Private Battles

Extract

Extract from Private Battles Chapter 1

THURSDAY, 31 OCTOBER 1940

Maggie Joy Blunt
Metal factory worker living in Burnham Beeches, near Slough, age 31
The winter is here. It seems to have come so quickly. Yesterday I found the dahlia leaves blackened by frost and I lifted and stored the tubers and cut the remaining flowers. They are in a vase now in front of me: their delicately crinkled petals spread in perfect circles of pale colour. I didn’t realise dahlias were so lovely. What shall I be doing and feeling, and what shall I have done and felt, by the time those tubers bloom again …

SATURDAY, 2 NOVEMBER

Ernest van Someren
Research chemist in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, age 37
Jean R. came to see us. We sat and talked most of the afternoon and evening, largely about incidents in London. She has just moved from an old house very near a railway to a steel and concrete block of flats. She told us about a woman having a bath in Kentish Town whose house was damaged by a very close hit, so that her bath slid down into the street without spilling the water or hurting her in any way. It was dark too.

MONDAY, 4 NOVEMBER

Pam Ashford
Secretary in coal shipping firm, Glasgow, age 38
At 2.45am the alert woke me up, but I went to sleep again, and did not hear the all clear; this is said to have gone at 3.50. I have been surprised by the changed attitude so many people are showing – they stayed in bed. Familiarity must be one factor, and I should think the cold nights another.
My friend Miss Whittan was ’phoning London friends this morning and they reported that last night – the first for 56 nights without an alert – was so quiet as to be ‘eerie’. There they were in their shelters expecting something to happen and nothing did. The ears get used to the noise and then quiet keeps one awake.
Miss McKirdy has heard of a house that was bombed in London, and immediately the salvagers began to go all over the debris looking for a pair of pink corsets. The owner had £2000 sewn in and had not happened to be wearing the garment at the time the bomb fell.

Ernest van Someren
Up early for Jean to get a coach back to work. A good post, letters from my brother and bro-in-law in RAF and a note from my mother with some ham from my sister in USA. Tony, my brother, has been moved from Scotland to Lancashire to a RAF training camp where he is allowed to do some consultant work as a psychiatrist, which he had hoped to do.
During the day a parcel arrived from Tessa with assorted sweets and two pairs of nylon stockings. After we had sampled the sweets we found a letter saying that they were for Esmee and her two boys. We sent on the rest of the sweets the next day.
In the evening wrote diary and letters. It was fairly noisy.

Maggie Joy Blunt
Heart of my heart! It seems six or seven bombs have just fallen outside my back door. I heard a plane and then zzzoom! zzzoom! zzzoom! – one after the other. I felt the ground shaking and dived for the table. We have had bombs at H Corner which destroyed two council houses and the landmine in the Beeches but nothing as near as this. What damage now is done? I heard the soldiers stationed in the woods shouting ‘Lights! These people aren’t blacked out at all!’ But it’s not easy to keep a slither of light from showing now and then. The times I have pulled and tacked and padded my black-out.
The silence now … and the darkness! Outside never was such a dark night and that one plane swooping from the clouds, dropping its bombs without warning … I have heard no siren … In this quiet, withdrawn spot it is the unexpectedness of such an event that is so terrifying. I would rather be in a town and hear the barrage guns.

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