A London story: You could see the spitfires fighting

We have been lucky enough to speak to an absolute gem of a lady, who was born in 1923 and has lived her whole life in England, both in London and the countryside.  We spoke about her experiences during WWII in London and do hope you enjoy the result!

I don’t think we really understood the immensity of the declaration of the war, actually.  Because we were English, it never occurred to us that we wouldn’t win in any case. Never ever.  There was no doubt about it. Didn’t matter what happened, we were going to win.  And that was said all the way through the war.  Very strange actually, looking back.

 I remember the utter contempt that we had for people who just gave in on the continent. When we heard people just capitulated on the continent, we used to think “We are English, we’re not them..” . We always thought people in Great Britain are quite different from people in Europe, and as young people, we didn’t understand anything about their history and upbringing or else we would have understood what we now know.

 I was going to be called up, and I certainly didn’t want to go into the armed services, I could never imagine myself fighting anybody. They were desperate for nurses at the time actually, and I applied to go to Middlesex Hospital and was just very fortunate. It was a very good hospital. Built near Foley Street, just here near Tottenham Court Road station.

There were lots of air-raids while I was on duty.  I just got on, it didn’t really make that much difference.  You need to get the job done, quick as you can, because there’s another patient waiting. You can’t get yourself emotionally caught up in it. I think the saddest thing of all is when you get a person in, say they lived in Tottenham Court Road above a shop or something, and the rest of the family had no home, so they were being put up somewhere. That was upsetting because the patient didn’t know what was left of their home.  I can’t remember the patients individually, but I do remember that sadness because it was hard for them, very hard.

The nurses’ home was in Foley Street, which is just behind the hospital, and we had an underground passage so we never had to go over ground.  So, (a) you could never be molested and (b) no matter what was going on in the sky or anywhere else, you could always get on and off duty. 

I do remember, we used to stand on the street, look up and watch the dog fights; cheer like mad when one of them came down.  Of course we always assumed it was a German that came down, but you could see spitfires up there, fighting.  It was incredible. Never, ever took shelter.

I think there were times when we were really anxious, though not afraid.  Now what were they called, buzz bombs, doodlebugs.  They came at an alarming speed and you could hear those, you see,  as there was the “zzzzzz” noise, but you could not see them.  When their sound cut off,  you knew they would explode, but it always seemed an eternity before they blew up.  It couldn’t have been long, it could only have been seconds, but it seemed ages - where did it land, you know.

The other things I remember watching in the daylight, because you couldn’t see them at night: land bombs that were on parachutes. And we used to say if you see one coming, walk towards it and get underneath and beyond it before it touches a roof or anything. Because they did have a devastating effect; they’d touch a building or touch a tree, and they’d blast the whole roof or tree. They must’ve come in whichever way the wind was coming I suppose.  You’d see them coming down very slowly, that’s the difference, and they were silent.

When the war was over people had tea parties in the street! Where they got food from, God only knows, as rationing meant food was very restricted.  I must’ve been at a tea party because I remember seeing tables all along in the middle of the road, Union flags flying, and stools or something for the children to sit on. I don’t remember adults sitting, I remember adults serving us.  One had never eaten in the road before.