I was born a year after the war started in 1940 so I didn’t know what life was like without rationing and all the restrictions we had to put up with “for the duration”.
I lived with my mother in a block of flats in the centre of the city of Glasgow. My father was serving overseas in the Royal Navy. I was only a month old when he went away. We didn’t see him again until I was nearly three. I was lucky not to be evacuated as children under the age of three could stay at home with their mothers. This meant that I was able live in my own house and enjoy family life instead of being sent away to live with strangers. My grandmother and aunt lived a short walk away and we spent a lot of time round at their flat.
There were seven other children who lived in our block of flats. It was like being in a large family and we were in and out of each others’ houses every day. I was the youngest and was not old enough to play out in the street so we used the stairs and landings as an indoor play ground. We shared everything, food, clothes, scrap books, sweets, reading books, toys, board games and jigsaw puzzles, even our bathwater. Nothing was wasted. Twice a week I went nursery school in an old lady’s flat where we played games, did drawings and slid down a big slide which she put up for us in her kitchen. I loved going to the Botanical Gardens, a park where there were swings, anti aircraft guns, slit trenches and a barrage balloon which was raised during air raids to help protect us from low flying enemy aircraft.
The really bad bombing raids of the blitz were over before I was born, but every so often single bombers would come to bomb the factories and fuel dumps further down the river. There were five bomb craters round our house. We never could tell when the next raid would come so we always had to be ready to run to a shelter as soon as the siren went off. This was difficult at night when there were no lights in the houses because the electricity was often switched off. By the time I was three I was able to get myself ready for this sort of emergency. Every night, before I got into bed I would lay out my air raid clothes on a chair by my bedside. First there was my siren suit which went on over my pyjamas. This was like a onesie with a long zip in the front instead of buttons or other difficult fasteners. Next were my socks and my clogs, also easy and quick to put on. Finally there was a shoulder bag with my hat and gloves in it, my teddy bear Rupert, and my gas mask. I felt ready for anything.
The shelter was out in the street. There were about thirty people used our section of the shelter which was built of bricks with a concrete roof. To get to it we had to go down four flights of stairs and out across the road only using dimly lit torches because of the blackout. Our shelter was dark and cold and water dripped from the ceiling. It smelt damp and was uncomfortable. There were no toilets and no electricity. It was not a nice place to spend time in but I don’t remember being frightened. We listened for the anti – aircraft guns, the enemy planes coming over and the bombs dropping and exploding. When it was quiet again we sang songs and nursery rhymes to pass the time until the “all clear” sounded.
After 1943 my father was based in Belfast and we visited him there several times. This was a dangerous and frightening journey as we had to sail over the Irish Sea to get there and enemy submarines were hiding there hoping to sink our ships.
One day when we were in Belfast all the grown ups got very excited and hung flags and bunting out of their windows. The ships in the harbour flew their signal flags and we went to a party on my father’s ship. At 11 o’clock he carried me out on to the deck and asked me to pull on a rope which was dangling down by the funnel. I pulled it and the ship’s siren sounded “Whoop, Whoop, Whoop”. All the other ships’ sirens joined in and the church bells started ringing. Everyone was laughing and cheering because at last the war in Europe was over.
Eleanor Aged 3
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Eleanor with her younger brother and sister in 1950