Braintree Museum shares the stories of those who lives through the Second World War
- Credit: Archant
It’s all very well writing things down for posterity, but to capture the emotion of the moment you can’t beat the sound of someone talking.
Steven Russell learns about one museum's way of remembering the Second World War; by letting people tell us what happened, in their own words.
It was tough enough being a child in wartime. It could be worse if you were a city child dispatched to a countryside that seemed like an alien world. John White was evacuated from Edmonton, London, to Rayne, near Braintree ? and experienced a culture shock.
“When we got to the poultry farm, Mrs Smith introduced us to Mr and Mrs Moss. I was frightened as they were complete strangers,” he remembers. “Then we were shown around the farm and we saw animals we had never seen before, like cows and chickens. I was terrified of the goats with their strange staring eyes, thinking they were unicorns because of their horns. I remember being afrBraintree aid that I was going to be fed to them.”
John’s recollections will be among those in a Braintree Museum exhibition this summer that tells the story of life at home through the voices of local people, rather than through the filter of a museum professional such as a curator.
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Visitors will also hear Kathleen May, who lived at Silver End. “I suppose the first thing I remember was when the men came round with the gas masks…which took a long time because I never liked anything over my face and it took all the evening to persuade me to put it on; and in the end mum said ‘Look, if you don’t try it on’ ? ’cause obviously they came in different sizes – ‘you won’t be allowed out to play after tea at night’, which was a good enough reason for me to try it on; and then I used to put it on from the middle of tea.”
Barrie Watkins has happier memories. “I was born in 1938 and spent the whole of the war living in Braintree. I have many childhood memories of crouching under our kitchen table, which served as an air raid shelter as doodlebugs went overhead on their way to London.
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“I attended Chapel Hill Primary School and here it is food that I remember most: gathering up apples to take home, taking a jar to school to collect my cocoa and shouting out, ‘Have you got the gum, chum?’ to the American soldiers who came into Braintree town. When there was a raid, all the children would go into the shelter and have a sing-song.”
Sally Jaggard was the product of these uncertain times.
“I always knew that he wasn’t my real dad and that my family never spoke about it. I used to ask my aunts and uncles and one of them just said oh, he just was with my mum one night and then he went off and got killed, which afterwards I found it wasn’t true. He’d been with my mum for about six months or more, I think, and then he was posted to France. But he did know that mum was having me, because the American Red Cross paid my mum £15 maternity money.
“But whether or not he asked her to marry him and go to live in America I don’t know. But at the time a lot of the girls from Braintree had babies by Americans, and some didn’t want to go; didn’t want to leave their families.”
World War Two: The People’s Story opens on Saturday, July 4 and runs until September 12 at Braintree Museum. It will also be hosting a Second World War day on Saturday, August 1.
One girl’s big day... while a gunner misses the party
Elizabeth Greenhalgh shares with us a lovely clear photograph of the Victory in Europe celebrations held in Norman Crescent, Ipswich ? off Nacton Road. “I am the little girl in white, directly under the Union Flag,” she says. “My name was Elizabeth Dowe and I was born and brought up at number 6.” Elizabeth has been living in Thetford for the past 14 years.
Meanwhile, from Chelmsford, Peter Steggall sends his memories of VE Day on May 8, 1945 – “ a complete contrast with what happened, for example, in the streets of London, as recorded in newspapers and films in the following days, and repeated recently for the 70th anniversary”.
Peter was a gunner in the Royal Artillery and had been serving overseas since the end of 1941. When VE Day arrived, he was in Germany. About 25 men and several vehicles were camped on a grassy field in a remote rural area a few miles from Hamburg.
“We had packed up overnight, expecting an early-morning move, but for reasons unknown to the rank and file we had to stay put all day, with nothing to celebrate with or to sustain us, except occasional biscuits and mugs of tea.
“We eventually moved a few miles in the evening and set up our regimental headquarters in an empty village inn at Fulenhagen.
“A few days later we received newspapers from England, with reports and pictures of British troops in Germany celebrating the end of war with special meals and plenty of drink, all served to them by their officers!
“We also heard on the radio, and read in the papers, of street parties all over Britain, and wild celebrations in the heart of London. In rural Germany we were quietly thankful that the war was over, and waited for our chance to celebrate ? but it never came!”