In this series of short blogs we’ve been looking at life in Harrow in the middle part of the twentieth century through the diaries of two Harrow residents, Dorothy and Sydney. We come now to the war years. For this blog we will take a look at Dorothy’s wartime experiences, and in a later blog will look at Sydney’s.
Dorothy was twenty-one when the war started, but her diaries are incomplete and so the first mention she makes of the hostilities was on 28th January 1941 when she talks of ‘Blue Pencils’ falling on the Post Office (she does not say which), Peterborough Road and at Kenton. A ‘blue pencil’ was a type of incendiary device. The Blitz intensified in April when incendiary devices fell on Pinner and there were two HEs (high explosive devices).
Then on 11th March 1941, ‘We had a rotten week for shipping last week. 20 ships went’. This was probably a reference to the Battle of the Atlantic, when German submarines were attacking allied shipping. There are also mentions in the diaries in April that year of the sinking of HMS Hood and in May of the German battleship Bismarck, both of which were significant events in the war at sea.
One of the results of the heavy loss of shipping was the national ‘Warship Week,’ aimed at raising funds for new warships through the public sale of war bonds. Local areas participated and Harrow was no exception. On 21st March 1942 Dorothy notes, ‘Warship week started. Hope to raise £750,000. Procession through from Wealdstone to Roxeth’.
In June 1942 there was an entry that reminds us that the bombing was not all one way: June 26th, ‘1,000 bombers went to Bremen last night.’ This was one of three 1,000 bomber raids launched on German cities in May and June that year, the other cities being Cologne and Essen. The aim was to strike at industrial targets whilst at the same time hitting the morale of the civilian population.
The diaries show that Dorothy made a lot of her own clothes. This may partly have been due clothes rationing, which was introduced in June 1941 (food rationing had been introduced the previous year). Fabrics were needed for military and other uniforms, and silk was needed for parachutes. Also clothing factories were requisitioned for war purposes. Because of this the ‘Made Do and Mend’ campaign was launched, to encourage the repair and recycling of clothing.
In 1943, Dorothy became a Fire Guard. Firewatching parties were organised locally by Harrow Urban District Council under the auspices of the London Civil Defence Union. Their job was to watch for fires started by incendiary bombs during air-raids and to report these to the Fire Service. Her first spell of duty was on 4th January: ‘Started Firewatching tonight. Seem quite a decent crowd. I have the top bunk.’ She was kept busy. On 17th January she notes: ‘Wrote to Olive. Just finished when 8.30 am an Alert sounded. Very heavy barrage and planes diving.’ The next day, the raids continued: ‘Another Alert about 4.45 am for nearly an hour. Guess that is because we have raided Berlin’.
Later in the year she was assigned to another fire-guard group, but was less keen on the personnel: September 30th: ‘Firewatching with new party. Went to ‘Marquis’ and siren went about 8. After “all clear” back they trooped, then to billiard hall. I’d rather stop in. Prefer old party.’ The Marquis may have been the Marquis of Granby pub which stood on Station Road.
Bombing raids and firewatching duties continued into 1944. D Day came and went (Dorothy didn’t make a big deal of it. Her diary entry for 6th June 1944 simply reads ‘D Day. Mum had all her teeth out’) and in the same month Doodlebug attacks began on London. Hence the diary entry for 16th June: ‘Terrific noise this morning. 12 midnight. Caused by “flying bombs”’. The attacks that month were fairly intensive. There was a doodlebug at Merton Road on 26th June and one at Northwood Hills two days later, and finally a doodlebug that destroyed the British Restaurant at North Harrow, killing the manageress, on 30th June. This is recorded on the Harrow bomb map (a section of which is reproduced above) where you can also see North Harrow station and the Embassy cinema.
Image Section of Harrow Bomb Map showing the doodlebug that destroyed the British Restaurant in North Harrow.