Nov. 10, 2022

2. A Child's Eye View of World War II

2. A Child's Eye View of World War II

On the 3rd September 1939, Neville Chamberlain broadcast the news that Britain was at war with Germany.  Accounts of war time have been well documented, but what was it like for the children living under the constant threat of German bombers?

Enid Bottle was five years old on that day.  Now eighty-eight years old and living in the South of England, she recalls vivid memories as if they were yesterday.  

This podcast is also available as an extended version

This was a memorable episode. Partly because it was our first proper episode, partly because so few people are now left alive from World War II to share their stories.  Soon there will be no-one left and we will only be able to rely on recorded experiences such as this one.  By the way (full disclosure!) it was also memorable because Enid Winduss (nee Bottle) is my mother!  Thanks Mum. :)

Last week's episode

[Episode 1] Hello - This introductory episode provides a summary of what you can expect from our podcast.  It's a place where we share stories, invite others to share stories, and sometimes just talk.

Next week's episode

[Episode 3] A Tale of Two Mothers - If you need a lift, listen to the story of David Figueroa.   He was born with cerebral palsy in Puerto Rico with very little chance of creating a fulfilling life for himself.  Take a look where he is now, and how the love of two mothers helped to get him there.  Inspirational.

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WWII London Blitz East London

The original uploader was Sue Wallace at English Wikipedia., CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

H. F. Davis, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Ministry of Information official photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1973-029A-24A / Lysiak / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE <>, via Wikimedia Commons
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1985-0123-027 / CC-BY-SA, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE <>, via Wikimedia Commons
United States Army Signal Corps photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons




[00:00:00] And with those chilling words on the 3rd of September 1939, British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, altered the course of the lives of millions of people all around the world, not least of which in Great Britain itself. Everyone's lives were about to change: the rich and the poor; the workers and the retired; the healthy and the infirm; mothers, fathers, and of course children. I'd like you to meet Enid. 

[00:01:24] I was born in Ewell, Surrey which is about 15 miles south of London, and we lived in a detached house with a very nice garden. Although I was only five, I do remember when Neville Chamberlain told us about the outbreak of war, standing around the radio, because it was only radio in those days. 

[00:01:50] I didn't start school because of the war till I was seven, which was very late, but didn't seem to do me any harm in the long run. At least I don't think so.

[00:02:00] The Phoney War, that period between September 1939 and April 1940, saw countries ramp up military and technical capability whilst individual families began preparation for what was inevitably to follow.

[00:02:17] My father immediately set to, to make an air raid shelter in the garden.

[00:02:22] Under the stewardship of scientist and politician Sir John Anderson, a small and cheap shelter was designed and built to offer to families who lived where it was considered likely the German Luftwaffe would bomb. Enid's father Cecil decided to take a different option. Enid remembers him digging a huge hole in the garden: 

[00:02:45] He dug it very deep because we could stand up in it. When you went down the steps into the air raid shelter, you stepped down into a dip so that you could stand up. At the side were bunks 1, 2, 3, like that. I don't know where the other person slept - poor old Grandpa probably didn't.

[00:03:08] He put all the concrete blocks around the side. But then he had some sort of metal racking across the top for the roof. I remember it like rusty old bits of iron going across in mesh and then piled all the earth back on that he'd taken out over the top. 

[00:03:31] At that stage for a five year old before the bombs started falling, it was all just a bit of fun.

[00:03:38] And so it was a great big hump in the garden, we used to play on it. In the snow, we'd slide down it and things. 

[00:03:45] But this was soon to change. By June, 1940, Hitler's Blitzkrieg had seen his army stampede across Europe to take control of Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and of course France. Hitler then turned his sights across the English Channel. The Battle of Britain was about to begin.

[00:04:06] I do remember, on one occasion we heard airplanes. We walked up the road and when you got to the end of the road, you could see quite a long way. And up in the sky were half a dozen plane s shooting at each other, having a dog fight . As soon as the planes came from Germany, our RAF would get their planes up and go and have a go at them, you see? 

[00:04:32] But for you as a five, six year old looking on, it didn't seem particularly strange. 

[00:04:36] Everything was strange in the war, you know? I mean, I was brought up in that atmosphere, from a small child so nothing seemed unusual to me.

[00:04:48] As the Luftwaffe failed to gain air supremacy, the day raids gave way to large-scale night bombing of Britain's major industrial cities, with London the focus. The Blitz had begun.

[00:05:01] I was carried out of bed in the middle of the night when the air raid siren went. And I hated it because I was tired and asleep and they used to just carry me down the shelter and put me to bed down there.

[00:05:14] Some nights were bad, some nights you didn't hear anything. You know, they'd gone somewhere else. But I mean, because we were south of London, obviously they went over us to get there. London was the main target, of course. You could hear the planes through the shelter, you know, you could hear it going on.

[00:05:38] Grandpa had put a radio down there so that we could listen to children's hour or something. Uncle Mack, I think he was called. 

[00:05:49] I can visualize the air raid shelter in some detail and I can even smell it, because the concrete blocks have a very strong smell, and there was a heater on as well. Grandpa, he'd managed to put everything down there, it was wonderful.

[00:06:08]  Despite the realities of the night raids, in many ways, life just carried on. 

[00:06:15] In Nonsuch Park, they were building a dual carriageway to get from Ewell to Cheam through the park, and because the Germans would've landed their planes on them if got the chance, they put heaps of earth every now and again on them. And that was our lovely way of going to school, cycling over the bumps.

[00:06:40]  The blitz continued for eight months. Night after night, the bombs dropped through to May 1941, but still life carried on.

[00:06:51] We used to visit my grandmother at Tuffnell Park. She had a flat over Uncle Bob's butcher's shop. 

[00:06:59] And when we went home, perhaps it might be nine o'clock at night, I expect, we'd go down the hill to the Tuffnell Park tube station, and you'd go down the escalator and all along the sides of the platforms, there were bunk beds and people with families all going to bed down there. You know, they brought all their sleeping bags and stuff, and it was their air raid shelter, and it was like that on all the stations. 


[00:07:33] Fast forward to 1944. Enid had turned 10 years old and had become accustomed to life in war time. But in and around London, things were about to get decidedly more dangerous. One week after D-Day, when the Allies had successfully landed in France on June 6th 1944, Hitler unleashed a new terror weapon: the V-1 flying bomb, also known as the buzz bomb or doodlebug.

[00:08:02] Apart from being a weapon capable of great destruction, it was designed to spread terror across London and the Southeast. And in this respect, it certainly achieved its objective.


[00:08:14] I remember being extremely frightened at that stage because they were missiles which would drop anywhere. And that is a horrible feeling.

[00:08:26] And we were south of the river, south of London. You didn't know where they were going to land because you heard them go over and suddenly stop, and it was just dead stop. 

[00:08:38] And then quiet until you heard the bang, the explosion, when they got to the ground.

[00:08:48] The V-1 was a jet propulsion rocket with its distinctive buzzing noise. It was originally launched via ramps from various locations along French and Dutch coasts, due to its limited range. It was loosely guided by gyroscopes and was programmed to run for a predetermined length of time. 


[00:09:16] And it was really frightening because you didn't know whether it was going to be you or someone else or what. We were fortunate that nothing landed on us, but they did in the locality, they did. 

[00:09:30] While Enid, and her sister Olive, had stayed with her parents in London during the Blitz, the arrival of the V-1s prompted a change of plan, and they were temporarily relocated to Wales whilst their mother and father remained in London.

[00:09:44] We were eventually sent to Wales because of the doodlebugs. Because they were so horrible. They were frightening. Very frightening. I remember often being in tears over it.

[00:09:57] Although Enid and Olive returned home before the end of the war, not long after on the 8th of May 1945, the Germans unconditionally surrendered to the Allied forces, and Britain could celebrate VE Day. Enid was by now 11 years old, and old enough to want to see the celebrations for herself, particularly King George VI and the Queen Consort, Elizabeth. 

[00:10:21] In those days there was no television, so we didn't see the queen or anything like that. You didn't know what they looked like, unless you saw a picture in the paper. So it was exciting for young people, particularly, to see them in person. Olive and I went up and stood on the side of Ludgate Hill, near St. Paul's Cathedral where they were going for a service, and their open carriage went up the road in front of us. 

[00:10:51] Fast forward to today. Despite the passage of time and the numerous challenges and experiences in the 77 years since the war ended in Europe, Enid often reflects back. It's still a part of life.

[00:11:06] Those events of the Second World War remain very clear in my mind when I've forgotten an awful lot of other things in my life. It must be the fear.