bombing in London, 1940 or so, or a little later, they were putting dockers into an organisation known as the Millionaires Navy,  which was a Reserve Navy that went on active service.  They wore the Royal Navy uniform but they got civilian pay, hence the name.  They also got called the Golden Navy, as well, and they were resented by the regular Navy.  They got jobs like moving ammunition at Portsmouth.  The rest of the shipping was diverted outside of London.  Practically the entire docks area was razed to the ground.   Where I lived the docks was alight for about four days.  It’s just as well they did divert shipping.  Dockers were drafted into this Millionaires Navy.

Chief Petty Officer  I was on most boats, including submarines, but oh jeez – I hated submarines.  Oh, when that bloody hatch was closed – Christ.  It’s deadly on a submarine.  Bloody deadly it is.  Though you don’t pay much attention to it, you’ve always this fear in your belly.  When was war broke out, was I bloody glad I got transferred!  I didn’t ask to get transferred, but was I glad.  I got down and kissed terra firm, when I got out.  I think everybody was the same.  In those days you didn’t have a cat in hell’s chance of getting up.  That was it.  It was curtains.  They were so obsolete.  Christ, everything you touched fell to pieces, for lack of maintenance.  Everything had been let slide.  They hadn’t kept up with the modern idiom as regards anything – guns, weaponry – anything.  I’m not going to blame the Conservatives, even though they were in power at the time.  It would be wrong to blame any government.  It was the thing of the age.  They thought the 1914 – 1918 war was the war to end wars, like the last one was.

The Navy was extremely strict on discipline.  I think more strict than the other forces

But not with the brutality that you got in the army, although brutality came into to it on a lot of different ships.  Don’t forget, there’s no back doors in the navy.  You can’t run into the next field.  This is the difference between the navy and all the other forces.  You had to work together, your lives depended on it, so you had to be strict.

Normally the discipline was left to the PO, and you could get some wicked PO’s.  But in a way I suppose – and I came more or less up from the bottom – although I was subjected to  all this treatment, I think it did you a lot of good in some respects.  In some cases, when the war broke out the old-timers had got that bloody fed-up at getting new recruits who didn’t know the first thing about seamanship, that they had to be bullies to make sure you learned the right way.  But some PO’s I’ve seen knock AB’s down gang-plank with their fists. (1)

One of the worst, one of the noxious jankers jobs was you got put on painting.  Oh bloody hell!  You had to go round with a chipping hammer.  That and in the galley – mountains of rotten greasy stinking pans.  They were the worst.  You had to be a very bad, very bad lad if you got the brig, and if you got the brig for more than forty-eight hours you’ve done something exceedingly bad, and usually it was something to do with the safety of the ship.  You very rarely, on the ships I was on, got put in the brig for ordinary acts of foolishness, or pissing about.  It was for smoking in forbidden quarters, which is a great hazard aboard a ship.  It’s stupid but you got blokes doing it.  Or later on, when we were in action, and we was in the Atlantic, and we were searching for the big ones, I caught one bloke lighting a match – of all things – on deck.  A lit match, even a glow of a cigarette is visible for several miles at sea, and don’t forget, we was after the Graf Spee.  These were the things were discipline was cracked down on.  I myself was very, very strong about this.

I don’t want to sound rotten about this, but in my opinion, having mixed with all parts of the other services, I would say the comradeship is highest in the navy.   It’s because it is the navy that the comradeship is the highest.  It has to be.  You have to trust one another. You usually sorted the bad ones out and they usually asked for a transfer or got transferred.  The brotherhood was tightly knit.  Obviously at times tempers got frayed – boredom, etcetera.  Fights occurred, especially when you weren’t in action, but after a bit you was all the best of mates.   There was very few grudges carried.  I carried one against an officer  – I must admit this – because he was a homo.  It wasn’t being a homo that upset me so much but the fact he took advantage of very young ratings.  I made his life such bloody hell because I caught him red-handed.  I had an idea what was going on.  He got transferred in the end.

But you have to trust one another.  I mean, I’ve seen lads like in submarines, in the old days you had to close them by hand (now they’re sealed automatically) – all hatches are sealed in times of action.  If you’re in the part’s that flooded it’s just too bloody bad.  You drown, that’s all there is to it.  I’ve seen blokes go down hatches, like they did on the Ajax, and other boats where we’ve been in action, into hatches where the hatch had to be sealed after them, and they’ve known it’s ten to one against them coming out of the hatch alive, and yet they’ve done it without flinching.  I don’t think it’s bravery.  It wasn’t bravery – it was just that they knew it was their job to do this, and the ship, and the rest of the men depended on them obeying their orders.  I think a lot of them should have got V.C’s.  A lot of them never got mentioned – but it was this comradeship – you never hesitated, never mind how frightened you was, you never hesitated to obey the command.

There was no running to get into a bloody do that you had no chance of coming out of – let’s get that right straight away

I was always afraid and I think everybody would admit the truth – there wasn’t such a word as cowardice – you was just shit scared of being the next one to cop it.  The Ajax was the flagship of the flotilla.  It was supposed to be  an attack flotilla because of all the torpedo tubes we were fitted with.  But you’ve got to get bloody near to a boat to fire these things – too bloody near, I’ll tell you.  And when you think we were being hit at twelve miles before we was anywhere near in range, and it wasn’t shells they were firing, it was houses.  Don’t you believe that our navy had the edge on the German navy.  Don’t you believe it.  Oh jeez – we had nothing to compare with.  Even the very latest battleships – King George Fifth, Prince of Wales – they had 14″ guns, but their 14″ guns couldn’t compare with 15″ guns of the Tirpitz and the 11″ guns of the Graf Spee.  No, we had nothing.

1.  PO – Petty Officer;  AB – Able Seaman.

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15 Army Life

The King says to me  “How do you like the Army?”  I told him I didnae like it.

Fusilier   Before the invasion of Normandy the King – King George – came to inspect us.  My usual experience was that I ended up being the person who was spoken to.  This occasion wasnae any different.  The King says to me “How do you like the army?”  Without much hesitation I told him I didnae like it.  He said something like “Private something or another, there are lots of things you’ve got to do during the war.”  If looks could have killed me, everybody that passed me committed murder.

Scunthorpe Man  I didn’t take to army life at first.  From Scunthorpe we went to Newcastle and then we were posted to the Orkneys.  We were there because of Scapa Flow. (1)   We were a searchlight battery.  We mixed all right with the folk Newcastle way, but in Scotland…  There was a lot of nice people.  We went to a pub and they got us drunk on whisky.  I was bad for a week after that.  I’ve never touched it since.  But there was another element who didn’t like Englishmen at all.  You could tell.  The majority was alright.

We were in nissen huts on Orkney.  They had to have them strapped down because of the wind.  I was eighteen months on Orkney.  Too long.  We got off once.  I think it was for a fortnight.  We had no social life.  I have heard since that Gracie Fields and one or two big stars went to Orkney to entertain, but we never saw them!  At one time we all used to play Cowboys and Indians!  There was just nothing to do.  Some of them shot themselves. A sergeant shot himself.  The highlight was the free cigarette ration that used to come round every so often.  They used to arrange a film show at battery headquarters.  We used to go there.  Then we used to get what they called a Concentration Period.  A lorry would come round and pick you up and take you into headquarters for aircraft spotting.

I used to help folk cut peat and I used to go rabbiting.  I went in one of those houses they have in Orkney.  They’re just low, low shacks.  I went through the door and I was in the living room – and they started driving cows through another door!  They drove them to the other end of the building, under the same roof.  I’d rather have been in anywhere than Orkney.  I’d have rather been in France than Orkney, it was that desolate.  In winter it used to get light about 2 o’ clock in the afternoon, and it used to get dark again at four.   In the summertime it was never dark.

Whilst we were there these Airborne people came up one time because they were wanting volunteers.  Some of us went and some of us didn’t.  I think they did this on purpose.  They knew the morale of the troops would be low, and that’s how they used to pick them up, pick up volunteers for Airborne.

The only time I was in danger throughout the war was when we was on our honeymoon at Cleethorpes.  It was.  We went to an Aunt’s at Cleethorpes and they had an air raid the night we got there and they dropped a landmine at the top of the street.

There was only one time our detachment got an aircraft in the beam.  When you were doing practices you pretended as if there was an aircraft – “Aircraft spotted.  Right.  Left.  On target” and so on.  On this particular occasion they got an aircraft in the beam and the chap who was guiding the searchlight, he just stopped still.  We said “What’s the matter?  What are yer doing?  “Well” he said “nobody told me which way to go.”  So that was it.  We lost it!

Going into the army for me was physically a doddle

London Tailor  The kind of slavery the tailoring trade was, and probably still is, in small workshops, where the boss is constantly over you, where the speed of work is determined by piecework, where you push yourself because your wages depended on it – it certainly was a trade where if you finished a day’s work you knew you’d done a day’s work.  You could hardly move for fatigue.  Army life was a kind of life I had not previously experienced before, except during periods of unemployment.  It was a life of no effort, except for short spurts, like an hour on the barrack square, but the rest of the time was a great big scrounge.

What I revolted against in my first eighteen months was that I was so bored and I was constantly upset by the pettiness of authority.  I learnt all the scrounges possible – you never walk without a piece of paper or a pail in your hand because if you’re going nowhere, they’ll find you somewhere to go.  You can’t be walking nowhere in a barracks, that’s for sure.  “You!  Where are you going?”  And if you’re not going anywhere they find you some fatigue.  I had a lot of experience of jankers, which is another way of torturing people.  Apart from that, I was bored.

One night somebody let a round off, across his bows.  That put a stop to it

In all the units I was in, because they were not fighting units, the discipline was quite relaxed, so there was not too much discontent.  Except for one incident.  We were guarding an aerodrome in the Midlands, between Leicester and Derby.  We were a detachment of about forty or fifty men.  The majority of us were doing 24 hour guards, on and off.  It was a transport command.  One of the officers, a middle-aged bloke, was a hard case.  He felt very important and he was a bit regimental, which was not on.  On a detachment it never is.  That’s OK in a barracks where the Colonels are about and the Majors are about, but you don’t expect a Lieutenant to be regimental out on a small detachment.

This bugger used to creep around at night, in his plimsolls, trying to catch blokes having a smoke or a kip.  It was getting a bit much, him creeping around.  He was bound to catch you!  There wasn’t a duty that you didn’t snatch a smoke or try and have your head down for ten minutes.  Out in the middle of nowhere we didn’t expect all this shit.  It was such a loosely run unit, we used to collect 4d a man for the cook to buy little extras, like spices and things.  The cook had previously been a ship’s cook and we were having a life of Riley, except for this sod who kept us on our toes on guard – which was the worst thing about being there, because on the 24 hours off it was a doddle.  We could go into town  or go and have a drink.  Everybody was seething about this sod.  One night somebody let a round off, across his bows.  That put a stop to it.  The bloke who did said he thought he saw somebody looking suspicious and when he couldn’t get a reply to his challenge he put a round over his head, to stop him.  The officer never again crept around in his plimsolls. On the contrary!  He’d be half a mile away and he’d be shouting “It’s alright sentry, Orderly Officer here, sentry.”

They got you doing all sorts of stupid things, like white-washing the stones around the nissen hut with a little toothbrush

Oxford Lad  The first three or four years in the army were very, very bad, because I never thought the war was going to end at all.  If you ever made a complaint about anything, like the food, you got punished.  They’d take your name and the next thing you knew, you’re on fatigues in the cookhouse.  They got you doing all sorts of stupid things, like white-washing the stones around the nissen hut with a little toothbrush, or they had us blacking the bottom of our boots.  It was all spit and polish.  We had a mirror in the middle of the nissen hut.  You had to look in that before you went out, because the guards on the gate were watching to see if you were properly dressed.   There’d be a few MPs in the town and they’d try and catch you out, for having hands in pockets and that sort of thing.  And you always had to dodge the MPs on the railway station.

Once we had a Warrant Officer – PT bloke – very strict.  I had a travel warrant to travel home.  You had to leave fairly early and I got a chit so that I could, because the connection was at Bletchley.  I was walking down (and in the Services you obey the last order) and this Warrant Officer saw me.  “Where are going?”  I said “I’m going out.”  “You were” he said.  “Get back.”  I had to change back into denims again and had to go down the lecture room.  They were talking about Mills bombs – how to strip them down.  I couldn’t go that night.  I had to go the next morning.

For punishments they would have you running around the square with full kit on, holding your rifle above your head.  I had to do that many times.   Or if your kit wasn’t laid out properly they used to come round and knock it over the floor and you’d get detention.

I actually signed up again in 1945 because I’d got used to the Services by then and I was worried about coming back to unemployment in civilian life.  So I signed on for a short period.

There was no freedom.  It was worse than being in school

ATS Woman   I didn’t like the fatigues in the army.  I didn’t like being told what to do and being told to be up by seven and to be in by a certain time.  If you went on your half day off you still had to be in by a certain time.  There was no freedom.  It was worse than being at school.

It was a mixed Heavy A.A. Battery.  Men and women.  They were a decent lot of girls, from all parts of the country.  That was what I really liked in the army, the comradeship.  I really enjoyed that part of it.  Things like washing the Naafi floor wasn’t very pleasant, or washing up your greasy mess tin in cold water and peeling potatoes and picking up matches because we were going to have an inspection by the Brigadier.

The food was grim.  I couldn’t eat my dinners.  The meat was horse.  I’m sure of it.  I’ve never tasted anything like it since.  The Naafi meal, on the other hand, wasn’t bad.  You’d get beans and things.  That meant a lot to us during the war – beans.  If you went out you had Toc H canteens or YMCA canteens.  There was a big one at Coventry.  In Leamington Spa, which is where we used to go into, there was a cafe there, where you could get lovely cream buns.  That was a real treat.

I’d rather be under men, when it comes to pettiness

The first battery I was posted to was in Kenilworth near Coventry.  This was after the Coventry blitz.  We were in nissen hits with latrines.  When it rained it used to come in and pour onto your bed.  The Medical Officer came ’round and he simply told us to move our beds in between the drips.

Her Husband  You and I met on Birmingham Station once and you were accosted by one of your police.

ATS Woman   Because I’d put my stockings – awful thick things – inside out.

Her Husband  “Excuse me, do you mind if I speak to….”

ATS Woman  I only got a reprimand, but it seemed so petty.  It was typical.  I didn’t really like women officers.  I’d rather be under men, when it comes to pettiness.

I was terrified of the guns going off.  I used to be shaking

I was on a height-finder, which was a machine to find the actual height of the plane.  You could only use that during daylight, and you didn’t get much action during the day.  It was mostly at night, and then you went down to the plotting room and I was a height computer.  You had to get the bearing and angle.  I was terrified of the guns going off.  I used to be shaking.  It was either Cardiff or Birmingham being bombed, and the sirens went, and there I was, running with my hands over my ears, clutching my tin hat.

Being down in the plotting room we heard it all.  At one battery we had 4.8’s, but mostly it was 3.7’s.  They’d have four and we were right in the centre.  I used to jump a mile.  I hated it.  It was the anticipation.  We were taken out of the Royal Artillery in 1944 because we weren’t wanted anymore – because of D Day, and we were transferred to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.

I was married in 1944, and then I discovered I was pregnant.  I got an automatic discharge in the February of 1945.  When I was first stationed at Kenilworth quite a lot of girls were having babies.  There was one girl – I was going on leave – and she walked with me, and she was very nice and very, very young.  Because of that we had to have medicals every month.  We used to line up, stripped to the waist.  It was sometimes said that girls  wanted to have babies to get out of the services, as if you were pregnant it meant automatic discharge.  We had quite a rash of them.

When I was discharged I believe I was given some clothing coupons, but not any clothing.  I got my discharge for the Monday.  Well, I wasn’t going to stay the week-end, so I did something I’d never really done before.  I travelled all night and I had to risk the MPs not finding me, but I managed to get through to Bristol and arrived safely at Temple Meads.  The other time I did something I shouldn’t have done was with my friend Barbara.  We were fed up.  We didn’t seem to be getting the days off we were due, so one day – it was summer – we decided we’d just take the day off.  We walked out in the morning and got into Coventry and we went to the pictures.  It was Paul Robeson in a picture, down in what is now the centre of Coventry, because Coventry then was all temporary wooden shops.  We went twice to the pictures, and we had a really nice day.  When we got back we got three weeks fatigues – we couldn’t go out for three weeks and we had to do extra work at night.  We weren’t at all rebellious usually.  We were just fed up.

I was shanghaied into bloody army.  I didn’t want to go in but I had no alternative

Boy Soldier   When you signed on, you signed on to complete your Boy’s Service and then eight and four.  You were committed for twelve years. At 14 year old you signed to do until eighteen, and then eight with the colours and four with the reserve.  It’s all abolished now, I think.  The maximum they can get you to sign is five now.

I regretted going into the Boy Soldiers as soon as I went in.  I was shanghaied into bloody army.  I didn’t want to go in but I had no alternative.  It was proposed by bloody headmaster at school.  I was living with my Grandmother and that was hell.  Family were split up.  I’d had me ups and downs, and where could a young lad go?

Even as Boy Soldiers we were on regular routine.  We were on peace-time establishment (this was during the war), but first and foremost you were a soldier.  I went into the Boy’s Army in February ’44.  I was sent to Catterick.  The discipline was absolutely fucking…  – Well, you wouldn’t credit it.  When it came to educating Boy Soldiers it was just bloody sadistic.  Absolutely sadistic.  When you were doing drill they used to have what they called “backsticks”.  What it was, they used to put a brush down your arms, behind your back, put their knee in your back, and you’ve got this stick over your elbows.  This was regular.  You used to go on parade with your brush.  When you got to fifteen they used to swop your brush and give you a rifle, and they used to do the same with that – over your head, and over your shoulder blades.  We were trained in Signals, but everyone, no matter what their trade, had to learn to shoot a rifle.  We used to go up to range and fire so many shots each week.  I was shooting 303’s at fourteen.

My mate, when we saw afterward, he said ” Everyone of you, every time you came out, you were screaming your bleeding heads off”

Paratrooper   I went into the Forces the early part of 1942 and I came out in 1946 because my demob group was put back twice.  I was in the RAF at first but I got transferred to the army.  They took all the A1 blokes out of the airforce and navy and transferred them to the army.  For a minute, a minute before twelve we were civvies.  We could have hopped it and they couldn’t have done anything.  But we were stuck out in the wilds of Lancashire, so it wouldn’t have done us no good, and the camp was well guarded.

When I joined the army we were shoved over to Ireland, Northern Ireland, at the foot of the mountains of Mourne.  It was a hell of a bloody place.  Drizzling with rain every day.  One day they sat us all in the canteen and we were thinking “What the bleeding hell’s going on here?”  Next thing we knew there was a warrant officer and a sergeant came on the stage.  They were in the Parachute Regiment.  They showed us a parachute, how it worked, opening it out.  I said to my mates “‘Ere, if we join that mob we’ll get away from this bleeding place.”

We’d been there a month  and we were supposed to be there three months.  And the bloody rain!   We used to go out of a night time and dig a little hole in the ground, get into it and cover ourselves with our groundsheet.  This was on manoeuvres.  It’d be belting with rain all night.  We were cheesed off with it.  So my mates said “Yeah, that’s a good idea.  Let’s volunteer.”  We all goes up and volunteers.  We have our medicals and it turns out that out of the twelve of us that came out of the RAF I’m the only one that’s passed his medical.  I was lumbered!  I was going to leave my mates – not only that – it turns out that I’ve still got to stay in Ireland for 3 months!  I had to do another lot of groundwork.

I joined the Parachute Regiment just after the Arnhem turnout. (2)   I jumped thirty-two times.  I was on experimental jumping too.  They had half the parachute missing.  It was great.  You only got nerves the second time you ever jumped.  The first time you didn’t  know, but the second time you knew and you was like jelly.  One of my mates on the ground who was waiting his turn, when he saw me afterwards he said “Every one of you, every time you came out you were screaming your bleeding heads off.”  I said “You was the same.”

It was the second one you was frightened of.  It was out of a balloon.  It was horrible that. When you got up there and it stopped and it was quiet.  And it was swaying about.  And you’ve got to make the effort to get out.  With an aircraft the slipstream got you, and you was away.  You never had no chance to change your mind.  But in a balloon you’re eight hundred foot up, you’ve got to make your own effort, and when you look down….

There was not a finer crowd of blokes.  Not army wise, but to go out on the old piss, get in a punch-up

Training in the Airborne was very tough and very strict.    Every morning before breakfast we would have to go on a five mile road run.  We’d finish coming back to one end of the camp.  There were cliffs either side and the gates were in the middle.  There were ropes hanging down this cliff.  You had to come down these ropes backwards and then you ran to the cookhouse and had your breakfast.  You had to do that every morning when you was training.

We had a bloke from the Regimental Police.  He was only 20.  He was a right bastard.  He was a Corporal. We knew that on top of one of these cliffs was a bloody great boulder.  We worked out that when this bloke was coming into camp one night, we’d knock it over.  But somebody must have given him the wheeze, ‘cos on the night concerned he came in another way. There was a couple of blokes coming in that night, instead, and being dark we couldn’t see who they were.  We toppled the boulder over.  Fortunately it missed, but he knew it was meant for him, and he got himself posted.

I wish I’d be in the Airborne right from the start of the war.  I’ve always been glad of the fact that I went through that experience.  There was not a finer crowd of blokes.  Not army wise, but to go out on the old piss, get in a punch-up.  We’d walk round Southampton calling out to all the sailors:  “Come out you bastards!”  They didn’t want to know, did they.

Army Detention Centre Inmate  The vast majority of cases in detention, when I was in, were what they called “non-reporters”.  These were youngsters who, nine cases out of ten, were illiterates – people who couldn’t either read or write – they couldn’t read their notices for call-up.  They were really backward, nervous young people.  When they were caught they had to do a short period – three months or less, I believe, before they entered service.  The others would be people who were absent without leave, of longer than a certain  period, otherwise it would be dealt with by confinement to barracks.  They were a large proportion.  Then we had a strange category of people who had trained as paratroopers, but when it came to it, wouldn’t jump.  They were given eighty-four days as a standing thing – if they continued to refuse to jump after their training period.

I know a lot of people stick up for these blacks in this country, but as far as I was concerned they were savages in 1940

Company Sergeant Major, RASC    When I first joined I was getting ten bob a week.  Five bob for myself and I gave an allowance of five bob to my Mother.  When I got to Africa I was promoted and I was earning more than a Captain was in this country.  Being a little higher promotion in life I was offered to be trained as an officer, but I refused that as I knew I hadn’t the brains for that.  I had a personal servant out there.  The bulk of the senior army staff were whites, and then you had the artisans, who were Asians, and then you had the wogs.  I could speak Swahili.  I passed me exams.  It took me three years.  Five exams I went in.  Failed on four and got through on the fifth.

I know a lot of people stick up for these blacks in this country, but as far as I was concerned they were savages in 1940.  One time we had a convoy coming from Nairobi.  The drivers were Africans, straight out from the bush, from the jungle.  They’d never been given proper training.  They’d never seen a lorry in their life.   Leaving Nairobi was alright, but outside it, going through the villages – (when I say villages, I mean a dozen mud huts every 20 or 30 miles) – they was scared of everything.  In the lorry behind me there was a load of them sitting in the back of the lorry.  The lorry was loaded up with 40 gallon drums.  Going down Mount Kenya the driver lost control of the lorry and it hit a tree and all these 40 gallon drums squashed the ruddy lot.  One of them got killed.  We were losing lorries all the time on that convoy.  There were 80 lorries and we were going to Addis Ababa.  By the time we got there we had 16 lorries left.  They were going down ravines, and off the escarpment in Kenya.

Berbera was the worst place I went to.  That was one of the Death Cells of Africa

We should only have been there three months.  That was the limit, but we was there for nine months.  It’s a wonderful place to look at.  It’s on the Gulf of Aden.  You’re going down to the sea for about a day – you don’t realise it, but you’re gradually going down and down, and it’s getting hotter and hotter and hotter.  When we were there six months when we should only have been there for three, they sent us to a place called Sheikh.  It was a bloody mountain in the middle of the desert.  It took us six hours from the beach to get there.  The road up it was one way.  In the morning it was for going up, and the afternoon you were allowed to come down.

When you got up there, there was all greenery.  There was goats and trees and everything.  And there were all these bloody South Africans, all covered in sores and swollen lips and talking absolutely silly.  They’d been where we’d been for a year and that’s how they were.  When we got up there, there was me and my old mate George.  We was thinking twice whether to go back. We was going to over-do our stay, but as we were NCO’s…  It was when the Italians were still in the war and we were pushing them out of Abyssinia. That’s when I was out there.

The cigarettes we had were diabolical.  The Victory V’s were made in India.  What also were rough were the South African Springboks and Cape to Cairo

Mechanic, North African Campaign   With the trash, and I repeat, the trash they were sending out regarding tanks, such as Matildas and Valentines, you couldn’t defeat a bloody Girl Guide.  The guns on them were pathetic.  The Matilda did have a skirt ’round the tracks, admittedly.  See, if you hit a tank’s tracks you’ve knocked him out.  And after you’ve stopped him you brewed him up with a shelling of petrol or something like that.  It’s the most unhappy thing for anybody when a tank brews up.

There were three hundred American tanks diverted from the Pacific theatre of war.  They were called Grant and Shermans, with Wright Cyclone radial engines in them, and we do honestly believe that they turned the day.  Up until they arrived there was, for instance, a tank battle that took place at El Coquier, midway between Gambut and Tobruk, and there sixty tanks brewed up in that battle.  We saw the wrecks of the bloody things with tracks twisted and guns pointed upwards, and blackened where the poor sods had burnt in them.

When it was June you’d not work from twelve to five.  Siesta.  It was daylight to ten, half past, so you’d make up that leeway and work from 5 to 10.  Tanks were coming back needing repairs, lorries were coming back, needing repairs.  You had to get cracking on it because there was a push on.  You were far enough back to work in comparative safety, although no-one’s safe when there’s a bomber about.

We had biscuits out there, that I didn’t like, but “M & V” which we started to get – meat and veg – that was quite nice.  And what the cooks could do with corned beef was nobody’s business.  We also got fishcakes.  We didn’t like them, and the cigarettes were diabolical.  The Victory V’s were made in India.  What also were rough were the South African Springboks and Cape to Cairo.  And then, somebody said it was thanks to Montgomery, we started getting decent fags – Woodbines and Senior Service and Capstan.  But even then, the stuff that went to make your free ration was rubbish.    You knew it was going to be rough, so no good crying about it.  If you let it get you down, you come out your tent, look north, look south, east and west, there’s not a bloody thing to see.  You think to yourself  “What have I let myself in for?”  You take 118 degrees fahrenheit.  That’s warm.  I went for four showers one afternoon in a place called Tel el-Kabir.  It didn’t make any difference.  I went across the desert on a motorbike.  Still bloody hot.  There’s a hot wind coming at you.  You didn’t know what to do with yourself.

Old Churchill came over at Alamein, just prior to the push, and come up with his cigar and his “V” – Victory sign.  “Better times around the corner.”  And we were going  “And when are you going to get us home, you pot-bellied old bastard?”

I still believe the finest general of the Second World War was Rommel. A soldier and a gentleman.  When he over-run Tobruk, and over-run a hospital he personally went round and see if there was anything he could do for the wounded – British and Allied wounded.

Montgomery was a…..  He brought his Leyland Retriever – which was made into a mobile living quarters – he brought that in for a job to be done on it.  Bleeding thing – where it could be locked up, it was locked up.  He had a 24 hour guard on the bleeding thing.  They couldn’t lock the cab up because we had to work on it.  He used to sit in it and read a passage from the Bible, or a Prayer Book, then he’d work out what sort of push he’d have tomorrow.

Old Churchill came over at Alamein, just prior to the push, and come up with his “V” – Victory sign.  “Better times around the corner.”  And we were going “And when are you going to get us home, you pot-bellied old bastard?”  That’s how much time they had for him.

At Suez we were cutting up rough because we were working during the day and then, as soon as we were finished, they got us digging trenches – slit trenches.  We  weren’t happy about that.  There was a lot of muttering going on.  We used to be able to get into Suez and go to the pictures.  I remember seeing that Laurence Olivier as a horrible beast in some film – can’t remember the name. (3)   Now that we were digging these bloody slit trenches all that suddenly stopped.  We dug them because they said if they didn’t hold Rommel at El Alamein we’d be so thin on the ground after that, he’d push straight through to Alex, straight past the Pyramids, through Cairo and straight down.

As a result of our mutterings the CO got us on parade.  Captain Phillip Brownlow – “Pigshead”.  “It’s been brought to my attention,” he said “that there is mutterings.  Men don’t like what is happening.  I don’t know if you realise it, but up in the other side of Alex men are dying.  The fact that you have been instructed to dig slit trenches means that if they’re not held, you will have to stand in these trenches and defend your camp.”  Thanks a lot!  He said  “All I want to impress upon you people is that if this sort of muttering goes on, it’s tantamount to mutiny – the punishment of which is death!”  Nice feller, we thought.

As it happens, of course, they held him at Alamein knowing that they couldn’t be encircled.  Meanwhile Jerry had stretched his lines of communication to such an extent that his fuel wasn’t catching him up and he had to stop and rest.

Montgomery drove into Tripoli 23 January and automatically closed all the brothels!  That made him very popular!

After that we never went backwards.  They were on the retreat for good.  You had to see it to believe it when that retreat started from El Alamein.  The Italians – I’m not exaggerating – must have been a line three abreast from here to Liverpool Street.  Almost two miles.  Terrific line.  Eyeties of all shapes and sizes.  They didn’t want to know, they were so dejected.  The Jerries took any decent transport they had, took what was any use to them, and said “Piss off, we don’t want you.”  They just left them.  They were an encumbrance.  The poor sods were saying “Aqua, aqua – water, water.”  Pathetic.  But when they were top dogs they were bastards.  Oh yes.  The Germans were different, they would give you an even break.  With the Germans, I think we were pretty much the same as they were.  They wasn’t short on guts.  They’d fight.  I’m not talking about Nazis – I’m talking about ordinary German serving soldiers.  Funnily enough, you had a lot of time for each other, so you thought to yourself “What the bloody hell are we fighting about?”

I was having a cognac with a German, Christmas – just south of Tobruk.  We’d built a big hangar, sort of cross pieces and canvas over the top, and we used to repair our guns there.  We went to the Naafi and got some drinks.  Next to us was an American Liberator squadron.  We invited them into our place, they invited us into theirs.  I was having a drink with the Free French down the road – everybody was there in North Africa – South Africans, Australians, Kiwis, coloureds – there was a terrific number of Indians fighting in North Africa: 4th Indian Division, 9th Indian Division.  Anyway, I’m having this drink with this German and he’s got this French Foreign Legion uniform on. He tells me “I’m German.” “German!”  “Yes.  I come from Frankfurt.”  I said “How do you feel about going against your fellow countrymen?”  “Well,” he said “I signed the papers for the Legion and I go where the Legion takes me.”

There was the feeling that the infantry man was the shite of the war

Fusilier   There was the feeling that the infantry man was the shite of the war.  He was just shit.  He was canon fodder.  There was a feeling in the infantry that could you could drop more shit and bombs on top of people’s heads than you could throw up, at the guy up the stairs.  The navy might fight a battle with their long distance guns, and they might fight and know that if they survived it, they might be able to return to base where he could get a normal meal and a good kip at night and go down the town and meet his bit of stuff.  I’m not saying it was a great life for a sailor at sea during the war – there was the threat of U boats, and all the rest of it.  I would never have liked the thought of spending a night in the sea, but that apart, sailors got fed well.  They could almost be sure of getting their grub.  We were on troopships.  We seen what went on.  But we, we were shite.  We were part of the dirt.  When we dug a hole, that’s where we slept for fucking weeks on end, wondering what was happening.  Guys trying to bomb us from the top, and other guys trying to shoot at us from different angles.  Everybody trying to pound us into the ground.

Many of the guys there would have been just as comfortable sitting in a Nazi or SS uniform

When we were sent to India, for some reason or other, most of the guys seemed to take a completely different stance, as if they’d been set free in some kind of way.  They became as bad as what I thought the Nazis were.

When we arrived in Kalyan (4) the overall Commanding Officer took the whole shipload of us and said  “Well, you are now in India.  Forget about your democratic ideas.  This is a completely different situation here, and I’ll expect you to treat these people” – it was “these wogs” – “in the same way as the regulars have been treating then for hundreds of years.”  It was like giving everybody an individual licence to what they effing well liked.  And to be quite frank, they did.  In lots of ways I wasnae terribly happy about my own people, round about me.

The same day as we got this lecture from the Commanding Officer at Kalyan a couple of children came into the barracks.  We’re all lying in our charpoys, all out.  Heat killing us.  The children came round begging – and I would say there were about twenty to thirty blokes in the room, each side, and it’s safe to say the majority of them were sitting with their penises out, waving them at the kids – “Come over here.  Suck this.”  Some of them hit the kids, but these kids were so pushed around all through their life that they just took it.  They didnae bother with it.  I would suggest I was more affected than they were.  I was over-sensitive to the situation.

The kids came to me and I gave them some money and I finally got the children out.  Then I got up on my bed and said “Listen, the lot of yous – there’s no need for you what’ve just done.  If they’re begging, we’re partly responsible for their begging.  If you don’t want to give them money just say ‘No, chase it.’  All these actions that yous are making, exposing your penises and asking them to suck it, there’s never any need for that.  You’re just degrading yourself, and putting yourself in the same situation as the people you’re supposed to be fighting against – the Nazis.”  I’d have been as well talking to a brick wall.

Many of the guys there would have been just as comfortable sitting in a Nazi or SS uniform.  It got to the stage where it looked as if I was going to have to fight everybody.  I was in Kalyan  for a couple of weeks and by the time we had left not one individual would have said or touched one of the Indians whilst I was around.  That’s the kind of character I was.  I was well known.  I wasnae liked by the officers.  They preferred the men to be the other way.

One of the big complaints about soldiers in the Far East – they called them the Forgotten Army – was that they werenae getting their mail.  I know why they werenae getting their mail.  The guys were half-inching it

In the first days I was in India I was sent to the Post Office department in Kalyan, where the mail was distributed through India to the front line.  One of the cries in the Post Office department was “Wonder what’s in that?  Open it up!”  If it was cigarettes or something they thought might be perishable, they used to say “Och, he’ll probably be deid.”  That’s the reason why guys werenae getting their mail sometimes.  It wasnae a matter of going into the Post Office and regimental freedom-loving British soldiers saying “Oh yes, that’s got to go to this regiment, they’re up there fighting at the front.”  It was “What’s in it!  Let’s see.  Fags!  Gie us that.  Och, he’ll be deid.”  That was the attitude.  I daresay the guys at the front would have done the same if they’d been at the other end.

When I went out there they were  reforming the Chindits again.  Wingate got killed in a crash, so they started up a second unit

If I remember right,  the first unit was made up of units like the Black Watch that had come from Tobruk, where they’d been slaughtered,  and there were very few of them left. (5)   I believe the unit was even made up by deserters from the French Foreign Legion.  Och, it was a shambles their lot.  When I went into it, that was the situation – it was the tatters and the remains.  They were building it up into a fighting unit again.

I was in the Royal Scots Fusiliers at the time and suddenly, like that, I’m switched over and I was in the Black Watch, which was an airborne unit.  Perhaps it was a good way to get rid of a difficult character.  Anyway, that’s where I went, and I must confess the first night I spent there I lay all night in tears – and I was a tough character.  I had salt burns right down each side of my face – just seeing the state of the men.  Oh it was terrible.  It was like being planted in hell.  They were just bones – just sitting – drinking jungle juice.  My first impression was that I was in hell, and this was all the devils – thin arms, fighting one another.  It was a madhouse.

Within a couple of weeks I was one of the toughest amongst the lot of them.  We were being trained for a mainland landing.  All the training was happening a hell of quick.  It was hell.  We lost people in river crossings that were equal to anything you seen in that North West Passage. (6)    You don’t need a human enemy to beat you in the jungle.  I’ve been in marches – and this is no talking about being in action – this was patrols and training that lasted fourteen days – fifteen days – where we were hacking our way through the jungle with machetes.  Officers with maps trying to figure out where there might be a water hole, and coming to a big salt lake and guys collapsing – hundreds of men lying out, leaving them to die – I’m talking about dying with nothing happening.  Nothing to do with Japanese.  There was nothing you could do, except leave them.

The first experience I had of being without water was one particular time when we were right out of water – completely out, and we came to an old paddy field cum water pool. There was oxen in it, and it was covered in green slime and oxen shit.  The officer said “That’s your water.”  We all just sat and looked at it.  “No drinking that.”  “No touching that.”  We couldnae have been bad enough because we didnae want to touch it.  We were issued with chlorine tablets to put in to it, to purify it.  As I say, we didn’t want to touch it.  But we’re starting to learn.  We sat there for about half an hour, camping by the thing. Slowly but surely chuggles were getting filled up, and the tablets in. When we started to march there wasnae any chuggles hanging down the front.  They were all hanging down the back.  Still nobody’s touching it,  but one by one it’s “Fuck your slime, fuck your dirt.” It was OK.  It was a wee bit chloriney taste – but it was water.

Our grub on patrols was mostly K ration.  The story was that the Americans rejected it.  They wouldnae have it, and gave it to us.  It was a pack with an oily surface, and inside it was all the things Americans liked – funny things – things that British people don’t eat.  One of the things was a laxative bar that was like ten million flies compressed.  It was so bad that I went a long time without any food.  I couldnae eat it.  I done my best.  There were things we tried to eat.  Was it also soup and coffee in it?  I can’t remember.  The reason for the thing being oily was that you opened it and halved it, turned it up on its edge and lit it.  The oil and the grease kept it burning and you were able to cook it.  It was shite.  Honestly.  I’m convinced more guys ended up with stomach troubles, than with anything else.  (7)

As far as patrols in the jungles – most of the guys on both sides spent their time trying to avoid each other, if they could

You got the fanatical officer or the guy who wants a battle, but they were few and far between.  First time I ever saw a Japanese was a prisoner of war.  I shite myself, to be quite honest.  You had heard all these tales, about all these horrible Japanese and how they fight to the death.  On this occasion two Japanese were under the custody of an American guard. He asked us to give them our rifle, with our scabbard – bayonet – on.   It might sound strange, but we couldn’t see that was the right thing to do, but eventually we gave our rifles, and the Japanese took up a stance to give us a demonstration in how they fought each other using bayonets.  The American guy said “They’re like anybody else.  For a few scraps of extra grub they’ll show you anything.  Even sell their Granny.”  That was a big lesson.  You were beginning to feel there wasn’t much difference really, in a lot of ways, between how we felt and how they felt.

I could sit down and write page after page of atrocities that happened

I’ve a mate.  A great bloke, honestly.  He was a conscientious objector, and lay in Barlinnie Prison for nearly six months with no clothes, rather than put on the army uniform.  That’s what they done.  Left them without any clothes.  He eventually put the uniform on.  Once he put it on he gave up, and became a soldier.  He was in Imphal, and he had just come back out of the first Chindit trip. (8)   A great bloke, but in some ways, evil with it.  I seen him getting Indian women and raping them.  Smashing their face in and raping until it got so bad that I had to fire at them to get them off.  I was known.  I had a reputation, and once I started threatening them, they got frightened.  I seen things like that.  Old women with their tits hanging down like chapatis  – raping them.  They’d women with kids, forcing them to squirt the milk out of their breast.  Things that were – if you’d seen it, you’d say “Oh, that’s Nazis”, but that was British troops.  Guys that you think butter wouldnae melt in their mouth in Britain.  I’ll never forget that.  Never, never forget that.  Never.

I.   Scapa Flow.  British Naval Base.

2.  Arnhem.  A disastrous Allied attempt to capture the Dutch town of Arnhem and several bridges over the Nederrijn river in September 1944.  The British Ist Airborne Division lost nearly three quarters of its strength, and never saw active service again.

3.  The ‘horrible beast’ that Laurence Olivier played was Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights (1939).

4.  Kalyan is  just inland on the eastern seaboard of India, near Mumbai (Bombay).

5.  The Black Watch were not part of the first formation of Chindits.  The 2nd Gurkha Rifles and the 3rd Battalion Gurkha Rifles and the 13th Battalion of the King’s Liverpool regiment were the main elements.  The Black Watch did take severe injuries and loss of life at Tobruk, and were part of the second formation and expedition of the Chindit force.

6.  North West Passage, (1940), directed by King Vidor with Spencer Tracy.

7.  K rations.  The Wikipedia entry on K rations quotes that at the sight of K Rations “two of Wingate’s men vomited.”

8.  The battle of Imphal, and the battle of Kohima,  March – July, 1944 resulted in the largest defeat Japan had, up until then, experienced.  The battle was largely fought by Allied Indian Regiments.  The Chindits were involved in behind the lines harrying activity.  Their military impact was not of great significance, but it is claimed – though proof  not given – it had a positive psychological impact within the Allied Forces in the Indian sub-continent.  Arguments still continue on the  effectiveness of the Chindits.

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14 War Work

1937 work was changing.  Everywhere.  They was after production.  They knew as this war was going to come off

London Woman  When Stan first went in the army they sent him to Nottingham.  The used to march down this street and this woman asked Stan and a few others if they’d like to have a bath. She lived in a miner’s cottage and they’d had one of the bedrooms converted into a bathroom.  Stan got to know her and when I went down for week-ends she used to give up a room for me.

Her Husband  She was very, very good to us.  Her husband was a miner.  He took Marge and me down the mine.  Never again.  This was 1940.  Before they were modernised.  We had to sign to go down, that they wouldn’t be responsible if anything happened.  We went right to the coalface.  Went by train, in this little truck underneath.  On a Sunday morning he took us.  You were sitting humped up.  It was bloody terrible.  The miners were working flat on their bellies.  I don’t know whether they still do it.  It was shocking.  Hacking it out.  We had to turn our lights off.  It was a terrible feeling.  Terrible.  Deadly silence.  All you could hear was the trickle of water.  We saw the ponies. The air was dank, like a very damp cellar.  I was glad to get up.

Staffordshire Born  Miner  1937 work was changing.  Everywhere.  They was after production.  They knew as this war was going to come off.  In 1937 they was putting your wages up.  From 7/7d you raised to ten bob; from 9/7d you raised to thirteen bob.  If you was a collier, from 9/11d (I’m talking about day rate minimum) they went onto piecework.  If you couldn’t get your stint out, if you was in a place where it was hard, you was still guaranteed a basic of £1 per shift.  That was £6 a week.

When the war was on they started Pit Production Committees.  So many miners was on them, but they was union men – full time officials.  They’d come down the pit and have a look around – inspecting, and this, that and the other.  Every pit had a board strung up.  All the collieries from Wigan to Manchester area was on the board giving the productions every day.  If you’d drawn more than your tonnage off the pit they put a flag on top.  That flew.  You got so much extra money for that.  Everybody got that except the little lad that was fetching the stuff to you.  He didn’t get a ha’penny.  That was the haulage hand.  I say this:  he should be privileged to have the same money ‘cos he’s working in the same conditions.  He’s working sometimes under the worst conditions.

I was working in a seven foot seam at Moston in what they called “Foxholes”, and it was foxholes too.  Inferior coal.  It wasn’t fit to burn in a boiler.  They were taking anything out!  Production was production.  It was only dust!  No matter where you went, they were opening districts out.  That was one of the reasons for the 1944 strike. They wanted a bit tooo much out of the miners and they wouldn’t pay for it.  (1)

The owners were trying to force you to work in districts that had been closed because of fire.  I’ll name you a few:  the William Pit, the Haig – how many disasters were there?  They were opening up districts where men had been killed and left in.  They was trying to open them up again and get men to work in them.  I went into one – the Lightbowen in Moston Colliery.

It was closed for over 20 years and they said “Go and open it up.”  They sent a  dozen of us to take the brick-stoppings out at the main level, to go in.  When you go through the main doors you have to shut this door to open the middle one, and then shut that to open the other one, on account of the air pressure.  When you go in you can smell the must in the air.  The stagnant air.  Keep down – don’t rise above your standing height or else – curtains.  You was on the deck.  When we went in there all we were sending out were coke, not coal.  It was burnt to hell.  And then when we got to the coal face it was red hot. Get out!  We was working with nowt on and just us clogs.  It was putting lamps out as quick as you were getting them lit.

Another thing during the war was the Tribunals.  We’ll say you were absent Monday, work Tuesday, play Wednesday, work Thursday, go for your wages Friday, and that was it – you were first in pub.  If you were a collier you went in front of a Tribunal.  They stopped you on the coalface.  You wasn’t allowed near a coalface after that.  Your money was dropped.  You was still working at the pit, but on haulage, on haulage rate.  They wouldn’t let you back onto the face until they thought you’d learnt your lesson

Nobody liked it when the Bevin Boys came in.  The Bevin Boys, some of them were glass they hadn’t got to go in the Army

The Bevin Boys were conscripts sent down the mines.  (2)   You got all sorts as Bevin Boys. Sons of mill owners, besides mill lads, what was the age of 18. ‘cos they were drafted in.  We was asked to take so many Bevin boys after they’d done their training on the top.  That was ninety days down the pit, but you couldn’t take them near the coalface.  They was only allowed in fetching timber, where I worked, in from the airways.  You see, you’ve got so many different roads.  You’ve got top, middle and main – that was where your coal was coming from.  Your middle was a good retreat if anything happened.  Your top was where all the timber went in – at the top of the face and was distributed all down the face.  Whatever was wanted from four foot props to ten foot.  They used the Bevin Boys for bringing timber, or on the roadways, or tramming – shoving the tubs from the main places to where it was wanted.  In some parts they did have what they called a trainee face.

The gaffers came to you and said “I want you to take three or four Bevin Boys.”  You knowed they’d had their training on the top and that they had to come down the pit, but you were under a liability because if a lad got killed it was our fault because we were supposed to be training them.  Even if he only got a nick in his little finger – we were liable.  They weren’t allowed near the face.  If they were doing any mischief they was near on getting themselves killed, on the coal belts and pans, and one thing and another.  They used to venture near the bottom of the face.  We’ll say the fireman was on and he was firing shots – there was a big responsibility there, ‘cos I seen one Bevin Boy near on run into danger.  We’d say they were firing shots and he says “Where? Where?”, and he were going to run toward it.  “Gert out!”  We knocked him out of the road. “Get thee bottle and get off!  Get as far along the face as thee can.”  But you had to work with them, so there was no sense in resenting them.  You got to fetch them into the company.

When the lads went into the war when it first started, and they went from different pits, it was “Oh, when you come back the job will be here waiting for you.”  Was it?  No.  They came back in 1945 and they were told “There’s no job for you.”  Same as the First World War.  “We’ll make it fit for heroes to come back to.”  Was it?  Was it heck.

The young electricians didn’t want the dames in the docks because they realised that if the dames came in they’d be in the forces or drafted elsewhere

London Electrician, Ex -Communist Party Member  About six weeks after the war started I was asked by the union to go up to Liverpool, to the Docks because they had a terrific problem with organisation.  Foulkes was the union bod up there.   At this stage we were concerned with building up the union and protecting the Party, as we were Commie-Nazis as far as the bastards were concerned. (3)   I made quite a success up there, but I got my call-up papers and where I was working at the time the Essential Works Order didn’t apply. (4)   So the union advised me to go back down to the London Docks where the EWO was applying, and that way I wouldn’t get called up.  By this time Germany had attacked Russia and we were fully supporting the war.

I found when I got down there that there was an awful lot of reactionary trade unionists in charge of the docks.  For instance, on the problem of dilution, all the young electricians didn’t want the dames in the docks because they realised that if the dames came in they’d be in the forces or drafted elsewhere.  We had a hell of a fight to get the girls established.

I was given one of them because they knew my attotude to bringing the girls into the docks, and getting on with the war effort.  She was one of the first dozen who were introduced for the first time in the Green and Siley Weir – “Green and Slimey” at Albert Dock.  These girls were put through training schemes run by the Ministry of Labour.  The girl I got, Jess, was 21.  Course, most of the boys, when the girls were there, all they were thinking about was getting the girls down in the bunk and having a bit of crumpet!

I made a terrific impression on the rest of the workforce because I taught her how to handle her tools properly.  In fact she got to handling her tools so well that she was handling them like a born mechanic.  I had boilermakers queuing up like swallows on a line, just to watch her work.  In fact she was so good she put the shits up me one time.

We were doing a radar station on a ship.  It was a destroyer.  There were three radar sets on this ship.  I’d taught her for marking out how to investigate the other side of the bulkhead – to see that there was no tank she she would drill a hole into – oil, water, or a steam pipe, and so on.  On this occasion she’s setting and popping for her drilling, for a load of clips.  I was doing something with some gear below her, on my knees.  I happened to look up and there was Jess, instead of being flat foot and on balance, leaning over (something was in her way) and she’s popping out with a 2 lb ball hammer – bonk, bonk.  If another ship had passed and just hit the deck, Jess would have smashed her fingers and chopped them off, she was putting so much power into it.  My heart was in my mouth.  I daren’t say a word in case I upset her.  I had to wait until she got on an even balance.  I said “For Christ’s sake, don’t forget you’re on a ship.  If another ship passes and you’re leaning, off balance, you can’t do anything to control it.  Always see that you’re well balanced on your feet so that if a ship knocks you don’t come to harm.”

Once we’d got the girls accepted they then introduced the question of drafting some of the young electricians from London up to Scotland where the wages were lower and the conditions bad

Obviously, they didn’t want to go.  The whole of the electrical dock labour force in London was up in arms over this question.  Some of their leaders – reactionary types – were really rubbing their hands.  They were going to have me over a barrel.  The masses were all behind them and they wanted to see how I came up and tackled this.  I had a very difficult job at this particular meeting on the ship because all the rotten bastards who were trying to dodge the column were with me, on this one.  They were well in with the firm.  They wouldn’t be drafted.  It would be the militants and the other boys who would get it.

All these lumps of shit got up and spoke first about why the boys should go.  The overwhelming majority were of course against it, and they got me on toast.  They said “What about you ——?  You’ve been preaching greater war production all the time – now let’s see your working class ideas.”  I had quite a raw bash.  They accepted the point about if we lost to Hitler we’d have no trade unions at all, but I didn’t convince them on the issue of making the best use of manpower.  I did later on, but not at the time.

With all my yak about the war effort they’d put me on the spot.  My mate turned to me.   “Don’t be so silly.  You’ll freeze up there”

I had quite a reputation for being genuine and sincere.  No question of  preaching “Don’t do as I do, do as I tell you.”  Question of having a go.  There was a blizzard on in the docks.  A real bastard, and I was working down inside this corvette and the charge hand, who wasn’t a bad lad, came over to see me and said “——, I don’t like approaching you on  this job at all, but you’re the only fellow we can approach on a problem we’ve got.  The position is, there’s a convoy due to go out tomorrow and the destroyer that’s to protect the convoy has no recognition lights.  The lights were sent from the Midlands, but they’ve got lost in transit.  Consequently, without the ship, the convoy can’t go and it’s holding up the war effort.  But there’s recognition lights on this corvette, up on the mast head.  If we can get these down we can fit them on the other ship and the convoy can get away tomorrow.  Unfortunately the shipwrights have knocked off,  and I know there’s a blizzard on, but if you would, we’d like you to go up there and take them down.”  With all my yak about the war effort they’d put me on a spot.  I said “Alright, I’ll go. Get a bosun’s chair rigged up.  I’ll get the bloody thing down.”  My mate turned to me.  “Don’t be so silly.  You’ll freeze up there.  And you might fall.”  I said “Look Tanky, the boys are fighting out there in all conditions and they’re risking everything.  I can’t preach to these lads about the war effort and not go up there.”

They rigged up the bosun’s chair and I went up and got the bloody thing down.  When I got down I went to the foredeck of this corvette and there was one of those little pot bellied round stoves.  I stood just inside the door and the heat!  My hands, my knees, my whole body was frozen, but the heat was killing me.  But the effect of me getting these lights down, the effect on the other trades was, whereas previously the shipwrights and the boilermakers – anybody outside was inside dodging the column – now it was “If a fucking electrician can do that, so can we!”  They turned out, blizzard or no!

When the war broke out, on the dock we were only casual labourers

Bootle Docker   With casualisation it was very easy for the bosses to blacklist people.  They done it to me.  I was ten years unemployed before the war.  I wasn’t alone.  There was three thousand in my branch unemployed, and the union done nothing about that.  And men, not registered dockers, were being employed because they weren’t paying them the full rate.

When the war broke out  we were still casual workers and we got a card, not a tally, not a Board of Trade tally, but a card which stated “His Majesty’s Government.  Required for Urgent Work”.  It was stamped, with your number on it.  You was hired of a morning, at a ship’s stand.  The card’s taken off you.  It’s kept until five o’ clock, when they give it you back.  You’re only on for the day.  The Bosses wouldn’t have it any other way.  They were to casual labour.  It was hire and fire.

We started as permanent workers in 1940.  When the Essential Works Order went through the House, in it was the de-casualisation of dockers, and the dockers taken over by the Government.  That mean’t Government money to the employers.  They were well compensated because every one of them inflated their wage bill.  No exceptions.  One time-keeper that I know, he wasn’t a time-keeper at all!  He was the same as myself – an ordinary docker, but he was picked up by a firm and made a time-keeper.  He looked after his firm’s interests.  He got a fiddle for them, and he got a fiddle for himself by inflating the wage bill, which he said was his instructions.

Know what the fiddle was?  The more money they paid out in wages they had 10% on top of that from the Government, to cover the bill.  You was making it for them!

With Liverpool being the major port for the North Atlantic trade all ships carrying explosives never entered the Mersey. (5)   They were diverted to Holyhead.  I worked at Holyhead at them.  I was foreman there.  I took a gang of me own with me.

Everybody’s searched on the pier at Holyhead.  You’ve got to take your boots off and you’ve got to put canvas shoes on, your matches and cigarettes are all taken. When you’ve done your job you come back to the Pier, get off the Police Patrol boat and your gear’s taken out of the little lockers that it’s in and given to you, and you got your wages on the railway station.  I’ll tell you good it was.

As a foreman I was paid two bob a day extra plus two bob a day explosives – four bob a day over and above the basic rate – which was £15 a week.  When we went to Holyhead the train fare was paid for us.  We used to get the Irish mail  to Holyhead.  When the payday come up you get in the queue at the railway station – at the box where you get your tickets.  The timekeeper’s in there and he’s got the list.  You walk in and give your tally number and your name, to identify yourself, even though they know you.  You tell the man what you want.  You do that even in the Clearing House – how much you want.  You never ask exactly for what you want – you spring it by about five bob to six bob.  You don’t get it if it’s not booked for you, but there’s always the chance they’ve made a mistake in the book, and then you have it.  My father learnt me that.  Anyhow, I’m at the counter, before me brother.  My brother’s behind me, Frankie.  He was an air raid warden.  I thought to myself, about £18.  I said “£18 ten.”  And he pays me £18 ten.  I says to Frankie “Sing out good.”  So he sings out good, goes the same as me, and gets it!  There was a fiddle on.  Know what the fiddle was?  The more money they paid out in wages they had 10% on top from the Government to cover their bill.  You was making it for them!  But you was getting a bit of a cut out of it.

Two farmers came who were working for the Agricultural Committee, and one of them turned ’round and said to me “If your bloody husband isn’t fit to do the farming, let the bugger get out”

Somerset Farmer  I was working for my Father before the war. He was working for his Father.  When we got married and got the farm in 1940 we had to go with what the farmer did before.  We was more or less tied to what he done.  I wanted to start pig keeping but I couldn’t because the Ministry wouldn’t allow me any food to keep the pigs with.  We were allowed so many coupons for so many acres, according to the number of cows to the acreage.  You had to have the coupons to buy cow cake.  This was the milk producing county and before the war the Depression hit our milk.  My father was selling milk at 4d and 5d and 6d a gallon.  That was rock bottom.

When we got married and got the farm we had between fifty and sixty acres. We had to have ploughed ground because the Agricultural Committee came around and told us.  We had four fields out of our little bit ploughed up.  It was the first time we’d done any arable, and yet there was someone only two farms away, if you go how the crow do fly, who had a hundred acres and he never ploughed an inch.  He reckoned none of his farm was suitable, and they never made him plough it.  What he done, when the Ministry men came, he deliberately took them where he knew stones was near the surface.  He could get extra rations for his cattle – extra coupons for cake – extra potatoes, all manner of things we couldn’t get, because he had no arable.

You had to pay for having your land ploughed.  We had no equipment for ploughing.  We hired the disc harrows.  The County Agricultural Committee had contractors that you could contact and they would send a man with a tractor and plough, and plough your ground.  When it came to sowing you had to go behind the tractor to work the drill.  My husband nearly got poisoned doing that.  He had to watch and make sure every one of these drills was letting seed out, that none of them did get blocked up with soil.  The tractor fumes did come back and come up around him and he was ill for two days with carbon monoxide poisoning.

Another time, when they came, he was really ill.  He was under the doctor, he was so ill.  I didn’t know whether I was going to be a widow, or not.  It was the last field we had to plough up and two farmers came who were working for the Agricultural Committee and one of them turned ’round and said to me “If your bloody husband isn’t fit to do farming, let the bugger get out and let someone else do it.”  I said, under my breath “You bugger!  You ought to bloody drop dead” – and he were dead in six weeks!  One of these farmers came from Ditcheat and the other from Cranmore.  They had big farms.  They had plenty of men to do the work.  They didn’t know what it was to do a day’s work themselves.

My husband got so tired the doctor put him on they benzedrine pills, to keep him awake

We had a helper and my husband and he, they used to do as much field work as possible and then the man did go home.  The cows would be brought into the yard, and then my husband would come in and have his tea.  He used to sit down and rest for an hour.  Sometimes he was so tired, I’d have a job to get him to get up and go out and start the milking.

We were working from six in the morning to 12 at night.  we had double summertime and we’d stay out in the hayfield until it was getting dark.  We had an elevator and a tractor and we used to hire other men to come and help us with the haymaking.  They’d go home and then the cows would come in, and many a night my husband and I started milking between 11 o’ clock and 12 o’ clock.  We were milking by hand because we didn’t have a milking machine at that time and it’d be 2 o’ clock by the time we’d finished milking our cows, and washed the cow stall down and scrubbed out the dairy – and we had to be up again next morning.  We had thirty-two cows and twelve head of young stock.

My husband got so tired the doctor put him on they benzedrine pills to keep him awake.  This was during the winter, after working all those long hours in the summer.  One night he went out to do the milking, and I stayed up, instead of going to bed.  I kept on looking at the clock and I thought “What on earth is he doing?  He ought to have finished milking by now.”  I went out to see where he were to.  All the cows were tied up in the cow stall.  They’d ate all their hay.  Looked in the buckets.  No milk in.  The buckets were clean.  Well, where was he to?  I went to go in the engine house – there he was: stretched out on the floor.  I tried to wake him up.  I couldn’t wake him!  I began to get panicky.  I thought he was dead.  It was nearly five minutes before I could get him to come round, and as he came round he jumped to his feet and swung up his fist and I jumped back.  His fist just missed the side of my head.  “Good God!” he said, “Where am I?”

I said “Do you know what time it is?  You’ve been stretched out there in front of the boiler, on the coal.”  He was so frightened, he said “That’s the last of they benzedrine pills I’m going to take.”

They scratched their heads.  “Farmer sent back a cheque for four and a half acres of wheat subsidy for four and a half acres of wheat?”  They couldn’t make it out.  They sent a man to see us.  “Why did you send the the cheque back?”

We had to plough up four and a half acres of field for arable, we had to put wheat in.  A man from the Ministry was to supposed to come and examine the field in the Spring to see that the field had been ploughed up and the corn planted.  You didn’t get your subsidy until about the time it was harvested.  Come July or August time we had a cheque come for four and a half acres on four and a half acres of wheat.  My husband sent it back.  They scratched their heads.  “Farmer sent back a cheque for four and a half acres of wheat subsidy for four a half acres of wheat?”  They couldn’t make it out.  They sent a man to see us.  “Why did you send the cheque back?”

What had happened was that it was supposed to have been Spring sown.  We had to hire someone to come and cultivate it, but it had been a very, very wet Spring, and the contractor had got bogged down on the ground, and by the time they got ’round to our farm it was too late to plough to put it down to corn.  So he sowed quick growing hay, not wheat.  “Do you know”, this chap said, “one of our Ministry men have been and examined your fields and he said wheat was growing well and that you had a good crop.  We’ll have to investigate this.”

Course, all the farms that this particular man had supposed to have inspected – they went ’round, and hardly any of them had planted the wheat because of the wet weather.  I think we were the only one that had sent the subsidy back.  The other farmers had to send their cheques back.  The chap who had originally inspected got the sack.

Her Husband  Some of these inspectors, they’d come ’round in their car and some of the farmers would give them a glass of cider and they would go off without even bothering to look at the wheat.  There was one man, if he were inspecting you, he’d come ’round and he’d say “You’d better plough up this ground” and if you said “I don’t want to plough up this ground”, he’d say “It’s alright – we’ll sign the paper and say it is ploughed.” The farmer got so much for it and the Ministry man got so much.

Somerset Farmer  We know one farmer that got had £20 an acre subsidy on growing potatoes, and he put in about eight acres of potatoes.  He never dug the potatoes out and the following year he claimed another £20 per acre for potatoes.

You had to be careful.  We never had any meat off our farm no more than a rabbit.  That was the only thing we had off our farm – a rabbit.

At one time when bacon was very short I used to buy bacon bones and I used to put so many bacon bones in the pan.  They used to smell nice and a little bit of fat did come out.  Enough fat did come out the bacon bones to allow you to fry an egg.  I know somebody came to my door one day and said “Cor, you farmers!  You’re having a good breakfast today.”  I said “Yes, bacon bones and a fried egg.”  He wouldn’t believe it and I was too proud to take the pan out and show him the bacon bones.

My Husband wouldn’t let me have a spot of cream, so I couldn’t make butter.  Our milk had to leave the farm with all its cream.  He didn’t believe in skimming the milk whereas most farmers used to take enough cream to make enough butter for their own use.  We only had the same ration as everyone else, you see.   One or two farmers who lived down on the moor, and lived out in the quieter part of Mendip, they used to send a cow to be killed, or some pigs to be killed, and wangle it, but where you were more thickly populated, you couldn’t do it.  Besides anything else, you had to keep records of how many animals you had on your farm and where they went.  You had to be careful.  We never had any meat off our farm no more than a rabbit.  That was the only thing we had off our farm – a rabbit.

There’s no doubt about it – it took the war to put the farmer back on his feet

Arran Farmer   There’s no doubt about it – it took the war to put the farmer back on his feet.  You had guaranteed prices for your produce.  Things began to change.  Farming became mechanised during the war.  The Executive Committee offices were here, on this farm.  (6)   Donald Brown, he was the Secretary.  It was Donald Brown who was the tenant of this place before I took over.

The farmers couldn’t afford to buy tractors and all the implements they needed.  They were only just getting on their feet after having thirty years in the doldrums.  If you wanted an implement you applied to the secretary and he hired to you whatever implement you wanted – ploughs – anything, even to a big travelling thrashing mill, which was a Godsend.  The big travelling threshing mill forced us all to do away with our old barn mills.

West Mayish had the oldest threshing mill in Arran – the first mill that ever came to Arran.  There’s bits of it lying there yet.  It originally came to Arran Estate.  It was taken from there up to the West Mayish and built in.  We threshed on it for years.  It was a murderous thing drawn by two horses.  It made a tremendous clattering noise.  You couldn’t hear a thing.  The two horses walked around and around, pulling a big beam around.  Many a miserable hour I’ve spent in rain, plodding around.  Twice a week during winter you’d have to thresh.  And it was sore on the horses because although they got used to it, going around,  it would chafe their legs – the chain would chafe their legs.  Nowadays it wouldn’t be tolerated.  The RSPCA would murder you.

If you want shortages, you’ll need to go back to the First World War.  In the Second World War we suffered no great shortages of anything, at any time.

His Sister  You could always get rabbits.

Arran Farmer  Butcher meat was difficult to get, but as Ellaline says, we got rabbits.  Arran hill rabbits were very, very good eating.  They still are.  Myxomatosis has frightened people away from eating a rabbit.  When a rabbit’s properly cooked it’s to be preferred to a chicken

His Sister  We churned butter. We weren’t supposed to, but we did.

The paramount element was not war production, it was how much you were going to pick up at the end of the week.  It was the money

Factory Worker  I was living with my parents in Dagenham and I went to work for Briggs.  I started down the River Plant on night work.  They had a contract for petrol cans, what they used in the desert – the big square ones.  They was also doing cars for other firms, like Jowetts.  They didn’t do Fords until Fords bought them out.  I’d never done bleeding night work in my life.  I’d been a tally clerk in the wharves down in Wapping, earning thirty bob a week.  I thought “I ain’t got to go all that way to work everyday, and I haven’t got to worry about the bombs and the fires”, that they were having there.

I soon got used to factory work.  There was no problems, even with night work.  The petrol can contract run out and we all got took on up the Main Plant.  When I got shoved up the Main Plant I got put in the wood mill (there’s no wood mill there now).  You’ve got to remember, a lot of cars and vans then had wood in them – wooden beams that went across lorries, and the flooring and the sides.  This was day work.  A weeks wages then, and I was doing ’round about 56 hours, was for someone of my age, three pound thirteen. Coming from Wapping where I’d been getting thirty bob I thought I was a millionaire.  I was getting more than my old man.  He was a cook and he was picking up three pound ten.  I knew it helped the old lady out because we had a big family and I was the oldest.

I would say at Briggs the paramount element was not war production, it was how much you were going to pick up at the end of the week.  It was the money.

In them days, how filthy you got at work was how you went home.  You worked right up to the minute.  You was glad to clock out and get away from the place.  I can remember going home and my Mother saying “Aye, aye, here comes the worker”, ‘cos I was in a hell of a state.  At Briggs you didn’t have canteens like we’ve got today.  We used to have tea barrows come ’round – we still have – but they was more predominant then.  You seemed to be more tied to your job than you are today.  Today, for instance, say you’re on shift work, you get half an hour for dinner.  And we get away ten minutes, fifteen minutes before the dinner break, going up to the canteen.  I can never recall that during the war.  Then, you was always waiting for the tea barrow.  There was no hot grub.  It was cake and rolls.  Anything hot you brought in yourself, like a flask of soup.

Because of war production we was working hell of long hours.  The time for knocking off was 5 o’ clock.  What they used to do – all of a sudden about 4 o’ clock they’d put a blackboard and easel (just like in a schoolroom) at the bottom of the wood mill, and they’d say “Knocking off time 6 o’ clock.”  Just like that.  If you wanted to go, you had to have a reason!  Then around about half past five they’d come out and scrub the “6 o’ clock” and put up “7 o’ clock.”  They’d then give you the facility to go ’round the cafe and have a cup of tea and a bun.  All this would be because they were behind with some order.  As I say, if it went over 6 o’ clock you were allowed quarter of an hour to go and get something to eat.

We were out in the shelters playing pitch and toss, or cards, or watching the old dogfights overhead.  It was lovely!  But then they stopped that, didn’t they

When the siren used to go we used to clock in of a morning at 8 o’ clock and straight out to the shelter.  We used to clock off to go home for dinner, come back, clock in on your way back and straight back to the shelter.  Five o’ clock – clock out and go home!  This went on for weeks.  Course, the company got their heads together.  “We can’t have this.  We’re getting no production.”  We were out in the shelters playing pitch and toss, or cards, or watching the old dogfights overhead.  It was lovely!  But then they stopped that, didn’t they.

They came up with the idea where they had lightbulbs all around the plant, painted red, and they had spotters on the roofs.  As soon as them spotters got a warning of imminent attack, these light bulbs used to go on and off.  So there you were, working with one eye on the job, and one eye on these lightbulbs, waiting for it to go so you could shoot out.  Soon as that light went on you shut your machine off and you was away.

We used to have women working in the wood mill then.  Everything being done in wood meant half of it was unseasoned.  It came from Malaya, Singapore, South America – all over the place. (7)  It used to stink terrible when you were cutting it.  The spray used to come off it.  It was then taken out the back to be dipped in green paint to preserve it.  One day there was a couple of women pushing a barrow-load of timber out into the dip to be dipped, and the lights started going on and off and the general foreman – he’s out of his office, down the stairs,  and as the girls are about to go through the door (they’re leaning, bent forward, pushing the barrow) he’s put one foot on their back and he jumps over the top of ’em, and flattens ’em, and he’s out the door.  And he’s the foremen!

They had a colossal number of women working down at Briggs.  There was one department where they was doing steel helmets.  They was all women.  In the press shop they still had women working up until about 1950, and they was working on the small presses.  There was no resentment of the women working at Briggs.  After the war – yes.

Part of the scrap we got were copper coils covered with silver – some mysterious bloody thing – and they were about two and a half to three inches in diameter.  They varied between that, and they were just right for ladies bracelets!

Conscientious Objector  Through the anarchists I got to know a chap who had a contract from some War Department because he had an idea for working on a frostbite machine – in other words, a machine for curing frostbite.  He had had some work before the war in some government research department.  He was a brilliant feller.  He persuaded them that he had a really brilliant idea for producing this frostbite machine.

Frostbite had knocked a hell of a lot of soldiers in the Norwegian campaign and this was something, rather late, the British realised they’d given no thought to.  He was funded in some modest way to set up a little workshop, and in order to get the equipment, which was very short, he had an arrangement with the airforce for sending him scrap from factories and crashed planes to this little workshop he had, right in the heart of Mayfair – Pitt’s Head Mews, in the shadow of where the Hilton now stands.

He got round him a team of about six to ten (it varied a bit) conscientious objectors, one or two people had been excused military service, a couple of chaps who were on the run and at least one deserter from the army.  We were working in this little place.  Every month a lorry would come, loaded with all these sacks of scrap and they’d all get turned out in the basement.  Upstairs we had what was the beginning of the laboratory – which was built and never finished!  But what we did have was a whole little series of tables and a little manufacturing process was going in.

Part of the scrap we got were copper coils covered with silver – some mysterious bloody thing – and they were about two and a half to three inches in diameter.  They varied a bit between that, and they were just right for ladies bracelets!  We were snipping these things off in two or three curls, slightly bending the end in, polishing them all up (they came covered in grease, crap and dirt).  We got some other tiny spring things which we dipped in enamel and stuck on the end and there we were: tatty little Utility type bracelets which were absolutely impossible to get!

One of the guys who was a smooth talker used to go off all ’round the country getting orders, selling to Bentall’s of Kingston, John Lewis stores, Selfridge’s – all over the country.  The stores were falling over themselves to buy these little things.  We couldn’t make enough of them!  There was a whole team of us making a living out of this scrap.  No questions were asked, as it was coming from official sources.  After all, he was working on this frostbite machine!  The heat was off, as far as he was concerned.  The fighting was going on in the desert rather than Norway.

It was at this time that I was asked – the only time in the war – for my identity card.  We were sitting in a cafe in Camden Town when the police came in and checked everyone’s identity.  A policeman asked for my identity card and asked me what I did for a living.  I said “I’m afraid I can’t divulge that.  Government job.”  “Oh” he says, “very good sir.”

When Anita and her sister lived in a hostel in 1944 and the manageress got up and said “All the virgins in this hostel I can get in a telephone booth”, I instantly thought of my two cousins

Anita  And I’ve regretted it ever since!

London Boy  The hostel was run by a government department.  It was specially built for indistrial workers.  We came from all over Britain.

Anita  We had a good time, didn’t we?

London Boy  I had a marvellous time.  This was in Coventry.

Anita  We were all there.

London Boy  Your brother went first.  I volunteered.  I was only 15.  The only way I could earn money was to go there.  Plenty of work in London, but fifteen bob a week.  When I went there my money went up to £5 a week.  By 17 I was earning £10.  Mind, you paid a lot of tax.  It was the money.  I went there because of that, I’ll be honest.  Our factory was the most modern in Europe.  It was built in 1940.  It was Standard. (8).  It was what they called a shadow factory.  They made aero engines there and Standard run it.  Compared with what I’d worked in in London it was smashing.  In fact the factory then, in 1941, the machinery was better there than what I’m working with now.  That’s no exaggeration.  And the conditions were better than what I’m working under now.

Anita  I had a cushy job.  I was an Inspector.  I always had to wait until the section had completed their work before I could inspect it, so I used to go off and see my sister in the machine room.  We used to have a talk and a little flirt with the boys.  I had a rip-roaring time.  Life at home was restricting.  There was a lot of domestic responsibilities, because we had a big family.  It was our freedom, as youngsters, to get away from home.

London Boy  It was like a big holiday camp, except you had to work.  Coming from homes with no baths and hot water it was a luxury for many.  You were living in dormitories.  At the end of each dormitory of each block you had a little writing room, and then there was the main block where you had dances and the canteen and where they showed pictures.

Anita  The community living was very nice and you didn’t have domestic responsibilities.  And the boys!  There were hundreds of boys!  It was lovely.

London Boy  In the hostel there were about six hundred women and four hundred blokes.  There had  been about sixty-one women had to leave because they had been made pregnant, and it had only been open a year and a half.

Anita  I had a smashing time.  I did.  That was the best time of my life.  Yes, the war ending was a big disappointment.

1.   In 1944 the Government announced the average weekly manual wage in Britain stood at six pounds and ten shillings.  This figure was above what many coalface miners were earning. Many miners reacted by voting to go on strike, particularly in South Wales and Yorkshire.    The Government as a result set a minimum wage for miners, which was at the time the highest minimum wage in Britain, although their overall earnings were still below many of those working in munitions and aircraft production.

2.   Named after the Ernest Bevin, the Minister of Labour, those male conscripts selected on a random basis deeply disliked being forced into the coal mines in an attempt to boost flagging coal production.  The scheme continued until 1948 and in terms of boosting coal production was unsuccessful.

3.  Frank Foulkes, who after the war was expelled from the ETU, with others, for interfering with postal ballot returns to secure the election of a Communist General Secretary;  ‘Commie-Nazis’ due to the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 23 August, 1939.

4.  Essential Work Order (EWO).  Introduced to maintain manpower and production in war industries, from mines to shipbuilding.  The employer in a designated EWO could not sack a worker without permission of the Ministry of Labour.  Conversely, a worker could not leave their job without permission.

5.  This presumably was after the Liverpool May Blitz.  During that blitz the steamer Malakand was berthed in Huskisson Dock, Liverpool, and its cargo of 1,000 tons of high explosives blew up.

6. Mid Mayish, Brodick, Isle of Arran.

7. The capture of Singapore and Malaya by Japanese forces in 1942 was a significant economic blow to the UK.  Timber, tin and rubber were no longer available from these colonies.

8.  Standard Motor Car Company.

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13. Women at War

The first time I came home I had me great big haversack, me gas mask and me tin helmet and me Mum looked at me and said “Ooh Rene, whatever have they done to yer?”

East London Teenager   All women under 40 had to do some sort of war work. (1)  We all had to fill a form in – how old we was, whether we wanted to work in munitions, or whatever, or whether we wanted to go in the airforce, or in the Land Army, and so on.  I just put down the airforce.  I didn’t think nothing was going to come of the war, and then it happened – I got called up.  This was when I was working at Rutland in the picture house.

I joined the Land Army to try and get out of it, the airforce.  The uniform in the Land Army was a pair of big socks, riding breeches and a sort of fawn overcoat and cowboy hat, and a green wooly.  I was going to drive this horse and milk cart.  I was frightened of the bleeding horse.  I was shit scared, but I was going to have a go.  I’d rather do that then get called up.  I told them “I can’t go in the airforce now, I’ve joined the Land Army.”  But they said “You’ll have to take your Land Army clothes back.  You’ve got to go in the airforce.”  I was called up two days before Christmas.  I had to go to Gloucestor, and then I went to Morecambe for me training.  We used to march along the front in the wind.

rene ed_edited-1

I’ll never forget the first time I came home.  I had thick grey stockings on, and your heavy shoes and your hat – you don’t know how to do nothing, press your uniform, or nothing.  You’re a sort of sprog, in’t yer?  I had me great big haversack with me gas mask and me tin helmet on me back and me Mum looked at me and said “Ooh Rene, whatever have they done to yer?”

London Clippie  If you weren’t married (I was doing machining – needlework) – and if it wasn’t considered essential you had to go away to work in ammunitions, or something like that.  I didn’t want to go in ammunitions because I didn’t want to go away, which is often what you had to do.  So I went on the buses as a conductoress. I was financially better off going on the buses.  The Rag Trade never was good pay, although I’d been apprenticed to it, and worked in it until then.  When you went on the buses you got a man’s wage.  And you got a free uniform and a pass.

I was in the first ladies that went on the buses.  It was 1940.  There were women conductors but not one woman driver. (2)  The younger men on the buses had been taken for the services.  We were only replacing them.  The drivers were usually older men.

We had a very stringent medical tests before they would allow us in.  I was in Forest Gate, at the Green Street garage.  We had a week out with the conductor, and then we were left to our own mercies.  I did the 25 route which was Becontree Heath to Victoria, through Oxford Street, Bond Street.  I also did the 40 route which was from Wanstead round to Camberwell Green.  We used to get well known people on the buses a lot, especially ’round Bond Street and Piccadilly.  The reason was that they couldn’t get the petrol to run their cars.

I enjoyed the comradeship – being on the same route every day you met the same people and you got to know them.  You got some people who were awkward, like you always get. The day after we got the telegram about Dick, my brother, being killed, someone on the bus said to me “Don’t you know there’s a war on?”  I thought “I could tell you I know there’s a war on.”  But the majority, there was a wonderful comradeship.

We got caught in the raids a lot.  I was on the 25 route when the Bank (3) was being bombed and when St Paul’s went.  It was nothing for people to come on your bus with a roll of lino.  You’d ask them if they were bringing the piano next – probably all they’d got left of their home.  One time, coming down from Aldgate, someone got on the bus and said “I wish you’d hurry up.”  I said “What’s the trouble?”  “There’s a bomb fallen, at Odessa Road”.  That’s where my family lived!  You can imagine how I felt.  When the bus got to the top of Norwich Road I said to all the passengers on the bus “Do you think you can all see yourselves off?”  “Yes”, they said, and I said to my driver “I’m going home”.  “Alright”, he said, “give us the money”, and he took the money, and I got off at Norwich Road and ran like mad, but it was on the corner of Wellington Road that had got it, the pre-fab pub had gone, not Odessa Road – but we did got bombed another time, and I almost got killed.

During a raid my driver and I had a system, ‘cos he liked to get home to his family, and I liked to get home.  The thing was that during a raid, if you stopped your bus, you had to stay there, so you couldn’t get home.  But if you could do your journey, which was your quota for the day, and get back to the depot and pay your money in, you could get home.  So my driver and I never took shelter.  We used to carry on right through it.  I would go upstairs in the bus and if I banged loud with one foot it meant that they were in front of us, and he had to slow down a bit as I could see the flak.  But if I banged twice, he’d got to get a move on because I could see it was behind us.

One time we was belting like mad along the Whitechapel Road – we had a few passengers on board – and a police car came along – Clang! Clang! Clang!.  He pulled us up at the side of the road.  The copper says to Jack and I “I like your guts, you two, but if anybody was to run out into the road they wouldn’t stand an earthly.”

They had bus inspectors during the war and they was as stringent as anything, but as I say, the comradeship on the buses was wonderful during the war, but not after, we was taking the men’s jobs.  It changed.  I left in 1947.  I was getting married.

Winscombe, Somerset Teenager  I took what was called “School Certificate”, and I got 8 credits.  It was then a question of what I was going to do.  There was an advertisement in the paper wanting girls to do radio location in the ATS.  That was radar – radar location.  My parents thought that would be quite a good career for me.  I went to Axbridge to volunteer.  My Mother came with me.  It got me away from the village.  The war gave a lot of women opportunities they’d never had before – to join up and get away from service. For instance, when I went to Honiton for my training another woman came with me who had joined up at the same time.  She had been a parlour maid in a doctor’s house.  She was ten years older than me.  I was seventeen and a half.  I was at the minimum age.

My first night in the ATS was at Honiton, Devon.  It was October.  I remember the beautiful beech trees.  I was terribly cold because I wasn’t experienced with putting our blankets out and making our beds.  But I wasn’t a bit homesick.  At Honiton they gave me aptitude tests and instead of radio location I was put into height finding and plotting, for guns.   I had my medical at Taunton.  It was all square bashing at Honition.  I enjoyed drilling.  Because I was tall I used to be one of the markers.  I enjoyed marching, and we had a band.  It was lovely.  I enjoyed that part of it.  Then we were sent to Reading, to Arborfield and then up to Scotland, to Wigtownshire.  On the coast.  Really remote.  We were under canvas.  It was a firing range.  That wasn’t very nice, actually.

Her Younger Sister  I left school at 14 and I started work in my parent’s shop – it was a newsagents and stationers.  I hated it.  I wanted to stay on at school.   In fact,  I went and took an exam but I didn’t pass it, and because the war had started, the school said they couldn’t be bothered with someone who was a bit behind.  So they wouldn’t let me stay on.   I was very bitter and twisted about that because I didn’t want to go in the shop.  So then I just longed to to go into the services.  I thought how lucky my sister was, to go into the ATS.  Mind you, I don’t think some of them had a very good time of it.  But at that age – 14, you imagine yourself at 14 – the thought of it seemed exciting. And then in 1944 I was called up just after my Father died.  I saw it as my chance to leave the shop.  My Father had died three days after D Day.  I was so thrilled when I was called up because my Father had promised that when I was 18 I could go.  Because Enid had gone in at seventeen and a half you had to have parent’s consent, but because of my Father’s death, they deferred me.  But I didn’t want to be deferred.  I wanted to be a despatch rider on a motorbike!  That’s all I dreamt about!

A lot of women were able to get out of war work by pretending they were ill

London Girl  I’d been evacuated but I came home and started work at 15.  I went into various office jobs.  In one I was very unhappy and I had to fight them to get out of it.  You couldn’t just leave your job like that.  You had to go before a Tribunal.  You had to have a very good reason for leaving your job.  In this particular office the boss was a horrible swine.  I managed to win the case.  The next job I went to I wanted to get out of, so I pretended I had TB.  My sister phoned up.  I think a lot of women were able to get out of war work by pretending they were ill.  Getting a doctor’s note.  There was a certain amount of strictness, though.  My sister had impetigo – impetigo was rampant during the war.  She had to come home, and the police came knocking because she had exceeded her time, her doctor’s certificate.

Liverpool Teenager  I worked at Littlewoods.  We were making what we called sleeves – wind sleeves for aerodromes.  There was hundreds of sewing machines going.  You couldn’t hear nothing.  The hours were staggered.  You’d do four nights on, two nights off, four nights on.  Sometimes you got two wage packets in the one week.  That was smashing when it fell like that.  But after a while I couldn’t stick it any longer.  When I wanted to leave Littlewoods I had to go before a Tribunal.  The Tribunal was in Lece Street.  I was frightened about going before them.  The thought of facing them made me ill.  There was a couple of women and a few men behind a big table.  I was on me own.  Nobody else was allowed in.  I was shaking – more with fright than sickness.

I told them I couldn’t stick it, that I wasn’t well.  They said “We don’t think you could stick any work.”  But I was really ill, with lack of sleep and food was horrible to get.  They said under the circumstances I was only fit for light work.  Ooh, was I glad!  I run down them steps.

I went to work for Rootes, in their aircraft factory.  I think they were making De Havilland Mosquitos.  To be quite truthful, I don’t remember doing anything there.  The hardest job I had was hiding away from the bosses.  I was paid for nothing.  I can picture to this day sitting under one of these aeroplanes.  I didn’t care if they gave me the sack, but they wouldn’t let me go.  I didn’t want the job.  In the end they said the job was too heavy!  A friend of mine worked on the railway, and that was what I was after.  We were on about £5 or £6 at Rootes and I went onto twenty-four bob!  It was no cop job, but you had a good laff.

We emptied all the fruit trains.  Well, you never went short.  The things that went on, it was laughable

I got up at 4 o’ clock in the morning.  There were no buses.  I walked.  I lived in Lodge Lane.  That was about two and a half miles every morning.  I was at Liverpool Central.  They were strict about time-keeping, but if you were late you could always dodge in.  It wasn’t like it is now – then, jobs were ten a penny, and where would you get anyone to get up at four in the morning for twenty four bob?  The foreman was always standing there when you came in.  You had to clock in.  He used to stutter and before he could get what he was going to tell you, to tell us off, we’d be half way down the platform.

I remember falling asleep standing up one day, on the railway.  I was on parcels.  The man would be throwing parcels to me, and you had to put them in a different department in the container for the different towns.  I could hear someone shouting these names out and all of a sudden someone was shouting “Dizzy!”, and that was me!  They used to call me Dizzy.  I was asleep standing up!

We used to empty all the fruit trains, first thing.  Well, you never went short.  The things that went on, it was laughable.  There was one women worked with us – Janie – she was deaf.  In the summer maybe strawberries came in.  We couldn’t afford strawberries – in fact you couldn’t get them.  Or tomatoes would come in, and they were so dear.  The foreman in charge of the women used to watch us – in fact, he could search us if he wanted to.  But Janie was cute.  We all used to take our coats to work, but she used to carry hers around with her.  We weren’t allowed to have pockets, but she used to tie a piece of string ’round the sleeves of her coat and she’d stuff them with all kinds – tomatoes – oh, everything.  She’d throw her coat over her arm and carry them out.

There was one time she put tomatoes down her chest.  She didn’t have her coat with her.  And the railway policeman, Bill Hughes, he wasn’t a bad feller, he had his job to do, he went over to her and put his arms around her waist and worked up to her chest and he squeezed her!   He came up to us afterwards and said he knew she had tomatoes.  He said “It was the only way I could get my own back.”

There was never any fear of me going into the forces as working on the railway was considered essential work.  I wouldn’t have gone in the forces – I’d have emigrated to Ireland before I’d have gone in.  And I wouldn’t have gone on them munitions.  The danger of it.

The yellow stuff was dangerous.  There was a few explosions.  Not very big ones.  It was when they were filling shells, sometimes they blew up

Lancashire Woman  I volunteered for the ROF at Chorley  (3).  I volunteered to get some money.  It was about the middle of the war.  It was after I came to live in Leyland.  I got friendly with some girls that worked there and I went along for a job.  They had two sets of people.  One what they called ROF, and the other was CIA.  That was inspecting the shells and detonators.  I was in the CIA.

We didn’t have no training, except somebody said “You do this” and that was it.  You were left to it, on your own.  I was on some detonators that were all yeller.  They were little things. The ROF filled these detonators, and they went into a box and you had to check ’em.  You had to see they was level on the top and smooth and if they weren’t you had to reject them.  The yeller stuff was dangerous.  It made them all yeller.  A lot of people, you could tell where they worked – they just looked like Chinese.  Yeller faces.  It’s like a sulphur looking colour, this powder.  There was a few explosions.  Not very big ones.  It was when they were filling these shells, sometimes they blew up.  I don’t think anybody got killed while I was there.  I was there twelve months.

They did have accidents but people didn’t bother about the danger.  You were going to work and earning some money.  It was pretty clean in general.  They give you overalls and when you go in you’re to take everything off – all your outdoor clothes, shoes.  I think it was because you weren’t to take dirt in.  They used to have a clean side and a dirty side.  You’d take your things off at that side and put them all there and then you’d stand over a barrier and they’d put all your working clothes on there.

They did nights.  It was more money on nights.  About £12 I got for nights.  We used to think it was a lot of money to have £12!  On nights they used to say there was a lot of carrying on with blokes, with girls.  There was a lot of carrying on at Exton.  They’d say “Oh, you work at Exton?” and give you the eye.  A lot of men and women worked there because of the money.  People travelled from everywhere to work there – Blackpool, Liverpool, Manchester.  There were special buses for some people.  We used to have to fly for these buses to catch them at night, going home.  There used to be thousands going out at night.  They used to search us.  Pick odd ones out and search them.

You had to clock in when you went in.  There were thousands of cards.  You got peoplke clocking other people in.  And they used to pick you out and search you when you were going in, to see if you’d got anything in your bag.  You couldn’t take cigarettes or matches in.  You weren’t supposed to.  But they used to.  They wangled it some way.  The place was in sections and you had to know which was yours.  When you got inside the factory you had to walk to your section, and sometimes it was a long way.  Perhaps a couple of miles. It was a really big place.

On another section, on another side, it was all danger.  They got more money on that side.  I worked there a bit.  Somebody would say to you “You’re on that section today.”  It was doing the same work, but it was more dangerous powder.  It was black.  You were in little rooms and there were machines all around and stools.  They used to fill the detonators with this black stuff, and if it was too full they used to rub it down a bit.  They weren’t supposed to, ‘cos that’s dangerous, rubbing that.  There was a lot of stuff wasted, not done right.  The folk weren’t bothered.  There used to be tension sometimes.  These ROF didn’t like CIA’s.  Know what I mean?  They were rejecting their work all the time.

There was a dark girl working there, a coloured girl.  She was funny.  We used to have some fun with her!  When we were on nights she never used to work.  She was asleep over a machine all the time.  She did used to swear as well!  We all used to sing together.  They had a canteen and they used to have like Worker’s Playtime people there.  They had a big urn where you took your pint cup and brewed yourself some tea.

I left before the war ended.   I can’t remember why I left, unless it was home duties. Looking after a kid. You can’t do it the same on nights, can you?  I wasn’t working before the war.  I never went out to work.  That was the first time I was working.  It was a bit strange, to go out to work and to go into a factory.  You do feel as if you’ve earnt a bit of something.  You don’t feel so dependent for your money.  I bought a new carpet while I was earning that money.

I joined the Land Army to get away from home life.  The opportunity was there so I took it

Yorkshire Girl   My Dad played hell with me – he’s dead and gone now – but I went in service and I had no life at all.  He took every bloody penny off me I earned.  I was more or less grafting for nothing.  He used to say to this here lady where I was in service (this was in Thornton, Yorkshire) – he used to say “Take so much out for her clothes, and that’s it.” No pocket money.  What good was that?  Having to go to Church with these flaming high society people.  Every other Sunday I got off, and you either had all morning off and go to Church in the evening, or we had morning Church service and the evening off.  Bloody hell.  We grafted there for what?  Nothing.  Not much bloody fun it was – black leading grates and one thing and another.  It was living in there.  And then he got me a job in a pub, right on top, and he got my bike and used it, and I had to bus it.  And when he came in pub and had a few drinks he carried on.

I was so scared of going home and getting a belting I used to have a spare key for me Dad’s allotment and I’ve slept in there with the chickens, on the haystack – anywhere, till I found out he’d gone out.  One morning I thought he’d gone out and I crawled through the pantry window.  Oh didn’t he leather me.  He wouldn’t just leather you, he’d tie you to a damn post and leather you.  So I got my name down for Land Army, and that was it.  I was away.

I worked near our kid where she was ATSing at Seaton. (4)   To look at you, you looked like bloody scouts.  You had one of these flaming big hats on and breaches and boots.  I’d helped my Dad on his allotments but I’d never done farm work before.  They had cattle and pigs.  We did a bit of all sorts.  I had to feed the chickens.  I was in digs, in nissen huts.  The girls were from all over.

I thought the countryside was the idyllic scene.  I painted pretty little farmyards.  They used to get stuck up on the walls in the art room

Glasgow Teenager  I decided to join the Land Army and thereupon my dream was utterly shattered.  I went to their recruiting office, which if I remember rightly was in Hope Street.  I’d been working as a tracer in a draughtsman’s office and I saw this as my chance to get away.

The Land Army sent me to the ———– at Dumbarton, about two miles from where I lived.  They had an accredited herd.  It was a beautifully run herd.  But do you know why they engaged me?  His wife was expecting a second child and they wanted me to cook, scrub the floor and do everything.  She had a nurse who had been her childhood nurse, whom she’d had for the first child, and she was going to have her for the second child.  This nurse was an old harridan.  She expected all her orders to be carried out.  I beefed.  I told them I wasn’t going to do it.  I’d signed on for three years of agricultural work and I was shoved into the farm as a domestic.  I got the boat from there. I was sent to ———, which was a hand-milking farm.

It was difficult because there again they couldn’t understand that I didn’t want to do domestic work.  I wanted to learn about work on a farm.  Another girl working there was luckier than me.  She was a great big girl and she made a boyfriend of the First Ploughman, and that was one up for her because she learnt a lot from this wee guy.  It was the strangest business – this huge big girl and this tiny wee ploughman.  She used to sit him on her knee, and look after him like a baby.  She learnt a lot because of this wee guy.  She learnt more than I did.

She learnt milking.  By the time I had gone into a byre and made several cows dry I had got the message that there was no point in me remaining in that part of the Land Army.  I used to get the job of herding the cows up to the big park, at the back of the estate.  There were two two gates.  One led to the estate and the huge house, and the other led to the cows park at the back.  The cows always knew which way to go.  The two gates were always open and they rarely took the wrong road.  But when they were with me they kicked their hind legs up and the tails went waving up and they all went skipping through the wrong gate, up to the big house.

I also had to look after the farmer’s wife’s daughter.  I had all the baby-sitting for this bleeding child, greeting all the time.  I was living in at the farm.  It was rough.  They had all the chickens in the kitchen, practically.  A lot of the farms were employing bodachs.  And there was one bodach at ——– called Jimmy.  He was in love with a tattie howker called Nora.  She came from Maryhill.  In a way it wasn’t too bad.  Ma —– would look after that guy.  He was banned to a wee cubbyhole at the back, but Jimmy didnae mind that.  They’ve got a great conceit of  themselves, these blokes who aren’t the full shilling.  As far as he was concerned he was as good as Wattie —–, the farmer.  And yet he was quite prepared to accept no wage, because as far as I know he didnae get any.  He got his grub and he was given an old bike with an old dynamo, and he thought of this dynamo morning, noon and night.  And his pipe I can see him yet – with his pipe.  Ma ——- would sometimes darn his socks for him.  Wattie ——- was horrible to him.  Apart from that, they had a government tractor man that used to come and do the ploughing.

I said I didnae want to hoe and that was the end of the matter.  He said “Right, you’re dishonourably discharged”

I complained to the Land Army people.  They knew what was happening.  They were sending girls to domestic work, but they didn’t expect to complain about it – it was wartime.  I wanted to market garden.  I said to them “Look, I’m going to leave unless I get some market garden gardening.”  They said “Alright, you can go to MacBrayne’s.”  This was a big fruit farm.  MacBrayne agreed to take me but he warned me that it would be nothing but hoeing.  And it was.  I couldn’t bear it and I had to pack it in.  I went to the Land Army office, and boy, did I catch it!   I wasn’t loyal – I signed a contract – I should keep my word – Blah, blah, blah!  I said I didnae want to hoe and that was the end of the matter.  He said “Right, you’re dishonourably discharged.”  I went back to the same draughtman’s office.

In your contract with the Land Army it said you were supposed to learn something about the land, but they never taught you anything.  You were cheap labour.  Often my money was short, but who could you complain to?  I never even got my uniform.  I was dying to wear it.  All I got was a pair of dungarees and gumboots.

Where I lived there was far more resentment about Land Army girls than ever there was about evacuees

Somerset Levels Girl   Like the evacuees, they were accused of bringing lice to the village.  They were considered tarty.  I’ve got two brothers and I can hear my Mother now.  I was a lot younger than my brothers.  They were in their late teens.  My Mother used to do my hair because it was very long and in platts.  Whilst she did it she used to take her vengeance out on these Land Army girls as she platted it – really pulling my hair.  “Bloody Land Army girls.”  Tug, tug.  “I told —– and —– to keep away from them.”  Both brothers got girls pregnant.  She was really tugging my hair.

The Land Army girls were down at Steanbow (5), which is still a farm. It was a great motorbike age and after work they used to fly down there on their motorbikes and go to Wells pictures and all over the place.  Whereas before they had a selection of village girls which was very limited, they now had a vast harem of girls from as far away as Newcastle, which was a foreign land to them.  Because at that time there wasn’t the pill and what have you, you automatically married them.

Somerset Farmer  The first Land Army girl we had, she was a lovely girl in every way, but she was absolutely hopeless when it came to working on a farm.  She came from London.  She came down to Steanbow Training Farm because she was afraid she would have to go to Manchester and for some reason all these Land Army girls had a horror of going to Manchester. (6)  

This girl’s parents was not very practical because the girl didn’t know the way to boil a kettle to make a cup of tea, or to boil an egg.  She couldn’t fry a rasher of bacon – she didn’t know the way to do anything.

We were married, my husband and I, the beginning of 1940.  We had a local boy, to start off with, but he decided to join up.  He wanted to get married, and if he got married, and if he got married his wife got an allowance – a separation allowance, and she could save that until such times as he came out of the war.  So then we had the Land Army girl.  She was eighteen or nineteen.  She was hopeless.  She couldn’t tie a cow up.  She was afraid.  In the cow stall you had chains.  You had to take a chain off a nail, you put your arm underneath her neck and slip it through to tie it.  She wouldn’t do that.  She was afraid the cow was going to swing her head and hit her with its horns.  She was afraid to sit under a cow and milk it.  She was terrified she was going to get kicked, though you put a span on its’ legs so it couldn’t kick very well.  If a cow did move she’d run and fling her arms all around my  husband’s neck.  “Mr Boyce!  Mr Boyce!  Help me!  Save me!  Save me!”  Absolutely terrified.  No good at anything.  You couldn’t send her out with a horse to chain-harrow a field.  She couldn’t do anything so we notified Steanbow and they had her back and we had a second Land Army girl.

She came from Greenwich.  She had the same tale – she joined the Land Army because she didn’t want to go to Manchester.  She was a good girl for farm work.  She took to it.  She could do milking, though she didn’t like a kicking cow.  If my husband was busy mowing and I had to take his part in the cow stall, any cow that was difficult to milk, or any cow like a heifer that hadn’t been broken in, or you were breaking in, that was my lot to milk. But even so, she was a good girl.  You could send her out with the horse.  With the Land Army girls you had to pay them a regulation wage, and there was an amount fixed how much you could deduct for board and how much you had to pay for overtime.

1.  Britain (excluding Northern Ireland) was the first country to conscript women into the services and key wartime industries when the National Service (N0 2) Act became law, 18 December, 1941.  By July 1943 the Act was extended to cover all women between the ages of 19 and up to 51.

2.   It was not until 1974 that London Transport allowed women to drive a bus.  This despite that women drove military and ambulance vehicles during the war, and flew planes.

3.  Royal Ordnance Factory.

4.  Devon.

5.  Pilton, near Shepton Mallet.

6.  Metropolitan Vickers (Spitfires) and A.V.Roe (Lancasters) were engaged on aircraft  production in the Manchester area.  One reason for extending the age of conscripted women up to 51 was to release younger women for aircraft production, where there was a chronic shortage of workers.  The Royal Ordnance Factory at Chorley was also 19 miles from Manchester.

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12 The Conscientious Objectors

My Mother simply said to me “I didn’t give birth to you to have you killed at the age of 23 so good luck to you”

Commercial Artist  I was 23 when the war broke out.  I was a ripe age for it.  I was extraordinarily lucky because I had a whole set of lucky circumstances which led me to take my position against the war.  It went back before the war.

I had an ordinary kind of education at an elementary school and secondary school in Forest Gate, London.  I then went onto art school at the West Ham Tech’ and it  was there that my education in thinking began to develop.  There wasn’t much political thought going on but we began to think about Life, with a capital ‘L’, and getting into all that sort of thing.  There was a young feller there who was, in fact, black and he was the only black boy in the school.  He got very interested in politics and became a pacifist.  In fact, he took me along to a meeting of the old ILP, which I remember rightly was in Poplar Town Hall, where I heard Jimmy Maxton speak. This feller started me thinking, and started us all discussing pacifism.  We had a little group of four who were very close friends.  We used to go everywhere together, do everything together.

At the time of the Munich crisis I was thinking “Oh God, I should get into the Home Guard”  or do something – prepare myself for what was obviously coming. (1)   In the intervening year, by the time war broke out, three of the four of us had become conscientious objectors.  We all split up in different directions and my lucky chance grew out of the fact that in June 1939 I’d gone for a holiday in the country – down in Sussex – and had fallen in love with a farmer’s daughter.  Fortunately, she reciprocated and so when it all happened in September ’39 she said ” Come down here.”   She had a caravan ready for me to go to, so I went and lived down on the farm.  I lost my job.  I was sacked a week before the war broke out.

I was working in the studio of a printers in Chiswell Street, just off Finsbury Square.  I had left school ’36.  Our little group had carried on after we’d left school.  I had ambitions to be a painter and I had asked for an extra week’s or fortnight’s holiday from my firm to do this – unpaid, of course.  It had to be, in those days.  The boss said “No.  If you want it, other people will want it.”   When the war broke out however, a week before, he called me in: “Well, Sansom, you can go and do your painting now.  We don’t need you any more.”   Piss off!  And that was that.  I was on the dole.

I just switched my place of residence down to this farm, which was at Cowden, near Edenbridge.  My parents were, I think, a little shocked that I had decided to be a conscientious objector.  My Father had just been too old for the First World War.  He may have swung the lead a bit – I don’t know.  He was self-employed and I think he just about kept himself out of it by virtue of having his little wood-working business to keep going.  So he had no great feelings about that.  My Mother simply said to me “I didn’t give birth to you to have you killed at the age of 23 so good luck to you.”  In the event, later on, she turned out to be quite a support in that sort of way.

I started doing odd jobs for the farmer and got into farm work, whilst still drawing unemployment pay.  It was very nice.  I just had to cycle into edenbridge one day a week and they posted my 17/- a week to me and I was able to live on that, living cheaply in this caravan.  The time came when I felt I had to make a move.  I saw an advertisement for training tractor drivers in the Kent War Agricultural Committee Committee. (2)   I went over to Maidstone and did a fortnight’s course in tractor driving and after that I was able to be offered jobs as a skilled agricultural worker.

By this time my age group had come up and I had registered as a conscientious objector.  I went and lived on two or three farms out in Kent, in the Sheppey area, driving tractors.  I became, I think I can say, a skilled tractor driver.  They actually trusted me with one of the first yellow Caterpillars in the country, when they began to come over on Lend-Lease from America. (3)    I was very proudly going up and down with a four furrow plough, harrowing and cultivating and doing all that bit.

Farms in those days had a lot of people working on them, not like now where you can get hundreds and hundreds of acres run by six men with machines.  They still had horses. My big tractor was the first one to be introduced.  The guy who got it eventually became Sheriff of Kent.  Man called Doubleday.  He got a knighthood for his services of ploughing up hundreds of acres of marshland, getting £2 an acre subsidy, just for getting me to work on it for him.

There were a lot of people working on the farm.  There were about twenty men lining up at ten past six in the morning.  They were exempted.  Most of them would have been of military age.  I’m sure there were quite a few of them who were bloody glad they were exempted.  There was no patriotic talk.

In the meantime I had been called up for the Tribunal.  I was turned down.  I had no history of having belonged to either a religious body or political group which had a recognised position that they could accept.  My objection was based on my wishy-washy humanitarian, pacifist, aesthetic objections.  An ‘artist’, you know – can’t have anything to do with this.  That didn’t go down very well with the Tribunal!  I was turned down also at the Appeal.  The Labour Exchange then approached me and they said “We understand this is your position – would you be prepared to go in the Fire Service?”  I thought around that for a couple of days and said “Yes, OK, I will accept the Fire Service.”

The Blitz had come and gone and there just wasn’t the demand for firemen anymore.  I was never called up

I submitted myself for a medical examination which, if you’re going in the forces, is the crucial thing you must never do.  Once you’ve been through a medical they reckon they’ve got you.  I went through the medical on the strictest understanding (I signed a thing) that it was for the Fire Service, and stood back, expecting to be called up.  By this time it was 1941.  The Blitz had come and gone and there just wasn’t the demand for fireman any more.  I was never called up.

Whilst I had been on the land I had had a very interesting set of experiences simply by being a useful worker and being highly thought of by the farmers who had never really thought of me as a ‘Conchie’.  In fact there was one point where I had to disclose it.  I think it was when I had to go for this medical.  I said to the foreman “You know I’m a conchie, so I’ve got to go and do this for the Fire Service.”  He was surprised.  “No”, he said, “I didn’t know”, and I think his attitude changed towards me a little bit then.  I kept my beliefs to myself.  It usually never arose.  I’d got married in the meantime, though not to the farmer’s daughter.  My wife’s family knew.  The brother-in-law was a bit hostile.  He wasn’t in the army, but he was in the Home Guard and was as patriotic as all people are who are not doing very much.  My brother was very hostile too, until he got called up.  He flirted with the British Union of Fascists before the war and was a bit patriotic.  He was very ashamed of me in the first instance.

He was a lot older than me and he’d worked in an insurance office all his life, going to and from Rickmansworth, where he lived, to the City of London.  He was called up and drafted first to Kettering where he had a hell of a time.  He told me afterwards he very nearly deserted because it was so rough.  He managed to get himself in the Pay Corps and lived at home, going from Rickmansworth to the City an hour earlier than the one he used to get up to the office before.

After I got married we got fed up where we were and we moved back to London and I got a job as a gardener/handyman.  An old friend of mine had been off to Scotland, on the Forestry.  Up there there was much more of a group of conchies working together.  They had a lot more discussion and the whole thing was getting politicised.  He’d got onto Herbert Read’s writing which was a contact between us art students and radical ideas. (4)    He introduced me to Poetry and Anarchism and then the Philosophy of Anarchism.  These both turned me on.  And from there I just made the trek up to Belsize Road, which was where the Freedom Press office was in those days, and introduced myself and started going to their meetings.  That was 1943.  It was three and a half years of the war before I worked around from wishy-washy, simple personal opposition to the war to sewing all these things together, in terms of what I now see as the pointlessness of objecting to war without objecting to the state which depends upon war.

I was in Ipswich casual ward the day war broke out.  I sensed that this was an end of an era, that the whole thing was coming to an end

Tramp  Most of the casual wards were closed down because they were wanted to be used either as additional hospital accommodation  or as ARP centres.  I suppose, also, the authorities thought there would be no longer any need to provide accommodation for dossers, but all through the war years there were still people on the road – not so many, but certainly a certain number.

I went back to London and I went to live at a place called the Hostel at 57 Mount Pleasant.  It was a hostel run by the London County Council to get men off the road and to help them try and get jobs.  I stayed there a couple of months, but the situation didn’t improve, and I went off on the road again for a short while with a couple of chaps and ended up in Stoke on Trent, where I got a job in a hotel.  It was the Grand Hotel, Hanley.  It was then that I wrote to the ILP and asked them to send me two copies of their weekly paper each week, and wrote to Peace News and asked them to send me two copies of Peace News every week.  I had decided to be a conscientious objector.

In 1939 when I should have registered for military service I didn’t go.  I’d made up my mind I wasn’t going to register and that I was going to go to prison, but people in the movement talked to me about this and said it was rather silly going to prison – you can’t achieve anything in jail.  So several months after I should have registered I came to the conclusion they were right – that you could do much more useful work outside prison than inside, so long as the country allowed you to do anti-war activity.  I have a great respect for those conscientious objectors who did go to prison though.  They stood their ground, the absolutists, and I think they were very wonderful and very brave people.

They used to bring them in, put ’em in a cell, strip them naked, throw a uniform in, and that’s it.  You put it on or you don’t, and in the middle of winter, that’s no joke

Detention Centre Inmate  The most interesting group in the Detention Centre, for me, were the conscientious objectors.  They were separated from us by the authorities.  Unlike us they were kept in single cells and of course, they wouldn’t do the military training, which was the main programme for most of the inmates.

When you registered the normal procedure was the following:  If you had a long record to which you could point to as a pacifist in civilian life, and all the evidence was produced at court, you could be registered as a pacifist or for non-combatant duties.  But most people who decided to be conscientious objectors never had any  record to prove it.  You suddenly say you’ve got religion, or you suddenly say “I’m opposed to war”, or you might even get one who says “I’m a fascist, I don’t want to oppose Hitler.”  A large proportion of these type of people could not be registered by the Tribunals as conscientious objectors, and they were liable for call up.  If they refused to submit, and refused to put the uniforms on, it was an automatic six months.

What they did was, they used to bring them in, put ’em in a cell, strip them naked, throw a uniform in, and that’s it.  You put it on, or you don’t, and in the middle of winter that’s no joke.  To reinforce the point, like as not, they’d put a hose on him, wet the whole bloody place out, including the uniform.  Every pressure was used, but some of these people were incredibly hard.  OK – some of them would eventually submit and put the uniform on, but make it clear that they were only wearing as clothing, and not as a mark of acceptance.  They weren’t stupid.  They knew in the first few months there was no point in making life too difficult.

At the end of the six months they would come up again and if they still refused it would be another six month.  But they got to know that the third time, possibly the fourth time, the authorities would finally give in, and register them.  All of the ones I came across knew this procedure.  They were prepared to suffer a year or eighteen months rather than submit to being called up.  To reinforce their position vis a vis their statement that they were conscientious objectors they used to play up rough a month before the end of their sentence, so to have evidence to show they were sincere.  What was interesting was the way they used to cut up.

You’d file round to pick your meal up, which was in a diet tin.  Everything would be splashed into the one can – your befores, middles and afters – it was horrible.  The first few days I couldn’t eat the stuff.  After three days it tasted like a banquet, because you were so hungry.  You used to parade after the meal from your association rooms in straight lines with your diet tins.  You had to put them on the floor.  The order never was “Quick march!” – the order was “Pick up your diet tins – quick march!”  You could always tell when these boys were going to start cutting up rough because they’d put their tins down, and as the order came to pick them up, they’d kick them straight across the bloody floor.  They’d be picked out and pounced on.  But it made clear that they weren’t accepting military discipline.  Even if they got a beating for it, they wouldn’t submit.

You very rarely had a chance to talk to them.  When you did you only had time to get that they were conscientious objectors.  I never came across in the snatches of conversation that you could have, in the situations where you met them, where they could explain in any detail whether they were religious, political or whatever.

There were three press men there and they were smiling with relief because they had all these religious objectors and at last they had a political objector

Tramp  Having failed to register in 1939 I changed my date of birth and registered.  You placed your name on the Provisional Register of Conscientious Objectors, and you were given a card saying you were provisionally registered and you were given a form on which you were to state your reason for being a conscientious objector.  This form had to be sent in to the clerk of the Tribunal.  I wrote “As a socialist I have pledged myself to oppose to the utmost of my ability any war started by the capitalist class in the interest of the capitalist class.”    This was at Stoke-on-Trent.  I had my tribunal at Birmingham.  I was given a railway warrant to travel to Birmingham.

The Tribunal consisted of a County Court judge, a university professor and a Trade Union official, who was absolutely hopeless.  When I got to the Tribunal I was the only person there who who hadn’t got a witness with him.  All the young men there seemed to have a clergyman with them.  There were three press men and they were smiling with relief because they had all these religious objectors and at last they had a political objector.

The judge said to me “What do you mean you have pledged yourself to oppose capitalist war?”  I said “I made a vow to myself that I would never fight in a capitalist war.”   “What about Russia?  Is that not a socialist country?”  “No”, I said, “I don’t think it is a socialist country.”  “What about a perfect state in which there were no capitalists?  Would you fight then?”  “That remains to be seen” I said, “but I’d like to think that in a perfect state without capitalists there wouldn’t be war.”   He and the university professor then withdrew.  This was the first time they’d done that, that morning.  They hadn’t withdrawn for any other case.  The Trade Union official then woke up and said to me “What about Russia?”  I said “I answered that question once.”   When they came back the Judge said “We’re satisfied your objection is conscientious. We want you to stay in your present work.”   I’d said I was a cook.

When I got back to Stoke on Trent that evening, right across the back page of the Evening Sentinel it had “Socialist Objector at Tribunal – To Stay in Present Job”, and gave a full report of what I had said, and ended by saying “Kepper, who is a cook at the Grand Hotel,  Hanley, is to stay in his present occupation.”   This upset my employers terrifically.  I wrote to the Tribunal and pointed out that this wasn’t the condition – it was to stay in my present occupation – not my present job.  There was quite a to-do over this, but it blew over.  When I wanted to leave Stoke on Trent I just left, and ignored the Tribunal decision.

Because I had broken the condition laid down by the Birmingham Tribunal I had a second tribunal in Bristol where it was laid down that I was to work “on agriculture, horticulture, forestry or work appertaining thereto or ancillary therewith”.  I was out of work and I got a job with the Gloucestershire War Agricultural Committee.  These were originally Land Drainage committees of County Councils which were taken over by the Ministry of Agriculture and War Agricultural Executive Committees.  Each county had its own War Ag and they had farmers on the Advisory Committee.  Most of them were farmers who were on their last legs or farmers who didn’t know their jobs and loved telling other farmers who were more successful how to do their jobs.  They could take a farm away from a farmer if they thought he wasn’t farming it properly.  They had terrific powers.  They also took on labour and opened hostels, sending out gangs of workers to different farms.  The farmers paid the War Ag and the War Ag paid the workers.

All of a sudden I’m conscious of being surrounded by all these big hefty Irishman, all holding out their sandwiches.  I said “What’s the matter?”

At first I was at a hostel at a place called Horsely.  This was a very old house which had been taken over by the Committee as a hostel.  The warden was a rather ruthless sort of martinet who didn’t like COs because they demanded their rights.  When I moved in the COs there had already complained about their food, and didn’t like being sent to bed at 10 o’ clock at night and lights out.  Eventually all the COs, including me, were moved to a place called Sezincote, near Moreton in the Marsh, in the north Cotswolds.  Sezincote was the name of an estate.  It was the home of the Dugdale family.  It was a big house, built in the Moroccan fashion.  Horrible looking place. It had enormous grounds all ’round the North Cotswolds.   We had a specially built hostel – a nissen type hostel – in the Dugdale grounds.

At Sezincote we had a load of Irishmen come over from Southern Ireland to work for the War Agricultural Committee.  Some of them couldn’t speak English.  Some of them were Gaelic speakers from the West Coast, from Galway.  They were classed as “Friendly aliens”.  “Enemy aliens” would have been kept under close arrest.  Friendly aliens were allowed in the country but they had to fill out certain forms.  There were about twenty five of them and I filled their forms for them and sent them off for them.   Many of them had families at home and they were allowed extra money from the Labour Exchange for their families.  They got about £1 five shillings for their dependants, so I filled these forms in for them too.  I got on very well with these Irish lads.

We used to go out in gangs of four or six or eight to work on the different farms.  There was one very elderly Irishman – Pat Brick – and when we got to the farm Pat would say “Now you sit down – you’re not to do any work.  I’ve talked to the other lads and I’ve told them we’ll do the work.”  They wouldn’t let me do a thing!  – Because I’d done different jobs for them, like filling in the forms.

I formed them into a hostel committee – properly constituted hostel committee.  I got them to join the Agricultural Workers’ Union first.  We had a dreadful new cook arrive, Mrs —–, from Chipping Sodbury.  She was a dreadful woman.  A really ignorant working class woman.  One day she gave us what were supposed to be sandwiches (we used to take sandwiches out for midday).  We went up to the kitchen counter to get our sandwiches, and I’d put mine in my bag, not paying any attention to them.  All of a sudden I’m conscious of being surrounded by these big hefty Irishmen, all holding out their sandwiches.  I said “What’s the matter?”  They said “Look at this.”   And it’s two thick hunks of bread, completely dry, nothing in between.  They said “We’re not going out to work with this.”

I went to Mrs —– and said “What’s the idea of giving us this as sandwiches?”  She said “You’ve got bread, butter and jam there.”  “Where’s the butter and jam?”  “You’ve got enough there.”   I went to see the warden.  “I’m not having anything to with you – you’re a trouble-maker.”   “Well”,  I said, “you’d better have something to do with these men, because we’re not going to work until we get proper sandwiches.”  We all went back to our dormitory.  About an hour later the Chief Labour Officer turns up – a little rat of a man named ——, who’d been to Cambridge University and had got out of the army because he’d been a clerk in an office, and the Chief Labour Officer had moved up, and he got the job.  The Gang Labour Officer, who was really in charge of us was a man named ——-, who in his spare time used to run a dance band under the name of Al ——.  He said he had been exempted from military service because he’d been in a corn chandlers shop before the war and so he knew all about agriculture!  Really – it was pathetic!  They used to talk about us conscientious objectors being cowards yet they were all exempt from military service on the flimsiest of grounds.

The warden came to see me and said “Mr —— is here and wants to see you.”  I went into the office.  He said “Good morning, Mr Kepper.  Sit down.”  “No”, I said, “I don’t sit down.”  He said “You think you’ve got a gang of ignorant Irishmen out there who you can do anything with, don’t you?  If I were to go out there and talk to those men they wouldn’t know why they were at home from work.”  “Wouldn’t they?”  “No, they wouldn’t.”  “Alright”, I said, “out you go.”  He went out and he came back in quicker than he went out!  I stayed in the office and let him get on with it.  We soon got better sandwiches, and off we went to work, much happier.

The Detective Sergeant threatened me “How dare you write these letters to the paper”

I was eventually moved from Sezincote, because I was considered a trouble-maker.  They moved me to a place called Nupend, a village near Stonehouse in Gloucestershire.  This was a hostel comprising a house called Sunnycroft, where the dining room, kitchen and warden’s office was, and three empty cottages in the village in which the residents lived.  I think it was the loveliest place we ever had.

Living there were some refugees from Germany and Austria, and some Italians who had come to this country in the 1920’s.  Most of them were business men who had cafes in South Wales – in Pontypool, Cardiff, Aberdare, Merthyr Tydfil – ice-cream parlours, and so on.  These men had been interned on the Isle of Man because they were Italian.  Their wives were interned if they were Italian, but if they’d married English women the English wives were at home, carrying on the business.

The warden was a Mr Cumrick Mitton-Davies.  He was ‘awfully’ public school.  ‘Awfully’.  A devout Christian.  The hostel was run by the YMCA.  He interviewed myself and a chap named Jack Bennet who’d been moved with me.  He told us that he felt it was his sacred duty to look after these refugees.

The Germans and Austrians had been released from the Isle of Man on condition that they did land work and they were only allowed to go five miles from the hostel.  The Italians could get permits to go home to South Wales for week-ends.  But one man whose home was in Cardiff couldn’t go because Cardiff was a protected area, even though he’d lived there from 1920.  There were a couple of Irish men there, as well as some Finns.  The Finns’ ship had come into port in England and they had been interned.

I had a room in one of these cottages that I shared with one of the Finns.  A great big tough chap who had actually fought the Russians when Russia invaded Finland.  The other person in this room was this Jack Bennet.  In the next rooms was a Bulgarian.  His first name was Bela.  He was an ex-second mate on board ships – tramp steamers.  He was a man in his forties who always had a jolly smile.  I had no difficulty in getting them to join the union.  Mitton-Davies was horrified, and he threatened to get in touch with the police.  He said these people had been released from internment and had no right to join a union.  I wrote to the union about this and they took it up with the Ministry.  When I organised a union meeting in Stonehouse, which was just over the five mile limit, Mitton-Davies tried to stop them going on the grounds of the five mile limit, but I got that stamped on as well.

The Finnish seamen were very anxious to get back to sea – it was their profession.  They had written in their own way to the Home Office and had no response.  At the time Eleanor Rathbone was an independent member of parliament. (5)  She was a really hard worker for refugees and I wrote to her.  She wrote back saying she would see what could be done, but she didn’t hold out much hope.  Then the lads heard, and told me, that the other Finns, who were still on the Isle of Man, were managing to get back to sea.  But they, who had been released from internment couldn’t get back to sea.  Naturally!  They were doing a useful job of work on the land!  So they mis-behaved themselves and got re-interned, and thus back to sea!

In the case of the big Finn who slept in my room, he got involved in what appeared to be a brawl at a dance hall in the nearby village of Whitminister, one Saturday evening, and got arrested.  I didn’t hear about it until he had been released on bail. He appeared in court on the Monday and a report appeared in the two local weekly papers in which it was said that he stated that he couldn’t understand English.  He was alleged to have got drunk and done some damage.  He said he couldn’t understand what people were saying.  The Detective Sergeant was reported by the paper as saying that when he arrested the Finn he spoke perfect English.  He was fined.  This infuriated me.

I wrote to the two local papers and said he sleeps in the same room as me and that I know he can’t speak perfect English.  It was impossible.  The Sergeant was wrong.  Neither of the papers published my letter.  But I did get a visit from the Detective Sergeant concerned.  He threatened me.  “How dare  you write these letters to the papers.”  I asked “How did you get hold of these letters?”  “Never you mind how I got hold of them.  You’ve no right to write to the newspapers criticising me.”   “I’ve every right to do so.  This isn’t a fascist country.”  “Don’t do it again”, he said.  I was so furious I wrote to the National Council for Civil Liberties, which in those days was Communist Party dominated.

The Secretary of the NCCL wrote back after a lapse of time and showed me copies that had been received from the Stroud News and the Stroud Journal.  It was the Stroud News that had shown it to the police.  “Yes, we did send it to the police because we thought it was breaking the Defence of the Realm Act.”   Which was ridiculous!  And then she started to lecture me on the rights and wrongs of writing letters to the newspapers on matters like this, in wartime.  “We’re all fighting fascism and these people are enemy aliens.”   I wrote back saying  that I wrote  asking for legal advice, not for a lecture, and that if that was the best she could do, I didn’t think much of her organisation.

That was the sort of thing you had to put up with.  Together with being constantly harassed in a mild way by the police during those years.  It wasn’t as bad, though, as it was for COs in the First World War.  They had a really terrible time.   Just as I was due to leave my job the War Agricultural Committee were thinking of having me prosecuted for sedition, but it never got to that, as I got off the land on medical grounds.  I went to Bristol for a few days and then onto London, where I got a job in Westminster Hospital as a porter.  A job I liked very much.

1.  The Home Guard was created after the war started. This is obviously a slip for ARP (Air Raid Precautions)

2.  For the role of the War Agricultural Committees, see further down.

3.  Lend Lease.  War and war effort related material supplied by the USA to the UK, the USSR, China, the Free French and other allies.

4.  Herbert Read, 1893 – 1968.  Art historian and critic, poet and anarchist.

5.  Eleanor Rathbone, 1872 – 1946.  Campaigner for women’s rights.  First elected to the House of Commons in 1929, as an independent for the Combined English Universities seat.  A vocal opponent of British government appeasement to Nazi Germany, she campaigned during the 1930’s for the government to grant entry to the UK for Jews, dissident Germans, and Austrians.

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11 Embarkation

He went out one morning and he didn’t come back for over three years

London Woman  My husband went in the navy. After his basic training he had a very short leave – ten days, I think.  He said he was going abroad.  I went back with him to Portsmouth – Southsea – and I got lodgings for one or two nights.  And then he went off.  He went out one morning and he didn’t come home for over three years.

2nd London Woman  Stan said he’d be home on Friday – week-end leave – because he knew he would be on the move.  I waited all Friday, waited all Saturday, had my lunch Sunday and thought “I’m an idiot.  He’s not coming.  I’ll go down there.”  He was stationed at Woking.  I’d never been there before.

It was a little wooden station and there was one man collecting tickets.  I asked him if there were any hotels and he said there were two.  I went to the first one.  They were full up.  The other one was across the road.  After a lot of chat they said I could have the maid’s room.  Right at the top.  I left my case there and I came outside.  All I got was his postal address.  A soldier was coming along so I showed him this address.  “Oh”, he said, “I’m going there.”  He came from Star Lane, Canning Town.  He walked me to this place.  When we got there he said “I’ll go in and see if I can find him.”  Then I was called in.  They thought I was one of these tarts!  They called me into the guardroom.

Her Husband  I was on guard!

2nd London Woman  They let him out.  They gave him a pass, and we shared the maid’s room.  Next day he had to go off at six in the morning, and he was going to try and get back in the evening.  I phoned up the office (I worked in the scrap metal business) and said I was very sorry, I’d got a bad bilious attack.  I wouldn’t be in for a few days.  I had a walk ’round and thought I might as well go and have some lunch in the hotel.  They found me a little table and I looked across and there, at a big round table, were eight to twelve men, some from my office, all sitting ’round.  One of them came across to me and said “What on earth are you doing here!”

I said “Now sit down Percy” – it was Percy Barlow – and I told him that Stan was going abroad and that I’d phoned Mr Ford and told him I’d got a bad bilious attack.  “Oh,that’s alright with me.  Come across with us.”  Those I didn’t know were looking, wondering – who is she?  I found out afterwards they were from head Office in Sheffield.  I hadn’t sat there ten minutes and he’d told them all I’ve got a bad bilious attack!  “Her husband’s going abroad.”

We were married in the July and he went in the October.  He was away for three years and nine months without a day at home.

Her Husband  Our convoy out was about fifty ships.  We knew where we going when they issued us these pith helmets on the ship, when we were half way there.  They also gave us our tropical kit.  The pith helmet was plain on top and you had to have a band – terrific yards of this sort of yellow material which you had to keep winding and winding and winding.  There was a certain way to do it, to get all the pleats in it.  We was all shown how to do it, but none of us could do it.  Only the old soldiers could do it, and when you wanted yours done, it was two bob a time they were charging.  Oh shocking.  All the old soldiers were promoted as soon as war broke out and they were the biggest fiddlers under the sun.

Going out we stopped at Durban for two weeks.  That’s when I  first felt the sun.  Going swimming you couldn’t walk on the sand.  It was red hot.

2nd London Woman  He sent me home photographs.  He’d been out with a family with two beautiful daughters.  Best leave he’d ever had, he said, and he’d only just had leave to get married!

Her Husband  They came to the dockside to pick us up in one of these American cars and they took us out to one of these Country Clubs – all the monkeys going up the trees, and all the blacks looking after you with drinks.  Wonderful!  We eventually sailed on and landed at Mombasa.

When we got there they gave us six petrol cans each and a couple of blankets.  That’s how we had to sleep for nearly three months.

Commercial Traveller  I was an electrician in the airforce.  When I passed out they stationed me at 41 MU at Slough and I went out with a Waaf.  I got the wrong side of her and the next thing I knew I got posted.  She was in the posting office, the bloody cow!  I didn’t know where I was going.  They told us we were going overseas.

They took us out in the middle of the night.  A train stopped in the middle of nowhere.  We went on this bleeding train, you didn’t know how long you was going to be, it went and it moved, and it kept on going and going.  You didn’t know when it was going to stop, where it was going to stop.  Finally, we got some place.  One of the blokes told us we were there.  We were in bloody Greenock!  Fancy taking us all the way to Greenock to go to bleeding Gibraltar,  though at the time we still didn’t know where was going.  I was absolutely whacked.  I’d been on the train for fifteen hours.  The worst part was not knowing where it was going.  If you ever had the feeling of being treated like cannon fodder, that was it.  We went on the boat and we still didn’t know where we were going.

They took us down below, below the hold.  You had all your benches where you used to eat and above that they gave you a hammock.  You had to sling your hammock up.  Rows and rows of hammocks.  All of a sudden you could hear the engines chugging.  You was going somewhere, but you didn’t bloody well know where.  You didn’t know where it was until you landed.  Throughout the journey you heard Boom Boom – bloody depth charges going.  All night long.  You could feel it vibrating through the whole boat.

I used to feel seasick.  In the daytime you used to sit at the benches, where you ate, with your hammock swinging above you.  You realised you were going somewhere warmer because it was getting stifling down in the ship.  And then, all of a sudden, my hammock snapped.  Bang!  They took me to the hospital ward and I played it up a bit.  I had a couple of nice cushy days there.  I also earned a bit of money.  I was a tailor by trade and all the seargents gave me their stripes to sow on.  I got a bit of drop that way.

Eventually we landed and we could see.  We were in Gibraltar.  Was it baking!  They took us to this place, which was the North Front Aerodrome (before the war it was a racecourse).  There was nothing there.  They didn’t expect us.  They had two bases on Gibraltar.  One was the seaplane base and this was the land base.  They had nowhere for us to sleep.  They had loads of petrol cans, so they gave us six petrol cans, they gave us three biscuits and a couple of blankets.  And that’s how we had to sleep for nearly three months.  You just wasn’t used to it.

They gave you a tin plate and you went into the cookhouse and after, you washed it in a thing like a horse trough.  You had to be very careful with water.  There was so little of it. You had to wash in sea water.  And as you sat there – bleeding flies.  As fast as you swatted them they were on you again – Oh, it was the most horrifying experience.  Flies galore on every bleeding thing.  The most unsanitary conditions.  And as I say, you had to sleep out in the open.  The officers?  Where were they?  Oh, they had quarters.   Definitely.  The Morocco Hotel!  Oh yes.

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10 The Overseas Volunteer

Sometimes you sit down and you say “What the hell am I doing here?  There’s no war in our country”

Jamaican  I was living in Kingston, Water Street, when I joined up.  I was still going to school.  A friend of mine and me, we set out one morning to go to school and we had to pass the recruiting place.  There was a queue of lads standing outside – high school lads.  The place wasn’t open yet.  My friend, he said ” What about we go join the Airforce?”  I said “Oh no, your Mudder will kill you if she hear you join the airforce” for there was only one kid in that family and the mother and father work – the father was a tramcar driver and every penny that he earns he spend on this lad. But anyway, we plucked up the courage and we went in and we joined.  It was done on the spur of the moment.  I was 17.  I had been staying on at school.

I had no idea what I was going to do when I left school. I had no idea.  My uncle was a joiner – what we call carpenter, back home.  I used to be with him all the while – every spare time that I get I always with him.  I picked up a lot of work off him.  He said “All right, if you want to leave school you can come with me as an apprentice.”  The work situation wasn’t too good.  Things was cheap but the unemployment and the work was very appalling.  Most of the work was in plantations – sugar.  For tradesmen the money was very, very good but for ordinary labourers the pay was very bad.  Joining the airforce was something I did on the spur of the moment.

After we joined,  the hardest part was when he come back for he to tell his mother that he joined the airforce.  it was a row.  I didn’t tell anybody.  Nobody know that I joined the airforce.  My Mother was living in St. Ann’s.  She found out eventually, when I was on my way to England.  I don’t think she was very upset, for actually I didn’t grow with them you see.  I didn’t grow with my parents at all.  I grow up on my own.  I went away to Montego Bay when I was 8 or 9, and I spend most of my days there until I came back home, and when I did come back I spent about three days with them, and I was away again.  I was a rolling stone.  I couldn’t settle one place.  I was living with my sister at the time.

When the card came for me to report to camp, I didn’t.  I decided to change my mind.  At this time the Americans were building a camp at a place called Sandy Gully.  It was swampland.  America said “You can have all the material that you want, but you won’t get one man from America to fight for you.”  This was at the beginning of the war.  America was supplying Britain with all the material that they wanted and they didn’t see anyway in which Britain could pay for it, so they said “We’ll lease the West Indian islands off you – Jamaica, Trinidad.”  It didn’t cause any bad feeling with us for actually it provided work for thousands and thousands.

When the Americans came here and started to build the base the pay was so great, they would have been glad if they built the base all over the whole island!  If I remember rightly, when the Americans started the base Churchill told Roosevelt not to pay the amount of money they were paying to the Jamaican worker, for after they finished there would be no more work and they’d be looking for the same pay.  But the American’s said they wanted the job doing and as long as the man can do the job, he got paid for it.

It was because of this fantastic money that they were paying that I was having second thoughts about joining the airforce.  After I received the card saying I should report to camp three days passed and then a Landrover pulled up. (1)   It was morning.  I was just getting up and I come out onto the steps.  There was police and an army corporal.  They said “Mr Campbell in?”  I nearly said “Yes” but I realised what was going on.  I told them that he was away.  They said “When you see him, just tell him he’s to report at the camp.”

The next morning I’ve got to go away.  I still didn’t tell my sister.  I just get out and catch the bus to Palace Theatres and reported to the camp.  Palace Theatres is a part of Port Royal.  Palace Theatres was so small for this army camp they had to dump in the sea tons and tons of big rocks.  There were lorries rolling past every day with rocks and all the earth they could find, and they dumped it and pushed the sea back that they could build the camp.  That now is the civil airport in Kingston.

When we got on the train there was only the Salvation Army.  They was there giving us cups of tea and cake.  That’s all you could see – just a hand coming through the window

I went to the camp with two pairs of shoes, for in Jamaica you scarcely see a bloke with just a one colour pair of shoes.  His shoes is either black and white or brown and white.  You can just imagine six or seven hundred people on the barrack square drilling, and all of them have different shoes on – and different pants, for there was no uniform at all.  One of my pairs was black and white, and one brown and white, for we scarcely in those days go in a shop and buy a pair of shoes.  My sister had a greengrocer’s shop at the front, and in one corner there was a shoemaker.  He make all hand-made shoes.

In a fortnight, after all this drilling, I had no shoes at all, except the uppers.  Some of us used wires, and tied them on.  Finally we got the uniform.  The boat that was coming with the uniform was sunk.  A second boat came, but there wasn’t enough uniform to go ’round. I just had pants – no tunic to fit, you see.   In a couple of days another boat came in and we all got fixed up.  There was a lot of shipping getting knocked off in the Atlantic ’round the West indies.  The Germans used to have submarines waiting – as soon as they see a ship – it’s gone!  The fisherman, they were coming in every morning with barrels of salt fish and all different kinds of provisions from these sunk ships.  A lot of lads got scared and wouldn’t join up.  It was either the first or the second batch of men to leave Jamaica for the airforce, that their boat was sunk.  They never made the Atlantic.  We all got scared then.

As soon as we were properly fixed up with uniforms we was on a 36 hour pass, for we were going away on the Monday.  The news got out, somehow or another, because they were trying to keep it secret.  It was very hush-hush, because the news was getting out and these boats were going down.  It was dark when we left.  The boat, the ss Cuba, come in.  We come by launch across the sea to the boat.  When we looked back the pier was full of people come to say farewell.  We arrived in Britain in the winter.

We arrived in Greenock in the night.  The whole place was in darkness.  We couldn’t make out anything at all.  Even the train was in darkness – just this little light with the long shade.  When we got on the train there was only the Salvation Army.  They was there giving us cups of tea and cake.  That’s all you could see – just a hand coming through the window.  I looked out the window after the train set out – there wasn’t much to see.  I turned to another lad, I said “Where the hell are we going?  Can you see anything of houses, or anything?”  He said “No”.  Then we start to make out shapes.  I said “I can’t see anything here – all I can see is blessed factories.”  Which was the houses!  For seeing chimneys on houses, that is something we don’t have back home.  In the early hours of the morning we reached our destination, which was Filey.

We spent about ten weeks there and then I went to Henlow, and then I came back to Filey for a while.  I was with the third batch of lads that came over.  I was trained for air-gunner.  Most of the time I was on stand-by.  It was about thirty shillings I was getting when I joined the airforce, I think.  Once we leave Jamaica the Jamaican government was paying five shillings a day to Jamaican airmen, on top of the RAF pay.  I was still getting that right until I came out.

We used to get extra sugar.  I adapt quickly to tea without sugar, or just a little bit, but a lot couldn’t.  The thing we couldn’t adapt to very quick was this heap of spuds.  We didn’t like it.  In some camps we had our own cooks.  When we first arrived they tried to make an effort.  As I say, the tea had no sugar in, as everything was on ration, but as a lot couldn’t drink it, so we used to get an extra ration of sugar.  On the West Indian table there’s always extra sugar.  We used to have all the English trying to get on the West Indian table.  They were always there.  We got extra tropical food.  Some camps you go to there was older men and that have been to the tropic countries and they liked the tropic food, so when they see it on the West Indian table they want to get onto that table too.  At first the extra sugar caused a bit of resentment.  When they understand that all this extra sugar was being paid for by the Jamaican  government they then said it was a different matter.  They believed we were getting extras, that we were getting privileges.

west indian ed_edited-2

At times I thought “Why on earth did I volunteer.”   Especially when we had was to go ’round Filey, on these ack-ack gun for target practice.  You’re shooting with this plane up there at 6 o’ clock in the morning,   It was always early in the morning.  The plane would be up there with the target on.  Winter, summer or autumn you’re at it.  Sometime you sit down and you say “What the hell am I doing here?  There’s no war in our country.”

1.  Landrovers went into production in 1947.  Obviously a reference to a similar type of vehicle.

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9 Conscripts & Volunteers: Men

As long as your heart was ticking these doctors reckoned you were alright

Londoner  I thought they wouldn’t take me because of my age, and for medical reasons, and less than eight months later I’m on a boat going for a ride.  I lived in Tottenham at the time.  1940 I got my medical, and I went in in 1941, January 2nd.  I went to a sort of Parish Hall in Forster Street for the medical.  They asked you “Have you had any illnesses?”, what sort of health you was enjoying, or otherwise.  “Alright, you’ll hear from us, on way or another”, and I thought “I hope to Christ I don’t hear from them!”  And then you got an invitation to fight for your honour, or somebody’s.  I was classified as BI not AI, which mean’t I wouldn’t be a fighting soldier, but there was plenty of other jobs to do besides fighting.  As a civilian I was a professional driver.

East London Railwayman  I was late.  I dodged ’em for 18 months.  I was working on the railway, up the Western Junction, up Stratford, back of Stratford Station.  I worked from there to Bow Junction, on that length of rail there.  When the air raids started they decided we would have to do night duty, standing on the railway for a shilling a night.  We had to parade up and down, watching the bombs drop, which wasn’t very nice at the beginning, because we were working on our own.  This was on top of our 48 hours, because we had to work Saturdays.  If you didn’t work, you didn’t get paid.  That shilling was handy though – seven bob a week.  (1)

I was on guard one night, walking up and down the railway, and there was a big air raid on.  All the lines had been blown up from previous raids – all your switch lines, so when the big mainline trains came through you had to get to get a crow bar and push the points through, put a clip on it underneath, screw it up so it held and then wave the train by.  After he went you had to undo it and push it back again.   This night a big air raid came over and there was a big express standing there, waiting for me to change the points.  Next thing a bomb dropped on Jensons and Nicholsons, the paint factory, and everywhere there was paint, like a rainbow.  I dived under these sandbags and when I got up and looked, the railway lines were standing up vertical, and there was a big hole.  The train’s standing there, chew, chew, chew, still waiting, and the signal bloke’s shouting out “Switch ’em over.”  So I said “Fuck ’em, you an’ all”, and I threw the crow bar, and I pissed off.  It was alright for the signalman, he was sandbagged in his little box.  They never saw me no more, the railway.  That was my lot.  I ran along the railway, got to Angel Lane and dived down the shelter.  “What’s the matter?”, the wife said.  “I’ve packed that lark up”, I said.  We went down to Norwich.  My sister-in-law’s husband lived down there.

In this war a lot of people didn’t want to know.  They didn’t want their sons to go, their husband’s to go

I knew two blokes who went on the run.  They had relations at Maidstone.  Straight away they was down there, and mixed in with the pikies, in with the gypos and they lived off the land.  They went fruit picking, hop picking, thieving – everything, right through the seasons working on the farms, fiddling about.  They done alright out of it.  One did get picked up, but he just wouldn’t have it.  He just kept running away again.  If you go out into the country – it’s a big place – nobody’s going to go hunting ’round the country for an odd man here and there.  They kept visiting your address now and again.  They were quite content to wait because they knew they were going to come ’round to you in time, even if it was after the war.

For example, I was working on the buildings after the war, and there was a foreman electrician there.  Very nice feller an’ all.  He used to come to work on a motorbike and sidecar.  He was on top of the roof of the building one day when someone came up and told him the police was watching his sidecar.  They caught him.  He’d been a deserter, and he was still on the run.  They caught him – years after the war!

After six months in Norfolk we came back to London and got a house in Woodford.  I was out of work, so I thought “What am I going to do now?”  I went over to Chingford, to the Labour Exchange,and they gave me a job on the dust – the dustmen, up Chingford Mount. It nearly killed me.  I was there about three weeks when the foreman called me into the office and said “I’ve got your papers here.  I can’t exempt you.  If you’d been here for three months you’d have been exempt occupation.  I’m sorry”, he said “but they’ve caught up with you.”  I more or less gave up then.  I couldn’t have gone on the run – they’d have stopped the wife’s allowance if I did.

I thought to myself  “Sod it.  Might as well go”.  She kept saying to me “You want to go!  You want to go! I know you want to go.”  I didn’t want to go, but what could I do?  I just dropped in with the rest.  Done what you was told.  Went up to London Bridge Station with the wife, got on the train, got chatting to another couple of blokes, found out where they was going, and met up with a few more from London.

"I had a wife and kiddie.  I couldn't have gone on the run - they'd have stopped her allowance if I did"

“I had a wife and kiddie. I couldn’t have gone on the run – they’d have stopped her allowance if I did”

We went to Clitheroe, Lancashire.  Old mill it was, big old mill.  At the end of this road.  Horrible looking place.  Big wall all around it.  Two big gates.  You went in there.  They said “Sit ’round, whilst we sort you out.”  They had a bar and we sat there and got half-pissed.  They called out your names and we got fitted out with our kit, and that was it.  After my basic training I went into the 17th Field Company.

All we done was try to enjoy ourselves.  Although we didn’t realise it, sub-consciously we must have realised we were losing out with the threat of being called up any minute

Dagenham, East London car worker  I had two good mates.  I regret it now, because of the money I wasted, but every night I used to go home, have a wash, put another shirt on, because we never had suits in them days, even though you could get a suit for fifty bob, but fifty bob was a lot of money. (2)  I used to go to the Anglers pub, which is just past Fords, every night, me and my two mates.  Then we started getting up parties and going up Forest Gate skating rink – men and women together.  We used to form crocodiles and all that nonsense and get slung out.  All we done then was try to enjoy ourselves.  Although we didn’t realise it, sub-consciously we must have realised we were losing out with the threat of being called up any minute, and the fact you was working long hours in a factory.

Being in the type of job I was, there were blokes ’round about the forty mark who were due to get called up before we even registered.  But they were given reserved occupation.  When we heard about that we thought that when it came to register our age group, we might also get reserved occupation, which turned out to be the case, but only for six months.  I was registered with the first lot of nineteen year olds, but I was near enough twenty before I got called up.  Briggs held us back, they were on war contract jobs.

When we were registered, we didn’t care – we wasn’t bothered about work.  At Briggs the paint shop, trim – everything – was all under the one building.  If you had mates working in the paint shop, you used to go round there dinner time and play cards and please yourself when you came back ‘cos if the foreman had a go at you – “Why should I worry mate?  I’m going to get called up anytime.”  That was the attitude amongst us crowd.

I used to work in the wood mill.  The bloke I always worked with, he was going in air crew (incidentally, he never came back), and I was going in the airforce with him.  I wanted to go in aircrew but one eye was a bit weaker than the other, so they put me in as ground crew.  The third bloke was going in the navy.  There was three of us – you worked a machine where you held the jig together, and you used to work it ’round.  It was the inside panel of a door – the part where you wound the handle for the window to go up and down.

One day we were working away, and we were singing.  The foreman used to stand in his office, up the top, glaring down at you all day.  If you went to the toilet and had a smoke, for instance,  he’d be after you: “Get the hell out of it.”  You’ve got to remember that it was a time where if you had a job you looked after it, ‘cos you was glad of the fact you was in work.  But now that we were registered, things were different.  As I say, we were singing and he came down and said “You can’t sing and work at the same time.”  So I said   “Why?  We deafening yer?  These machines are making more noise than we are.  If I want to sing, I’ll sing.”  “If I have any more out of you, you’ll be out the gate.”  But he couldn’t do anything. The same day I went home and my Mother was looking out the bedroom window.  She said “Your papers have come.”  I shot indoors and I got hold of ’em.  I went back next morning.  I went up the office.  “You know what you can do with your job now, don’t you?”

This might sound strange, but there was glamour in going into the Services, in some ways.  Your mates used to come home from the army on leave.  They used to go in the pub and everybody used to look at ’em.  They were “One of the soldiers – one of the boys.”  They’d take no notice of you.  You were only a common civvie, and gradually it got through to you that you wanted to be like them.  But you didn’t get any inclination what you was letting yourself in for, because when you drew your first week’s pay, ten bob they slung in your hand.  “Christ’, you thought, I’ve got to buy writing paper, envelopes, stamps, fags, everything out of this.” Ten bob didn’t last five minutes.

Leeds Tailor  Burtons were starting to produce khaki twelve months before the war broke out.  They set up small sections producing khaki and then when war broke out they went on to it in a very big way, but it didn’t completely liquidate all their civilian wear.

We had piecework  when we were on civilian wear and then when he had to go onto timework when we started producing khaki.  It was timework based on the average wage you’d earned as a pieceworker.  I preferred piecework.  During 1934, ’35,  I could make £5 a week – which was very good money – making dress wear.  We had about twenty-five craftsman, and anybody who bought a dress suit, or a tailcoat, or a dinner jacket in the early ’30’s, they can be wearing it now, because it was top quality made.  They were sold at a loss.  They were “loss leaders.”

I wasn’t called up until 1941.  I took so long to be called up because I was old.  In 1941 I was 32 years of age.  I wasn’t deferred.  Trade union officials were – but there’s no point in deferring a monkey suit maker!  I went into the Royal Army Service Corps, driving a lorry about.  I got browned off with that so they sent me as a drill instructor.  I was a good instructor.  In fact I was too bloody good because I realised that they’d keep me as a bloody drill instructor for the rest of my life.  I asked for a transfer to the Kings Own Light Infantry.  I got transferred and the Colonel sent for me and asked why I wanted to be transferred.  I said I wanted to be a hero!  He asked me what I did in civvy street.  I said I was a tailor.  “Smashing”, he said, “we need a regimental tailor.”  And that was that!

Londoner   I volunteered to get in what I wanted to get in – that was the RASC. (3)  I went to Romford to volunteer.  At that time I was deputy manager of Sainsbury’s at Ilford.  I’d been out as a relief manager when the manager was on holiday.  I was a bit of a naughty boy because I got ticked off for volunteering by Sainsbury’s.  The Food Trade was a sort of semi-priority trade.  Those sort of people didn’t go in until late.  They went in around ’41, ’42.  When I joined up I went to Manchester on a twelve week course.  I’m a qualified mechanic – supposed to be.  That’s what I joined up to be, but when I got posted to Africa I didn’t want to know.  That’s why I became a Company Sergeant Major.  The heat was so bad.  You couldn’t touch a lorry – red hot.

Very few aircrew I met ever confessed to being in aircrew for patriotic reasons.  It was a means of getting into the airforce and to fly.  It meant more money, rank on their arms and a decent uniform

Glaswegian  I joined the RAF because I didn’t want to go in the Corps of Signals.  It would be just like the Post Office all over again.  Because I was a Post Office engineer it was automatic that I would be channeled into the Corps of Signals.  The only thing they’d release you for was aircraft or submarines.  And I certainly wasn’t going in submarines.

Essex Teenager  I was working at Chrompton-Parkinson’s at Chelmsford when I had to register for National Service.  Eighteen I suppose I must have been.  In my own mind I was going in the RAF, come what may.  I always wanted to go in the airforce.  I was dead keen on the airforce long before the war, because I was interested in aircraft.  I used to go the Hendon air displays, and I used to keep scrapbooks of aircraft.  So the war for me was a means of getting into the airforce to fly.  Very few aircrew that I met ever confessed to being in aircrew for patriotic reasons.  It was a means of getting into the airforce and to fly.    I met lots of people like myself.  Also, it meant more money, rank on their arms and a decent uniform.

More money

I took the bus into Romford and volunteered for the airforce as aircrew.  I even had a medical.  All went well until I was filling in the form and he said “What are you?”, and I said “Apprentice electrician”, and he said “We can’t take apprentices, unless we get your company’s permission and your parents permission.”  So I went to Colchester and volunteered there and I said I was a wireman’s mate.  And I was in.  I went home and told my Father and he did his little nut.  He blew his top because as far as he was concerned I was throwing away the education that he had lavished on me.

I got notification to go to Oxford and I spent three days in Oxford on medical and aptitude tests.  I went before the aircrew selection board, after I had passed various examinations, and I was accepted as a wireless operator air-gunner.  The only reason I went for wireless operated air-gunner was that that was the quickest way in.  I was sworn in, on the spot.  I swore allegiance to His Majesty King George the Sixth, and I was given a little RAF VR badge.  This proved I was in the airforce, but as a member of the volunteer reserve, and as such was waiting to be called up.  I didn’t tell Crompton- Parkinson’s.

The foreman there was also named Parkinson and he had it in for me.  I don’t know why.  We used to work like hell of a long hours, and I used to travel from Billericay to Chelmsford on a pushbike for a while, and then I went onto a motorbike later on.  One day the snow was on the ground so thick that even the buses weren’t running, so I instead of the motorbike, I took the pushbike.  I got there a few minutes late, and he did his nut.  “Anymore of this, that and the other, and I’ll have you in the army.”  I lost my temper and said “You’ll have a bloody hard job”, and I flashed my Royal Airforce VR badge.  They then dragged out my apprenticeship form to sign and I told them what they could do with it.  And that was that.

Just before I went into the airforce my Father bought me a fluorescent watch, so I could see in the dark, and he helped me to learn morse, because at that time I was still going to be a wireless operator air-gunner.  Then out of the blue after I had been waiting a year came a letter from the Air Ministry stating that new four engined bombers were coming along and that they wanted flight engineers, which of course was right up my street.  I wrote back and said “Yes.”

I was sent to a Reception Centre.  I got there in the evening.  A place called Padgate. (4)  Yurgh!  it was like a concentration camp.  Once you got in, you don’t get out, that’s for sure.  When we got there we had our tea.  It was pilchards in tomato juice.  They were supposed to be hot, but they were warm, which made them worse really.  Great hunks of bread and marge.  I was a bit appalled by that first meal actually.  And tea in great mugs.  We got our issue of clothing the following morning.  It was issued in a rough and ready manner – slung at you.  You stuck them on, those who had uniforms to fit, because there were always those people who couldn’t be kitted out.  Eventually we’d all be properly kitted out and then we started a fortnight of drill.  Just enough to make you presentable to the outside world.  We were then sent to Redcar.

At Redcar I did a battle training course – really tough, sort of Commando style.  We also got vaccinated and inoculated at Redcar.  We queued up on the promenade hand on hip and we walked onto the pier, into the hall.  Lots of people passed out simply because of hanging around waiting for this flaming great needle to be stuck into you.  When I’d finished my square bashing, and I was a proper airman, I got sent to Cosford as a Flight Mechanic to do a trade course.  I then went on to do a fitter’s course, and then a Flight Engineer’s course.

Staffordshire Miner   I was working in Yorkshire.  I worked at South Kirkby.  It’s about ten miles from Doncaster.  I volunteered, to get out of the pit.  I volunteered for the Merchant Navy.  You had to go Barnsley before the Tribunal.  They made me exempt.  I couldn’t leave the pit.  You got papers to say you were exempt.  I felt a bit sore at the time, but I was over thirty old.  There was some miners that had volunteered before me and had went into services, and they were called back, but those that had gone abroad, they was out of it.  It was Bevin who came in and stopped it. (5)  I worked with a lot of lads who were re-directed down the mines.  I wouldn’t say they were too bitter about it.  I’d done about twelve months in the Yorkshire pits, and then I got fed up with it.  My Father said “What about Moston again?” (6)   I said “Aye, I think I’ll write a letter to the gaffer.”  You ought to see the letter I got back: “Anytime you’re ready to come back…”.  So I went to Moston.

I was running about with my pack and my water bottle full, because I thought I had to do it the military way.  I thought this is what you’ve got to do to beat this guy Hitler

Oxford Teenager   Early ’41 I volunteered.  I volunteered because I wanted to help the war effort and fight fascism.  I was only young.  I went up to London to work for the building firm I was in.  The Blitz was on and whilst I was staying there I decided I wanted to join the army.  I was going to go in the Essex regiment and then I changed my mind.  I came back down to Oxford and decided to volunteer down here.  You went to a place in St. Michael’s Street for the medical.  As long as your heart was ticking these doctors reckoned you were alright.  I did have something wrong with my spine, due to an accident in the past, but I was still accepted.  I went to Cardington as a ground gunner in the airforce.

The basic training was pretty rough.  I was one of the first lot to be made into a RAF regiment, which was 208 Squadron.  You had a lot of army officers who were transferred into the RAF regiment.  You had heavy boots and a set of khaki denims, and one suit of blue.  The khaki stuff smelt.  It was awful.  It was all spit and polish.  I had trouble with my feet and I couldn’t wear these army boots.  I went sick with it.  I went down the Sick Bay and the NCO would come in and he’d think everyone was malingering and he’d have all the windows open, in the middle of winter, and they’d have you on a parade outside, to wake you up.

When I first volunteered I put down Ground Gunner, because that’s what they had vacancies for.  The regiment wasn’t formed then.  When it was, it got more and more like the army.  My first three of four years were terrible.  I wanted to get away.  I got worse, you see – things like a route march, with my legs and feet.  I couldn’t go any further.  I just dropped out.  They used to try and put me on a charge of malingering.  It was terrible.

Glaswegian Teenager  I joined the army to fight fascism.  I was under-age.  I lied about my age.  I was 16.   ’41 I went in.  As I said, it was after the raid on Blackburn Street that I went in.  I was so sickened, I wanted to destroy the Germans.  I had a fairly clear mind, but I must have been naive in a million things.  The one thing I thought I did know was what the military was, compared to what I thought freedom was,  and what fascism was, again compared to what I thought freedom was.  As a young person I was very romantic.  I seen things in black and white terms, in great contrast.

I didn’t think I had much freedom in civvy street but I thought it was worth fighting for.  So I go into the military thinking we’ve got a crusading crowd of people here, who are even more aware than the civilian – that he’s prepared to get a gun and go and fight for that guy.  And then to find in that situation that this guy knows less about freedom than what I’d come from, and what I’d been taught.  And that everything I had been taught about the baddie, the Nazi and the fascists was plonk there in front of me, in this crowd of people who were supposed to be enlightened, informed and geared up to fight it.  So how the hell do you move from that square to the enemy?  When you find the enemy’s in your midst?

I got arrested 6 months after I was in for something I didnae do.  They stuck me in a wee oven like place and kept me in there.  They gave me 12 days Field Punishment No.1

In they days it meant that you pack all your kit, every piece, fill your water bottle and then they double you up and down for an hour with your rifle until you’re dropping.  I done it twice.  I began to think about it.  “What the bloody hell am I doing this for?  This is stupid.”  But the thing I did notice was that everybody else was seeming to do it in their stride, and I was finding it difficult.  I was prepared to accept that the army must have discipline, and that sometimes they can make mistakes like everybody else, so I said “Alright Walter, you’re a soldier, you’ve got to do this along with the rest.”  But then I thought “This is no right.  I’m no guilty.  I shouldnae being doing this”, and I stopped and took all my stuff off, put it on the thing-me and sat on it.  “That’s me finished.  I don’t deserve this.”

I don’t think I even got to my feet – two guys whipped me the way I was, into jail.  Two things I discovered was that the rest of the guys were dead fly – they didnae have water in their water bottles and they packed bits of paper in their packs. I was running about with my pack and my water bottle full because I had to do it the military way.  I thought this is what you’ve got to do to beat this guy Hitler.  How naive can you get?  But Christ, there’s no better schooling than to have come into it that way – knowing what it was all about.

The first time I ever went absent was at that time.  I was at Mossbank.  I lost my remission there for trying to escape, because I let my diet tin drop on the floor.  I was unsure, you know? – because I didnae know what it was all about.  You’d to run and grab  your diet.  All the rest of them were good at it, but I dropped mine all over the floor and it all ran over this staff’s feet, and I made a dive after it.  “Catch him!  He’s trying to escape!”  That’s a fact.  Into the cells right away.  Locked up.  Bread and water.  Taken up in front of this commanding officer. I thought “Och, I’ll give an explanation” – “I was trying to do this sir – ” and a guy’s stood at the back of me with a big pacing stick, digging it in my back every time I spoke.  I just turned round and Bang!  I belted him.  And that was me finished.  That was it all starting.  The whole situation changed.  I said “This army’s no what I thought it was.”  I just folded up my sleeves and said “Right, there’s two wars here. Let’s get intae it.”

My Father wrote to me and said “Walter,  it’s up to you”.  When I look back I was an ungrateful bugger.  The army gave me the same question.  “If you want out, it’s up to you”

Anyway, they let me out of Mossbank.  I had some leave and I went home.  My Mother had a big feed and I ate it and I was sick for days after, after eating the big feed.  I went back to my unit – a day late.  They put me into the jail again.  Let me out.  All my stuff was scrubbed white.  Soon as I came out the sergeant was on me again: “Right Morrison, blanco that green.  If it’s not blancoed green by a certain time, you’re in trouble.”  But – poverty.  I’ve nae money to do it.  “Way over to the quartermasters, try and get yourself some money.”  Go over.  My wages were 2/6d.  I never had more than 2/6d all the time I was in the army, except towards the end of the war.  My Mother got 7/6d and I got 2/6d, and that was for cleaning kit.  I had the choice between buying shaving gear and blanco.  I decided against buying blanco to get the other stuff.  They even went to the point of putting a special note up in my room above my bed, telling me if I hadn’t blancoed my stuff by a certain time, I was in jail.  I was so angry with the whole situation that I got all the kit, piled it on the edge of the bed and sat there beside it, until they came and put me in the jail.

During this time my Father had been trying to get me out of the army on the grounds that I was under age.  My Father was a real ILPer.  He highlighted it in a political way, because it was John McGovern or else Maxton who fought the case. (7)   They fought on the grounds that the recruiting people werenae asking for birth certificates, that they were falling down on their job.  In the meantime I’d met a guy in the Army – Tom MacDonald – and he and I became very friendly.  I think he was an orphan.  The army told my Father that I could get out if I wanted, but apparently I’d be called up in another year anyway.  My Father wrote to me and said “Walter, it’s up to you.”  When I look back I was an ungrateful bugger.  The army gave me the same question.  “If you want out, it’s up to you.”  So I was left to make the decision.  I’d made friends with Tom MacDonald, so I decided to stay in, because of my loyalty to the guy.  But from then on,  every time I came home, I wasnae on leave.  I was running away.

1.  Seven Bob:  35p.

2.  Fifty bob:  £2.50p

3.  RASC:   Royal Army Service Corps.

4.  Padgate,  Warrington, Lanacashire.  No longer a RAF camp.

5.  Ernest Bevin, co-founder and leader of the Transport and General Workers Union.  During the war,  from 1940,  he was Minister for Labour and National Service in the Coalition Government. 

6.  Moston, near Manchester.  The colliery was closed in 1950.

7.  Both members on the Independent Labour Party.  Maxton was leader of the ILP. McGovern was ILP Member of Parliament for Shettleston, and Maxton was ILP Member of Parliament for Bridgeton.  Neither constituency was in the area (Govan)  where Walter’s family lived.

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8 Blitz

The horrific time for me was when the bombs were coming down

Liverpool Girl   Not long after the war started a lone raider came over.  We were in the street and I could hear these bangs.  There was three boys from the Army in the street, home on leave, and all I could hear was this Bobby Henderson shouting “Quick!  Get the kids in,  that’s gunfire!”  I’d never heard gunfire in me life, so we ran in, but no bombs dropped.  It was twelve months afterwards before we saw any bombs.

East London Girl  This was the first bombed area, Custom House.  We got the first bomb in the war, in Cundy Road. (1)  I was going to get some eels, some jellied eels, up at old Jack’s.  In the summer he used to have an eels stall and sell ice-cream.  I went up there with the basin in me hand and a new pair of stockings on.  All of a sudden there was a great big crash and I run home and dived down the shelter.  I tore me stockings and from that day to this I never found that basin or the two bob!

Her Mother  It came on a Friday night. (2)   I had a piece of fish on the electric stove on the Friday night.  We were going down to see the kids – they were down in Somerset – and I had a load of fruit all jarred up.  We got bombed out.  We had nowhere to go.

East London Woman   I was living in Selby Road, Plaistow.  They were nice little four-roomed houses, but there was no real garden.  A lot of people had built one Anderson shelter between two houses. (3)   Some of the women would ask me into one of their Anderson shelters, but not being there long I didn’t really know anyone well enough.  It probably saved my life, not knowing them well, because when my house got bombed I was at my Mum and Dad’s in Odessa Road. (4)   Frank, my husband was on late turn.  I got a bit nervous being on my own, though you always thought it wasn’t going to happen to you.  I said to Frank “I think I’ll go over to Mum’s.  Don’t bother to come home if there’s a warning, go in the nearest shelter.”  This was the arrangement we had.

I went ’round to Odessa Road and the next morning Frank comes in the door with the cat in his arms.  It didn’t register.  I said “What’ve you brought the cat ’round for?”  “Well”, he said, “this is all you’ve got left.”  Had I been there and gone under the stairs, I wouldn’t have stood an earthly.  Your first reaction is that you’re so pleased that you’re both alive, that neither of us was there.  When I went ’round and saw it I knew one or two of the people that had been killed and injured.

Another time, during the bombing, at one end of Odessa Road, by Forest Lane, they had built their Anderson shelters so that they backed on to one another.  Very friendly – six people had done that.  And a bomb hit the middle of them.  Someone said “I shouldn’t go and have a look if I was you”.  But I had to go and look.  I couldn’t help it.  Ooh it was horrible.  I saw someone’s brains down the side of a crater.  A woman there, she was never well again after that.  A headless body was over her bannisters and what shook her was that the headless body was a boy she knew.  ‘Round Eric Road, Fowler Road, they had a bomb one day and my Mum went ’round there and looked.  She came back and said “Ooh, I wish I hadn’t gone ’round there.  They’ve got them all lying out on the pavement, covered over.  You can see their legs.”  You knew you shouldn’t go, but you still had to go and have a look.

Stepney, East London Boy   One reason I developed a real hatred for the Nazis  was Lord Haw Haw. (5)  His real name was William Joyce and he broadcast on the Deutschland Rundfunk.  You’d never worry if you missed Churchill on the radio, but you would worry a bit if you missed  Haw Haw.  He was compulsive.  You had to hear  him!

Stepney, East London Girl  People used to go mad in the shelters when they listened to him.  He used to say “All you people down there by the Free Trade Wharf, we’re going to bomb you tonight” – and the people would go mad!

Stepney, East London Boy  They used to put him on as a joke.  That’s how it started.  He would say “This is Lord Haw, This is Lord Haw Haw,” – he brayed like a donkey – “We know you rats are in your holes.  We’re coming  to blow you out of your holes in the East End.”  He’d say “Do you know the Coop in Mansell Street?  Anyone listening in there” – (that would be your shelter) – “You’ve had it tonight.  You’re going to be blown to pieces.” You’d laugh at first, but a lot of things he said came true.  He’d say they were going to bomb Z Shed, so and so dock, and the next morning it was bombed.  So you might listen to hear whether you were going to be bombed.  You thought he was a right rat, but people still had him on.

Stepney, East London Girl  Every night.

Stepney, East London Boy  It was a sort of masochism.  Around about quarter to nine.  But all this stuff about Churchill’s speeches on the radio being morale boosting is utter rubbish. A lot people had no time for him.

One night when I was taken to the shelter I found a bug, not that I hadn’t known bugs before, but I really objected to an unhygienic place where there were hundreds of people, and although I was young my feelings about Churchill were expressed through-out the shelter along the lines of “that dirty no-good bastard is sleeping in a beautiful bed tonight – why am I not?”  I think the average person thought as much about Churchill as they do about Callaghan. (6).

Stepney, East London Girl   Nobody took much notice of him.

Stepney, East London Boy  But what was uplifting was a programme which we heard every week in the shelter called Into Battle.  It always started with the Lilliburlero.  The Lilliburlero  was originally a tune that was specially written against the Stuarts, but they regurgitated it against the Germans.  It was terrific – really stirring tune.  This programme really was morale boosting.  They would play the tune and then they would tell you of an incident on one man’s war that week – like a parachutist was shot out of his plane, his parachute was burning, he came down in a small village in France, eight Germans tried to capture him, nevertheless he killed them all, and he was spirited by the underground back to England.  Another morale booster were the concerts in the shelters. Someone would get up and sing.  It was really great.  And then of course you’d have the propaganda, constant propaganda which were total lies.

You would have a raid where the whole district would be shattered and everybody demoralised.  Then on the news they’d tell you how many planes had been shot down during the raid – totally exaggerated.  It has since been proved by officers of the ack-ack that some evenings they didn’t shoot any down.  Then there would be the propaganda films, which showed us that we were all equal!

It would generally be a soldier who was on leave or ready for some heroic action.  He would come home and go to the local village pub and meet a young woman who happened to be the squire’s daughter, and the squire was a Brigadier of the ’14 – ’18 war.  The soldier would then be class-conscious, in that he was a bit frightened because of the snob value the English have.  But he would find that this Brigadier is not only human, but he goes fire-watching, he’s in the Home Guard, he only has one egg a week – just like everyone else!  All these films were like that.

Stepney, East London Girl  They were terrible.  We used to go to the pictures three times a week.  It would come on the screen if there was a raid on, but very few people would leave their seats.  The majority would stay and watch the film.

I had to be an air raid warden.  They made me go in the ARP.  Don’t kid yourself it was all voluntary!

London Woman  I don’t know whether I had to – no, I must have had to, because I never volunteered for anything.  We had to go and learn about fire-watching, in the Fire thing.  We learned all about it and the Civil Defence.

London Clippie  I had to be an air raid warden besides working on the buses.  I had to go and dig all the people out of the bombed houses.  I was at the back of Stratford when they went.  I stood with a boy and we watched six of his family brought out.  He’d just got to the ARP post and this bomb got his house.  They made me go in the ARP.  Don’t kid yourself it was all voluntary!

London Lad  Firewatching?  When I was 15 I used to have to get up at 2 o’ clock in the morning after working all day in the factory and walk through the blitzes to go and bloody fire watch in the factory.  That was very annoying that was.  Didn’t like it, but we had to do it.

2nd London Lad  I joined the Auxiliary Fire Service.  They had boys.  You worked two nights a week.  You were messenger boys.  One of the great attractions was you got to wear a steel helmet, and you had a bike.  I didn’t have a great heroic career though, because I deserted my bike in the middle of an air raid and took shelter.  Fuck the Fire Brigade.

Arran Farmer  The nights of the Clydebank Raids (7) there was an incendiary bomb dropped on the island.  They were coming overhead, over the island – a terrible racket, hundreds of planes coming over.  Some appeared to be coming in and some appeared to be coming out over the island.  On the second night of the bombing, which was the worst, there was a heavy mist, and the whole mist was flickering, right across the channel, and all our windows in the farm were rattling.  It was a hell of a night.  Goodness knows what those people in Clydebank went through.

Glasgow Girl  I wasn’t frightened.  I’ll tell you an odd thing.  On one of the nights we ended up sitting in a cupboard in the house and I was knitting a very intricate pattern of a jacket.  I made an awful lot of mistakes from time to time, and I had to rip it out, but on that night I sat in that cupboard and I knitted the whole back of it perfectly without a single mistake.  It must have been a nervous reaction.  I would certainly say that I wasn’t upset as my mother was.  She was much more nervous.  For a younger person there was a sense of excitement about it which takes away the fear.

Glasgow Lad  When I was in the Home Guard, a machine-gun company, we had a big hall where we kept the machine guns, and obviously we had to mount a guard on it.  It was myself and another two young chaps, we done the guard nearly every night in the week.  We couldnae get volunteers!  It was also the same in the area that I worked at the time, with fire watching.  They couldnae even get firewatchers.  I used to do that too, at times, finding that we were the only people bothering to turn up.  When I joined the Home Guard I was excused from quite a bit of that.

I was carrying this coffin.  Sometimes two kids in a box and you could actually hear them rattling backwards and forwards in the coffin.  I was sickened with the whole situation.

During the blitz on Glasgow our Company was called to a densely populated working class area in Blackburn Street (8),  where a land mine had apparently dropped.  When we arrived there the entire area appeared devastated – smoke, flame everywhere, and you could still hear the screams of people in the wreckage.  Our first duty was to cordon off the area, to keep hysterical on-lookers (mothers, fathers and others) away. They were scrabbling in the wreckage searching for relatives.  It was  to save their own lives partly too.  We also got the job of taking the names of people reported missing.

Incidentally, despite the resolute speeches by people like Churchill and the rest – what they  were going to do to Hitler when ever they got him, and chin out and stomach in, Victory signs and all the rest, when the bombs started to fall on Glasgow, rather than the people running out into the street shouting defiance at the bombers, in this particular area dozens of women with their children ran out into the street yelling and praying to God to stop it now.  They were so hysterical some of our Company had to drag them from the street and shove them in closes, or warn they’d best get into shelters.

But on this particular occasion one of the reasons for people getting hysterical was that about three hundred, four hundred yards away there was a cinema, the Capital cinema, which was always open and continued its shows, even during the bombing, and had sing-songs.  It’s a sad reflection, right enough, on some of the parents, but lots of mothers and fathers obviously thought nothing would never happen in their area.  They’d maybe had a bevvy and they’d stayed on in the place, and it was only when they heard their area -Blackburn Street – had been bombed that then they  came out searching for their families.  We were taking names nearly all through the night.

We were standing with our rifles and bayonets, keeping the people out, it was that bad.  I was carrying this coffin.  Sometimes two kids in a box and you could actually hear them, rattling backwards and forwards in the coffin.  I was sickened with the whole situation.  There was nothing anybody could do.  There was just hatred in me.  I wanted to fight against people who could do this to working class men, women and children.  This affects you, you know.   I joined the army without showing any birth certificate.  I was 16.  I said “Give me a gun, show me where they are and I’ll kill them.”

Stepney, East London Boy  In Wapping a parachutist came down and apparently he was partially blinded.  he’d obviously bailed out of a plane.  He jabbered away to the people gathered around him, in some foreign language.  They assumed he was a German and they smashed him to death.  They killed him.  They learned later he was Polish, a Polish officer, which was tragic because he was like a British fighter pilot.  This is common knowledge in Wapping.  Many, many people will substantiate it, but of course none are prepared to say they took part in it or saw it happen.

When the bombs were falling on the village there were terrific bangs.  My parents said “It’s giants trying to get in.  Don’t worry though, the door’s locked”

Ist London Boy  As a youngster I used to walk around in the blitz.  I never bothered, even with shrapnel flying around.  On one occasion I was working in a tailor’s workshop in Cleveland Street, near the Middlesex Hospital in the West End, and all of a sudden they dropped a bomb.  I was in the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade and I went to the Middlesex Hospital and they had people with eyes hanging out.  I went in there and helped as best as I could.  Yet it didn’t frighten me.  I never used to bother going in an air raid shelter.

2nd London Boy  At the beginning I went to the Anderson and then to the public shelter, but even with the raids every night you saw everything wasn’t completely devastated, so you got contemptuous after a while.  You got used to it.  I lost my fear.  I got bored.

3rd London Boy  It was common to walk along a street and shrapnel would be flying around you and when you got indoors you wouldn’t even mention it.  In fact, there was a lot of bartering of shrapnel and other war mementos.  If you got a fire bomb intact you were well in!

London Girl  The only really horrific time for me was when the bombs were coming down.  That was quite frightening, but when we went to the underground shelter that was a bit of fun and a bit of excitement.  You didn’t feel so isolated in a community shelter.

Stepney, East London Girl    I’d been sent out to see where there was some water, ‘cos they used to turn the water off, because of the bombing,  and I passed this policeman and I found out where the water was.  I got the water, and I was on my way back to my Mum where we lived and this unexploded bomb went off, and the policeman all went up in bits, and all the glass came down on me, and I went into hysterics.  My shoulder was a bit cut, otherwise I wasn’t hurt, but I was shocked.  This Doctor says to my Mum “Get her away.”  I’d been through all the bombing, but this was one of the worst parts.  I’d never been evacuated because my Mum didn’t want me to go.  I didn’t want to go either.  She said, if I was going to be killed, I’d be killed with her, where she could see it.  Lots of Mums felt like that.  But the Doctor said I had to go, because of my shock.  I was taken down to Bournemouth.  It was an orphanage.  They just took me in as special, they didn’t have any other evacuees there.

They was all middle class kids.  They all spoke properly and did everything properly, and I was an outsider.  I was there for six months.  They didn’t treat you bad.  They gave you everything you needed.  But I fretted so much, lost weight – there was nothing wrong with the place, except I wasn’t one of them.  And they were orphans.  They didn’t have anybody, and I wanted to be home.

Somerset boy  I used to watch the bombing over Bristol from Pensford police station.  My father was a policeman.  It was a lot of pretty bright lights, and then when the bombs started falling on the village itself, and I was indoors – it was so bad we couldn’t go out to the shelter – and my parents said “It’s giants trying to get in.   Don’t worry though, the door’s locked”.  And I never bothered at all.

We didn’t have any air raid shelters.  They hadn’t been built.  We used to go down the steps and underneath the tunnel and take turns throwing bricks at the rats.

Liverpool Teenage Girl  It was mass murder for those twelve days of the May Blitz.  We were living near Mount Pleasant at the time.  There was one place – it’s Edge Hill College now, in Daley Road, but then there was another college, corner of Clint Road.  There must have been at least 400 killed that night.  Underneath this college was an air raid shelter.  People from miles around used to go there.  It got a direct hit with a land mine.  The boilers burst, the people were scalded.  A brother-in-law of mine was working for the Corporation, he was on the rescue operation and he come to our house and he was sick, really sick.  He said “They’re putting old people’s heads on young people’s bodies” – trying to piece them together.  They got that many out, and it was so bad that they just threw quicklime in.

One night when the May Blitz was at its height there was five hundred planes over Liverpool, and we had no airforce.  Do you know what they had to try and combat the planes?  They had anti-aircraft guns going around on vans.  You were more frightened of them than anything else.

London Electrician  I was working and living in Liverpool at the time.  By the third night they ran out of anti-aircraft shells, they were so poorly equipped.  They had to send a destroyer into the beginning of the docks because Jerry was trying to blitz the docks.  The destroyer fired a line along the docks to keep Jerry off the doings.  Jerry had collected a hell of a lot of our land mines which had been abandoned  at Dunkirk, and he developed a technique which was bloody awful if you were in it.  These flaming planes came in with one landmine under either wing and they systematically bulldozed by aeroplane. I dodged the last bastard, the last night they were there.  They dropped one quarter of a mile away from me and set fire to Morelands match factory.  A hell of a lot of timber went up and there was a big black ball of smoke coming over.  Although the destroyer tried to protect the docks they bulldozed Bootle, which was the living area for the dock workers.  They came in with no opposition.

It was so bad in Bootle that bridges across canals, and water, electric, gas, drains, the whole bloody lot was schmozzled.  You couldn’t go through any of it.  The people either had to get out of there or…. – I met one poor bugger I knew, who’d been blitzed.  He’d been bombed out and I met him three months later.  He’d been living amongst the rubble, never going to work.  Never anything.  His face looked like a rat.  I’d never seen a man look in such a state.  He really was a nervous animal and his eyes appeared to be trying to look behind him all the time.  The shock of such a bashing – the bomb had smashed his house and he’d lost his wife and kids – he’d just gone beyond.  I couldn’t believe it was the same man.  It was some time before he became normal again.

I had an Alsation dog at the time, which never came upstairs.  I felt this weight on me legs.  I woke up and saw the dog.  “What’s up, Stalin?”

Bootle Docker, former Communist Party member  I was bombed out in Trowthy Street on the Saturday night.  I had been working all day Saturday and I didn’t finish until 6 o’ clock on Saturday night.  I decided to go the Royal and have a pint and sit down.  There was a lady sitting there having a drink.  She said  “Aren’t you Joe Byrne?  Didn’t you used to live in Akenside Street?”  “Yes I did”, I said, “what’s your name?”  “Caveney”, she said.  “Oh, I know you.  I know your mother.  You used to have a little job for your Mother – take me Father’s suit to her on a Monday to put in the pop shop and get it back on the Saturday”.  I stopped there about half an hour.  Got her a drink.  Came home.  I was with Mother at the time (my wife and kids were in Wales, evacuated).  Went upstairs and got me head down.  I had an Alsation dog at the time, which never came upstairs.  I felt this weight on my legs.  I woke up and saw the dog.   “What’s up, Stalin?”  And then I could hear Mother downstairs, groaning.  I came down and said “What’s to do?”  “The air raid!  It’s terrible”  “What!”  I’ve only got one good ear and if I sleep on that I can’t hear a thing.  I said  “I’ll go and have a look ’round.”

We had a door dividing the living room from the back kitchen and when I went to open it the bloody thing wouldn’t open.  It had jammed.  I forced it open, went into the yard and had a look around.  I looked to see if the warehouses at top were on fire, because I’d said to Mother “If you see those on fire, get out of the road, move – that’s the target area.  Once they get a fire started, all around gets blasted”.  I looked up but nothing was happening.  I went in and sat down in an armchair.  Mother says “I’ll make you a cup of tea.”  I says “Don’t worry.  Sit down, I’ll make it.”  I goes into the back kitchen.  Gets the kettle for water.  But no water.  I thought “Bloody hell.”  And then the lights went out.

We’re in the dark – well, not quite dark – it’s like a summer’s night.  I goes in the parlour and puts a shilling in the meter.  Come back to try the lights, but they’re not working.  So gas has gone, water has gone.  We’ll have to do without the tea.  She’d put a nice white tablecloth on the table and cups and saucers.  The next thing there was a bloody fearful rattle.  I stuffed her underneath the couch, and then the bloody windows came in, and tons and tons of soot were falling down the chimney, and splattered all over the place and over me. I sat in the chair with me good ear up and me bad ear down.  And then I heard them” “Hear we are, here we are, here we are” – that was the drone, just like “Here we are, here we are.”

By the Cunard building there was a fireman with a little wee pipe which was dribbling water.  It struck me “By Christ, this is the preparations they have!”

The beam above me fell down, right across me and I got cut.  I’m underneath this beam and I hear a voice in the far distance, so it seemed to me.  “Oh my God, get me out of here,  the blood’s running all over me.”  And it was coming nearer and nearer and nearer and it was Mother underneath the couch, and it was my blood going on her hand.  I was bleeding and hadn’t been aware of it.  I said to her “I’ll find an air raid shelter.”

The people next door were away and their air raid shelter wasn’t being used.  I went out into their yard and it was bloody levelled – just a heap of bloody bricks.  I climbed over them and their shelter was alright but there was no door on it.  The door had been blown off.  I told Mother to stop there until I came back.

I walked down the entry.  All the back walls had fallen down.  I climbed over them all, to Peel Road where I had a brother living over a butcher’s shop.  When I gets there he’s got all his family and somebody else’s family in their shelter.  I told him that Mother was alright and that I needed a dressing for my cut.  “I’m going along to St Leonard’s Church, there’s a dressing station there.”  I left him to go back up and see Mother.  I went along Peel Road and when I got just past Grace Street – St Leonard’s Church – the church was ablaze.  No fire-engines in sight.  But by the Cunard building, which is next to it, there was a fireman with a little wee pipe which was dribbling water.  It struck me “By Christ, this is the preparations they have!”  I said to the fireman “Get down off there.  You’re only acting the goat.  What do you think that’s going to do?  The building’s on fire!”  The water was being pumped all the way from Akenside Street out of the Rimrose Brook.  There was no water in the borough.  They’d busted the mains at Strand Road, where the railway bridge is.  The electricity comes across, the gas comes across there.  They’d busted the lot.

I got back to Mother’s.  We had no home, so I left with Mother and we walked down to me sisters.  When we got in we were filthy.  They had no bath.  I said “Will you give Mother a hand?  Clean her up and put some different clothes on her.”  I said “I’m going down to the beach to do my swilling”.  I got no dressing on the wounds.  Salt water done it.  There was no dressing stations.  Grey Street was burnt out, and St Leonard’s was burnt out.  All the emergency things were all knocked out.

A tent was put up in the North Park where dockers, me and all the others, went for our dinner and tea break.  That’s where we went.  There was nothing on the docks.  You couldn’t work on the docks – only clearing up the debris, that’s all.  I was working for Ellerman’s.  The tent was set up by the council with Government money.  The tent was there all during the blitz until a week after and then they opened a shop in Stanley Road and you went there and got your cup of tea.

The kind of shelter they built in the streets was built of mortar and sand – lime and sand.  They just fell down.  They didn’t need anything to blow them down

Before the blitz I was after the Haldane shelters. (9)  I knew Professor Haldane had made this Haldane shelter and I made an application to the Town Clerk in Bootle, to have a discussion with him, to get it done.  I met him and he told me “Haldane will be in Bootle next Sunday.”  There was a crowd of us there who felt like me.  They were going to hold the meeting in the hall, but there was so many people turned up the Minister said “Come in the Church.  I’ll give you permission to use it.”  They put Haldane in the pulpit and the Church was really packed.  Haldane made a very, very effective contribution.  A feller called Johnny who was a councillor raised the matter in the council and the council got busy on it.  They decided to ask for plans.

We did have a situation where some wise guy – I don’t know whether he was a government man or not – but he met me and several members of the NUWM (10), along with shopkeepers and other people, and his suggestion was that we dig holes in the embankments of the railway.  “Not on your life”, I said.  “The railways will be the first target.”

We never got no Haldane shelter – we got nothing, only what the government allowed.  The kind of shelter they built in the streets was built of mortar and sand – lime and sand. They just fell down.  They didn’t need anything to blow them down.  So we decided to get the women and children out of the town.  This was before an air raid started.  London had had it.  Coventry had had it, and Liverpool was the major port in the country.  All the shipping, all the convoys, all mustered up from here.  I went to the Town Clerk, because I wanted to get the women and kids out.  He hadn’t a clue, do you know that?  He said “What are we going to convey them in?”  “Jesus Christ”, I said, “the docks is loaded with meat wagons.  They’re going to do nothing if there’s an air raid.  Surely they can be commandeered.”  He didn’t give no definite answer, so my committee, the NUWM, twelve men who knew their stuff about the borough, we met and agreed  that we had to get the women and children out every night, out of danger.  There would have been terrific casualties if we hadn’t done that.

I think as a result of the raids people were more inclined to go to work.  What could you do at home.  Often your windows had gone, or the roof had come off

Liverpool Teenage Girl  Where we were we had shelters.  You got a lot of “This is my pitch.  We were here last night.”  You wonder how you lived in it now, because there was an awful lot of filth.  There was a lot of scabies knocking around.  You were that close together, everybody had it.  No one ever looked clean.  You had nowhere to wash – you had no time to wash.  Unless you got things done first thing in the morning,  that was your lot.  There was no such thing as water in the shelters.  You’d bring flasks of tea or during a lull in the raid, or on a quiet night, you’d be able to run home and boil a kettle and make tea.  The majority of the men and women used to go the pub next door, but they got caught there one night – there was a raid on – and they couldn’t get out.

My Mother was a knocker up of everyone for work.  She’d wake the whole shelter up, I’m talking about 120 people.  I think as a result of the raids people were more inclined to go to work. Absenteeism didn’t go up.  I think they were glad to get to work to forget the war.  What could you do at home?  Often your windows had gone or your roof had come off.  You wouldn’t want to sit in an empty house like that, would you.

After a while, things got that hot during the May Blitz, and we lost three in the matter of six weeks in the one house, that my older brother said to me Mum “Come up and stay with us for a while.”  That was just after my sister was buried.  His place wasn’t far from the Kirby Estate, well it was all countryside then, it wasn’t an estate.  It was a bit safer there.  He had a little Anderson shelter in the back garden.  He had his family, there was a gang of us, and we’d bought a sister-in-law an’ all – honest, we were sleeping in the cock loft!  But there was a big gun there and we were in the shelter one night and it went off – the noise of it!  “Oh”, I said, “I’m going back home.”  So I went back home and stayed on me own.  Back home, what they used to do at night time, about half four, before it got dark, people would climb on wagons and they’d go to the outskirts – anywhere – to get away from it.  They’d stay there the night.  They’d sleep in the lorry or often they’d just sit there, singing all night, and then they’d come back in the morning.   Half the time you didn’t know whether it was day or night.

I can honestly say Hitler would have got the better of us.  A couple of more nights, there was no question about it.  People were really scared

Liverpool Mother  Our Pat, she was born in the March, 1941, just before the May Blitz.  I had her,  and the other little one would be two and a half, and then the two boys.  In our area we didn’t have air raid shelters.  They hadn’t been built.  We didn’t have a garden so we couldn’t have an Anderson shelter.  We used to go underneath St George’s Hall – I used to take the four of them there. But it got too much to trek down there and be half way when the sirens would go, so we started going under a railway cutting.  It was where the train comes out of Edge Hill Station, and goes down and then would be coming up, ready to go to Lime Street.  We used to go down the steps and underneath the tunnel, and take turns in throwing bricks at the rats.  One hour on, one hour off.  We had no lighting in the tunnel.  We were in darkness.

People were worn down. I can honestly say Hitler would have got the better of us – a couple nights more, there was no question about it.  People were really scared.  They were terrified.  There were ammunition ships in the docks at the time and the Germans bombarded them and all day and all night there was explosions where the ammunition ships were being blown up.  And what wasn’t blowing up, our side was blowing up to save more damage.  There were explosions every minute.  People’s nerves were really terrible.

One night we sheltered in Cain’s Brewery.  It’s Walker’s and Tetley now, but they used to have their brewery very near the Dock Road, and when they had their horses, they used to have a slipway from a road.  It would come down a slope for the horses to walk down, and they used to stable them underneath the brewery.  They opened it as an air raid shelter.  It was very handy for us so we went there.  A bomb dropped on the brewery and the top was on fire and we were underneath.  We couldn’t get out.

There were about two hundred of us, children included.  But luckily it was discovered there was an opening that led up another passage-way, out into a street at the other end, so we all managed to get out.  But after that the wardens came round and said it was compulsory evacuation.  If you didn’t allow your children to go on their own they’d be taken and you wouldn’t know where they’d gone to.  A mother could go with them if she had children under five years.

They called us dirty evacuees, but we hadn’t had water for five days before leaving, so you couldn’t expect people to be clean

The morning we were evacuated, Lewis’s, Blackler’s, the whole town was absolutely raging.  It was alight.  It was like broad daylight in the early hours of the morning.  Everything was chaos.  You were put on buses, lorries, anything at all, to get you out to the safe areas.  Whilst Liverpool was burning I was struggling to get on this bus,  and our Jimmy and our John had their bags of shrapnel in a little canvas bag tied round their necks, and they were arguing about their shrapnel and I was hammering them for to get on the bus.  Apparently I’d given the wrong bag to each of them.  The conductor said “Take a couple of pieces out of one and put it in the other and they’ll be happy.”

We went to Southport.  They called us dirty evacuees, but we hadn’t had water for five days before leaving, so you couldn’t expect to be clean.  The only water we had was from the Mount.  There was a Spring there.  We used to queue up for a bucket of water, and that had to do for everything.

After a few days I had to come back from Southport to collect some clothes for the children.  It was a job getting through because they had bombed Bootle and you couldn’t get a train through.  When I eventually got home I found people had looted it.  They’d left the furniture, but they’d stripped the dishes and all my sheets and blankets.  There was a lot of looting in Park Lane, Park Road.  Human nature didn’t change because there was a war on.

I went into a house in Oxford Road to do some cleaning for one of these WVS – I thought I was having a dream.  You couldn’t get into the cellar for food

I had a sister who lived in Southport and she said I could live in with her, but there wasn’t the room – they had their two children and my mother and her mother-in-law.  So she got me to go and stay with a lady.  But I couldn’t stay there – I had to be out by 9 o’ clock in the morning and I wasn’t allowed back until half past six at night.  Through a minister of the Church I moved into a large house owned by one of the Hartleys, the jam people.  Christina her name was.  She’d bought this house and put beds and chest of drawers, and the rooms were let off to mothers and children, like bed-sitters.  There were six mothers and we had a communal kitchen.  It was good because it was beautiful and clean and you had every facility for washing.  She used to claim billeting allowance from the government for as many as she had in the house.

At Southport we lived like Kings.  I had the newborn baby, the little one of two and our John and Jimmy.  They weren’t big tea drinkers, but you still got your  tea ration for your newborn baby and each child.  Tea was like gold, so anybody who knew you had two quarters of tea – a pound of steak!  Or a fowl!  Bartering was going on.  My children were as well dressed as any in Southport.  You didn’t pay for the clothes.  You got all the cast-offs and you gave them your clothing coupons.  It was barter.  They had the money, but if you had a few children you had the ration books and the clothing coupons.  There was money in Southport.

Same as your sugar – you wouldn’t be using all your ration, so they’d barter it for fruit.  It was very, very hard to get fruit during the war, but they had it.  I went into a house in Oxford Road to do some cleaning for one of these WVS – I thought I was having a dream.  You couldn’t get in the cellar for food.  It hadn’t been bought during the war.  It had been bought by the hundredweight before the war.  She had everything that was on ration. Mind, she was very, very good.  You never came away empty handed.  A bit of fruit for the children, or currants, or something.

If you didn’t have any children under a certain age you were liable to call-up, a woman was.  Town people, working class people went into munitions or what have you.  But the well-off women in Southport dodged it by going in the WVS and these other organisations, looking after evacuees and running dinner centres, but the slaves – that was us with the little children, we went and we cleaned for them, whilst they went out to do their voluntary work.  I was getting about two pounds and two shillings (11) allowance from the army (my husband was in the army) and that had to keep myself and the four children.

Royal Engineer  When the raids were on in London my wife was evacuated down in…. I think it was down in Norfolk.  She went to this school – this was in London – which they made into an evacuation centre and they loaded them on coaches and took ’em down to Norfolk.  When they landed them in this place they unloaded them on the pavement.  She had the two children, the two girls.  The people who had already applied for them came along but this woman who my wife was supposed to go with, when she saw the two girls, she said “Oh no, I don’t want no children.”  And she was left there.  Everybody was gone and she was sitting on the pavement in this village, crying, with the two kids.  No one wanted to know.  A young girl about her own age walked up and said “What’s wrong?  I’ll take you home with me.”  She went and stopped with her for about three years.  It just shows what it was like.  They thought they were onto a good thing, some of them.  They changed their minds afterwards.

We went to Oakham and being us we got the worst of it.  We was living in bleeding stables, Mum and me

Young Woman, East London  I was working at Knights, the soapworks, when we got bombed out.  We got bombed out and we were living in schools, waiting until they evacuated us.  We was in Russell Road school. (12)  If we’d gone to that other one – the one where all the people were buried under, we would have had it.  We was evacuated to Finchley.  Mum and me.  When we got to Finchley we knocked on the door of this house we were supposed to go and we said “Can you take us in?”  She said “You can come in, but we don’t want you.  We’ve got a corpse lying here.”  I says to our Mum “I ain’t going in there!  I ain’t going in there!”  She didn’t want us anyway.  She was la de dah.  We had no clothes with us.  Nothing.  As we are walking along – we was both crying – there was a woman standing at her gate and she saw us and she says “What’s the matter?”  So I said “That woman up there doesn’t want us.”  So she said “You can come in here if you like.”

We used to have some good laughs with her.  I was a proper coward I was, but my Mum and her took no notice.  We used to make soup and take it down to the Anderson shelter – I used to be the first one in the shelter me.  I used to say “I don’t know how you can sit there and eat that soup.”  We used to take a bucket into our shelter and chuck it out onto the yard, on the marrows, and the marrows grew huge!   At Finchley I got a job in the post office for a fortnight, but I used to drive our Mother up the wall.  I said “I’ll have to get away from here, it’ll drive me mad.”

Dad used to send us money and he used to come and see us.  He was working in the arsenal at Woolwich.  He had it rough our Dad.  He lived rough all the time, sleeping down the deep air raid shelter on Wanstead Flats.  He used to walk through the foot tunnel under the Thames to go to work every morning.  One night our Dad came to see us and he had a septic finger.  The night the Fire of London was on a policeman came to say my Dad was in Joyce Green Hospital, where all the soldiers was.  He said “He’s had a bit of an accident.  Can you go over there?”  We thought his hand had gone septic.  Next morning we gets there and his hand’s all done up.  He’d lost his fingers in the cog of this machine.

Whilst we were at Finchley Dad got this house from the Council and he went and got the bits and pieces of furniture we had left, that was in storage, and we came here, to Gresham Road.

Her Mother  When we came here the bombing started again and Rene said “Ooh, I can’t stop here” and then we went to Oakham, Rutland.

Young Woman, East London  Being us, we got the worst of it.  We was living in bleeding stables, Mum and me.  Going to Rutland wasn’t the first time I’d seen country.  We used to go to Southend, and I went ‘opping once when I had diphtheria.

Her Mother  No, she had bronchial pneumonia.  We went with Lil Stephens.

Young Woman, East London  When we lived in the stables we had no furniture.   We was sleeping on hay.  It was the summer.  We used to go for walks down to Cottesmore aerodrome in the afternoon and we used to have our meals in the WVS.  Then we got digs eventually, but Mum decided to come home to Dad.  But me, I stopped down there and stayed with someone else.  I worked in the picture house in Oakham.  It was a nice little picture house.  It had a circle and everything.  I knew a lot about the pictures because my Dad worked in picture houses before the war.  I was well in with everybody down there, but it seemed to me that they were calling a lot of people up, so I said to Mr Black the manager “‘Ere, Mr Black, it seems they aren’t half calling people up.  I think I’ll get myself a job in the Land Army to keep out of it.”.  So I joined the Land Army

1.  The first bombs to fall on Britain killed 25 Royal Navy  sailors aboard cruisers on the Firth of Forth, 16 October, 1939.   The first civilian casualty of an air raid occurred at Bridge of With, Orkney, 16 March, 1940.  Cundy Road, Custom House, along with other East London dockland areas, did receive the first concentrated mainland bombing.

2.  Curiously, virtually all books state that the London Blitz started on a Saturday evening, 7 September, 1940.  But the East London Stratford Express in its report of 13 September, 1940, states that the raids started on Friday evening, 6 September.

Stratford Express, Friday September 13, 1940

Stratford Express, Friday September 13, 1940

Straford Express reporting that the London Blitz started on Friday,  6 September, 1943

Straford Express reporting that the London Blitz started on Friday, 6 September, 1943

3.  Anderson shelter.  Named after the then Home Secretary, John Anderson.  They were a family sized shelter, built of sheets of arched corrugated iron sunk, or semi-sunk in the ground, sometimes with a turf or other topping.

4.  Odessa Road:  Forest Gate, East London.

5.  Lord Haw Haw:  A name given to several English language propaganda broadcasters from Berlin, beamed to Britain.  William Joyce, of Irish-American background, settled into the role from 1940 to 1945.  Captured by the Allies in May 1945, he was hanged by the British in London in 1946. Pre-war he had been a prominent member of the British Union of Fascists.

6.  Jim Callaghan,  at the time of the interview in 1976 Labour Government Prime Minister.

7.  Clydebank Blitz was on the nights of 13 and 14 March, 1941.

8.  Blackburn Street, Govan, Glasgow.  Part of the then  upper Clyde shipbuilding areas.

9.  J.B.S.Haldane, geneticist, evolutionary biologist and Marxist.  He became a Marxist and supporter of the Soviet Union and the British Communist Party in 1937.  He wrote articles for the Daily Worker, including advocating large surface built communal shelters made of re-inforced concrete.  His ideas were not taken up by the British Government.  Similar, but larger such shelters were built in German cities, and many are still seen, intact, in Hamburg.  He became a member of the British Communist Party in 1943, but left the Party in 1950.

10.  The National Unemployed Workers’ Movement, a Communist Party Front organisation.  Organised the Jarrow March, amongst many other activities. Dissolved in 1943.

11.  £2.10 p.

12.  Russell Road, Custom House, East London.  Part of the then London docks areas.

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7 Battle of Britain & Invasion

The aerodrome at North Weald was a fighter station.  Spitfires.

Essex Farmworker  The aerodrome at North Wealth was a fighter station.  Spitfires. (1)  My mate was dung-carting and his horse bolted.  He said to me “Seen my horse?”  “No”, I said.  That was the first day the Jerrys came over.  A Saturday, about three o’clock.  Bombed us here.  Terrible.  When the bombs dropped you didn’t hear a sound, didn’t hear a bang at all – only the slates coming down off the roof.  That’s all you hear.  But a funny smell to ’em when they dropped.

When there was a raid we’d get the siren, you’d hear it from Epping or Ongar. Oohoohoohoohoohooh.  That’s when I would dive in the ditch or where I could.  When the German fighters were up there the Spitfires would soon get up after them: Bing! Bing! Bing! Bing!  You’d have ’em above you.  Once he dropped a load of bombs over the aerodrome.  The Waafs were all in the dug out. (2)   Killed the lot.  Night time was worst.  I would go to bed about nine o’ clock, ten o’ clock time.  Then you’d hear them coming over.  That’s when I’d get in the dug out.  Night after night they’d come over.

Often they bombed short, they dropped the bombs too soon.  I was in the cowshed milking one day and the guvnor said “There’s three bombs coming.  Which way you going to go?”  The cattle got killed in the cowshed, all their stomachs hanging out.  One cow tried to drink a drink of water, and as it drank, water was coming out of its neck.  Poor thing.  I got a lump of shrapnel in me, myself.  Only a tiny bit.  Still got the scar.  Another time, one Friday morning, I went to fetch the cows in for milking and they were all lying dead in the fields because of the land mines and bombs.  Lorries used to come and pick ’em up.  Dunno what they done to ’em.  Eat ’em I expect.

I was exempted.   I had eight brothers exempted.  All on farms.  They were all exempted.  I had my papers to go and have a medical, but I didn’t have to go because of the farm.  Good job an’ all.  I did alright.  I was glad I never went away.  I went in the Home Guard once.  I was there two or three nights and I said “Sod this.”  I packed my things up, my trousers, overcoat and tunic and slung it over a hedge.  I said “Fuck you.  I don’t want no more.”

There was a German submarine in the Clyde for quite a while

Arran Farmer  There was a strong detachment of the Home Guard on Arran.  There was a German submarine in the Clyde for quite a long time and I think the fellows were coming ashore and pinching sheep up in the north end of the island.  There were two or three scares.  The Home Guard was commanded by —– ——-, and —– ——- was daft enough to drive them into anything.  If a detachment of armed Germans had come ashore with automatic machine-guns or anything like that, all these poor fellows would have been murdered in a matter of minutes.  He would have driven them straight into it.  I remember ——- ——– the banker, he was in the Home Guard, he said “We’re going out tonight.  There’s a rumour there’s German ashore, and” he said, “that fellow will kill us.”

Airman, RAF Regiment  After our six weeks basic training we were drafted, we didn’t know where.  We got the train at Cardington and we landed up in Norfolk at Great Yarmouth, on the coast.  We were there at first.  We marched from the station to this place called the Garibaldi.  They gave us tripe.  When we arrived we were given two blankets each and they put us in these empty houses along the front.  At first we were sleeping on beds with no mattresses.  We were sleeping on the springs, four or five to a room.  We had no pillows.  They told us that if an invasion came from Holland we were supposed to push them back. We had six rifles between us!  We had P14’s from the 14 – 18 war.  I had a Canadian Ross.  We had no service respirators, we had to use our own civilian respirators because they couldn’t supply us.  How could we defend ourselves?  We had nothing.  We had to drill with broomsticks!  This was 1941, not ’40. (3)

The houses we were in were boarding houses that had been taken over.  The service food wasn’t very good so we used to go into town to buy something to eat, in the Square.  We had severe bombing night after night, mainly because, I think, the Navy were there.  We had to go fire watching.

Some time later,  we were at Wells-next-the-Sea, on the cricket ground, on parade, and a German reconnaissance plane came in.  Everybody scattered but he simply waved to us and went out to sea.  The next two nights we had terrible bombing.  We had one kiddie went mad.  He couldn’t stick the bombing, the raid at night.  It got him down and he went berserk.  They sent him back.  We had no protection at all, and the stupid things they used to get us to do, like early morning P.T.  In fact, a lot got shot up, further down the coast.  They were out early in the morning, the sun was shining and the planes came out of the sky and shot them up.  Killed a lot of them.  P.T. was compulsory.  You had to do it every morning, about half past six.  Breakfast was at six.  It was a very hot summer.  During June this was.  After that, we always had to walk along the road, split up in case the German planes came in and caught us.

A couple of days after they landed I went into Woolworths and a couple of German Officers came in

Londoner  I was living and working in the Channel Islands.  The big collapse came and our lot got thrown out of France.  They did evacuate a few from the islands but they couldn’t possibly evacuate everyone.  As far as I could see the evacuation was an administrative chaos, to be frank.  The island – I was on Guernsey – was de-militarised prior to the Germans coming.  Later, I met a chap who had something to do with the Guernsey Fire Brigade.  There were GPO telephone cables under the sea and he was up the highest building or tower.   He was sitting there with a telephone in his hand looking all around the sky, reporting on if he saw any German planes landing.  Bloody door opens behind him and a German officer with a gun says “I think you should put that down.  We’re here.” (4)

It was certainly novel to see the Germans in the street, on the island.  I’d never seen any army before, never mind Germans, so it didn’t make much difference to me what nationality they were.  They used to go stomping around the streets singing these Horst Wessel things.  They were very proud that they’d captured a bit of the British Isles.  You saw some funny things.  A couple of days after they landed I went into Woolworths and a couple of German officers came in – they were sort of semi-front line – they were pretty tough guys.  The poor girl behind the counter promptly passed out and the supervisor came.   She was trembling like a jelly.  These guys were gesticulating and no-one knew what they wanted.  She eventually worked out they wanted knicker elastic!  The whole thing became a burlesque and a farce.  There was such a shortage of stuff in Germany that these guys wanted this knicker elastic for their girlfriends.  This supervisor was in such a state that she reeled off about ten miles of the stuff and gave it to them, hardly bothering to take the money.

The main thing about life under the Germans on Guernsey was lack of food.  We were really half starving.  There’s no doubt about this.  I had TB, so I wasn’t in prime physical shape, though I didn’t know I had it at the time.

You were liable to be shot if you were out on the streets after 10 p.m.  They varied it a bit, but there was a curfew all the time, and Lord knows what happened if you were found with a wireless.  In fact, the place where I was did have a wireless and the Gestapo raided it one night.  I bunked out the back window and down a drainpipe, clean into a German soldier’s arms and accidentally knocked him to the floor.  Before he could get up, I never ran so fast in my life.  I lived in someone else’s flat for about three weeks.  Someone had grassed about the radio.  You see, there were agents about.  And then you’d get these ultra-patriotic types who’d get a boat and try and escape.  Whether they escaped or not, once the Germans found out, they got more strict.  There were always notices appearing that if you do this or do that, you’d be liable to be shot.  “Fusilation” they called it.  I can’t say I noticed any deliberate mis-handling of you when you were out on the street.  The real dramatic change was that there was no communication at all, and that there was very little food and that there was a funny air of suspicion.  You never knew who you could trust.

They brought in anti-Jewish laws.  They said that any Jewish owner of a shop on the island had to get rid of 51% of his shares to a non-Jewish partner.  If he didn’t they would close the place down.  These were orders from higher up – I mean, they just obey orders the army.  The island police force took the view that the island police force was a civilian force, which it was.  The Germans said: “You go about your traffic duties and you round up criminals.  It’s nothing to do with us.  We’re purely a military occupying power.”  It’s the same with any occupying power.  They don’t want the bother of running your country, mate.  We’ve captured it, now you get on with running it.  The more work they can shove onto somebody else the better.  They were still fighting a war – they didn’t want to fiddle around directing traffic, except when it was a military necessity.  Later when I was released from a prisoner of war camp in Germany the Yanks were the same to the locals where I was: “Right, so you were a policeman were you?  You get back to being a policeman, boy, and you get on with it.”

Conscientious Objector  When I was ploughing up land for the Kent Agricultural Committee I was often out in the middle of a field when the air-raids came over, and some of them were pretty bloody scarifying.  These were daylight air raids, when the Nazis started their big heavy raids again, this was around ’41.  I was out in the Kent marshland and I was driving along in my tractor, ploughing, keeping an eye on the ground and suddenly was aware of some different noise, in the air, and I looked up and there were about a hundred bloody great planes – you could see the Swastikas on them!  God.  I stopped the bloody tractor and dived underneath it, and peeped up at these buggers.  Not a fighter, not a gun going off, absolutely nothing – they were just sailing up the river towards London, as if the place belonged to them.

1. Hawker Hurricanes, at first.

2. Waafs: Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.

3. The invasion of Britain was feared following Dunkirk, in the summer of 1940.

4. 30th June, 1940, by a small detachment of the Luftwaffe.  Jersey was occupied the following day.  German forces did not know that the Channel Islands had been de-militarised.

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6 Intern the Foreigners

Churchill had the right kind of instincts “We’ve got to do something” and like in Germany, you immediately turn on the Jews

Stepney, East London Boy  A lot of Italians were interned, even ones who had lived in England since before the First World War.  Most of the Italians in our area got interned.  They were shortly released.  Most weren’t interned very long.  Our family had a particularly good Italian friend, Jack the Ice Cream Man, who had an ice cream stall in Leman Street, on the way to my school, and he was one of the few Italian families that didn’t get interned.  All his sons volunteered for the army.  Jack – I don’t think that was his real name – he was in his fifties.  (1)

German Refugee  I had been in the country five years when I applied for British naturalisation in May, ’38.  You can’t do that for five years, you see.  I stuck the thing in the letter box.  It takes six months before it even comes up.  War broke out and all proceedings were suspended.  Strictly speaking I was an enemy alien, as were my parents.  We were in Newcastle upon Tyne at the time.

The sale of the house we were trying to buy fell through but the owners very kindly agreed, because they were desperate, to rent the house to my parents.  We came up before a Tribunal like everybody else.  The Chairman was some Colonel or other.  I think he was a country gent – very suspicious of Jews, but more so of people whose official affiliation was social democrat or communist.  My Father had always been a devout atheist and liberal social democrat.  He didn’t let on fortunately, on my advice, otherwise it would have made it worse.  I was sent out and they interviewed my parents.  My father spoke practically no English.  Then I was interviewed, and then we were all interviewed again.  They decided to classify me as C because I’d lived in England long enough; was familiar with British methods; the sense of fairness and justice; and my English was good.  With my parents it was different.

First of all, what proof did my father have, short of my word, that he had been in Buchenwald.  I appealed to the Tribunal to look at the colour of his face!  Secondly, he hadn’t been in the country long enough and could not be expected to have developed a sense of loyalty to Britain.  Though the British were willing to stamp his passport “Victim of Nazi Persecution” he was classified B, which meant he couldn’t move outside five miles of his home.  He was deeply hurt by this.  I joked with him – all my life I’ve had to jolly my parents up, ever since 1929 when the thing began.  You’ve got to learn a sense of humour after a while, particularly with the British.  We found that out long ago.

You learn your sense of humour in Germany, first of all, but the authorities are much the same the world over.  Only in England we felt, and my wife feels it even more, the English have developed a sense and an ability of hypocrisy which is probably second to none compared with any nation.  Hypocrisy mixed with self-deception, which is a more vicious form of hypocrisy.

My parents were eventually re-classified as C.  I was transferred back to London by my firm where they were designing reinforced concrete ships for the British Admiralty – a design team on which I was employed, notwithstanding my being classified as an enemy alien, I might add.  About the time of Dunkirk, a little bit earlier I believe, all enemy aliens were cleared from coastal strips, within so many miles, and this included Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  My parents were given twenty-four hours to leave.  Once again they had to leave all their possessions behind.  I ought to add that subsequently a “friend” of theirs, an Englishman, who they charged with selling their goods, sold them, but for a nominal amount.  There was a grand piano which he sold for ten shillings.  There was a car of mine, in storage, which was also sold for ten shillings.  It was just a confiscation.  So there we were – having less and less money.

On 20 June, 1940 there was the famous knock at the door at 6 o’ clock in the morning.

Then Dunkirk happened.  The Daily Telegraph had an article saying that Sir John Anderson (2)  had sent round a circular, an order, under which all enemy aliens were to be interned – notwithstanding that all dangerous enemy aliens had already been interned. That same day I said to my firm, Muchel and Partners,  “I think I’m going to be interned tomorrow.”  They said they were only too pleased to hear that, because the British Admiralty had sent a letter saying that they had to terminate the programme because there wasn’t enough wood in England to build formwork for reinforced concrete ships.  The programme folded up and a lot of people were dismissed.  They were only too pleased to let me go.  The Secretary of the firm – the big boss Secretary – said to me that I deserved all I got because “wasn’t it the Jews”, he said, “who’d put Hitler up to this – to declare war on Germany.”  I was a bit shaken by that.  I joked “Look, why not the bicyclists?” – that’s the old joke, you know – “They put Hitler up to it, not the Jews.”

The next day  there was the famous knock at the door at 6 o’ clock in the morning.  A couple of detectives said “Would you please accompany us to the police station.”  I said  “I’ll  gladly come, but would you mind giving me a few hours to see my bank and I assure you I won’t run away.  Where could I go to?”  Little did I know I could have gone, could have disappeared, as a lot of people did.  But I didn’t.  I regularised my affairs.  All three of us – my father, my brother (who had come over to England six months after me in ’33) and myself found ourselves under the internment books.  We were all, including my mother, living in a boarding house.  Females were not included in that Internment Order.  In London everyone was interned.  They rolled over London like a swath.  Each day, a few streets.  We were in the fourth or fifth day of the internment.

On the seventh day there was panic because the camps were full.  They rang up Anderson. Anderson said that that wasn’t the order he’d given.  He said he told the Chief Constables that they were to intern the dangerous aliens that were left.  Some Chief Constables had interned no-one, others said they didn’t know who was dangerous and who was not, because all the dangerous ones had surely already been locked up, and others interned everybody.  I know that north of Fitzjohn’s Avenue, number 45 or thereabouts, north towards Hampstead, that they were interned on the Friday or Saturday.  But by that time internments were stopped.  But we were down in Finchley Road, so we were interned.  We said good-byes – great tears.  I was 26, my brother 21.

We wandered down to the police station.  “What are you worrying about?” said one of the detectives, “you’ll be living on the fat of the land”.  “That’s all I wanted to hear”, I said, “that’s all I needed.  I’d have preferred if you’d been honest with us, instead of telling us a cock and bull story.”  “Mind your p’s and q’s.  No lip please”, he said.  They were very polite.  The rest I can’t remember except arriving at the camp, which was rather overcrowded and very muddy because it had been raining like hell, even though it was June.  It was a big stadium at Huyton. (3)

We were still with our father.  A day or so later my father left for the Isle of Man where he spent the next three months playing cards.  Had quite a good time and was promptly released.  There was a review and all the elderly people were released.  But my mother never heard from us for a long time.

We decided to join a transport to Canada, despite the fact that the Arandora Star, a ship carrying internees to Canada  had been torpedoed and sunk

It was raining like hell and we were all feeling miserable.  A soldier came along to us – an ordinary soldier, and said “Look here chaps, I’ve heard there are transports going and you’ll be well advised to take it because you doubt heard that the Dutch handed over the keys of the internment camps to the Nazis.”  We knew this because we could buy papers in the camp.  “How do you know we’re not going to be over-run next week, so if you can, why don’t you leave?”  My brother and I talked it over.  We decided to join a transport to Canada, despite the fact that the Arandora Star, (4)  a ship carrying internees to Canada had been torpedoed and sunk.  It was certain in those days that the Nazis would come over and take over the country, and it was also quite certain, after the behaviour we had received, that the officials would hand those keys over.  Not necessarily out of anti-semitism, but those Colonels who refused to certify my father Category C, they wouldn’t have cared less, to say the least.

The ship we set sail in was the Dunera.  It was staffed by a contingent of soldiers – we heard afterwards – who were being sent out to the Far East as a punitive action.  They were crotchety soldiers who weren’t much good.  They had been told we were Fifth Columnists and Parachutists.  The people actually sent to the Dunera were a mixture from Huyton whose passports had been stamped C, a smaller number of B’s and some A’s. The A’s were supposed to be Nazis.  Some of them may have been fascists, and some of them were just very good social democrats or communists, who’s passports were stamped A because of the Lordships, the Chairman of the Tribunal, who thought they were more dangerous than any Nazi due to the Molotov Pact.  This was before Russia had entered the war, and had done a deal with Germany. (5).  So there was some method in their madness.

When we arrived we were downstairs in the bunk.  Somebody said to me that they were going to strip us of all our belongings

The Dunera was divided into various decks and each deck was divided up into large numbers of tables, organised along military lines.  We had table captains who were in charge of each table.  I was selected to be one of the table captains.  I was one of the oldest at 26, you see.  All the contingents on the boat had volunteered.  None had come against their will.  Besides the Category A’s and B’s there were perhaps two or three hundred Orthodox Jews, and then there was a vast number of youngsters from 14 to 28. (6)  We had to organise the washing up and the food, and we had to organise negotiations with the Orthodox Jews because they wouldn’t eat any meat and they expected us to give them their jam.  They wouldn’t eat the cheese, so one of the rabbis had to stand in front of them and put a piece of cheese in his mouth to tell them it was alright.  There were tremendous fights because we were expected to give up our jam rations.  We did eventually give it up, so that we had very little jam and lots of meat.  The Dunera was not equipped to carry the numbers that it carried.  It was short of food and water.  As time went on it got less and less and we got undernourished – not because of anyone’s malice – it was simply mismanagement.

The night before we left Britain I spoke to somebody who’d heard a rumour that maybe we were going to Sydney.  I said “Maybe, maybe not, but I’m not going to pass it on.”  After three days the news was passed round that the ship was going to turn around; that we were not going to Canada.  The Canadians didn’t want any more internees.  We were going to Sydney.  My brother wept at the thought.  There were a lot of hysterical outbreaks and I had to pacify half the people who were having fainting fits at our table.  People were upset because Australia seemed so far away and the war didn’t look like ever going to end.  We thought that out there we would forever be living behind barbed wire in the desert.  And as I say, it was so far away.  They were only 14 years of age, a lot of these children.  It’s not very nice being torn away and not knowing what you are going to. These 14 year old children weren’t accompanied by brothers or fathers.  I don’t know how they got there, but they were there alright.  There wasn’t any malice behind this.  It was just chaos because of Dunkirk and Churchill had just taken over.  Churchill had the right kind of instincts.  “We’ve got to do something.”  And like in Germany, you immediately turn on the Jews in your midst, because then you can be seen to be doing something.  That’s why they interned all these people, not because they thought we were going to stab them in the back, but because it looked good.

When we arrived on the Dunera the soldiers were both frightened and angry – there was Dunkirk, there was menace, there were the Germans and here were these parachutists arriving with their suitcases stuffed with goods, apparently.  All they’d brought with them.  The soldiers were pretty cruel – “Come on” – and kicked our behinds.  All the first lot of internees going on board had their suitcases taken from them.  I saw, looking through one of the holds that was still open, these suitcases being sliced open with bayonets and their contents thrown overboard.  Others were luckier and managed to hold onto their suitcases.  When we arrived we were downstairs in the bunk.  Somebody said to me that they were going to strip us of all our belongings.  I had a watch so I quickly took it off and put it in my pocket.  Well, those who were carrying their watches had them taken off them by the soldiers.  There wasn’t much you could do about it.  I later put my watch under my mattress.  One of the senior British captains persuaded the deck captains (the table captains were grouped under a deck captain) that he should look after the all valuables.  “These soldiers are quite untrustworthy.  Collect all your belongings and I’ll put them in a suitcase under my bunk and when we arrive at the other end you  can have them back.”  Well, we never got them back.  They disappeared.  The British Government subsequently paid compensation, very fairly, and I think the Captain was court-martialled.

Eden showed himself in his truest colours.  He said there had been no further shipping of internees out.  He knew only too well there were!

The journey took eight weeks.  On the third day out we were torpedoed.  The torpedo just missed.  It grazed the hull.  All the lights went out and there was a tremendous banging.  Depth charges were dropped.  A pack of U Boats were about.  After that it was quite peaceful.  Later we sat around the latitude of Cape Town whilst constant dispatches were sent between the British and the Australian governments.  The Australian government refused to accept us at first, saying “You send that ship back to England, we don’t want them.  We know what it means – they’ll want to be released.”  The Australians were very tough on immigration.  Before the war you needed something like a £1000 to emigrate to Australia, before they’d let you in.  They eventually relented.  “Alright, as long as they’re treated as prisoners of war and it’s understood they go back again, they can come.”  Those were the conditions.

On the boat we had half an hour’s exercise during the day – and they had machine- gunners up there on top.  That’s all we had – half an hour.  Otherwise we were always under deck, without daylight.  At first the guards were pretty bloody-minded.  When we had the exercises, for instance, they used to hurry us along with their bayonets and keep us on the double.  There were constant attempts on the part of the leadership among the internees to persuade the Captain that we were what we purported to be and not Fifth Columnists, parachutists or Nazis.

At first we talked English because we refused to talk German, partly as a demonstration for the soldiers.  We wanted them to feel we had nothing in common with Germans.  Then there was a big movement among the inmates – “Why should we speak English?  Look how they treat us.  We can’t speak English very well.”  I put up a violenye defence of the English language.  However, it was voted we should not speak English henceforth.  Gradually we managed to persuade the Captain that we weren’t Nazis and slowly treatment got a bit better.  At the same time things got worse because of the shortage of rations, and tempers got worse and worse.

I looked at the thing as a perfectly understandable bloody-minded exercise in confusion.  The young ones, on the whole, saw it like that.  The older ones had persecution mania, naturally.  Armed with paranoia from the Nazis it was the same old persecution again, but if you had your eyes open you could see it was a totally different syndrome.  It was mostly bungling – bungling with individual maliciousness.

We sent telegrams from the ship to the representatives in Britain of the British Jewry and the Home Office.  There were also various people in Britain who kept on badgering away at Anderson and the others such as Eden, about what had happened to all those internees who were at that time on the water.  At first – particularly Eden – they said they knew nothing.  Eden said nothing had happened at all.  Everything was fine!  He knew nothing apart from the Arandora Star.  He was very sorry about that, he said.  There had been no further shipping of internees out.  He knew only too well there were!  It was Peake (7)  who three weeks after we left said “Yes, mistakes have been made”, and that it would take months to rectify them.  “You can’t possibly release everybody”, he said, “because quite clearly there were some dangerous people amongst them.”  Well as you know, not a single person was found to have been a parachutist.  And there we were, in Australia for the duration of the war.

Dunera clip-2005

1. Jack: possibly Giacomo

2. Home Secretary in the wartime Coalition Government

3. Huyton, near Liverpool.

4.  The Arandora Star was torpedoed and sunk on July 2nd, 1940 with the loss of 630 internees out of a total of 1216.

5. The USSR signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany.  The pact created areas of non-aggression on both sides. The Germans could attack Poland without concern that the USSR would mobilise their forces against them.  In turn, part of Poland was designated part of  USSR control,  leading to what became known later as the Katyn massacre:  the execution by the NKVD of  “class enemies”: Polish Army Officers, police officers and members of the intelligentsia, and the forcible removal of  tens of thousands of Polish families, also designated as “Class Enemies” to the Gulags in Siberia.  These were the first mass killings of the war, flowing from ideological beliefs and preceded Nazi mass killings of Jews.   The Pact also allowed the USSR to invade Finland.  The pact held until the Germans attacked the USSR in June, 1941.

6. The Dunera was a troopship, that had been built for a maximum capacity of 1600.  When it sailed from Liverpool it was carrying 2542 internees and approximately 320 soldiers and crew.

7. Anthony Eden, Secretary of War; Osbert Peake, Under-Secretary, Home Affairs.

 

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5 1940: Threat of Invasion

I felt certain the war was over, that we’d lost

Oxford Lad  In 1940 I was working with my father on a building site, driving the lorry.  My father had been in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry.  That’s how he came to be in Oxford, because he volunteered in the 1914 War.  He was from Wales.  At the time of the fall of France most of the blokes on the site, including my father, reckoned we’d had it.  They said the Germans had never got that far in the ’14 – ’18 war.

London Lad  I’d just started work, and I was in work that day it came over that France fell.  My heart really…. – I really felt frightened.  Being Jewish I felt very nervous.  The way France fell so easily – so quick.

Commercial Traveller  I was travelling on the Tube to Edgware and people were getting up making speeches: “It’s about time we caved in to Hitler.  When all’s said and done he’s doing a good job, he’s murdering all those bloody Jews.”  They were probably fascists  (1).

London Evacuee  I saw literally hundreds and hundreds of lorryloads of soldiers coming through the village, coming back from Dunkirk.  Soldiers with no uniforms, in shirts, in a hell of a state, and they would stop in the village and people would give them tea.  I felt certain that the war was over, that we’d lost.  Us kids were horror-stricken, not so much at the thought of invasion of the Germans, but the fact that this was the British army – ‘cos the army, as a kid was undefeatable.  In my house before the war there was four regular soldiers.  My two brothers and two people out of another family.  No-one could defeat them in my mind.  But these soldiers  passing through the village were not only ragged, they were starving.  The lorries were going through the village all day.  Some of them were half-naked.  You couldn’t believe it was an army. They were in a pitiful state.  The next thing was going to be an invasion and we was going to be finished.  I was sure of it.

Forest Gate, East London Woman   I said to my Uncle Albert, around the corner, I said “We’re going to win the war in the end.”   “What makes you think Germany won’t win?”  “The right always comes out on top”, I said, “God wouldn’t let the Germans win.” “I wish I had your faith” he said.

Austrian Refugee  We moved out of London because we were terrified.  In those days Goering broadcast and his frequent boastful words were “We will find them, wherever they are hiding – in the East End, in Hampstead, in Golders Green.” And so one was really terrified.  We moved to Welwyn Garden City.  After the fall of France it was as if there was a heavy cloud hanging over you.  The atmosphere of a catastrophe.  I had personal friends, friends from my home town who had fled to Paris and were rounded up and were sent to Gurs, the French concentration camp.  (2)

My brother-in-law was in the Pioneers.   He had to change his name because they were told “In case you are taken prisoner, you must take an English name.  If you are still called ——— they’ll know you’re Jewish and immediately shoot you.”  So he changed his name to Kirk.  Most of the Germans and Austrians who were in the Pioneer Corps anglicised their names.  As far as we were concerned, we weren’t too worried about being interned by the British because inquiries were made from Mr Wallington, who knew us so well.  It turned out to be so lucky that I had this connection to England.

Conscientious Objector  After I had registered as a conscientious objector the Labour Exchange directed to me one job – a short job – which was hurriedly putting up pill boxes. This was 1940, in Kent. These little pill boxes were going up and they were drumming up every able-bodied person to shovel cement and carry bricks, labouring, in other words.  I did three or four weeks on that job.  I was with a great gang of skilled concrete mixers and bricklayers.  It was my first really hard manual work.  I enjoyed it.

Ex-Tramp  I went down to Taunton in Somerset and got a job with Walls Ice Cream.  I was given a job riding these bicycles with the boxes on the front, and they stop you and buy one.  I used to ride this tricycle out to a place called Kingston, three and a half miles out of Taunton.  A small respectable village.  This was at the time when there were notices  up all over the countryside saying “Beware of German parachutists”.  Two middle aged spinster types stopped me and asked me for an ice cream block and they said to me “What’s happened to the old man who used to do this round”   “What old man?”   “You know, the old man that used to do this round regularly.”  “I don’t know”, I said.  “Everybody in Taunton knows the old man’, they said.  “I only arrived in Taunton yesterday.”  They asked me what my name was.  I told them for I thought they were interested.  I rode on into the village and coming back a police car pulled me up and two coppers asked me who I was, where I’d come from – “What’s this all about?” I said.  “Two old ladies have rung up the police and have said there’s a man riding a Walls ice cream tricycle that looks very foreign, has a foreign accent, and a foreign sounding name” – Which was quite incredible!  We had a long talk and I satisfied them I wasn’t a spy.  A few weeks later when I went back to Bristol and called at my old digs, the landlady asked what I’d been up to, as the police had called to see her and asked if she knew anything about me.  So they checked up in no uncertain manner.  It was quite an unnerving experience.

1.  Fascists:  By the fall of France the leader of the British Union of Fascists, Mosley, had been interned, along with 700 other British  fascists.  Estimates quote the membership of the BUF in 1939 at 20,000.

2. Gurs was in Vichy south west France, and was an internment camp, not a concentration camp.

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4 Evacuation

It was like an auction affair, like a jumble sale

Liverpool Girl  On the Friday before the Sunday when war broke out, they were evacuating all the school kids from Liverpool.  My two younger brothers and my sister, they were the only ones left at school.  They were going to be sent to Wrexham in North Wales.  You had to have all their clothes ready and me Mum was going with them.  She was one of the helpers.  She waited Friday night, all day Saturday – she’d spent pounds on them kids, pounds on clothes and haversacks for every one of them, and the gas mask in a little square box.  I can still picture them going up the street: Joe, Jane and Danny and me Mum.  We walked to Edge Hill Station on the Sunday, with Mrs McKay, a friend, and her three children were also going.  We were all waving.  Me Dad was standing there with tears rolling down his face and I had a bag of grapes to give one of the young ones.  They were all squashed in my hand – I forgot to give them.  We waved to them, come back and we sat at home crying and the announcement came over the radio.  Towards the evening the barrage balloons went up.  “We’re all right now”, said my Dad,  “they’ve gone up.  They’ll save the planes from coming in.”  On Monday about eleven o’ clock I’d just been out shopping – I was left to look after me Dad and brothers – comes home and there’s a telegram: “Send money quick.  We’re starving.”  Needless to say, on Monday night at half past four they were back home.  Me Mum said “I couldn’t stay there.”  After years and years in the one place it’s an awful big upheaval.

East London Boy   The school I went to – what would now be called a primary school – was a Catholic school.  It was a general that if a woman wanted to be evacuated with her children, she was allowed to.  In most of the Church of England schools they did.  But in this Catholic school they made the criteria that you had to be a regular church goer.  So much so, that my Mother who wanted to be evacuated with us, the nuns actually lied to her (she found out afterwards) and said no women were being evacuated.  It didn’t make any difference to her religion.  She still adhered to Catholicism.

My sister was eight and I was nine and a half.  We were all paraded in the school playground.  Well, in our case – and this is no joking – ever heard the old thing about the kid who was too poor to have a Mother or Father – that old joke?  Well, we were too poor to have a playground.  So we were outside the school, in the street, in Chamber Street, just by the City.  My feelings were that I was very sad and unhappy and very miserable.  I was well aware I was going to be taken away somewhere, but it was done on – what shall I say?  Not on a military basis, although you were lined up like that, and you had equipment like the military, like gas masks, and a box of emergency rations and your luggage.  It was done on an institutional basis, if you like, and this made you more sad than the fact you were going away, you being treated like a chattel.  You were all grouped into numbers and your Mother wasn’t even allowed to come to the station with you.  It was a clean break.  We marched to the station, like the old crocodile of kids going to the swimming pool.

West Country Girl  The first evacuees we had were mothers and babies.  They were ordinary working class people from London.  I can’t remember much except people in the village talking about these mothers sitting outside the pub at eleven o’ clock waiting for it to open at lunchtime.  Most of them only stayed a week.  They couldn’t stand it.

Liverpool Mother  We were in a priority area.  We belonged to the South End, between Parliament Street and Hill Street.  The Southern Hospital was in that area, the balloon barrage was included and the ack-ack which they’d begun to set up to guard all the warehouses and the ships.  We had been told that if war broke out that there’d be evacuation of the children without their mothers on the Tuesday.  The mothers who were going with their children, they would go on the Friday.  But it was chaos.  Everything was a complete flop.  We left from Lime Street Station.  We said goodbye to the town and everybody that was in it because we never ever thought we’d see it for a long while.

We got the train to Chester.  We were packed out.  There were no facilities on the trains bringing us down – children were wetting themselves and screaming.  They all had their gas masks and little bundles of clothing and their emergency rations.  The emergency rations were a block of chocolate, a tin of corned beef and a tin of condensed milk.  Well you can imagine children with a block of chocolate!  No such thing as opening and breaking it, so it was all smeared over their faces.  When we did eventually get to Chester, some of the things people wouldn’t believe now.

We got out at Chester and we went on a short bus ride, I don’t know where because of the black-out regulations.  We were put up in this little hall and you were just like – You know how cattle would be in a yard and you’d say I’ll have that one and I’ll have that? – well, if you had more than one child you didn’t have a snowball’s chance of getting anywhere.  A friend of mine had two little girls and she was picked out by this farmer, and of course I was very glad that she’d managed to get somewhere – and this is no exaggeration – when she got to his place – he lived in a little derelict cottage – he told her the children would sleep on the settee and she’d sleep with him.  She came back that same night.

I reckon there must have been about 300 mothers and children left, with no-one to take them.  The officials decided we’d have to go back.  There were no facilities in this little hall they’d taken us to.  Let’s face it, there were certain parts, certain towns that didn’t want to know.  It wasn’t their war.  It was upsetting, naturally.  These big houses, they’d never had children in them and they were asked to take them.  I suppose it’s only human nature.  We came back that same night.

We got to Lime Street early the next morning and the porters opened barrels of apples for us.  They were on the platform waiting to be collected for the fruit market.  After we came back they didn’t try and evacuate us again.  It had been such a huge flop.  Mind you, there were cases where the war was used as a convenience to get rid of children and have one glorious time.  It didn’t matter where they went, whether they liked it or not, so long as they got rid of them.  There was big money to be earned by women then.

One reason the evacuee children were disliked was because people in our village felt they’d been sent the riff-raff, and of course, in a way, they had

Arran Farmer  Arran was swarming with evacuee children.  A big lot came from Glasgow, a big lot came from Greenock, and a dirty lot they were, let me tell you.  Miss Bannatyne at Altana, she had an awful lot of evacuee children coming in, and she prepared a big bowl of soup for them and hardly any of them would take it.  She couldn’t get them to eat civilised food at all.  Tea and fish and chips had been their standard menu.

Somerset Farmer  My Uncle and Auntie had two boys billeted on them.  They were elderly, they’d never brought up a child of their own.  They were what you might say old maids and old bachelors.  Well Auntie took ’em upstairs to put ’em to bed and they dived underneath, on the floor.  She said “You’ve got to get into the bed.”  “Oh no, Daddy and Mummy do sleep in the bed” – they did only ever sleep on the floor, underneath the bed.  Auntie called down “Come up Bill, see what you can do.  I can’t get ’em to go to bed”.  They wouldn’t get in the bed.  All they would do is lie underneath that bed.  She never got ’em very long.  She couldn’t cope with ’em, what with their lice and their funny ways.  The only thing they would eat was fish and chips.  If the mothers of the kids did come down here, all they did think about was going to pub boozing.  We seen ’em in Shepton Mallet shuffling about in carpet slippers, in rags and tatters. They’d go into the pubs, either the Bell, or the Bunch of Grapes, the Black Swan or the Red Lion. They were the pubs ’round the market place.  They’d come out with a pint and they’d give kids no higher than that, and the kids would tip the beer back, just like that, and they never had a penny to bless themselves with.

London Evacuee  One reason evacuee children were disliked was because people in the village felt that they’d been sent the riff-raff, and of course, in a way, they had.  Some of them were very, very rough.  When the kids did arrive they were so different from what they expected them to be.  You’d get a whole train full of children arrive at the nearest station, Glastonbury.  A little old lady was in charge of them and she used to bring them all to the school.   They had a list of names of people – they didn’t have a choice whether they could have them or not.  They had to have them.  They’d say: “Two there, two there” – nobody could pick which children they wanted.  I suppose the number of bedrooms decided it, whether you were going to have two girls or a boy and girl.  They did try to keep them in families, so sometimes you’d get five children in a group.  At school they’d hang together like a little lost knot.  It was a terrifically disturbing time for a child.  Some of them had never seen the countryside before.  Some of them were only about three. It must have been pretty hellish for foster parents to have one or two children crying for days on end.

I was privately evacuated.  I was with my grandmother who came from Somerset.  There was just the one school in —— and it was divided in two.  The London school from Bromley by Bow had their own teachers and headmaster.  I had to go the London class as I was a Londoner.  The two lots didn’t mix.  We had different playtimes.  There used to be near enough war.  Here and in Glastonbury there used to be great gangs of boys.  If a couple of London boys met one of these gangs they’d have a right punch up.  There was a natural dislike.  There still is, to a degree. When my husband started writing his bits for the newspaper there was a bit he wrote about Londoners and it was surprising that I had one or two very snide remarks thrown at me about “blinking evacuees”.  After all these years.  It’s still there, underneath, especially in my age group.  A lot of children disliked each other.  Time has taken care of a lot of it, because a lot of them settled down here, or came back.  Even though my grandmother lived in Somerset I was still made to feel a Londoner.  Actually, the local people – most of them – were really rather wonderful, especially those who didn’t have children.

It was the Poly boys that made the greatest difference because we had some marvellous times with them.  Cycling across the Mendips….

Winscombe, Somerset Girl  We were supposed to be getting young school children as evacuees but we got the Poly boys from the Regent Street Polytechnic, London.

Her Sister  My Mother was in the Red Cross and she was on duty in the council school, down in Sandford Road, and we waited outside to see all these little girls arrive – as we thought – and it turned out they were boys.

Winscombe, Somerset Girl  All these teenage boys!  We thought it was marvellous because we didn’t look at the village boys.  They were beneath us at that age.

Regent Street Poly Boy  We weren’t sure whether we were going to be evacuated because we didn’t consider ourselves school children – we considered ourselves students.  Our ages were 16 to 19.  I don’t even remember getting any notification.  A friend of mine from Ramsden Heath came to see me and said “Shall we go up?”   It was all very haphazard and last minute organisation.  We’d been called back to school and we were in the annexe, Tichfield Annexe behind Peter Robinson’s.  The Poly had a cinema and it was Errol Flynn in Robin Hood, Basil Rathbone playing the Sheriff of Nottingham.  We saw that over and over again for something to do.  Just sitting there.  On a Saturday  morning about six to seven o’ clock I walked through London from Bank, I don’t why Bank because I had to go to Regent Street.  It was a beautiful morning.  The barrage balloons were quite low and the sun was shining on them.

We had to assemble at the Polytechnic and then move off from there.  Most of us were about sixteen.  We weren’t told our destination when we set off.  I now know we were going to Cheddar.  The train went to Cheddar – I remember seeing the Cheddar reservoir and wondering what it was.  From Cheddar we got the bus to Winscombe.  In Winscombe I went to someone called Mrs Hardy, but I only stayed there a few nights as she was expecting girls, and she got two hulking boys.  She said she wasn’t prepared to take us as she obviously couldn’t cope with a couple of lads.  Whoever was responsible took us to Mrs Tripp’s and the first thing she showed us was the outside loo which had just been converted to flush.  For us, at our age, being evacuated was one great adventure.

Winscombe, Somerset Girl  We distinguished with the Poly boys.  The “In” ones were the prelims – the engineers and draughtsmen.  We didn’t take much notice of the hairdressers or the tailors.  It was snobbishness.  You don’t get that so much today with young people.  But we had a firm line drawn.  Although we lived in a council house, the people who lived in the council houses in Sandford were considered a rougher lot.  Although there were quite a few Jewish boys from the Poly I don’t think there was any feeling against them in the village.  Except I remember my mother saying that somebody had a boy who was Jewish and they couldn’t understand that he wouldn’t eat bacon.  They couldn’t understand it, that’s all.  It was the holidays we dreaded because they all went back to London.  We would be at the station when they came back from holiday.  We had two Poly boys in our house, one at a time.  In the back bedroom.  The one who stayed longest, he was younger than us.  We never thought of him as a boy.  He was like a brother, Charlie.

Jewish Boy  Evacuated?  I can tell you a story about that!  One of the first lessons I learned about the kind of society I lived in – I was fourteen when the war broke out and I got evacuated to Norfolk.  The teacher made a speech about these boys of fourteen, still going to school, they should go and make a war effort – right anti-semitic bastard he was –  they should be working on the land, and like an idiot I sucked it all in.  So I left school.  I went to work on a farm.  Because I’d left the school I got chucked out of the digs where I’d been.  They was compelled to take evacuees, and once I left school I wasn’t an official evacuee.  So they said “Piss off.”  I had to find my own lodgings – at fourteen.  Mind I didn’t work at this farm long.  I thought this is no life, cleaning out the pigsties in the morning, all the shit, then feeding the animals, and then harvesting, carrying great bags of chaff.  It was ten bob a week. (1)    That was the going rate for fourteen years of age in 1939.  After three weeks I said  “That’s enough for me, I’m going home to Mum and Dad.”  Not that it was much of a home.

Pilton, Somerset Woman   I couldn’t read until I was eight and when I did start to read I could read everything, all at once.  So I could read terribly long words and everything.  So I started to read the the Daily Express, (2)  that’s what we took, you see, and in there on the front page, it was the first thing I ever read in any newspaper about two boys who had been evacuated to Norfolk, to an army officer’s wife.  There was a court case about it and it was found out she had tried to put one boy through the mangle and she’d locked the other one in a coal house for so many days on end, and everything their parents had sent them from the East End, like fresh vegetables they got from Covent Garden – she’d taken.  She’d taken their boots and sewed them, their clothes that were sent and re-sewed them.  That really stuck in my mind, because the mother of the two boys had gone up there because she hadn’t heard from them and she found out this stuff was being confiscated, and of course, what had happened, and she hit the army officer’s wife, and she  got taken to court for assault!

It was the first time I realised that people could be so cruel.  About two years ago we went to London, and coming back on Friday night we had to run like hell for the train at Paddington – and we found ourselves sitting opposite a chap, and we started talking to him.  He was about our age and he was living in the suburbs of London and he was buying a dress shop in Devon – ‘cos his kids were teenagers and he wanted to get them out of the London scene.  We were talking about the war and he said: “You must have experienced evacuees”, and I told him about this newspaper report, and he said “Guess who’s sitting opposite you.”  I said “I can’t believe it.”  He said: “Look at my hands.”  He didn’t smoke and for all the time he’d kept his hands tucked in under his arms.  He brought his hands out and they were all curved up, the fingers.  His brother, he said, suffered more because it came out on him psychologically afterwards.  His brother was younger and it was him who was shut in the coal house.  His mother had gone and battered this woman about the head, and she got fined £60.  Nothing at all happened to the officer’s wife!   She said the boys were being naughty.  This chap said he didn’t normally hate anyone, but he said he would have no compunction at all about strangling her if he got hold of her.  Because she was an absolute bastard.

I am an unusual case of an evacuee, because I had a very bad experience, myself and a few others.

East London Boy  This was an exception rather than the rule.  It would be unfair to say otherwise.  I was nine and a half when war broke out.  I was evacuated with my sister.  My sister was eight.  The journey took three or four hours.  One consolation of it all, which kept our spirits up, was that amongst the emergency rations was beautiful slab chocolate.  Really beautiful.  Our rations were sandwiches and this chocolate.  Prior to being evacuated the only countryside I had seen was in Essex, on the dockers’ outing to Theydon Bois.  And that was a matter of luck, because there was a raffle to see who could go on the outing.  And that was your limit of knowing of the countryside.

When we arrived at Aston Clinton – it was between a place called Aylesbury, famous for its ducks and the other way was Tring – we were put into a hall.  When we got in the hall most of the kids were being allocated to their places, and there was only a few of us left.  We was getting a bit concerned about that.  It was like an auction affair, like a jumble sale.  What happened was, the local population who were going to take evacuees (and they were well paid for this, they didn’t do it for patriotism or bombs), they came along and looked at you, and if they liked the look of you, they took you.  We were amongst the last half dozen.

We thought we wasn’t going to get anyone.  As they took them, they went, and you were left there in a big hall, in a strange place.  Young children are not used to that.  In the end a woman – I can see her now – she was a woman of about 22, a blonde, and her name was Mrs Frost, and she took us.  She was a very poor woman.  We learned that her husband was in the army and she had a little baby.  She lived in the very last house in the village – it was at least two miles from the centre of the village.

It was a very small house.  There were two rooms in the front and two rooms in the back. The toilet was in the garden.  A chemical one and there was a cesspool at the bottom of the garden.  It was September, the weather was very good, but the cesspool was still swampy and stank.  The woman was very, very good.  Very good woman.  The food was good.  She even took the bother to walk us to school, which was a distance of two miles.  The village was over-populated with children.  The London kids – I don’t know whether it was the delight of seeing the countryside – immediately declared war on the local kids and there were a lot of stoning battles.  I’m happy to say we outnumbered them.

But as I said, this woman not only took us to school, but fetched us as well, but unfortunately for us I was a…. – to put it as nice as I can: a precocious child – in other words: a spoilt little bastard!  I played her up so much she wrote to my mother – (and talk about fucking poetic justice, what happened afterwards) –  that she could no longer tolerate me.  She would keep Annie, my sister, but not me because I would throw stuff at her and tear the place up.  Why did I do it?  I suppose I did it because I didn’t want to be away from home at nine and half years of age.  It might be that, or that up until the age of eighteen, nineteen when I was a guest at a military prison for a long time, I was always a bit hard to get on with.  I came from a volatile district and a volatile family.

My contemporaries were the Butler gang and the Krays

In my school it was nothing to have a bloke come and cosh you and take your dinner money or beat the daylights out of the teacher.  (I’m talking about after I came home from evacuation).  Anyway, this woman would no longer have us.  We were then taken to another house.  We were delighted because as a child it looked bigger than it was.  It was a bungalow.  It was fairly modern, with a big front garden, a big back garden.  Part of the garden was partitioned off and they kept hundreds and hundreds of chickens.  We’d never seen chickens like this – well, we’d never seen a chicken dead or alive, because chicken had never been on my fucking menu until I was gown up.

Our pleasure at seeing this place was soon crushed.  The people who lived in the bungalow were called —-.  There was a Mr —-, he was a local Home Guard merchant, there was a Mother —-, then they had a girl called —–, who was the local sex queen, and her younger sister, about twelve, who was trying to follow in her footsteps, and they had a son called —-.  Then there was me and my sister, a family called the Don family who I knew from my school – Woofy Don, there was two of them.  Then there was Bernard and Aaron Saunders who were a Jewish family.  Six eveacuees they had.  Listen how many rooms they had!  They had three bedrooms and a front room.  Six evacuees, three of their own and themselves.  So us evacuees more or less slept in the same room.

terry chicks001

All we ever saw of a chicken was on a Saturday night when they boiled a chicken they would put various vegetables in it, they would serve the family, and then the remains of the soup would be our meal, our main meal.  What made it worse, each day they would retain the pot and add water to it, but no more chicken or peas or anything else.  By the second day it was just greasy water.

He was doing it for the money, the money he was getting for us six evacuees. (3)  It came to such a position that we used to wait till late at night till everybody had gone to bed and climb out the window – in fact the son showed us (the girl showed us many things) where the food was kept for the chickens, which we were more interested in, than seeing the genital organs of a young girl!  I would climb through the window and I’d get into where they kept the chicken grub, which was bread.  He had greengages as well that he used to flog, and I’d nick some of them and share with my sister.  I wouldn’t give the Jew boys none because I was anti-semitic then.  I used to up them now and again.  We became great friends when we grew up, as it happens.

Our families used to send parcels of food.  This was stolen as soon as it arrived

Every item was stolen.  All our toys, all our clothing that would fit members of other families, and they dictated our letters.  And you’ve got to consider, even as young as we were, we didn’t want to write and tell our parents how bad it was, because in my case my old man had died, my brothers were away in the army, and my mother had enough problems without any of this.  And the others, for a variety of reasons, wouldn’t write to their parents.  This must have gone on, all in all, for about six months.

My sister Annie had beautiful long hair and it was falling out.  And scabs were coming on our heads and bodies.  It came to light some way or another and there was a big upheaval.  As a result we were transferred to an evacuee hospital at a place called Waddesdon.  We learned that we had malnutrition and impetigo.

We were confined to bed for a long period.  Not only us, by the way, all the other evacuees in the house too.  The only time we were up was for continual sulphur baths to get rid of the scabies and impetigo.  And this is an interesting thing: after this happened and I returned to Aston Clinton, I found that my friend Mo had been transferred to this bastard.  Fortunately before Mo got in that state he came to London with us.  It was better to be bombed to death than starved to death.

1. Ten bob:  Fifty pence

2. The Daily Express had the largest national daily circulation at the time.

3. 10/6d per week for the first evacuee child, and 8/6d for every subsequent child.  Six evacuee children equalled £2.13.0d.  (£2.65 p). The average wage in 1939 varied between £2 and £3 per week.

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3 The Day War Broke Out

It’s that vivid that Sunday morning when they said war had broke out.  I said to myself “What are you crying for?”

Somerset Girl  I was with my mother and she was talking to someone and they must have been discussing Munich and I can remember feeling cold, a sort of fear.  That’s the one time I ever thought of war.  It made me feel quite cold.  I was fourteen.

East London Boy  I started working as a tally clerk in the wharves down in Wapping in 1937 – I used to check in waterside and book out landside – tally up the books.  I remember seeing on my way to work posters saying “The War in 1938”.  So they knew it was coming.  The ARP (1)  had exercises down the docks.

Essex Boy  We had things bunged through the letter box by the ARP – “What to do?”  I went around filling up all the cracks in the floorboards, taping up the cracks round the windows, arranging a blanket seal over the door.  That was in the sitting room.  That was going to be the gas room.  This was 1938.

2nd East London Boy  When they issued the gas masks it wasn’t panic, but there was lots of exaggeration and rumour about the possibility of gas raids.  Lots of it.  In my area, Stepney, they issued gas masks about a fortnight before the war was declared.  I was nine and a half.  They took us to a Free Church kind of mission.  They used the hall to issue them.  That was a bit of a frightening experience.  I felt horrible putting this gas mask on.   Everybody had to try them on.  I got a terrible feeling about this bloody gas mask.  When I put it on, like any mask, when you breath you can’t see out of it.

2nd Somerset Girl  We had these  gas masks which we always used to carry everywhere, which used to get bashed to bits, because we used to have fights with them.  And every time a new gas was discovered, they’d bring out a new filter, which they’d stick on the bottom of the muzzle.  Mine ended up nine inches long, with so many filters stuck on.  Heaven knows if gas had come how many of them would have been any good.

You used the gas mask cases for keeping your sandwiches and your pencils in.  It was a great thrill when they brought out a new design gas mask case.  At Christmas we had a gas mask case for a present.  Gas masks were an everyday part of your life, but our great ambition was to have one like the ARP had – a sort of one with a big tube that came down.  They got so heavy with extra bits stuck on the bottom, you had them strapped over your head, and they had to fit tight round the face.  And you’d breathe in as you breathed out, and all the air would come out of the side of your face and make terribly rude noises!  And you’d try and make the rudest noise you could!  Although we carried our cases every day, it wasn’t necessarily gas masks we’d have in them, because they got so heavy.  As I say, sandwiches and pencils and your gloves.   So every week the teachers would choose a different day to make you open your case, to see if you had your gas mask.  The gas masks used to have a terrible smell of rubber.  I remember my sandwiches having this  taste of rubber.

London Woman  It was about 11 o’ clock when Chamberlain declared war. (2)  I was indoors on my own, and the siren went at the same time.  We knew it was the warning because that’s what they said it would be, this up and down….  I was petrified – rooted to the spot.  It was the thought of all the things you had heard about war because my Dad used to talk about the First War.  Course, nothing happened.  It was just the warning.

3rd Somerset Girl  I hadn’t gone to church that day.  I can’t remember why.  My mother and father had gone.  I heard it on the radio.  It was so thrilling, and going to school on Monday, taking our gas masks.  But what did horrify me was the Micky Mouse thing for babies, and I thought “Fancy having to put a baby in something like that.”

London Man  I was down at Canvey Island.  My friend Tom and I went down every weekend.  We had this Morris 10.  It was a year old.  It cost £95.  There used to be an old couple there with a couple of daughters.  They used to think the world of me.  Down at Canvey Island it was all wooden shacks and there were a couple of Clubs.  One was Labour and one was Conservative.  In those days I was Labour.  We used to go to the dances of a Saturday night, and we used to sleep in the shack of this couple.  They were very very poor.  We used to come back Monday morning.  We used to leave Canvey at six and go straight to work in Ilford.  On that Monday when we got on the Southend Road you could see hundreds of barrage balloons that had gone up, against the skyline.  It was really frightening.  Funny feeling.

Young Glasgow Man  That sunday war was declared, me and my mates,  we were full of excitement.  The night war was declared I stood in Whiteinch, cracking jokes, looking up in the sky, expecting to see a German bomber.  Nothing happened.  Quite disappointed.

Liverpool Mother   It’s that vivid that Sunday when they said war had broke out. I said to myself “What are you crying for?”  I suppose at the back of my mind my husband would have to go to war.  When I came out onto the street, everybody must have been under the same… – when you looked at people, the expression on their faces.  It was a Sunday.  Everything was still.

Course, we had some laffs.  We expected once war broke out, air-raids and bombing.  I had gone for a walk with our Sheila with  one of the boys with me, and a siren went for the first time.  I stood still.  I didn’t know whether to run or walk.  I’d been to the library.  I pushed the little pushchair over to the Mount.  To go into the Mount it’s up St James Road but it comes onto a big slope – the hearses with the horses used to come down this.  If you started to run you couldn’t stop, so you had to trot.  And when you came there it’s a big rock been hewn out – a big tunnel part and then you’re into the cemetery.  Quite a few people made their way to this.  I was thinking “Ooh, I wonder what’ll happen to our Jimmy?”  I’d left him with Nana.  This was all going through my mind and all of a sudden – you know Liverpool humour – this man says “Tomorrow’s Headlines: Making Their Own Way to the Cemetery.”   Within five minutes there was a battle going on.  Some people didn’t think it was very funny, but there was no bombs, no planes, and the all-clear went, so we went home.

1.  ARP:  Air Raid Precautions.

2.  September 3rd, 1939.

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2 The Jewish Emigres

My Parents were Jewish, so things began to go downhill after 1930

The German  My parents were Jewish so things began to go downhill after 1930.  In the years between 1928 and 1933 (when I matriculated) there were a lot of fights at school, a lot of anti-semitism and anti-foreign sentiment too.  This was in middle Germany, in a town called Mainz, near Frankfurt.  Our class was predictably divided  into an ever-growing majority of either Nazis or right-wingers, and an ever-decreasing minority of moderates, centre left wing or Jewish people.  I think we had about another three Jewish children in our class and we were always being attacked.

It wasn’t an easy life.  In fact it wasn’t an easy life from my earliest childhood.  When I was four I was trying to play marbles at school and suddenly the children burst into saying “Just a Jewboy, Jewboy, Jewboy.”   That imprints itself on your mind, and very few members of my generation somehow never really got over that.  They always keep a somewhat paranoid stance.

My parents were business people, who had always planned that my brother and I – there was just the two of us – should take over the business, which was three or four department stores scattered throughout Germany, the main one in Mainz.  After matriculating in March my father had arranged for me to spend a period of what is effectively an apprenticeship at one of the major department stores in Berlin.  I had visited them with my father.  I’d got the appointment and I was due to take it up in May or June.  Well in May I got a letter from the Personnel Chief saying that the Personnel Chief who had appointed me had been dismissed because he was a Jew.   They knew I was Jewish and said they had no place for me.  They were very sorry, but no appointments could be made.

My parents had always intended for me to spend six months in France and six months in England, to learn the language, so they said “You might as well got England now, things will blow over in six months time.”   My father arranged for me, through a mutual business friend of his, to become apprenticed as a kind of male au-pair girl in a downquilt factory which was situated in London – Finsbury Square.  I arrived at Dover on July 30, 1933 and waddled down with my handbag to the immigration people.  “No, you can’t come in.  Who are you?  Where’s your permit to stay?”  “I haven’t got one.”   “But you have to have one.”   I was marched straight back again, having been given permission to ring up Mr Russell, who was in charge of that factory.  He negotiated with the immigration authorities to give me a four weeks visitor’s visa.  I was marched back from the ship and told I could enter on condition that I immediately report at the Foreign Office in Whitehall.  I did this the week after I arrived.  After about three hours waiting I was seen and I was given a four weeks visa.  This had to be renewed for another four weeks, another three hour wait, and so on, every time.  And then they gave me a six month visa – a kind of student visa, which was renewed.

My contacts with the English were limited to the people in the boarding house in Finchley Road where I stayed and the few people I met in the factory.  In the boarding house there was a very charming, sweet little girl, full of prejudices – a representative I now know of millions of boarding house inmates –   full of good works for “you poor chaps, you poor foreigners” – always aware of a deep dividing line between the British and the rest of the world.  In addition there was a Captain who had been retired after the war and had lost his place in life.  And a Major and his wife – both of whom dressed up in dinner dress at night to come down and dine.  Her ladyship did too, pearls and all.  But all of them totally lost.  Not comprehending what was going on.  There was also a stockbroker’s clerk.  I had very little to do in the factory – I think they paid me £3 in three months.  Down in the basement I would go through the old downquilts that had been sent in for recovering and talk about the state of the world with this cockney who worked there.  Upstairs I would talk with the office girls, the typists.  In the evenings I went home and read Shakespeare and, believe it or not, Ulysses.  So from these different sources I learnt my English.  I had no knowledge which was the right kind of  English, but I learned as much English in three months as I know now, which is to say not very much.

After a while working in this factory didn’t satisfy me.  What I really wanted to do was to study philosophy, because they told me in Germany at school “You must become a philosopher.”  I didn’t think that was much good and I thought the next best thing would be a psychiatrist, psychologist.  I told my mother, who always came visiting from Germany.  She said I was a half-wit, that my brains weren’t worth very much!  She roared with laughter.  I accepted her verdict.  Few people would accept such verdicts nowadays from their parents, but that gives you some idea what I was like.

I sat the Licentiate Exam of the Institute of Builders and passed, but I wasn’t allowed to register.  They wrote and Said “Sorry, we can’t do anything for enemy aliens”

I decided I had to do something and so I went to the Brixton School of Building and Building Technology in Ferndale Road and took a 4 years course.   After a while I realised I wasn’t cut out for a builder and that I wanted to become a structural engineer.  So I did strength of materials, theory of structure, concrete design and so forth and graduated in 1936 with First Class honours.  I sat the Licentiate Exam of Builders and passed, but I wasn’t allowed to register.  They wrote and said “Sorry, we can’t do anything for enemy aliens.”  This was just before the war broke out.  At first I couldn’t get a permit to work but eventually through my former college I became an assistant designer with a firm in Queen Anne’s Gate.  I stayed with them for  a year and then I joined the largest reinforced concrete consulting firm in London – Mouchell and Partners.  At the time of Munich (1) I was sent up to Newcastle upon Tyne to help the reinforced concrete shelter design and watertower design.

England was very sticky about immigration.  Jews or no Jews, persecution or no persecution, there was a very limited quota

I saw the writing on the wall because of the Munich crisis, and I tried desperately to get my parents out.  But England was very sticky about immigration.  Jews or no Jews, persecution or no persecution, there was a very limited quota.  The conditions introduced were that you had to have a British guarantor.  At that time I had a girlfriend whose cousin played guarantor for my parents.  They got out of Germany six weeks before the war started.

A few steps before me a woman was walking.  When she heard and saw the aeroplanes she fell on her knees, stretched up her hands and shouted: “Hitler!  Hitler!  Come down to us!”

The Austrian  To tell the story I’d better begin with the Anschluss.  The Anschluss came on the 12 March, 1938.  That was the day Hitler arrived in Vienna.  The Anschluss had been very well prepared, and had been prepared for over a year, I might say.  The Fifth Column had been very active in Austria and if the Jewish population had had any sense at all they would have got out earlier.  But the Austrians, whether Jewish, or Gentile who were not National Socialist or friendly towards the Nazis, always thought “Oh, it won’t be so bad in Austria.  The Austrians are kindly, easy go lucky people.  They’ll never be as bad as the German Nazis.”  Freud thought so too.  But they were mistaken.

In March my son was about three months old.  On the day of the Anschluss I was going shopping and pushing the baby in the pram, along the street, when suddenly a swarm of aeroplanes flew over in formation.  I lived in a small town near Vienna – Baden, a small provincial town.  A few steps before me a woman was walking.  When she heard and saw the planes she fell on her knees, stretched up her arms and shouted “Hitler! Hitler! Come down to us!”  I’ve never forgotten that.   So you see, part of the Austrian population were willing to accept Hitler with open arms.  The trouble was, if the Church, the Catholic Church in Austria had set an example and opposed Hitler, the population (who are very strong, very staunch Catholics, and a little naive I may say – not like the Anglo Catholics – it’s a kind of peasant catholicism in Austria) if they had opposed Hitler the population would have followed the Church.  As it happens, the Archbishop of  Vienna, of the day, Archbishop Innitzer welcomed Hitler at Vienna airport in the way Emperors were welcomed in cities in the Middle Ages – that is, the priest walking  to meet the conquerors in full Church regalia, bearing the monstrance, ready to give him the blessing. As the Church went over to Hitler completely, that was the sign for the population.

All hell broke loose.  There were a lot of shady elements in Vienna and the surrounding areas – prostitutes, pimps, pickpockets – people ready to benefit from the dispossession of others. Like rats they crawled out of their corners. Everything was well organised.  All the young people joined the SA or the SS – the Sturmabteilung, and the better class the Sturmstaffel.  They were an elite corps.  The very crack regiment were the SS Totenkopf – Death Head Brigade – because they wore the black jackboots, the black uniform with the silver insignia and the cap with the skull and crossbones.  All the people who had “A” levels, or university degrees  – these young people automatically became members of the higher ranks in the SS and Totenkopf  brigade.

Life became – I wouldn’t say unbearable – but as if you were living under a black cloud, because you knew you had to get out eventually.  People frantically wrote to friends abroad trying to find a visa – it was impossible.  The summer passed and the autumn passed in this – for Jewish people – terrible way.

My husband and his brothers owned a factory of water-filters.  They had been exporting to America and England.  In the summer of 1938 all Jewish owners of businesses and factories were dispossessed.  This process was called Aryanisation.  My husband and his brothers were forced to sell to an Aryan German firm.  It was only nominally a sale.  No money changed hands.  They had to give away their cars.  Whatever was in the factory of their own belongings was taken.  From one day to the next they were out of work.  People lost their jobs if they were employed by the State.

I was running a small language school at a place near the town.  Aryan people no longer came to be taught but I was still earning money because every Jewish person rushed to speak English.  I had a very large class where everyone had to pay only a very little because people didn’t earn money any more.  A very strange thing then happened that depressed us very much.  All my pupils, who were almost the entire population of that small town, asked me to fill in application forms for them, for emigration to Australia, to Canada – trying desperately to get a visa.  You could find out from the embassies of these countries what professions would be likely to find work.  My husband was an engineer and they all wanted engineers, but the strange thing is that every one of my pupils whose application form I filled in and who I wrote a testimonial for got a visa, and we were refused – by Australia, by Canada and until today I’ve no idea why.

The SS major said to me very quietly “Have you no friends abroad to whom you could write”

Then came the infamous Reichskristallnacht – Crystal Night, November 10.  It got that name because the Nazis were officially encouraged to break into Jewish homes and smash everything, and from the bits  and pieces of china and glass the name arose. (2)   In this night all the Jewish men they could get hold of were rounded up and taken to the local police station.  On the following day they were made to scrub the pavements of the main public square.  Stormtroopers had spat on the pavement and they stood around in a circle laughing whilst the men had to scrub it off.

My flat was taken over by a major in the German army and my furniture was taken away. I was very childish – I was young, and I greatly valued my furniture as you can imagine.  I had not been married very long and I set great store by that.  It was heart-breaking for me.  But all that was nothing, nothing when my husband was taken to the Vienna main police station with other Jewish men, where they received a sound beating, and because on the day before the Kristallnacht the refusal of our visa application had arrived, he had that in his pocket and he was sent to Dachau.  Then of course I didn’t mind whether the furniture was there or not.  That was nothing.  Life became the real nightmare then.

They sealed the flat with a huge seal with the German eagle, and they only allowed me to put my coat on, to dress the child, to take one woollen blanket and a potty, and that was how they put me out of the flat.

They took me and the baby down to some barracks outside the town.  In the barracks they had already locked up well known socialists and communists of this town.  There was an old man there – a communist – and he said to a soldier “Look, if you keep this woman and this child here overnight I guarantee the child will be dead by tomorrow night through lack of milk and water.”  I was paralysed with fear, I just cried.  I didn’t protest.  I was young then, about 25, and one’s afraid of soldiers after all, especially if they are enemy soldiers.

There was a Major there, an SS major and he overheard this.  He apparently had some decent feelings because he told me “Get into my car.”  He took me and the baby back to the town.  On the journey the SS major said to me quietly “Have you no friends abroad to whom you could write?”   “But Major,” I said, “we have been told it is forbidden to write abroad about what is happening, because when they broke into my flat they told me not a word of this must be breathed to anyone.  I’m afraid to write because some revenge might be taken against my husband in Dachau.”  He said quietly “Get some paper and write as quickly as you can.”  It was very decent of him.  He let me get out at the house where the flat was.  The landlady’s flat had not been taken away.  She was a Jewish woman as well and she allowed me to stay there as I didn’t know where to go.

I knew England as the country of John Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga

A couple of years before, when I was a student at Vienna university, I had spent a summer in England.  It had been arranged by a branch of the National Union of Students.  It was a camp on the Isle of Wight.  At the camp was a middle aged schoolteacher from Ilford County High School – a science teacher with a group of boys.  His name was Mr Wallington.  He took some interest in me because I spoke English fairly well and he spoke German.  He had friends in Germany.  After the Isle of Wight our Viennese group spent a fortnight in London.  Mr Wallington very kindly invited me to spend a day with his family in Gants Hill, Ilford.  When the SS major told me to write, I wrote to Mr Wallington.  He was fantastic.  He went to the Jewish Refugee organisation at their headquarters in Woburn House, in Woburn Square, London and said  “I’m a teacher.  I’m not a man of means, I cannot help the family financially, but I will guarantee their good character.  I will be their moral sponsor.”

The miracle happened.  I got a letter from the British Embassy to come and collect my visa.  Now came the next step.  With this visa I now had to try to get my husband out of Dachau.

The headquarters of the Gestapo in Vienna had to give orders to the Commandant of Dachau concentration camp to release this prisoner.  This was very, very hard.  Not only did you have to show the visa, but you also had to prove all taxes had been paid.  I could prove we had paid our personal taxes but they also required proof that all the taxes on the business had been paid, before it passed into Aryan hands.

Now here I was, having no idea of business.  My brother-in-law was in Vienna and was terrified the same thing might happen to him.  In Vienna it wasn’t so easy to round up all the Jewish men.  It was a large city.  It couldn’t be done.  But in a small town it was different, where you knew everyone, and where your former non-Jewish friends were only too eager to say “Yes!  There’s one in that flat, and there’s one in that flat” – and did it joyfully.

I must tell you, too, that whilst I was in my landlady’s lodgings the little baby had to eat and drink, of course.  I went to the dairy, to the dairy woman who for years had supplied our daily milk.  My mother had been her customer.  I had been her customer.  She refused to sell me any milk.  I asked her why.  ”My son”,  she said  “is in the SS and he has forbidden me to sell any milk to Jews.”   The same thing happened at the bakers, and so on and so forth.  It was partly fear and now I think I can understand it better because few people are heroes.  It’s definitely hard for the individual to stand out from the mass.  If all the people had risen together in rebellion it would have been very different.  But I’m convinced that it’s terribly hard for one individual to stand out and speak out.

Overnight Gentile friends turned into strangers.  The strange thing is, propaganda had such an influence.  The Jews were labelled as sub-human – Untermenschen.  People really believed it, including the people who had known you as a child, who had grown up with you.  Propaganda is an awfully strong weapon.

With the taxes, I was told I had to go to the Town Council of Baden to get them to put down on paper that all the taxes of the factory had been paid, and that they had to fix their seal to the document.  I consulted a man who had been my husband’s business consultant – their chief accountant – and I managed to remember all the figures and I could furnish all the proof.  I cannot remember how I managed to do that.  I think when you are really desperate you are able to do things which normally would be beyond you.

To obtain a hearing at the Gestapo place you had to queue up at 5 o’ clock in the morning.  There were queues stretching down the road.  The entrance was guarded by some of these jackbooted SS people.  The queues were all women – all the women who’s husbands were in concentration camps.  The soldiers took great delight in kicking us with their boots.  They kicked us with their boots and shouted “Dirty Jewess, will you keep in line!”, and so on.  But I must say, if you’re desperate, things don’t hurt you.  In this way I was able to eventually to get my husband out, after he had been four months in Dachau.

Mr Wallington met us at Croydon airport.  I felt very relieved but my husband felt very much afraid.

When he came back I wouldn’t have known him.  They shaved him completely and he was emaciated.  He never spoke much about his stay.  He only told  few things.  It was winter. He had ben arrested in November.  He was there until February.  Dachau is on the Dachau Moors, a lonely moor in Bavaria.  The men were lined out for the morning roll-call and evening roll-call, standing in deep snow in their bare feet and only wearing pyjama trousers.  My husband was a little over 30.  Older men often fell and were shot.  Their ashes were sent back to the family.  “Shot whilst trying to escape.”  That was the story.  My husband told me it took him all his will power to stand still without moving a muscle.  It was fun for the guards.  They could make the people stand for an hour, two hours, or even longer.  They made them do exercises in the snow.

When they released him he had to sign a form that he would be out of Austria within one week.  Fortunately he had a brother in Zurich where we could stop off for my husband to grow some hair before he came to England, and he had all sorts of wounds and sores from bayonet beatings.  Switzerland was terrified of the Nazis and would give Jewish refugees only a fortnight’s stay.

On the journey out of Austria there was a last search for jewellery on the train.  We had to give it up anyway – we had no jewellery.  They made my husband strip and a SS woman took me and my child into an empty compartment which was icy cold and she made us strip and searched us in a very nasty manner for hidden jewellery – in the most revolting manner.  My child caught a cold and had an inflammation of the middle ear as a result.  He had to have a slight operation in Switzerland, and then we came to England.

Mr Wallington met us at Croydon Airport.  I felt very relieved but my husband felt very much afraid.  They had broken the men in the concentration camp.  He had been a happy, cheerful young man, an excellent sportsman.  He had won skiing trophies in the Tyrol.  He had been an excellent swimmer, a footballer, a tennis player.  But the joy of life had gone out of him.

We had to register with the police.  The Refugee Institution paid support.  They gave us £3 a week, whilst my husband was not allowed to work.  With the police we had to go on regular pilgrimages to Bow Street police station.

One frightening thing, according to your initial of your name in the alphabet you were given a certain day to collect the refugee benefit from Woburn House.  There were vast crowds and everyone told you not to talk about a thing, because there were rumours – and I do not know whether they were well founded or not – that the Nazis had spies disguised as Jewish people, partly even speaking Yiddish, which I don’t speak, or Hebrew, to listen to conversations of refugees and report about them.  There was an atmosphere of suspicion and fear.  You didn’t know if the man standing next to you was genuine or not…..

The German  During the famous “Crystal Night”  my father had been arrested and interned at Buchenwald.  He spent three weeks at Buchenwald until my mother got him out by bribing some Nazi authorities in Darmstadt, the local land capital.  He came out more dead than alive.  He had caught pneumonia in hospital and was very weak when he arrived.  He never recovered his former self.  He had been pretty badly treated.  He had to sign a piece of paper saying that he would not communicate the fact that he had been interned to anyone.  Nor did they give him any certificate that he had been sent to a concentration camp.  The German authorities were ready to let them leave (he had signed an undertaking that he would leave) provided they handed in all their valuables.  Because they weren’t allowed to take anything out my mother thought “What shall I do?”

I had to constantly side with the British so that she wouldn’t feel too embittered

She had a couple of rings and a fur coat.  I got a friend of my girlfriend to go to Germany and bring that blessed fur coat out by wearing it.  She arrived at Dover a month before my parents were due to arrive and was promptly spotted. “What’s that fur coat?  Doesn’t look like you.”   She stammered “It’s my fur coat.”  But she couldn’t prove it and she spilt the beans.  After they arrived my parents found themselves with a Customs court case, for attempting to smuggling, for which they took the blame.

We briefed a barrister and the case came up – (and this throws a sidelight on the “rectitude and correctness” of British authorities).  Our barrister very nicely explained, although he wasn’t much good, that the girl had instructions not to say anything because it might get back to Germany and then my parents would undoubtedly find themselves in prison.  So she hadn’t said anything.  My parents had meanwhile arrived and their passports had been stamped “Refugees from Nazi Oppression.”  Would that not be sufficient?  “No”‘ said the presiding magistrate.  “Confiscation of your fur coat and the two diamond rings” plus the usual customs duty which was £300 plus a £400 fine.  (3)

That was all the money my parents had managed to bring out and they paid it over, and were thereafter penniless.  That’s justice for you!  Dad could never get over that.  It was terrible.  My mother said  “They had to be taken by these people!”  She could imagine the Nazis taking them, but why should the British?  I had to constantly side with the British so that she wouldn’t feel too embittered, which didn’t endear myself to my mother very much.  I had a little bit of money and we then tried to buy a house in Newcastle upon Tyne.  But the war broke out and the building society refused to sanction the mortgage because we were enemy aliens.

The Austrian  When we arrived in England, at first Mr and Mrs Wellington allowed me and the child to stay with them in return for some help I gave them.  Meanwhile my husband had to have a little room in London and he occasionally came to see me at week-ends.  He was unhappy.  Bitterly unhappy. After a month and a half at Mr Wallingtons (I think Mrs Wallington was a little disappointed) I asked them if they would mind if I went to London to join my husband.

I had helped Mrs Wallington with the housework and I remember bringing early morning tea with the biscuits, knocking at the bedroom door and presenting them with this.  Then getting the breakfast ready downstairs.  Very English: frying rashers of bacon which I had never done before, toasting the bread, just right, special golden brown, and so on.  They were extremely kind.  Extremely kind.

My husband was bitterly lonely.  He  had been living in a little furnished room in Priory Road, Kilburn.  Kilburn was cheap, not Irish at the time.  Full of Jewish refugees.  The wealthier ones went off to Hampstead and Golders Green.  For us it was the immediate vicinity of the Kilburn High Road – Abbots Place.  The house still stands, it’s off Priory Road.  They’re early Victorian houses, once presumably family houses, now with furnished rooms.

We were lucky because we met up with a couple who had been my husband’s friends in Vienna and who were in the same position.  There was one kitchen and one bathroom, the whole house shared.  There was an old English ex-actress and some very interesting characters.  It’s like a novel, to remember it all.  So it was not too unhappy a time, although for the two men it was very bad.  My husband’s friend, who was a doctor of Social Science, managed to get a visa to Australia because he had his sitter living there.  They went off.  Then war broke out.

1.  The Munich Crisis and Settlement, September, 1938.  The British and French Governments caved in to further German expansionist demands, this time for the Czech Sudetenland.  Chamberlain returned by air from the conference in Munich waving a piece of paper after disembarking at Croydon Airport – the ‘agreement’ – declaring “Peace in Our Time”.

2. 10 September, 1938.  Nazi-organised burning, smashing and looting of synagogues, shops and homes, and arrest of Jews throughout Germany and Austria, following the assassination of Vom Rath, Counsellor at the German Embassy in Paris.  The assassin was a 17 year old Polish Jew, Herschel Grynsban.

3.  The average yearly wage at the time for unskilled  manual and clerical workers was approximately £160.

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