Site Map | About Us
Tollesbury - Village of the Plough and Sail

The First Year

I had my eighth birthday in August 1939 and by then preparations were being made for an invasion. Air Raid sirens were erected. Preparations were made to 'black out' all doors and windows with material available from Mr McCormicks' in the village at 3d a yard.

At first this was just tacked to the windows but later on light wooden frames were made and the material was attached to these. These could be wedged into the window frames at night and lifted out during the day.

Gas masks were issued to us all and were carried at all times. They came in small cardboard boxes and special carriers with straps that were made for them by Mrs. Lewis. I can remember that my Mother embroidered mine and I was sure I had the best Gas Mask cover in the school.

There were also very elaborate special Gas Masks for babies. At fairly regular intervals a van would come to the playground and we would don our Gas Masks and walk through it to make sure the masks were efficient. Each house-hold had to provide it's own shelter. Some had Anderson shelters made from two sections of corrugated steel meeting in a ridge at the top.

These were sunk three feet into the ground, the tops were covered with sand bags and clods of earth. There were steps going down to them and bunks inside. We were always pleased if we were visiting friends who had one and there was an Air Raid, as we would all clamber down into the shelter and sing songs and tell stories until the raid was over.

The only problem was that they often got flooded. Other families bought Morrison shelters, large metal constructions with two shelves and mattresses on each. If there was danger, the whole family could sleep on the bottom 'shelf'.

Some made their own Morrison shelters by putting their beds on four large blocks so that there was room underneath for the Children. Others used the 'cubby hole under the stairs' as their place of safety. We did!

Ration books were provided for all. At first these covered basic foods but as the War went on, more and more things were added to the list. Sweet rationing was not too hard for us. We all seemed to have lots of 'Aunts' and 'Uncles' who would save their coupons for us. It was the same with Clothing coupons.

As my Father was a Fisherman, we always had Fish and often we were able to exchange fish for eggs or bacon (Uncle Tom across the road always had a half share in a Pig)

The first indication that War was really close was the arrival of evacuees on September 1st. These were from London - expected to be the first target of the German bombers. Most families in the village had mothers with young children or just Children billeted on them.

We had a mother and her small boy here. The only thing that I remember was that he was younger than me but was allowed to stay up longer!!

On September 1st came the news that the Germans had marched into Poland, and two days later at 11.15am, we listened to our wireless sets to hear Mr.Chamberlain speaking from Downing Street to tell us that the deadline for Germany to withdraw her troops from Poland had passed at 11 o'clock and consequently - "This country is at War with Germany".

Most of the evacuees returned to London and troops came to take their places. We had two Soldiers billeted here. Their main task was to main the searchlights at Mell Farm, and the guns on the Railway line.

In July 1940 came the "pots and pans" appeal - an appeal for any household good made wholly or partly from aluminium. This was needed to build more planes; Spitfires, Hurricanes, Blenheims and Wellingtons. Next came the appeal for Wrought - Iron gates and railings. The village was beginning to look very different.

With the growing threat of Incendiary bombs, householders in the village were asked to place a pail of water outside their front door and to put a card with a large 'W' in a conspicuous place. And if you were willing to give shelter during an Air Raid to anyone caught out on the streets, you put a large 'S' in the window.

In August came the start of the terrible "Blitz" on London. I can remember a crowd of us standing in Woodrope Road and gazing up as hundreds of German planes flew over at a great height. German planes damaged in the battles would drop their bombs to lighten their loads before heading back across the North Sea. Bombs fell all around the village, but although we had many windows broken by the blasts, no homes were destroyed or lives lost.

A large concrete shelter, with wooden benches inside, had been built in the school playground. Throughout that time there had been constant Air Raid warnings both day and night. During the day we would line up with our Gas Masks and make our way to the shelter. We were young enough to say "Hope there'll be an Air Raid" if there was a lesson coming up that we didn't like.

Moreover we were all keen to hear the next instalment of the story the teachers were reading to us during the raid. On November 4th we were all lined up again. This time we didn't head for the shelter. The whisper was going along the line "The King Is Coming!" I can remember standing at Brands Corner and saluting, as ask the King passed he saluted back! Well that's how I remember it - he probably just gave a friendly wave to all the children waiting there.

The King had come to the village to inspect the mobile guns (including Big Bertha) protecting the River Blackwater. The guns were manoeuvred on trolleys on the railway line. It was a very proud day for Tollesbury. In little over a year, my life had changed so much - as had the lives of Children all over Europe. I suppose, looking back, we were the lucky ones here.

©Fay Heard, WW2 People's War
Reproduced under the following terms

Home | Contact Us | Privacy Policy | Terms and Conditions | Accessability