WWII memories


To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II, the East of London Family History Society is inviting its members to share their wartime memories. Janet Seward reports

In August, the Newham and Redbridge branch of the East of London Family History Society will hold a members’ evening, but guests are still welcome. These evenings are an opportunity for members to share family stories or the trials and tribulations of detecting their ancestors.

We don’t usually have a theme to these evenings, but as September brings the 80th anniversary of the start of the World War II, we have decided to devote the session to memories of that time. So far, we have three confirmed speakers. Michael Potter and I will co-ordinate the evening.

One of the first significant events of the war for many was the evacuation of civilians, especially children, from areas most likely to be bombed. Most of us have family experiences of evacuation either first-hand or passed down to us. My parents and their brothers and sisters were evacuated, but a combination of home sickness and the Phoney War saw them return to London by Christmas 1939. There were, however, two heart-warming exceptions. My mother’s youngest sister and brother, aged four and six, were evacuated with a 10-year-old sister. The elder sister was given strict instructions by my grandmother that “the little ones” had to stay together, which she achieved. The two small children were placed in the loving care of a middle-aged couple who managed a smallholding in Uxbridge. The little ones kept in touch with ‘Mum and Dad 2’, as they called their evacuee parents, and still meet their grandson, who they knew as a baby as he was born while they were evacuated.          

Michael will start the event with an introduction and some first-hand memories of his wartime childhood and evacuation.

Dennis Galvin will then give a talk on his memories of being evacuated from London. Dennis summarises his experience by saying: “It all started appropriately enough with Land of Hope and Glory, Pomp and Circumstance (all men must be free) and Rose of England, and then with no buckets and spades or ice cream cornets, we seemed to go for our first-ever holiday to a very beautiful part of England.”

The advent of war meant men were called up to fight, and former soldiers and sailors, many veterans from the First World War, were required to train the new recruits. Many ex-servicemen had joined the police force when they retired from the military and, of course, the police was full of fit young men who were needed for active military service. The result was police numbers suffered just at the time a resilient full strength force was required.  David Swinden will give us a short talk on the Metropolitan Police during the war. It will include how the force managed their activities by recruiting 27,000 auxiliary police officers.

The East of London Family History Society will meet at Wanstead Library on 28 August from 7.30pm (visitors: £1.50). For more information, call 020 8554 8414