The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead

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July 2019

Memory from 1939

Margaret Willmer

My mother, Kay Berryman (1915 -2003), wrote a diary for most of her life but on the whole it refers to her daily activities.  She typed up her diaries for the war years 1939 to 1945.  In this extract she says one of the gaps was for July and August 1939 but wrote this from memory.

Did an Air Raid Warden’s course.  Had responded to all the advertising posters “National Service.  It is up to you”.  My conscience told me I should do something.  Went to Town Hall and enrolled for what I thought was a First Aid course, not paying much attention to what I was doing.  Duly turned up to start the weekly course.  After some weeks found it was the A. R. WARDENS course I was doing.  So much for the attention I had paid at enrolment.  It was obvious to the government, in spite of Hitler’s promises to Mr Chamberlain, that war was inevitable.  Re-armament went ahead, so we were a bit prepared by September 3rd when Hitler attacked Poland, in spite of his having stated that he had no more territorial claims in Europe. 

War was declared Sept. 3rd and I became a full time Air Raid warden, so had a regular income, £2. 18s. 9p. per week, not much but regular.  12 hour shifts, nothing happening so on night shift went to sleep on camp beds, went home and continued with my private pupils.  We were a nucleus of about 8 full-timers, and there were shifts of part-timers who came on duty in the evening and were on call all night.  Nothing happened in that first year so we enjoyed ourselves.  The part-timers were mostly middle aged men living in St John’s Wood, most were business men, or retired, and a few came from the L.C.C. flats, slum clearance flats for the East Enders, but all good people and all, rich or ordinary, became one big band of brothers.

Nothing happened during the first months of the war, occasional sirens.  But we were being trained as well as council lectures, by our Post Warden Capt. Lavers, we all thought he was potty, as no-one had the slightest idea about aerial bombardment, even ex-soldiers from the last war.  He was from Mauritius, (French) he must have been trained, because when the trouble started, we all knew exactly what to do, and it all ran like clockwork!  Were we surprised! 

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