The Wartime Memories of Maureen Short

My memories of the war are jumbled as being born in August 1935, I was just over four years old when the war started. My earliest recollection was finding my mother crying; unusual for her as she was fairly cheerful. Asking what was wrong she told me that we were at war with Germany. This didn’t mean anything to me. I realise now that having been a child of about the same age as me, she remembered some of the times during WW1. Plus the fact that her older brothers had to go and fight. One was invalided out after losing a leg. I remember my uncle always limped and it wasn’t until later in life that I was told the reason.

My father was a Master Baker and Confectioner so being a provider of food, we were lucky to have him at home, although he had to work nights. He kept a few chickens at the bottom of the garden providing us with a few eggs. Father knew when the chickens were about to start laying eggs and he said to me one day, “if you go down to the chickens and sing to them ‘Hey little hen, when will you lay an egg for my tea’ they may lay you an egg”. So down to the chickens I went and sang the ditty. There was a lot of clucking and then quiet. Dad had followed me and suggested that I looked around the straw. There it was, an egg, still warm when I picked it up and so I was allowed to have the egg for my tea as it was the first that any of the chickens had laid.  Later in life he emigrated to Australia and on retiring kept chickens for eggs as a small scale production outlet.

We had an Anderson shelter in the garden and I remember my father digging a huge hole. The earth was mounded up over it and my father grew vegetables and flowers. Living to the west of London, it was  considered that it was not necessary for me to be evacuated. Northolt airport was, I believe, called Yeading Aerodrome in the early days and was situated about four fields away. We often took our dog for walks across those fields. We had a hit not far from where we lived from one of the Doodlebugs. It was afternoon, Mum and I were in the garden and realised that the family living round the corner whose garden we could see were waving at us. We waved back but they continued. Not realising anything was amiss Mum went in to make tea for my Dad and wake him to get ready for night work. I was in the garden playing with a little girl about my age who with her parents were staying with us for a while. She was a real chatterbox, hardly ever stopped talking. Suddenly there was a long, loud bang that really frightened me. As I turned and ran into the house, the little girl stopped chattering and I left her sitting in the middle of one of dad’s prize delphiniums, mouth wide open. Her mother was cleaning the front room windows. Mum told me much later that the vibration from the bang threw her to the opposite wall and back to the window which shook the window but miraculously didn’t break. Mum was on the stairs taking a cup of tea to wake Dad and nearly dropped it. She found Dad still asleep and when he was awake said he hadn’t heard anything until Mum woke him. He had slept through it all! In later years when discussing some of the events, we understood that our neighbours were pointing to the sky. They had seen the Doodlebug coming over and were trying to warn us as the engine had turned off. We were told in those days that any noise could bring one down so our friends dare not shout out. I found out much later that although we were told it hit some houses about a mile away, it actually dropped on Hayes town aiming for some of the factories there.It was pretty cold at nights in the air raid shelter and on such nights especially when wet or snowy we were invited into next door’s shelter that they had specially kitted out like a sitting room with all the necessary requirements for a longish stay. I realise now they possibly had us in for the company as they were older and we didn’t see much of them during the day.

The most dramatic time was one night my Dad took me out of the bunk in the shelter and with Mum we saw the red sky in the east. This was when London had its terrible bombings. The sky was red all that night, the next day and the following night, followed by the ash darkened sky. Because we were in west Middlesex and any wind prevailed from the south-west we had very little ash from the fires. That luminous sky has stayed with me for all these years and I still have a shiver when I hear about or see a fire also when I see a brilliant sunset.

When the war ended and all the street parties took place, my Father was asked to make the celebratory cake. He often asked for my comments on the design for the cakes. I went with my father to deliver these cakes, on foot or at the very best, walking with the box holding the cake securely strapped onto the bicycle seat. Invites to the street party were often proffered and depending on how far away it was located as to how many invites were accepted. The best one was where my Grandparents lived in south Ealing who I visited frequently at weekends. I have the photo of all who attended outside the hall and wonder where the younger people are now.When I visited my Grandparents Mum walked with me, no buses, to the Uxbridge road where she asked the conductor of the trolly-bus to put me off at the Parish Church at Ealing where I crossed the main road and then another, sometimes with offered help, to catch the No 65 bus to either Hook or Chessington Zoo. Either was OK as both passed the local church where I alighted and had a short walk to my grandparents. Often, I was greeted by my Nan with “What  have you come for?” and a laugh. I answered saying “I’ve come for the weekend”; “supposing I won’t have you”; “Oh, you will always have me” I rejoined. How confident I was that I could stay!

My cousin who was three years older than me lived with our grandparents and on a Saturday afternoon we would take the previous empty bottle for the return of one or two old pennies – we “recycled”! We would go round to the shop and buy a bottle of Tizer and crisps with the little blue twist of paper with the salt. No problem about how much or little salt in those days; you had what you wanted if at all. This was our Saturday night treat. Granddad would have the wireless on and woe betide us if we made a noise whilst the football results were being read. After tea we played board games and listened to “In Town Tonight” and the Variety Show. If we had been good we were sometimes allowed to stay up and listen to the Saturday Night Play if appropriate. Then to bed by candlelight as our grandparents didn’t have electricity upstairs, only downstairs and that was a shilling in the slot. So occasionally we were left in the dark if the meter had run out. There was always a torch available for emergencies but nearly always a candle was lit.

The most dramatic time was one night, my Dad took me out of the bunk in the shelter and with Mum we saw the red sky in the east. This was when London had its terrible bombings. The sky was red all that night, the next day and the following night, followed by the ash darkened sky. Because we were in west Middlesex and any wind prevailed from the south-west we had very little ash from the fires but did have the smell. That luminous sky has stayed with me for all these years and I still have a shiver when I see or hear about a fire and of brilliant sunsets as that is what it looked like.

Sometime during the war we had two sisters lodge with us. Thay had come from Ireland to work in the factories. There were no buses along our road (we lived near the far end at No. 366) to take them to work so they had to walk or cycle. As there were a number of women lodging in the area, buses were finally put on to take the workers to the factories, eventually becoming a public service.

Queueing in the greengrocers one day with my mother, I asked what were the bunches of green things hanging on hooks from the ceiling. She told me they were bananas. I didn’t know what they were and asked Mum what they were like. After describing them as a fruit I asked if we could have some. No, we couldn’t as they were too expensive and they weren’t ripe. It was well after the war before I had a banana.

The air-raid shelter in my Grandparents small back garden was taken over by my cousin after the war and used as a dark-room. He eventually took up photography as a career working in Fleet Street and then went freelance, starting up his own business in photography.After the war, due to the break-up of my parents marriage I had an unusual life for the time. Children of the wartime period probably did have some oddities in their lives. 

I hadn’t realised until the last decade or so since researching my family history for the past 30 years, the reason for my father placing me as far as possible in family homes. But that is another story or two or three.

Yours sincerely,

Maureen Short (Mrs).
Milton Keynes.


Author: shane

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