Wartime Memories of Beth Scraggs

I left school when I was 14 and I went to work at Neens and Pearson’s that was a Publishing Company of ladies magazines. And we did we started as messengers going around to different places showing the proofs and having them okay to be printed in magazines and I did that for six months being taught the way around London. 

That’s why I knew London well in those days and then after six months of doing that you became a special and you had just very special jobs to do and one of mine was taking a proof to… a parcel… to Winston Churchill when he was first Lord of the Admiralty and I walked up to the building in Whitehall, knocked on the door and it was opened by a marine who stood there with a gun in his holster. I was a little bit trembly and I said to him I have something to deliver for Mr. Churchill, but it has to be signed for so he took it away and brought it back with the book signed which I took back to the office and then after three months of that you were given a job in an office and I went into the office which the manager was Mr. Mandor and the books were Men Only and London Opinion and Men Only was for men only because it had pictures of models, ladies dressed and undressed and they used to make me blush because I was young and the men pulled my leg about it so my lovely lady who was teaching me Miss Probert. She said to them stop teasing her which they did so they were very good. 

And then of course the bombing started in London and because we were all under 16 most of the time we were sitting in the shelter which was at the basement of this big building in a road in the Strand in London, and we just sat there and of course after a little while the managers decided that that wasn’t right we couldn’t be paid money just sitting chatting all the time. So, unfortunately, we lost our jobs, but meanwhile my family and I lived in Battersea, and we had been bombed out too, and the house wasn’t fit to live in and we children there was myself my two sisters and brother and we were taken over to an Aunt who lived in Mission Road Tooting Broadway and they won’t have very much happening that goodness, but my Aunt lived in a flat above a shop and they had made Air-raid shelters from these basements and they were very very comfortable as well and every Friday night the fish man from the local shop used to come around for orders and the place used to smell like a fish and chips shop, but it was lovely because we all had a supper fish and chips… really very nice and during that time, of course.. we found that my Aunt worked at Pascalls the Confectioner’s and she knew that we wanted jobs my sister and I and so she saw the Personnel officer… Miss Alcock who was the Girl Guide commissioner for the area and Miss Alcock said for us to go and have an interview which we did and from that we both got a job working at Pascalls and I did that and I was on the credit desk because in those days the big jars that the sweets went out in… the shop owner would charge one sixpence. So when they sent them back they were credited with the money and that was my job to credit we had little slips that we used to fill in and then they used to go to the pay room and they made sure that when the invoice went out for the person’s next order that they were credited with that money. 

I did that and when I was 17 the girl that I worked with she found out that we could work for the WVS as it was then WVS not WRVS and that we could go to the local fire station and work in their canteen one night a week. So Betty and I went on a Monday and they were very pleased this year’s because we were doing their sandwiches and their cakes and their rolls filled with ham and cheese and giving them cups of tea or coffee. So we were very welcomed and I did that for nearly a year and then during that time of course, I was 18 and we had to go and register for work.

When I went up to the local labour exchange in Tooting High Street, I said to the lady I am not volunteering for anything because I have already done so and I’m waiting to hear where I’m too be sent so I didn’t have to do anything more. I just came out and then went and did my ordinary work at
Pascalls and on the Monday’s went to do the WVS canteen until August 43 when I was called up for the NAAFI which is the Navy Army and Air Force Institute.

The NAAFI stood for Navy Army Air Force Institute and they were mainly on every camp that there was in this country because they were there to make sure when the men came off duty there was somewhere for them to go to have tea, coffee, a cake or sandwiches or whatever and some of the places had nice kitchen equipment and we were if you were on tea duty then you had to slice 50 rolls and fill them with cheese 50 rolls filled with ham and then at night time the cook would be cooking various bits and pieces and pans and pans full of chips. That’s all they wanted was egg and chips or ham and chips. It was just to make them work I was serving then Army Navy or Air Force  to show that they were being appreciated and there was someone there caring for them and that’s what I feel I did and what all the girls I served with were doing and what NAAFI provided for them. And they did it for 90 years as well. So when you hear people say oh NAAFI it was really on the whole a good thing and when I talk to some of the men I meet from the British Legion and they say did you do something and I say I was in the NAAFI they are oh thank goodness you were there. I’m told that very often. So I feel quite proud that for at least three years that I did my bit for England and everybody and I enjoyed it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was very shy when I was younger but it brought me out of myself. 

I’ve enjoyed the time I was doing it.. my first place. I was at Statting Barracks with the Royal Artillery with the Queen’s Royal Regiment and we were also lucky enough to have the Queen’s regimental band there at that time. So we became quite friendly with some of those boys and they nearly all lived in Newcastle, Sunderland, Geordieland as we called it and they were very friendly and very pleased that we were there for them when it came to February. I was then moved on to another place still in the Guildford area was called Downplace and these soldiers were Royal Army Service Corps boys, and they had come back from where they had been involved in various things in Egypt and they were pleased to be back in England and that was rather nice. 

We enjoyed being there but I was only there from the February to the July because June the 6th 1944 was D-Day when we… after being not there since Dunkirk, we were then on our way back and these boys on the 9th or the 8th of June the 8th of June we had closed the NAAFI for the night and our area manager came in and said sorry girls you’ve got to open up again because the boys are off. And so we opened and they were buying their cigarette ration and their chocolate and sweet tration and also if they wanted to write home to say what was happening, they wanted notepaper and envelopes and we were very lucky to have supplied to us as well which you couldn’t buy in the shops those days… razor blades so they could keep themselves clean and tidy and so that night we took a hundred pound and I know that doesn’t sound a lot today in 2018, but way back in 1944 it was a lot of money and we were really we were very tired. 

We’d been rushed off our feet for those times but we had got to know some of the serving-men and we knew that they were going to go so some of us went outside and chatted to them while they were sitting in their lorries waiting to take off and at three o’clock in the morning we waved them off and we knew that they were going down somewhere on the coast and then go over to France and hopefully be able to come through it all and come back to their families who lived some of them in Birmingham, some of them in Wales… lived all over the British Isles and they were doing a very good job, but after they had gone, of course, the camp was empty and so we were given a few days leave and when we came back from that I was sent to another place in Guildford still which had been a school but had been taken over by the Pioneer Corps boys and they were there for just a short while because in August 44 we saw them march of down to the railway station to make their way over to we have been told they were going to Ghent in Belgium and I do hope that they a lot of them came back to their families at the end of the war. 

So that meant another posting for me and I went then still roundabout Guildford to a place called Marrow where there was the Italian prisoner of war camp and we were there for the Pioneer Corps soldiers who were guarding these prisoners and we are cook were allowed to cook cakes for them. And we had two Italians used to come in once a week and pick up these cakes and we learned from the soldiers that the Italians made very good baskets and would be pleased to make them for us if we would give them either cigarettes or bars of soap for doing so. So that’s what some of them did and we had an instant one day when one unfortunately they said his reasoning had gone because the poor man had left a family back in Italy and how worried he was about them when we were worrying about our boys who were overseas and worrying if they were doing well and this poor man was thinking in reverse of course, and he somehow or other he got out of that camp and was found and brought back to the camp again, and there was taken off after and over and and looked after. Hopefully he went back home to Italy but we didn’t know what happened to him after he was brought back to the camp. Other than that. He was looked after.

And then after that, of course because I had only been there then for six months. I was posted again then to the Aerodrome which is still at  RAF Dom’s its not RAF… now it was up to a couple of years ago. That was RAF Dunsfold which they use now for the Top Gear program on television that was interesting as well and we had a man there who was an artist and he did a beautiful beautiful mural on one of the walls that look just like Jane in the Daily Mirror dressed as a ski person coming down the slope on skis and I expect when the… when it was taken over by the government. I’m just wondering whether that wall was allowed to stand or but but it would be a shame if it was taken down because Mark was a lovely lovely artisan and it was absolutely gorgeous and through being in my life it made you appreciate it.

And you really doing something for your country and I felt that way. Anyway, I had given up working in an office and I’d become used to rules doing this and doing that and wearing uniform when you were on duty wearing uniform when you went out but one of the things I do remember about Dunsfold is after we won the war on May 8th 1945. They started bringing back our soldiers and people who had been prisoners of War. They were bringing them back to Britain and some of those that we had come to Dunsfold they didn’t want to know about English tea or English coffee. What they wanted to drink was British Beer to make them feel they were back home. So in the corporals bar where I was serving, we had a big barrel put and that’s all they wanted and it was wonderful to see them back home drinking, British Beer and feeling now all they had to do was go to be demobbed get the soup suit and their hat and go back to civilian life and some of us could do that as well because in March 46, I resigned and I went back home to go back to Pascalls who had been kind enough to save my job for me, but it was very very hard trying to get back to the civilian life and it took a long while and I know that happened as well for the boys when they talk about it when you meet up with him and they learn that you’ve been doing the job that you were doing. How did you feel when you finished and horrible? I wish I’d have been in the NAAFI still and I belong to clubs and I do one or two duties in Peter’s and St Paul’s Church, and I feel that I need to volunteer and really feel that I’m still worth my weight of gold in this country.

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Author: shane

1 thought on “Wartime Memories of Beth Scraggs

  1. Dear Beth
    I am so delighted that you have shared your wartimes memories so that we can all remember and be thankful to your generation. Xx

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