|This article was written in 1995 by Mary Jardine née French for Mersea Island Society Mistral Magazine.
Yes, I remember, even if it was 50 years ago! In June 1944 I was teaching in Southall in Middlesex when the first V1's began to fly over London. We called them "buzz-bombs" and, later, "doodle-bugs". The cut-out of the engine just before they dropped was a heart-stopper, and people were afraid to send their children to school. Attendance dropped rapidly, and one day I had only nine pupils out of forty-two. We spent most of the day in air-raid shelters in the playground, and sometimes even had school meals out there. One day only three of my class turned up and I had to see them safely home.
The authorities decided there would have to be another evacuation. Remember that very few homes had telephones and I spent Saturday July 8th, cycling round the district notifying parents and registering names. The following day we (the staff) spent the day at school making plans. Two of us were sent by train with a group to Bude in North Cornwall, and had to settle them on mattresses for the night in a rest centre.
Back in Southall the staff had 99 children from a total roll of nearly four hundred. So the year petered out in tiny classes until the holiday came.
I recorded the journey home to Mersea in my diary - I chatted to an American pilot on the train! In Mersea we swam off the beach for the first time in four years, the mines having been cleared away. Later I was sent to Bude as an evacuee teacher. On 3rd. September there was a National Day of Prayer, but the war seemed very far away in the beautiful west country. Spring in Cornwall was a revelation, especially after living in dreary suburban Southall. I continually raved in my diary about the wild daffodils, primroses and violets and the glorious colours of the seas and sky.... and also about the heavy rainfall!
In Spring 1945 the war news gradually took on a more cheerful note: a link between Russia and the West in Germany and the demise of Mussolini and Hitler.
Come May 8th - VE Day- at last, with church bells ringing, flags flying but no bonfires as there was still a black-out. School had two days' holiday. I heard from my sister, in the WRNS in Greenwich, about excitement in London and how she was carried bodily by the crowds up the Mall, her feet never touching the ground. We all listened to Churchill's victory broadcast. Yet the meat and fat rations were cut even smaller. On June 3 rd. I attended a public meeting in the little cinema in Bude, led by the Liberal candidate, Tom Horabin, introducing the speaker, Sir William Beveridge. He gave an impressive account of his plan for the health service and must now be turning in his grave.
There were village celebrations including a band and a Floral dance, followed by sports (described in my diary as "beautifully unorganised"), a huge cream tea and at last some fireworks.
It was a come-down to return to Southall in July to a class of 49. By the time that the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6th., I was back on holiday in Mersea, and the war finally ended when Japan surrendered on August 15 th. My diary comment was "Can't believe the war is over... six years. And now what a mess to clear up!"
Mary French was brought up on Mersea and we are fortunate that she kept a detailed diary through WW2, that has now been made available by her daughters Dorothy Gibert and Ruth Livingston.
See Mary French Diary
For another article from this series "Commemorations of the end of World War II in 1945" in Mistral 1995, see Memories of WW2 by M.J. Gethen