"Wartime Memories"

by

Rachel Jones

 

Elin Gwawr Morris asked her grandmother Mrs Ray Jones about her wartime memories for a school project she was doing some years ago and they have kindly allowed us to publish them here.

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Do you remember when the war started?

The Second World War broke out on Sunday morning the 3rd of September 1939. At about 11 am the news came on the radio that Hitler had not agreed to the new proposals put before him, and it was declared that war had broken out and that we were all to carry our gas masks with us. Everyone was to go to a designated centre to fetch their gas mask and if you went out without your gasmask then you would be prosecuted.

When the sirens sounded everyone was told to leave what they were doing and go for shelter. There were air raid shelters at various locations, they had been built before as there had been a threat of war for about a year previously. But at the time in 1938 Mr Chamberlain had come back from Germany proclaiming that there would be ‘Peace in our time’, but this peace only lasted a year and Neville Chamberlain resigned and Winston Churchill took his place.

How old were you?

I was about sixteen when war broke out and I had gone to stay with a Welsh family who owned a dairy in London. I wasn’t old enough at the time to go nursing, which was my intention.

As soon as I had my seventeenth birthday I was accepted to St Luke’s Hospital Chelsea. It was hard work with only one day off a week, sometimes there’d be no time off, if the bombs fell heavily then we just had to keep on working. The hospital was situated close to the Chelsea Barracks where hundred if not thousands of soldiers were stationed. One night they tried to bomb the barracks but they hit the hospital instead. The hospital building was long and narrow with wards at each end and the doctors and sisters rooms in the centre, the nurses were in a different building. That night the corridor was bombed to the ground. It was a horrific scene, the wards were still standing but their front had been completely blown off, fortunately no one was killed – everyone had to go into work because there were so many casualties. As day dawned we had to find places for all the patients in other hospitals and also the nurses had to be sent to other hospitals to work. I was one of the nurses that were sent to Lewisham Hospital. I was there for about six months. We were then sent to Dartford Kent to a place known as Joyce Green. This place was an old hospital that was to treat infectious diseases at one time, but it was now a General Hospital used to treat patients from other London hospitals that had been bombed. Glass caused horrific injuries to people and it would work its way out of their heads and bodies within a few days and then the patients would have to go to theatre to have the glass removed and that could happen many times to the same patient. Joyce Green was set alone amongst the fields as it was once a contagious disease hospital, Dartford Gas Works was about two miles away and on the other side there was a barracks, bombs fell around the place but not on the hospital itself. In London many families were sent to the tubes stations when the bombing was taking place and it was a sad and pitiful to see all the small children amongst the noise and dust of the underground. The hospital received many wounded soldiers from the battlefields of France or wherever. Some without a leg or legs and many different types of injuries, but despite all this adversity we managed to have good times and somehow we all found the strength to carry on.

Did you have to do without things during the war?

Food was rationed and we were allowed 4oz o margarine and about the same amount of cheese and sugar each week. I don’t quite remember but we used to have tokens for bread and we were allowed tow loaves a week. It wasn’t so bad in the country especially on farms where they’d be churning and making their own butter and selling it on the sly. My family had a farm in South Wales and my mother would send me a parcel sometimes with butter in it. There were half a dozen of us nurses who were close friends and we’d go to our room and stuff ourselves with all the goodies that our families had sent us. The farms would get extra at harvest time and of course we’d benefit from that too. There was another girl who’s family also had a farm so we’d all do really well, but there were times when we were absolutely starving. I remember one of the girls had a day off and she was starving and all she could find was a crust of bread that was so dry and hard she couldn’t get her teeth through it until she’d soaked it in water.

There was talk that the war was coming to an end and the bombs had eased off so a group of us decided to go back closer to London to Hillingdon Hospital near Uxbridge. The bombing started again and this time it was the Doodle Bugs they used, they were unmanned planes. We soon came to realise that if the engine of the plane stopped above us that the bombs were about to fall. Before Doodle Bugs they used Molotov Baskets they were bombs that used to explode into hundreds of firebombs and would set buildings alight. By this time I’d met your grandfather (Emlyn) through one of my friends and September 1945 he was allowed home for seven days from Germany, I think, before he went out to Africa and as so many did at that time we got married and he went away for another year nearly.

When the news came that the war had ended there was a great deal of joy and celebrations with street parties everywhere everyone giving what food they could towards the party – cakes were made with powdered eggs and no margarine, there wasn’t much taste to them but they were better than nothing.

Rachel and Emlyn after the war

Then two of us went to Oxford quite a nice place with no bombing by then, but rations continued and in August 1946 your grandfather came home and finished being a soldier, I’d heard about a month before that he was on his way home. It was an unstable and insecure time for many folk for a few months after, but having returned to their homes and started work again things began to get better and everything settled down. But we all had the feeling that six years of our youth had been lost but we felt fortunate to have survived when so many thousands had lost their lives. I only hope that we never ever see war again – such a waste of the lives of so many young men and women.

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Many thanks to Mrs E Morris, for lending us this article.

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