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Wartime Memories by June Morgan

I clearly remember Sunday September 3rd 1939. It was morning. My parents were going about their usual household tasks. I was doing what a 9 year old child does – nothing in particular. In fact I was sitting on the sofa eating a ripe plum!

The radio was turned on and a speech was being given by the Prime Minister, Mr. Neville Chamberlain. At that age I had no idea of the significance of his speech untilI realised by my parents’ reaction that the news was very grave. When they explained to me that War had broken out I felt a great fear, probably picking up my parents’ feelings. I immediately threw the fruit stone across the room saying “Oh No”. In subsequent years they have reminded me of that childish reaction and we have laughed about it together.

The war years for my parents’ generation must have been terrible. Never knowing if we would be invaded by the Nazis or bombed while sleeping in our beds, they had to go on with life day to day. My father served as an ARP Warden and as his daily work was in Newington he was appointed to be on duty there each time the air raid siren sounded. At any time in the evening or night he was expected to cycle there wearing his tin hat (steel helmet). On one occasion a German aeroplane flew over Keycol hill as he was cycling to Newington and he immediately lay down on the road.!

Rationing was a major concern for all housewives and mothers. The rationing of food and clothes stretched the ingenuity of everyone and my mother would valiantly make sure there was always enough to eat and she seemed to stretch the limited supplies she was allowed. In fact we regularly entertained two soldiers who were billeted near to where we lived. There was always sufficient food to share

During the first part of the war I was a pupil at Holy Trinity Elementary School. The names of Miss Scowen and Miss Wakeman have already been mentioned in the Museum Journal.Miss Wakeman in particular had a major influence on my life then. In fact I visited her after her retirement until her death when she had almost reached her century. Miss Wakeman was a remarkable teacher and was respected byeveryone who knew her. Miss Scowen and Miss Wakeman were young teachers when they first arrived in Sittingbourne – in fact they taught my mother. In conversation with Miss Wakeman on one occasion, I learned that both of them had studied at Cambridge University and, although they passed the degree examinations, they, as with all female students, were not given the status of graduate. That was the system in those days. I don’t think women would accept such a thing now.

I have been asked if I had any experience of air raid shelters during the war. Some people had them built in their back gardens but my father never resorted to that. We often spent considerable time under the dining room table though, and also my bed was brought downstairs to ensure that I had more sleep during the night raids. At Holy Trinity School we pupils were given protection from daytime raids. We were conducted out of the school, across the road, (Church St) and into an area which had served as the vicarage garden where there was a large air raid shelter. Miss Wakeman and the other teachers were responsible for getting us safely down the steps and settled down on the long seats which were arranged along each side of the shelter and there we continued our lessons by a very dimlight. Kettles were boiled and mugs of OXO were given to each child to keep out the cold. I have often thought subsequently of the heavy responsibility it must have been for our teachers in those days .

One devastating experience of the war made an indelible impression on my life. It happened one evening when Sittingbourne was showered with incendiary bombs. Many buildings were badly damaged but there was little human injury.

The following morning I walked through the High St and eventually reached the area of the Wesley Methodist Church. This was our family church. It had been burned to the ground. A few weeks before that the church had been given a new wooden Christening font. The metal skeleton of this stood in the very centre of the ruined church. This is an image which will never be erased from my memory.

As the years passed and we, as children, grew into our teenage years we adapted to this way of life remarkably well. The uncertainty of everything must have had an adverse effect on our outlook on life and yet, somehow, one got used to it. By the time VE Day arrived we were unprepared for the new freedoms we experienced. It seems that adversity often brings people closer together, and although one would never choose it, we learned from it, hopefully to our advantage.
Memories | childhood
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