WW2 memories

Stories by Violet Hall (nee Apted)

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Violet was born in Sussex, but spent the war time years near Ashford, in Kent.

She later emigrated to Australia where she lives today.

She has kindly allowed us to publish some of her moving stories about her own memories here, memories likely to be shared by the many members of Our Family that lived through the same events.

Displayed here are just three examples from Violet's long list of published and unpublished works. Her latest work is a novel, "The Planting", available from Strategic Book Publishing (SBP).

Also listed here under "Doodlebugs in Kent" is a rare copy of a page from the "Kent Messenger" of 15th September 1944 which Violet very generously scanned and sent to us. It indicates where each of the 2,400 V1 flying bombs ("Doodle Bugs") that hit Kent in just 80 days of 1944 actually landed.

Violet's chain My granddaughter Samantha, was asked to give a talk at school. Because it was Remembrance Day she asked me if I had a memory of the war she could use. I realized Samantha was the same age I had been when the war started, and began to tell her some of my experiences.

She was enthralled and wanted to hear more. It was as if I had turned on a verbal tap, the words gushed out almost tumbling over each other, as I relived some of the moments of my own schooldays.

She was enthralled and wanted to hear more. It was as if I had turned on a verbal tap, the words gushed out almost tumbling over each other, as I relived some of the moments of my own schooldays.

Samantha's talk was a great success and her friends all wanted to ask me many questions when I met her from school later that day.

I promised Sammi and her brother Steve that I would write my war story down one day. That is how WAR THROUGH THE EYES OF A CHILD, came to be in your hands today.

There had been so many war stories written you will be thinking perhaps, why bother to write another? Of all the stories I have read I have never felt that a child's point of view was ever really considered. Maybe the old adage a child should be seen but not heard is something adults do believe.

The mental scars of war can, for all of us remain for a lifetime. For a child the scars linger longer than our parents realise, even after our parent’s lifetime has ended.

This story is about the war, my war, war through the eyes of a child.

It is about the scars I have carried for a lifetime, mental scars that go so deep they still cause a physical reaction, like the sound of a machine gun in a film, that you know is only a film, yet your whole body goes cold with fear.

I dedicate this story to my three children Maureen, Stephen and Beverley.

I will always thank God that they were given their childhood free from all that goes with being a child somewhere in the middle of a war.


War Through The Eyes of a Child

There was no fear, but then why should there be? War was only a word to an eight- year -old child. The fact that we were at war with Germany seemed to have upset all the adults in the street. Everyone was outside their homes all speaking of the terrible announcement that had just come over the radio. Mothers were crying, Dad's were trying to calm their wives. I remember my big sister telling me that now we would have to eat black bread, and there would be no more sugar for any of us. She had of course heard our grandparents speaking of the previous war. I only laughed and told her it wouldn't worry me and to prove it I would go without sugar from that day on, so when it did happen I would not have to suffer. If war only meant we had to go without sugar, and eat black bread it wasn't all that terrible.

People were making so much fuss all around us that we ran off to finish our game, blissfully unaware of the tragedy that was about to engulf our lives. Unaware, that the announcement of war was to steal our childhood away from us. No wonder our parents let us play, after all were they not children of war themselves?

My father was already in the army when war was declared so we were used to him being away. It was his last leave home from France that I remember so well, because of the beautiful gold cross and chain he bought me. He had come laden with gifts for all of us six children, but I thought my cross and chain was the most beautiful thing I had seen in my life. I could not understand why my mother put it away until I was old enough to take more care of it, and cried bitterly. That cross was to become so very precious to me.

Telegram boy

I answered the door the day the telegram was delivered. I heard my mother crying, and knew it had been bad news, but all my questions were brushed aside. We accepted an adult’s words in those days, so it was not until I was helping my mother with the shopping that I first heard the words,

"Missing in action, believed dead".

When a friend of mother's stopped her to say how sorry she was to hear about Alec. In her grief Mum forgot I was there saying Dad had been at Dunkirk (which I had heard the adults talking about). Those words gave me a cold chill inside, I knew fear for the first time, and I cried because I knew something had happened to my father, yet not understanding What, it was. Mother gripped my hand as she became aware of me beside her and as she comforted me she made me promise I would not tell my younger sisters and brother. I listened and tried to understand that 'missing, believed dead' was the way the army had to do it until they had real proof of death. She explained tearfully that proof could come at anytime now.

I kept my promise to my mother, never telling the younger members of the family, suddenly feeling much older. Crying in my bed about three months later, because there had been no word from the army, Mum came into my bedroom without speaking she handed me the gold cross my father had bought for me. That was the first time I knew what it was to really pray, as I lay alone in my bed that night I just knew my father had to be alive.

Twelve months after that awful telegram came the news that Dad was alive, and in a prisoner of war camp in Germany. He had been on the beach, one of a gun crew when they were hit by shells. All his mates had been killed, Dad's identity disc lost, and he suffered amnesia for a long time. He was to remain a prisoner for the rest of the war, but he was alive, and to his little girl back home that was all that mattered. To me my faith in my cross, had saved my Dad, and I believed I had reached him through it, bringing him back to me. My mother sent him my photograph to help him get his memory back, because I did not want him to forget me. He carried that photograph with him throughout the war and brought it home with him. It still has the prison camp mark on the back (Stalag XXB).

War soon became an everyday part of our lives, the air raid warnings, and the Observer Corp, spotters warning which told us the enemy planes were overhead soon lost their fear, and it became a game to brave it out. We only went Down into the shelters if we were made to go and used to stand to watch the planes above us being shot at, shouting encouragement to our pilots to kill the enemy.

Carrying a gas mask to school became as natural as carrying our satchel. Gas mask drill became as common as fire drill.

There was an old railway carriage at the fire station that was converted for use as a gas mask testing station, we all had to wait outside for our turn, file inside, put on our gas masks and tear gas was released to test for leaks. We were scared even though we had been told it was harmless. Before they would open the door we had to remove our masks, there was a sharp stinging sensation, and our eyes watered badly. We were told it was a harmless form of gas. It was fun when we were pulled through a long dark tunnel, lying flat on a low trolley, this was a means of rescue, and by training us we would know what to do, and not hamper any rescues we may have to be involved in.

School times became governed by air raids. We could not leave for school if there was a raid on, and if the siren went as we were on our way we were told to run as fast as we could to get to the school shelters as quickly as possible. If there were any spotters warning or planes overhead, we had to run to the nearest house for cover. I never once did so, wanting to see the enemy that had caught my father shot down in flames as often as I could. There was no fear, or realization, of the danger in doing so.

The sirens went one afternoon, and the primary school teacher hurried us all into the shelters, forms were placed down each side of the shelter, and we all sat facing

each other. Soon we heard the spotters warning and the planes were overhead. We could hear the guns and the shells exploding. The teacher got us all singing, so we would not be frightened. There was a big explosion close by, and the teacher ordered us under the forms. We lost no time in obeying her order. Everyone was scared, some children were crying, as we all squeezed under the forms.

Our teacher was a very large lady and it looked so funny as she tried to get under with us, that we started to laugh. Because of our reaction she exaggerated her movements, squirming and wriggling to make us laugh some more. For a while we forgot the frightening things going on outside at the sight of our big fat teacher stuck fast in a most un-lady-like and ‘un-teacher-like’ situation. Because of that wonderful teacher, Miss Willis, that was one scar less we would carry.

It was thanks to that same teacher and the headmistress Miss Adams, that all the children in that school were saved when the school took a direct hit in a raid a few months later. By then I had gone on to high school, but my younger sister and my brother were among those saved.

One day my friends and I decided to go to our gang’s secret den we had built in a gnarled old tree in a field by the river. The field was a children's paradise with lots of abandoned materials of an unfinished bridge scattered everywhere - piles of sand and ballast, and some

V-shaped girders. We girls changed into our swimsuits in our tree, then, plunged into the river with the boys, some of whom were not so modest. After our swim we decided to play in the sand among the girders instead of sunbathing on the top of the unfinished bridge, that decision was to save our lives.

We ignored the air raid warning, and when the spotters warning went immediately after we could already see the enemy planes overhead. We ran for cover but even as we did so a German plane dived toward us. We threw ourselves down on the ground as the German pilot opened fire with his machine guns. Bullets ripped into the ground around us as we fell. Somehow no one was hurt, but all six of us were very frightened, my young brother started to cry.

The two older boys Maurice and Charlie took charge telling us to quickly turn over the V-shaped girder and get underneath. We needed no second telling, and they flung themselves in after us just as the German plane attacked again. Bullets struck our makeshift shelter. We were petrified with fear, and huddled together I was trembling as I held my young brother tightly in my arms. Maurice reached over and held my hand, reassuring me we would be all right. After the third hail of bullets had hit our shelter, we heard the sound of another plane, it had a different sound than the German plane, although we could still hear machine gun fire, no more bullets struck our shelter.

Suddenly Maurice and Charlie began to shout at the same time telling us it was a spitfire.

"He'll get him, come on", Maurice said, and we scrambled out of our shelter to see vapour trails criss-crossing the sky.

The spitfire was on the German's tail. We shouted and screamed encouragement, but fell strangely silent when smoke and flames belched out from the German plane. I felt an immense sense of relief when the pilots parachute opened, and he drifted slowly down.

We ran to where he landed which was not very far from us. The German was unconscious and covered in blood. Soldiers with fixed bayonets appeared, one took my brother from my arms, and put a comforting arm around my shoulders, he asked me if I was all right. I could not answer. I was looking at the face of the German pilot. The soldiers were lifting him onto the back of the jeep when he regained consciousness and our eyes met. He had tried to kill me my little brother and my friends, yet strangely I felt no hatred. He could not have been many years older than we were. For as long as I live I will remember that day. The day I lost my childhood.

Another day that lives on in my memory is the day of the terrible bombing of our town. We were all kept at school until someone could collect us, or teachers could check if, in fact we had homes to go to. No one came for me, and I was sent home with the instructions to find a relative or friend until I heard from my mother, if not I was to go to the police station.

When I reached the corner of my road I understood why. Half the street was demolished. There were so many people still looking dazed and crying, ambulances and N.A.A.F.I. police and soldiers. People still searching through the rubble that had once been beautiful homes, although I was told they were almost sure they had found all the bodies, it was routine to keep searching until everyone was accounted for.

Bomb damage, Canterbury, KentI could not find my mother! I searched the sea of faces and knew the worst fear I could ever know.

Where could she be? Was she one of the bodies they had found? Worse still, Yet to be found!

Was that why no one had come for me? Perhaps there was no one to do so?

Panic welled up inside me and the tears began. Please God let me find my mother. I became one of a crowd of dazed crying people. I knew that one brother and sister were in the school that had been hit. My two older sisters worked in the factory that had been hit. Were they all? That was it! That was why no one had come for me. There was no one to come.

My baby sister attended the infant’s school, she should be all right, but they would not have let her come home alone. Just as I was thinking of my little sister, I saw her! She was sitting in the child's seat on the back of a woman's cycle, it was her teacher. I called out and ran over the road to her. I must have been quite hysterical by then, because I can remember greeting them as if it was a normal day and laughing.

The teacher had located my mother, and was waiting for her to get a cup of tea from the NAAFI van nearby. I walked over to the van, and saw Mum standing in the queue about to be served. She looked so tired and was covered in dust and dirt. I remember thinking how terrible it was that the woman could not give Mum a cup of tea without sugar, because the big urn of tea was sweetened. I understand now that it is the usual thing to do as it helps in cases of shock, and there were plenty of those that day.

Mum hugged me to her as we stood talking to the teacher that had brought my Sister home. She had known our street had been badly hit, and had checked up on the casualties before bringing her home to find Mum. I learned then that Granny and Granddad were both alive but in hospital, and Mum had been digging through the debris- that was once beautiful houses to find them and the many others, who were trapped underneath, including friends and neighbours that had been killed. No wonder she looked so tired and sad. How she must have suffered that day on top of all that was going on there.

She knew where the bombs had fallen and not knowing if she had lost most of her children as well. When she saw the teacher with my sister and I she thought her worst fears were true, that maybe we were the only two to survive. I remembered my own fears earlier that day and started to cry.

Later that day we were taken to a Rest Centre that had been allocated as temporary accommodation for all the people that had been left homeless by the bombing that day.

My brother and sister, Bert and Jean, joined us later. They had been looked after by the school authorities until they could find out where the families (that had survived) were. They were luckier than some of our friends that had no home or family to return to. My two older sisters Rose and Joan arrived shortly after. We had been allocated a room, supplied with beds and blankets and it looked like a dormitory by the time we were through.

After a meal, which left me still hungry, we children were tucked up in our strange beds, but little sleep was to be had. We each told our story of the day, each of us recalling our own horror, and wondering what tomorrow would bring. Our biggest fear now was that they would send us away from our Mum, as evacuees. Making the vow that we would all run away back to Mum if they did, four, frightened tired little children finally slept.

We did not know what tomorrow would bring, but we were together, and Mum was with us! For now that was all that mattered.

Tomorrow would never come for some of our friends. They too were children of war, they would not carry their scars into the future as we would, but maybe the scars their parents would carry would be so very much harder to bear.


Welcome Home Dad

The day my Head Mistress sent for me to go to her office is another event that stays very clearly in my mind. When I walked in I saw my Mother and two sisters standing beside a soldier! For a moment I could not take in what my eyes could see so clearly, then I shouted “ Daddie” and ran across the room into my Father’s arms and cried tears of joy. That started everyone off even my Head Mistress was crying. All I knew was that my Dad was home and he was safe! All my prayers had been answered. My little gold cross and chain had brought my Dad home to me. My faith was restored and reborn that day. It has never wavered since. We were allowed to go home from school early to celebrate our Dad’s safe return home. I think this was more fun to my younger brother Bert and my sisters Jean and Mary They did not remember Dad. He was a stranger to them. I saw tears in his eyes, because they were unsure of him, but he never let it spoil his welcome home.

© Copyright Violet Apted