The Wartime Memories of Philippa Nichols
Philippa Nichols (née Westlake) was born in Bristol in 1927 and was 12 years old when War broke out. Her father worked for WO & HO Wills in the tobacco industry.
This transcript records her memories before and during World War 2 together with other experiences.
The transcript and the video are about 31 minutes long.
Recorded in Hale, Cheshire on 9 November 2018.
[Pauses indicated by ….]
Time codes on film indicated by Hour:Minute:Second for ease of reference between transcript and film on YouTube.
Philippa: Well, I was born in Bristol in 1927 and lived with my parents and my grandmother and we moved to Clevedon. I can’t remember what year. My father worked for WD & HO Wills. When we moved to Clevedon, I went to a small private school. I was not a very healthy child. I had bronchitis almost every winter and as a result, I missed a lot of schooling, so that I was always way …. behind all my friends and fortunately, I took up riding because I’d seen horses outside the school and that did me a lot of good.
Well, I left that school when I was about 12 and went to Clifton High School in Bristol.
Now, I should have been a weekly boarder in Bristol but due to the War, we were evacuated to a stately home [Tyntesfield] at Wraxall, just outside Bristol and we had to travel by coach every night from our school …. and the lady who owned the stately home would not let the coach go up the drive. So, we had a very long walk up the drive every night. So that wasn’t a very happy time. I still got my bronchitis in the winter.
Michael: The attitude of people in those days was quite extraordinary, wasn’t it?
Philippa: Yes, yes.
Michael: Thinking about that ….
Michael: So, just I mean I know we talked about this a little earlier but what about your father? Do you know whether he had any involvement in the War, First World War, that is?
Philippa: Well you seem to have found out more about that than I knew so I, I do vaguely remember seeing a picture of him in, in uniform. So, I think he must have had very, very slight involvement but it would have been the very end of the War and it wouldn’t have been active because he was not a very healthy person either. He had a lot of trouble with his lungs.
[Records suggest that Aubrey John Westlake served in the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) as 2nd Lieutenant (1918 – 1919)]
Michael: Yes ….
Philippa: and he that is why he didn’t do anything in the Second World War. He worked for WD & HO Wills all his life and he was a representative and he would never do anything else.
Michael: And what about your mother?
Philippa: Well, my mother as you discovered, she was a …. you know …. a voluntary nurse during
the War. They were ….
[Her mother, Phyllis Valeria Roost, was born in 1900 in Bristol]
Michael: That was the Second World War, was it?
Philippa: Second World War, yes. They were both vaguely interested in amateur dramatics. My father’s main interest in life was Masonics. He was very, very keen on the Masonic movement and he worked his way well up to the top …. and on one occasion, he went to London to …. when King George the Sixth was in charge and he went to an enormous inauguration and he was given some degree, whatever it was called and that was his main interest in life.
Michael: So, we come back to you. You’ve been to school, I mean, you were born as you said in 1927 so when World War 1  started, you would have been 12 years old ….
Philippa: Yes ….
Michael: Do you have recollections of that?
Philippa: Yes, I do, because being in Clevedon when I was at home which was a lot of the time, there would be air raids almost every night because the airplanes were going over Bristol to Avonmouth docks and the sirens would go off about 6 o’clock in the evening when the planes were going north and then they would go again about the planes were coming back and to begin with …. initially, we all got out of the house and went across the road and went into this cellar, because that was the safe place to go. But after this had happened night after night after night and we realised that they hadn’t the slightest bit of interest in us, it was only Bristol and Avonmouth, then we gave up and we stayed in our beds and we did not get up for the siren, night after night after night.
Michael: And so, bombs never really dropped on Clevedon.
Philippa: They dropped, they dropped one by mistake which was in a field where there were two horses ….
Michael: Yes ….
Philippa: and one of the horses got a nasty scratch on its nose but they were not killed, and they were still there the next morning.
Michael: Did the bombers follow the, the, the Bristol Channel?
Michael: Because I know that further north on the Dee and, and Mersey and so on, they tended to follow in, so do you or were you aware of any distractions to try and stop them from doing that?
Philippa: Well there were obviously there were barrage balloons …. which I don’t think did much good but they, they did their best …. but Bristol, Bristol was badly bombed …. and my grandmother lived in, my other grandmother lived in Bristol and she wouldn’t move, and she stayed in the centre of Bristol throughout the war ….
Michael: And she wasn’t hurt?
Michael: So …. and there was no quit to whether evacuations and things like that, wouldn’t have affected you of course.
Philippa: No, but there certainly were, yes, yes, yes, and my father was a …. he would not have evacuees …. so, he got a friend of his …. a bachelor friend of his to come and live with us to fill up fill up the space so that he didn’t have to have evacuees ….
Michael: Yes, because I suppose they would have come from anywhere ….
Philippa: Oh, they would, yea, yes
Michael: But most likely I suppose from places like Bristol itself and I mean I don’t know whether Bath was affected in the same sort of way?
Philippa: Not to the same extent, I don’t think, no, no, and of course we were restricted with our food, with our rations, I mean people wouldn’t believe the small amount of food that we were allowed to buy. The only way in which I was lucky was because my father was in the tobacco trade. He visited a lot of sweet shops and this, in the holidays, he would take me with him and they would say, “Oh, poor little girl, not getting many sweets on the ration” and they would give me extra sweets so from that point of view, I was lucky.
Michael: Yes ….
Philippa: But obviously we were restricted we couldn’t buy clothes and things like that and we had this blackout all the time, you had to have your …. you daren’t show any light at night ….
Michael: Even in Clevedon, well, I suppose it was everywhere, wasn’t it?
Philippa: Yes, it was …. Oh, yes everywhere yes, yes ….
Michael: I mean, did you find, during the war you would have been in your teens, with with
things like rationing, I mean, did you have to do queueing and that sort of stuff at the various shops or did your mother do all that?
Philippa: Well yes, my mother did all that yes, yes, yes ….
Michael: So, you weren’t directly involved …. What were your pastimes during the war? What were the things that you would have kept you interested in things?
Philippa: Well, I still, I still managed to ride a horse whenever I could find one to ride and they did eventually, they did eventually buy me a pony of my own ….
Michael: Right ….
Philippa: So that I did spend quite a lot of time riding which was very good for me, being …. not being very healthy.
Michael: No quite …. and what about things like going to the cinema or …. and those, did you do that sort of thing?
Philippa: We did go to the cinema occasionally, yes …. and we did, we did go, we did go to the Hippodrome in Bristol I remember once, because the Bristol Hippodrome is an
unusual Theatre in that it has a sliding dome roof, and one night they opened it and forgot to shut it and it rained and the audience got a little wet ….
Michael: And what about the cinema?
Philippa: Yes, we had a cinema in Clevedon, so we were able to go to our own cinema and my parents would take me to that.
Michael: So, what was the, the average sort of program if you went to the cinema?
Philippa: Well, my father would avoid the advertisements, if there were any ….
Philippa: and make sure that he didn’t get there until the film was about to start ….
Michael: So, it would just be the main film. Would there be newsreels and things?
Philippa: Yes, yes, there probably would be newsreels, yes ….
Michael: Because how would you’ve kept up with the news or didn’t you?
Philippa: Oh, we have …. we had a, we had a radio.
Michael: Yes ….
Philippa: Yes, we had a radio all the time and that kept us up with the news and newspapers of course. We still got newspapers.
Michael: Yes, and did you? …. Or were there other things you might listen to on the radio? I mean comedy programmes ….
Philippa: Yes, Tommy Handley and ITMA [It’s That Man Again] which came on at …. I think it was at eight o’clock, and on special occasions I was allowed to listen to that ….
Michael: Yes, because you can still get recordings of quite a lot of the ITMA stuff even today.
Philippa: Yes, yes, but it doesn’t sound so funny now as it did then. I think it was very dated.
Michael: That’s, that’s an interesting point isn’t it, because I guess we have changed …. in our, in our, in things like humour and so on, compared to, I mean, you …. during the War, I guess you looked upon the War as being just matter of fact, it was what was happening at the time, is that right?
Philippa: Yes, it affected us in that my father’s brother was a bank manager in Paris and he had to get out just before the War started and he had three children including a baby and his wife died. And my grandmother had to help them, and they came over to England and lived in Folkstone for a time and the eldest boy came and lived with us for a time ….
Philippa: and that was, that was interesting. It was very nice because I had no brothers and sisters, so it was very nice to have a cousin living with us for a time and that and that cheered things up considerably.
Michael: Did he tell you anything of what had gone on for him?
Philippa: No, he wasn’t really old enough for that ….
Michael: No, so I mean escaping …. presumably escaping from Paris, just about as the …. as the Germans were marching in ….
Philippa: No, they, no, they moved well in advance of …. of that ….
Michael: Yes, I wonder why they chose Folkstone because that is still quite close to the coast, yes ….
Philippa: Well, it was, wasn’t it …? yes, yes, yes, I mean other ….
Michael: Are there other things that you could remember about the War that you think might be of interest, I mean, any sort of …. anything funny that happened, let’s say?
Philippa: Well a funny thing happened one night. I think the sirens must have gone so we were …. my father and I were walking around outside and a German plane …. small German plane landed in some fields about five miles away and apparently the pilot managed to get out and he walked to the nearest house which happened to be a police station and knocked on the door and a policeman came to the door and there was this German pilot and what he did with him, nobody is quite sure but he was somewhat taken aback, I understand, which we all thought was extremely funny.
Michael: Yes, but presumably he was taken prisoner?
Philippa: Oh yes, he was but ….
Michael: Does anyone know why he landed?
Philippa: No, no, they don’t know why his plane crashed or what happened. Well, I think he must have parachuted out of it, obviously …. but that was that was quite an amusing experience to us.
Michael: Yes, yes, I mean …. that was, that was the funny side, what about the less funny side, the sadder side of things, with things that you can remember that we’re upsetting at the time?
Philippa: Didn’t really have any relatives who were injured in the War at all ….
Michael: And what about other people around you? No one was …. I mean you said there were no bombs dropped in your area?
Philippa: No, No ….
Michael: That made a difference but you’re not aware of, I mean the …. I guess that I don’t know when the, the Bristol blitz would have been. I mean in Manchester, it tends to be in August and in December 1940 I think, were some of the worst periods right. I don’t know whether that’s similar in Bristol or not.
Philippa: No, I can’t remember which years.
Michael: So, there you are, and War was coming to an end and suddenly, I guess there must have been a sort of feeling …. and by that time, you, I mean, 1945, you would have been 18 years old I assume ….
Michael: and War’s coming to an end, where there any sort of indicators of that was there any sort of atmosphere that you or anything like that or you know what, what actually happened when …. VE Day …. happened?
Philippa: I can’t remember much about that I know that there was celebrations and things like that, but I can’t remember a great deal about it.
Michael: So, you weren’t involved in ….
Philippa: By that time, I had left …. the Bristol school ….
Michael: Yes ….
Philippa: And I was supposed to be going to school in Switzerland but obviously you couldn’t go to Switzerland at that time, so the school that I was supposed to go to was in Aberdovey. So, I went to went to school in Aberdovey for two …. several months and then directly, we were allowed to go, we went to Switzerland.
Michael: Right, so that would have been what, later in 1945 or possibly 1946 ….
Philippa: Yes, yes, yes ….
Michael: Yes …. and so, you were …. how long were you in Switzerland?
Philippa: About 18 months ….
Michael: Yes. Was that a sort of finishing school?
Philippa: Well, it called itself that, but I wouldn’t, wouldn’t have called it that, but it was an International School. We had …. we had interesting people there, one of the most interesting was Lloyd George’s daughter, but of course we didn’t know she was, Lloyd George’s daughter because she was called Jennifer Stevenson which was her mother’s name and in those days her mother wasn’t married to Lloyd George ….
Michael: Oh, right, so …. what sort of things did they, they teach you there?
Philippa: Well, I learned shorthand and typing.
Michael: Did you, yes ….
Philippa: and French. We had to …. obviously, we had to speak a lot of French ….
Michael: Yes ….
Philippa: and other people did all kinds of different things but that was what I did, and of course it proves very useful to me in after life because I’ve been doing it off and on ever since, if not as a paid job as a voluntary one.
Michael: Tell me a little bit about your jobs then because, I mean, it was that in when you said ‘paid’, was that as an interpreter or in the course of the work that you were doing?
Philippa: No, after, after I left the school in Switzerland, I went to, I went to a snooty secretarial College for a short time and I didn’t enjoy that at all ….
Philippa: and I got a job with ICI as a shorthand typist.
Michael: Was that in London or Bristol?
Philippa: That was in London, yes ….
Michael: Milbank or something like that?
Philippa: Well, I wasn’t in Millbank. Originally, I was originally with a pool of girls in a typing place and then I was promoted to Millbank and worked for, worked for one of the directors.
Michael: And, and was that your main career would you say? Or ….
Philippa: Yes, couldn’t call it a career it was a job I was pushed into because it was not …. I wanted to do something with horses because but of course my father couldn’t afford anything like that.
Michael: No, so you were literally having to support yourself.
Michael: I mean, did that continue after you married?
Philippa: Off and on, yes ….
Philippa: Because I had, I had two, two sons ….
Philippa: One of them is currently living in America and the other one sadly died when he was 28.
Michael: Oh dear …. very upsetting and I mean, do …. tell me a little bit, I mean you, you, you married I think, you met your husband, tell us a little bit about him if you ….
Philippa: I met him through a friend that I was at school with, I was invited to …. I was invited to a party somewhere or something and, and then I was invited to a ball in Cambridge and I met him again and we were married in 1952, and he coincidentally, he also worked for ICI ….
Michael: Did he?
Philippa: That was a pure coincidence.
Michael: Right, yes ….
Philippa: He worked for ICI all his life and that was how we came to how we came to be in this area [Cheshire] because he was transferred up here.
Michael: I see yes, Alderley Edge or something like that was it? I am just trying to think where ICI ….
Philippa: I don’t think he ever worked in Alderley Edge …. He worked in Runcorn and Widnes and places like that ….
Michael: Because they were all over the place, in Teesside as well.
Philippa: Yes, yes, well he worked in Liverpool when we first came north, and we lived on the Wirrall then ….
Michael: So that’s really what brought you, you North ….
Philippa: Yes, oh it was, it was his job.
Michael: Yes, yes and you liked it so much you stayed ever since.
Philippa: Well, that’s right …. yes
Michael: And you were married locally here?
Philippa: No, we were married in Clevedon.
Michael: Oh, right, so you went back to the family home for that yes ….
Michael: Yes indeed …. I sense there may be things that you would like …. that you may have not talked about, you might want to add to what’s been said. I don’t know whether there’s anything that jumps out at you. Whether you want to look at any notes you might have, anything like that ….
Philippa: I wouldn’t say that the family atmosphere was not always all it might be because as you can imagine having Grandma living with you all the time, there was a certain amount of friction and occasionally Grandma and my mother would fall out and Grandma would take to her bedroom and shut the door and she would not speak to anybody except me. So, I had to take all her meals up to her and I had to carry messages to and fro, until they sorted themselves out and got back to square one again, but ….
Michael: Such are families ….
Philippa: Yes, yes, such are families but that was something I sometimes felt I could have done without.
Michael: Oh, that’s an interesting thing because I think I think it’s probably very much of that age as well. I mean we’re talking presumably when you were quite young and so …. and of course, there is always or tends to be a better relationship between grandchild and grandparent than the people inside …. in between ….
Philippa: Oh definitely, my grandmother was my best friend and of course my parents went out a lot and left me with Grandma and we would have the radio on, also whatever we wanted, and we cooked chips which was not ….
Michael: [laughing] Oh dear ….
Philippa: So that was my experience of Grandma and we of course we played cards together.
Michael: Right, so this is where you learnt to play Bridge?
Philippa: This is where I learnt to play bridge when I was about 12.
Michael: Yes, and have played ever since ….
Michael: And quite seriously by the sounds of things ….
Philippa: Yes, well of course it has changed like everything else it has changed over the years.
Michael: Has it?
Michael: So, you, you, you were telling me I think that during your married life and perhaps when you’ve got to retirement age …. that …. your husband and you had to do some sort of deal over bridge and …. and other activities.
Philippa: Yes, that was when he retired, yes ….
Michael: And he suggested you played golf ….
Michael: Where did that take did you, did you play more golf than he played bridge, would you say?
Philippa: Probably, but it worked …. we both, both became sufficiently efficient at each other’s occupation to do it socially which is what was wanted …. [Philippa was Lady Captain of the Hale Golf Club in 1993 and her husband was Captain in 1995]
Philippa: Yes, that worked quite well ….
Michael: Yes ….
Philippa: and after you, you know I’ve done voluntary work for all kinds of organizations ever since. You know I’ve been Secretary of the Tennis Club, Treasurer of the Golf Club, you name, it I’ve done it.
Michael: What’s the thing that’s probably kept you busiest, the longest would you say in voluntary work?
Philippa: Well, I’ve been doing the Lifeboat for, for 40 years but …. and as I say, I did, I did Meals on Wheels until they threw me out ….
Michael: Yes, it sounded bad, bad that, but it was because of your age ….
Philippa: Yes, because of age and not able to drive their vehicles anymore. [Meals on Wheels could not insure drivers over the age of 75]
Philippa: And as I say, you know I’ve …. you know I’ve been treasurer and secretary of various organizations ….
Michael: Why 40 years with the Lifeboats?
Philippa: Well when we first came to live in this part of the country, I got friendly with a …. with a lady and she said oh she said, “I work for the lifeboats and I’ve always worked for them”, and she said, “Why don’t you come on our committee?” So, I said, “All right”. So, I joined the committee and, and then I was on it for a long, long time and then when she left this area, I was still doing it ….
Philippa: and I’ve been doing it ever since ….
Michael: Yes, and there’s a shortage of volunteers …. what you’re saying as well ….
Philippa: Well, that is very true, yes, yes but we’re managing.
Michael: Thinking back to your War years, do you think that was as far as you, you are concerned, you personally …. that there is any legacy that has affected you as a result of that of those war years. Is there anything that that you think the War might have affected you in some sort of way?
Philippa: Yes, I think that I am much more careful, perhaps more careful with money that …. because everything was so tight during the War, you know, and you use …. food was so scarce and that sort of thing.
I think I’m probably more economic ….
Philippa: than I would have been otherwise, it’s ….
Michael: And it is obvious you’ve kept very fit …. do you put that down to …. some people say that the …. the rationing during the War and the …. then the fact that you couldn’t eat all the wrong things meant that that there was a bit of a legacy for the future and had possibly an influence on …. longevity of life if you like but ….
Philippa: I think that my stay in Switzerland was the thing that made the big difference to my life because, you know, everybody says that the Swiss mountain air and all that sort of thing is very good for you?
Philippa: And I think that that was the turning point in my life.
Michael: And do you do a lot of walking and things like that?
Philippa: Well we skied, you know, because we were in the snowy part, we skied, we skied a lot and yes, we did walk
Michael: Yes, and how did you keep that going after you left Switzerland was it ….
Philippa: Once or twice, yeah ….
Michael: We’ll just let that go by …. it is twelve o’clock as well, so …. [Clock strikes] that’s good, yeah …. I’ll probably keep that in you know it sounds nice and one’s …. one question I often ask people out of the blue is, is …. not exactly a trick question, but possibly a difficult one, one has to think about, and that is if you now were to think back to your own lifetime, what advice would you give to youngsters today, for a long and happy life would you say? A successful life for that matter. It’s quite a tricky question this one.
Philippa: It’s very difficult ….
Philippa: because a lot depends on your parents and your parents’ circumstances …. I mean I had no wish whatsoever to do secretarial work of any sort. My wish was to do something with horses. I was good with animals ….
Philippa: but my father couldn’t afford to pay for anything like that so that if you are a teenager and you are looking for a career, it largely must depend on your parents or your ability to get scholarships and get things for free.
Yes, well I think we’ve probably come to an end but Philippa, thank you very much for your time and, and for speaking to WarGen ….
Thank you very much.
Philippa: Thank you for coming ….
Interview recorded by Michael Thompson, Hardy Productions UK, Manchester, for WarGen. Transcription by YouTube and Michael Thompson.