Ronald Basil Girdler
In the early part of 1939 preparations were made to evacuate school-
We arrived at Bishop's Stortford station in Hertfordshire where we sat forlornly on our suitcases on the station platform waiting to be "sorted out", and were eventually taken to a school hall to await our prospective "foster-
The winter of '39/40 was very cold with thick snow and Mr. Turner made us a toboggan which we used in a nearby hilly field, but in spite of their kindness we were very homesick, and used to write letters to Mum and Dad pleading to be taken home. They would come and see us from time to time, and once Barbara came on the train on a very snowy Sunday and when she left to go home she sang as she walked away, waving, "We'll meet again" a popular song of Vera Lyn's. She wore a grey-
Dr. Matthews was a psychiatrist who had lived in Hampstead, and he and his wife had two sons of their own, both of whom were away at boarding school. The younger of the two had a very inflated opinion of himself and his status in life. He suggested that we only went to stay in his house so that we could have chicken for dinner! He was very surprised when I replied indignantly that we had chicken every week at home! They employed an Austrian refugee called Martha as cook who told us of the terrible conditions she had left behind in Austria. She told how she and the other Jews had to wear yellow stars on their clothes to signify their race, and she had had to crawl in the road and lick the street with her tongue. She never explained how she made her escape. She was however a very inventive cook. I remember on one occasion when guests were expected to dinner. Shirley and I had to make ourselves scarce so we stayed in the kitchen and watched the preparations. Martha told us she was going to make fried eggs for supper. She made several small circular flat meringues in the centre of each of which she placed an upturned half-
Dr. Matthews and his wife were very good to us and bought us lots of jig-
The coming of the end of the school year meant that we could go home for the summer holidays. The whole period we had been away later became known as the "phoney war" for very little had happened as far as lighting was concerned and all was quiet, so it was decided that there was no point in returning to Bishop's Stortford. Nobody anticipated what was to happen in September 1940.
On August 21st, two German bombers jettisoned their load of bombs on London, and in retaliation the R.A.F. bombed Berlin. Hitler threatened to flatten London, and on September 7th. 300 German bombers arrived over London at around 5 p.m., making for London Docks. Huge fires caused a great deal of damage and many people were killed. Nothing like this had ever been seen before. This was the first of the Air Raids on London and were repeated every night for more than two months, during which time 13,000 Londoners were killed, There was a few day's cessation of bombing over the Christmas period, and then on December 29th., a Sunday, the bombers came in the afternoon, just before 6 o'clock, and the City was set alight. At the beginning of 1941 the Air Raids became intermittent but on May 10th London was struck by the worst raid of all. During the whole of the Air Raids 30,000 Londoners were killed.
Every evening at about dusk the Air Raid Sirens would start wailing with a rising and falling tone and everyone would gather up blankets, hot drinks and candles and torches and make his way to the Anderson shelter which we shared with our neighbours, the Collins family, which was in their garden, and would prepare for the long night ahead. Blackie was put in the cellar as this was considered to be the safest place for her. We could not take her into the shelter with us as it was already overcrowded, and because she would have been able to run out had she wished, there being no door to the shelter. Inside the shelter we each had our own deck-
On one such night we heard the whine and crump of a very close explosion, and suddenly Blackie came leaping down into the shelter, whining and shivering with fear. We were all horrified because we thought she would have been unable to get through the doors of the cellar and the house unless the house itself had been hit. Bombs were still failing all around so we were unable to see what had happened until dawn when the "All-
On day Barbara, Shirley and I pooled our sweet rations and bought a small Toblerone to eat in the shelter. In the dark, Barbara told us a story, and when she had finished we asked her for our share of the Toblerone only to find that she had "absent-
We must, have gone back to school in Bishop's Stortford for at least one more term, because I remember returning home for the holidays to find that Blackie had been put down because she was so terrified of the Air Raids, and also because we were soon to be on the move again. I was heartbroken and lay on my bed and sobbed for what seemed like hours.
Jack and Joe had been called up into the Army and R.A.F. respectively. Joe was a P.T. Instructor and was stationed in various parts of the country including Filey in Yorkshire, and in the Isle of Man, so that Kit was able to move around Britain to be with him. Jack, however, was very soon drafted overseas to Italy and North Africa and Het moved back to Clapton with the rest of the family.