Len: Our Ownest Darling Girl (Extract from 1941)
Len: Our Ownest Darling Girl is a collection of letters, mostly between her Mother and her only child, Helen, dating from the late 1930’s through to 1950. The bulk of the letters were written between Mum in Yoker, Glasgow, and her daughter, working first in Cairo as a shorthand typist for the Ministry of Supply (1945 – 1948), and then working as a Personal Assistant at Porton Down, Wiltshire, the Government Biological and Chemical Warfare centre.
Len: Our Ownest Darling Girl will be published online from September, 2014, in weekly instalments.
The letters with accompanying photographs and ephemera present a vivid micro and macro picture of Britain and some of its citizens in the immediate post-war years, in the case of Mum and Helen, aspiring to a better Britain, and a better personal life.
Reproduced here are two wartime letters from one of Len’s friends, Joan Garnett, typed undercover in the Spring of 1941, at her workplace. She was a similar age to Len. In the Spring of 1941 Len was fifteen, and fearful of the Luftwaffe bombing of London, her Scottish Mother had persuaded Len’s Dad to move to the supposed safety of Yoker, near Clydebank. Len’s Dad was an engineer and had worked at the new Fords plant in Dagenham since its opening in 1933. In Glasgow he worked at the Royal Ordnance Factory in Dalmuir, where the main production was anti-aircraft guns.
(Attempts to locate Joan Garnett through the Barking & Dagenham Post in 2009 and 2011 have so far been fruitless. The author would like, as would Helen (‘Len’) to hear of her, or from her family. The same applies to another teenage friend, also from the Barking and Dagenham area, Joan Brandley.)
27th March, 1941. 249 Boundary Road, Barking.
Thank you very much for your letter that I received over a week ago. I wasn’t pleased to hear about the bombing, I expect everything looked a mess but it is sure to be cleared up now. I read about it in the papers and especially about the man who was buried for a week and brought out alive. (1) I am writing this at work in spells when I haven’t anything to do, so if it looks a bit untidy you will know it is because I have to keep taking it out and putting it back in the machine.
We had quite a packet the other night, Saturday week to be exact some bombs fell in our road and has made about forty houses uninhabitable. A bomb fell in the middle of the road and blew all the fronts of the houses in and some bombs fell in the back gardens knocking all the backs down. Two bombs in the back gardens were direct hits on Anderson shelters and blew the backs out another two. Four people were killed and fifteen injured. Bombs were also dropped in the next street, Howard Road and Morley Road.
Dad was down at Beckton that night and incendiary bombs dropped on two gas holders and you should have seen the gas burning, it made a terrific blaze. H.E.’s also dropped on Beckton that night and one dropped outside the building where my Dad was working, blew off the roof, blew in the windows and blackout and whirled my Dad round the room and cut his hand. He had to go on working the engines to see that the gas was pumped through, in the dark.
Then the next Tuesday we had another bad raid. We had some more bombs but not very near, but they also fell at Beckton again that night, and funnily enough Dad was there again. Just after the raid began some of the men he works with went off to get something to eat and didn’t come back so those that were left had to do their own work and these others. They couldn’t keep it up so they had to let the gas pressure go down and we got no gas until dinner time when the gas pressure went up again so I had to cook my breakfast over the fire
Last week they dropped bombs all the way up the line and I had a job getting up to town for a few days. One day it took me three hours. Whitechapel Station received a direct hit and for a few days trains could not stop because some of the platform was not there, but it’s alright now. On one side of Bromley Station there is a hospital and on the other side a workhouse and they were both hit. All along on each side of the line between Plaistow and Bow Road have been fires in the last week.
Last week the line was up from Barking to Aldgate East and the line of people waiting for buses started from the top of the Station hill and went down the hill to the Rio, down Salisbury Avenue to the bridge over the railway, round the corner and past the second turning. I was an hour lining up in that queue. Another time last week or the week before the trains were not running between Aldgate East and Mansion House so I caught the tube from St Pauls to Liverpool Street and at six o clock at night people were on the tube platforms ready for the night.
I went to the Rio last Saturday and saw The Mark of Zorro with Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell. I liked it ever so much and stayed in and saw it twice round. Also I saw Just Tempted with Hugh Herbert and Peggy Moran. Was it funny!
The week before I saw Gas Bags with the Crazy Gang and did I laugh. I went with my friend June who lives next door. I usually go with her and she laughed so much she went hysterical and screamed at the top of her voice and everybody looked at us, I did feel daft. With it we saw Dr Kildare Goes Home with Lew Ayres.
I had to work last Saturday it was my turn in again. I have been here almost three months now. Three months is up on the 6th of April which is not far away. I should be getting a rise soon in a couple of weeks or more.
Here there are seven of us who sit near to each other and one of us has to book out the drivers of the vans and give the boys their fare when they take parcels anywhere. One of the boys came in the other day and while Paddy was booking him out (Paddy is the pet name of a jolly girl called Miss High) asked her for the name of the girl in blue. She said she didn’t know. Winnie, the girl in blue, said she wasn’t to tell him her name, so when he came in the next time she said her name was Miss Wilhelmina Wigglesbottam and that set us off laughing and we could not stop. One girl had tears rolling down her cheeks. Good job the head of our Dept. was out and the girl who is in charge of us. What makes it funnier still is that Winnie is fairly good looking and David ……. (Le Patron’s edit) is a fully looking freak.
I managed to get some chocolate the other week and bought it while it was going. The result was that I ate over two shillings worth over the weekend. I have managed to get a few bars since then but don’t go thinking I can get plenty of chocolates because I can’t.
Fancy having a few nights without raids, quite refreshing. Hope it keeps on like this. We had a warning at nine o’clock this morning that only lasted ten minutes. It is not often we get raids in the daytime. (2)
They had a couple of land mines up at Scrattons Farm Estate and killed quite a few people. Some people who used to live on the end of our street moved up there and they were all killed except two babies. Their pictures were on the front page of the Daily Mirror.
Well I suppose I had better stop using the firm’s paper, wasting the firm’s time and wearing out the firm’s typewriter and say I’ll close now.
Yours ever, Joan.
p.s. Don’t forget to write soon.
1. Two weeks before, Clydebank was blitzed between 13 – 14 March. 528 died and out of 12,000 houses only seven, it is claimed, remained undamaged. 35,000 people were made homeless. Anti-aircraft guns, it is alleged, failed to shoot down a single German bomber. ROF Dalmuir, where Len’s Dad was working, and Len was to work was hit but re-opened within three weeks. The immediate area where Len was living in nearby Yoker was not seriously damaged.
This is how a Brodick farmer on the Isle of Arran, in the Firth of Clyde, remembered the Clydebank Blitz in the forthcoming Chapter 8: Blitz, from the online version of You, You & You! The People Out of Step With World War 11.
Arran Farmer The nights of the Clydebank Raids there was an incendiary bomb dropped on the island. They were coming overhead, over the island – a terrible racket, hundreds of planes coming over. Some appeared to be coming in and some appeared to be coming out over the island. On the second night of the bombing, which was the worst, there was a heavy mist, and the whole mist was flickering, right across the channel, and all our windows in the farm were rattling. It was a hell of a night. Goodness knows what those people in Clydebank went through.
2. This is another experience of a London daylight raid, from You, You and You!, recounted in the forthcoming Chapter 7: Battle of Britain and Invasion
Conscientious Objector When I was ploughing up land for the Kent Agricultural Committee I was often out in the middle of a field when the air-raids came over, and some of them were pretty bloody scarifying. These were daylight air raids, when the Nazis started their big heavy raids again, this was around ’41. I was out in the Kent marshland and I was driving along in my tractor, ploughing, keeping an eye on the ground and suddenly was aware of some different noise, in the air, and I looked up and there were about a hundred bloody great planes – you could see the Swastikas on them! God. I stopped the bloody tractor and dived underneath it, and peeped up at these buggers. Not a fighter, not a gun going off, absolutely nothing – they were just sailing up the river towards London, as if the place belonged to them.
30th April, 1941. 249 Boundary Road, Barking.
Thanks very much for your letter I received last week. Sorry I have not written before but I have not had much time, either at home or at work.
Congratulations on your new job, I was rather surprised, as I wasn’t expecting it. Glad to know that you are getting on so well. Do you like it better than at College? (1)
You remember the wedding I attended last August, well I had half-a-dozen copies made of myself and Pamela and I wondered if you would like one of them, just to remind you what my dear face looks like, so I am enclosing one for you.
Also, do you realise that I have nothing at all that shows me what your dear face looks like. If you have a photograph I could have, I should be pleased.
I bet you cannot guess who works here, someone who used to go the “Tec” (2)
When I first saw him I wondered where I had seen him before and after a few discreet enquiries I found out that he went to the Tec, but I can’t for the life of me remember which Form he was in. Perhaps you do.
He said he doesn’t remember me either.
I’d love to ask him about the Tec, but he seems so shy, and as you know I am rather shy myself. He often gets in my train at night but he never says anything or even recognises me. Can you remember which form he was in?
We have had a few bad air raids since I last wrote to you. A week ago last Wednesday we had a bad air raid but it was mostly in the City. I expect you heard on the radio that the City Temple and Wallis’s was completely burnt out. A land mine was dropped in Cannon Street between Mansion House Station and St. Pauls, talk about a mess, the road is still blocked. A land mine was also dropped in Fleet Street but the parachute caught on the telegraph wires so it failed to explode and it was safely taken away. I expect you also heard about the bomb on St.Pauls.
A bomb fell right on Blakes Corner destroying the clock. From the Gas Light and Coke Co. all round the corner to the first chemist is a heap of bricks. A roof spotter was buried under there for days and even an oxygen pump failed to bring him up alive.
The following Saturday night the attack was centred on the suburbs. We had a land mine in Morley Road at the back of the Catholic school. We had been laying under the table all night as bombs were coming down thick and fast. Then there was a mighty crash, glass breaking and everything seemed to be falling on top of us. It was the land mine, and it switched on a couple of the lights, so Dad got out from under the table and switched them off. Dad said we had better go down the shelter as we couldn’t stay there for the moment, window frames, glass and plaster all around us. Pam hadn’t got any shoes on so we sat her on the armchair while we found them and she said, “Oh! I’m sitting on glass”, so we quickly took her off. We got halfway through the scullery when we couldn’t go any farther.
I thought a bomb had fallen on the back of the house and blocked the way but Dad shone his torch and we saw it was the back door split in half and laying right in the way. When we came out after the all clear had gone the place was properly in a mess. All this happened at ten to four in the morning so we didn’t have to wait long for daylight. We knew the time because it stopped all the clocks.
We had the workmen round and mended the windows and doors and yesterday the surveyors came round to see what was to be done inside the house, as we have a big hole in the scullery ceiling and plaster down in all the rooms and even a few cracks.
Glad to know you enjoyed your Easter Holiday. I had to work Good Friday but we got paid double and had Easter Monday off. On the Saturday we went to the Rio and saw North West Mounted Police. On Easter Monday I went to the Capitol and saw Down Argentina Way with Betty Grable and Don Ameche. Also Michael Shayne, Private Detective with Robert Taylor, Walter Pidgeon and Ruth Hussey.
I have some good and bad news for you. I am going to get a holiday after all on the 12th of July to the 21st. But I am afraid my Father won’t let me come to you as he said the threats of invasion and gas attacks would only worry them while I was away. So perhaps after the war. I hope it won’t last long.
Are you ever going to come back to Barking or are you going to stop in Scotland after the war?
I am finishing writing this in my dinner time as I am afraid we have been rather busy lately to do much typing for oneself. It is nearly two o’ clock so better close now hoping to hear from you soon with the photograph. I have to take this home to address as the photograph I am sending you will not go in the firms envelopes.
1. Len’s first job, at the age of fifteen, was in the offices of Drysdales, pump makers, at 16/- a week (80 pence).
2. The “Tec” was the South East Essex Technical College Day School.