Monday, January 15


Dad, what was it like as a kid in the war?

Well, each house was given an Anderson air raid shelter. Men from the council came round and dug into the garden, erecting the shed sized shelter made from corrugated metal. We would climb down into it, protected by wall of earth. Inside we put in some boards to sit on and some old blankets. We didn’t have much else. When the air raid siren went off at night we would wake up and go in until the all clear siren. When it rained the shelter filled up with water. A year or so later a brick shed was built with a protective blast wall, just outside the kitchen door. There was a metal handle inside to pull if you got trapped inside. We slept in it often, sharing it with the next door neighbours. The nearest bombs fell 100m away, 4 houses got hit. Lots of incendiary (firebombs) bombs got dropped. We would pick up the burnt out bits on our way to school and swap pieces of shrapnel between us. Everywhere we went we had a gas mask in a cardboard box over our shoulders.

Grandad was at sea until the early 40’s when the ship he was on was chased out of Genoa harbour by the Germans. After that he worked in London docks in the ship repair yards which were also heavily bombed throughout the war. He often couldn’t get home for 3 or 4 nights due to bombings and lack of transport.

Occasionally food parcels would arrive from relatives in New Zealand. Inside we would find a rich fruit cake, chocolate bars, dried fruit and jam. Sugar was rationed; we only had 2oz (50g) per person per week, so the chocolate was pure luxury. They arrived once or twice a year. Sometimes we knew one was on the way as we kept in contact by aerogram but it never arrived. Everything travelled by sea and sometimes the ships never arrived in England.
Because food was rationed a lot of what we ate was home produced, even milk and bread were rationed. Pubs would often close because they had no beer. A normal meal would include lots of vegetables and occasionally there was a piece of meat of fish.

From the age of 8 I used to earn money helping the milkman with his deliveries from his hand cart on the weekends and school holidays. One Sunday morning in 1944 in the middle of a very busy period of doodlebugs (V1’s) falling in the area, delivering milk, I heard a doodlebug coming down. (These bombs made an awful throaty roar as they fell from the sky, then the engine would cut out and there was a terrible silence and you knew it was about to come down somewhere). I looked up and I heard the engine cut out above me, I saw the bomb falling away, spiralling down and watched as it hit some houses at the end of a field about 600 yards away. As it exploded the blast was so strong that it blew me straight through a plate glass window of the shop that I was standing by. I found my way out from the broken glass, miraculously uncut. Every shop in that street lost its windows from the force of the blast
By July 1944 the area where I lived had been struck by about 60 doodlebugs and it was decided that the women and children should be evacuated. So along with most of my school friends and their mothers, we were sent off. Collection days were arranged where we had to be ready with our gas masks and our meagre belongings at a local evacuation point. We didn’t know where we were to be sent to. We were taken by coach to the local train station were we were boarded a crowded train. The journey took about seven hours, passing through many stations without names. The authorities had decided to cover up all the station names in case the Germans arrived so they would not know where they were. Eventually we arrived at a station in North Devon where coaches took us nearby towns. With my brother, sister and mum we were one of 60 families taken to the village of Chulmleigh. We were all given beds in the hall of the local school. There wasn’t much privacy. Eventually our family was assigned a small council house on the edge of the village were we stayed for 3 months.

Next door there was an Italian prisoner of war camp with about 200 Italian prisoners guarded by one British Army sergeant. It was an open prison and the prisoners free to walk in and out, but were trusted not to escape. My brother who was about 5 at the time would go in there and wander around making friends with the Italians. They made their own pasta which hung drying in the window frames. They sat outside weaving baskets and teaching us Italian words. My brother would stay and eat with the Italians every day, I would join them sometimes too. In return for a meal I would bring them a drink from the local pub, because they were not allowed inside.

After three months in the country, the doodlebug attacks back in London seemed to die down. We were sent back home, but the day that we arrived a bomb fell on our school, at the end of the road, killing 40 people. The bombs continued to fall for a few weeks and were then superseded by the V2 rockets. These rockets went so fast that you couldn’t hear them coming. You just heard the explosion when they hit something. Within a few months May 8th 1945 the war in Europe ended.

Basically that was it and we all went about our normal lives, as best as anybody could.


  1. My Mom & Dad have equally appalling stories from the Bay of Pigs and the post-revolution period in Cuba. It's unbelievable what our families had to go through!

  2. Wow this is such a moving story. Makes me grateful for all those people (our grandparents and great grandparents) who did what they could, even gave their lives, to save our country and retain our freedom.

  3. Wow. Thanks for sharing that (to you and your dad!).

  4. Very interesting post.Thanks for posting.

  5. Thanks for sharing this story...hope all is well! ;)

  6. My dad has a sad story about war, he had to flee up northern Italy adn also to (at that time) Yugoslavia of which he has lethal memories. He suffered hunger along with his family of 11 and actually lost a brother up there. He was just a little kid but had to fight for life every day. He learned all he had to then, he says.
    Actually last year he wrote some 30 pages just about that time, maybe one day you can read it, it is extremely moving but good to read, for us who give everything for granted...
    Tha twas very nice to read, how different people in various countries shared the sadness of a war.

  7. Niki, you have done it again. Chills. What a fantastic post!
    I have shared this link with some UK foodies I know and hope they'll come and add comments.
    Un bacio grande al babbo tuo. Thankis for sharing this, Niki's dad.

  8. I can remember, in the very early 50s in South Africa, 'helping' with packing up food parcels to send to relatives in Bristol (where my mother and grandmother were born). We had minimal food rationing in South Africa then - butter, I remember was one item - but it was still dire in the UK.
    Dried fruit was a major portion of our parcels, sugar and tea as well, I think.

    Anne Chambers,
    South Australia

  9. Thank you for sharing such an amazing story. It really made stop and think.

  10. Enjoyable story. My Dad was in WW11 ...but in the Pacific Theater. Thanks for the story.

  11. My whole family lived in Jersey, Channel Islands throughout World War II and these were the only parts of Britain occupied by the Germans. The islanders very nearly starved and I remember being told that my grandfather lost so much weight that all his shirt collars hung down like V necks.
    They ground acorns or carrots to try to make ersatz coffee and tea and dried blackberry leaves to smoke as tobacco. The occupying forces kept a close eye on how many cows and pigs farmers owned and every time one was killed, it was supposed to be logged and reported to the authorities who came and took some, if not all of it, away. All sorts of ways round this were tried out, usually successfully, including transporting a dead pig round the island in a coffin and another time hiding one in bed with a woman who pretended to be in labour when the soldiers came.
    They ground potatoes - while they still had them - to make potato flour but towards the end, the ordinary German soldiers were starving, too and not only did pet cats and dogs go missing to be eaten, rabbits intended for food were stolen and potatoes planted to make next year's crop, were dug up before they could even take root.
    An egg could change hands for thirty shillings and my grandmother could never throw butter or margarine paper away until every scrap had been scraped off it. The only thing that saved them from complete starvation were the Red Cross parcels which came into the islands on the SS Vega out of Lisbon but they didn't arrive until January 1945 and the islands were occupied in 1940, finally being liberated in May 1945.
    Here's what was in some of the parcels which started then to come regularly:
    "The Australian [parcels] were quite good, because they did put a packet of cigarettes in. Canadian maple leaf butter. That was good. Onion salt, Quaker Oats, marmalade, tin of raspberries, a small tin of salmon. That was marvellous. "
    At the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Liberation, the powers-that-be in Jersey decided to put up a statue to commemorate the occasion. The design chosen was a group of people liberating some doves, the doves of peace. There was such derision from the islanders at the doves that they were scrapped and a Union Jack took their place. And the reason for the derision? As one old chap said to me "If we'd had any ****** doves, they'd have been eaten long ago!"
    If anyone is interested, there's plenty more info on the net but here's a good start:


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