There’s a Convoy Coming!

When I read about the experiences of others during the Second World War, my own memories come rushing back. We were very lucky as my aunt found us a flat near her and we moved from Acton, West London, to Three Bridges in Sussex for the duration of the war. Hot summers and cold winters stay in my memory, together with the long walks to and from school.

The lane we lived in was a ‘cut through’ to Gatwick Airport, then a small fighter station.

In the golden summer days we’d play in the lane without fear of cars. There were trees to climb; we made ‘camps’ of fallen branches in the woods and played at fighting the Germans. Like many others, we’d dive under the kitchen table when we heard planes overheard. What protection would an ordinary wooden table have given us, I wonder now?

When my father was due home on leave from the Air Force, we swung on the garden gate, looking anxiously down the long lane for him to appear. I must confess that, much as we loved him, we knew he saved his sweet ration for us and there would be sweets available that day.

I clearly remember my father, a jolly man who always made everyone laugh. He lost his temper when he and a neighbour once went to the local pub for a lunchtime drink. In the pub were quite a few disfigured servicemen who’d been brought out for a ride by their nurses from the hospital in East Grinstead. When the young men started to sing the songs of the day the landlord shouted at them to be quiet as he hadn’t got a licence for music. My father had to leave the pub as he was so angry. “For all that
they had given for their country,” he ranted and raved, “He couldn’t even allow them to sing.”

On the lighter side, I remember my mother preparing her shopping list each week. This was taken to the local grocer who would put it together and deliver it on his bike with the big basket on the front. It was a regular game and my mother would ask us: “Which jam shall I order this week?” We’d think a bit and all suggest different flavours. Without fail back would come solid plum, without any fruit visible.

I can remember receiving the one and only good hiding I ever had. By this time my mother’s friend had joined us with her two children in the flat next door. There was only six months’ difference between Sandy and me One day his mother had brought in a lovely hot crusty loaf and then gone next door to have a cup of tea with my mother. The smell of the bread enticed us into the kitchen and we slowly and systematically picked out and ate the inside of the loaf. When his mother came to cut the loaf all that was left was the outer crust. Oh dear! Did we get smacked!

The ‘doodle-bugs’ struck such fear in our hearts. The dreadful day when one landed near the school my sister attended was very frightening. We’d watched the chasing pilot trying to tip its wings to edge it away from the town, but it suddenly stopped and dropped. My mother leaped on to her bike and rode as fast as she could to the school. Fortunately the bomb had missed the school and dropped near the post office. No-one was injured.

Periodically we’d kneel in the road and listen. By
doing this we could ‘hear’ the rumble of heavy vehicles that denoted there were lorries coming our way. We’d rush into our houses up and down the lane shouting: “There’s a convoy coming.” Our mothers would put kettles on and gather up all the mugs they could find and make huge pots of tea. Quite often the lorries would stop and tea would be poured out for the troops. It usually happened that the convoy would move off before the last lorry load of men had finished their tea and then the men would shout: “I’ll throw the cup in the hedge,lady.” We’d then spend the next week searching the hedgerows as we walked to school. I can’t remember if we ever found any of them!

My father drove an enormous trailer lorry which was sent out to collect the crashed aircraft. I believe it was called a ‘Queen Mary’. Does anyone know why? To a child these vehicles seemed enormous. I remember knocking on neighbours’ doors and asking if they minded if Dad parked his vehicle across their grass verge as well as our own. We had such an assortment of service personnel in our family – Air Force, Army, Navy, ATS, as well as dockyard workers, who were just as important.

We children didn’t understand the seriousness of war. When an uncle returned from the D-Day landings, we had no idea how lucky he’d been to escape.

We were such a lucky family. All our relatives who joined the various services returned safely to us.

Barbara Daly