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.