My family is from Gidea Park, located in the east London district of the Borough of Havering, England. It was September 3, 1939, and I was nine years old. On that day, my grandmother and grandfather, my mother and father, and younger sister were gathered in our living room waiting for the impending news that England was going to war. My grandmother said, “War is terrible, I hope we don’t go to war.”
But we did. On that day, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared war on Germany, two days after Germany’s invasion of Poland. King George VI said, “My people at home and my peoples across the seas. I ask them to stand calm, firm and united in this time of trial. The task will be hard. There may be dark days ahead and war can no longer be confined to the battlefield. But we can only do the right as we see the right and reverently commit our cause to God.”
Little did my grandmother know how personally she would be affected by the war and the losses she would suffer.
It was on that very day, September 3, that my grandparents drove our family of four to Wales in search of safety. We stayed in a farmhouse owned by Mr. and Mrs. Price. They were kind people who rented rooms to my family when we arrived on the spur of the moment.
My sister Phyllis and I went to a one-room schoolhouse. We were called, “The Londoners,” by the local people. I remember it as a happy time in the country because there were no sounds of sirens, airplanes, bombs or guns. Shortly before Christmas, my parents, Frederick and Marjorie Locke, took us back to our home in Gidea Park because the Germans had not bombed our area.
The bombing begins
Then the bombing started and we had to go down to the garden at night in our siren suits to an underground shelter built by my father. The siren suit was a one-piece jumpsuit that covered our entire body, and was easily put on and taken off to keep us warm at night during the raids.
The shelter was small, probably ten by eight feet in size. It was especially crowded in the daytime when our neighbors also sought safety in our shelter. I remember always being afraid that a downed German pilot would be lurking behind the bushes, ready to shoot us when we went into the shelter.
The German planes swarmed overhead every day. The planes were kept high up in the sky by barrage balloons, or “blimps” that helped to protect us against the aerial attacks. Our soldiers were shooting at the aircraft constantly. The noise was deafening, like a constant, thunderous lightning storm that shook the ground.
One night I looked out of my bedroom window and saw all of London on fire with just the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral outlined. The fire watchers sat on the roof of the dome and extinguished the explosive incendiary bombs as they fell.