Wartime memories

Armistice Day is commemorated on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month each year. Around this time, and of course on Remembrance Sunday itself, many people remember relatives who lost their lives in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts.

There are several websites where you can find numerous records of your ancestors, including Forces War Records, Genes Reunited, Find My Past and Ancestry (which you can access for free in the library). The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has an excellent website that is very helpful in locating graves of military relatives who died during both World Wars.

The BBC also have a superb website entitled WW2 People’s War which contains memories written by the public, several of which relate to our borough. The co-authors of one of the stories which is entitled ‘A Teenager’s Life in the Second World War’ were Joan and Charles Blake, who at one time ran the Shepherds Bush Historical Society.

And of course our libraries and archives are a rich source of books and valuable information about both World Wars.

WW2 identity card

As you get older and your grandparents and parents die and you realise that you had so many questions that you didn’t ask. So websites, like the BBC one, can often fill in gaps. But it is also a very useful exercise to write down some of the memories of your elder relatives for future generations to read.

So I thought that I would share just a few wartime memories of my late parents.
My mother’s father died 4 months before the start of WW2 leaving my grandmother with four children to care for. With the onset of war and with rationing to contend with, times were very hard. Even with five living in a small house she took in several lodgers to bring in much needed money.

My mother told me that grandmother also had various ways in which to make the ration points go further. Biscuits were sold loose from large tin boxes and she would buy the broken ones that were considerably cheaper. Bakers would sell cheap day old bread and she would wrap them in damp tea towels and put them in the oven to make them soft inside with a crispy crust. They even broke through the concrete in the back yard to reveal a small patch of earth to enable them to grow tomatoes.

Ration book for clothing

Prior to the start of WW2 my father had a very bad accident whilst working on the building of the White City Estate. His injuries put him out of work for around 18 months and as a consequence he was unfit when the war commenced.

My mother and her sister who were both teenagers and were doing war work at T C Jones, which was part of George Cohen’s 600 Group, in Wood Lane, Shepherds Bush. My father’s brother was also working there and when my father recovered from his accident he worked alongside his brother. The two brothers paired up with the two sisters and they went on to marry in 1943 and 1944 respectively.

My mother was a welder constructing sections for Bailey Bridges and she often joked that she earned more money than my father who was a general labourer.

George Cohen 600 Group

The above photo, taken in the 1950s, shows the George Cohen 600 Group headquarters and works. The headquarters building in the foreground is now offices for UGLI and the works area behind is currently under development. The area to the right is part of the new John Lewis development at Westfield.

Everyone old enough to work tended to work long hours during the day and then were often kept awake by the bombing through the night. Sometimes after working all day my father had do a stint of fire watching.

As with most of London, Shepherds Bush had some very bad bombing. There were direct hits on the Telegraph Pub at Shepherds Bush Green and the Sun Pub in the Askew Road, Blaxland House on the White City Estate, the Cleverley Estate in Wormholt Road and Westville Park School.

The Telegraph Pub, Shepherds Bush Green

That generation saw many gruesome sights; one day when she walking past a still smouldering bombed out house my mother noticed a severed finger complete with ring lying on the road. She pointed it out to an ARP warden who carefully took charge of it.

But there were funny incidents too; one neighbour recalls just arriving home when the sirens went off. With her sister they ran into the newly built communal air raid shelter, only to look up and realise the roof had not yet been put on.

As the war went on many residents became blasé and didn’t bother to take shelter during bombing raids. The cinema was a popular pastime and very often a film would be stopped to warn the audience that an air raid was in progress. Some would leave to take cover but most waited for the film to resume.

Not only did the blackouts create problems for getting around at night, the London smog added to the problem. One night my mother with her sisters and some friends went to the cinema in Acton. By the time they came out they literally could not see their hands in front of their faces. They started walking using shop fronts, fences, railings and brick walls to feel their way home to Shepherds Bush. But when they got to Bromyard Avenue the road curved round towards the Ministry of Pensions and they ended up going round and round in circles. A man called out ‘can I help you?’. It turned out that he was blind and he had no problem guiding them all the way home.

People tried to carry on with life the best they could. Most of the fit young men were away fighting so there was a real shortage of male interest for the young teenage girls. Apparently there was a small Italian internment camp in Becklow Road and lots of the local girls spent hours trying to chat to the young Italian prisoners.

In preparation for D Day on 6 June 1944, the country was flooded with American and Canadian soldiers. They could often be found mingling with the locals in many of the Shepherds Bush pubs. And after closing time parties often continued in local houses.
The war in Europe finally ended on 2 September 1945, four days before my mother’s 21st birthday.

Peter Trott
Hammersmith & Fulham, Local Studies and Archives volunteer

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1 Response to Wartime memories

  1. Pingback: Wartime memories – in the post-war years | LBHF Libraries

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