We are at War


Extract from Chapter 1

Thursday, 24 August 1939

Eileen Potter
Evacuation Officer in West London, age 41
The outbreak of the crisis finds me at Stratford-on-Avon, attending the summer school in folk-dancing, and working for the advanced examination in country dancing. Unlike some of the students, I read the paper every day, and am not unprepared for the development of the crisis.
I notice territorials on the way to the station with kit, and think our turn will come soon. In the evening I go to the Memorial Theatre Conference Hall for an evening of folk singing and dancing. Someone says, ‘There is a telegram on the notice-board.’ I look and find it is for me - ‘Report at once for duty.’ Return to my digs and decide to travel by the first train next morning. I pack, arrange a taxi, and then return to the Conference Hall and cancel my arrangements for taking the exam. By this time dancing is in full swing and I decide to stay and finish the party, feeling rather like Drake playing bowls on Plymouth Hoe.

Friday, 25 August

Eileen Potter
Leave Stratford by 7.32am train. A still, misty, peaceful-looking morning, very few people travelling. I arrive at Paddington at 10am, leave my suitcase in the cloakroom (after being searched for possible bombs) and proceed to my office at the London County Council [LCC] nearby. I find my colleagues drinking tea and talking. Our instructions are to ‘stand by’ for evacuation work.

Saturday, 26 August

Eileen Potter
Spend the morning and early part of the afternoon standing by. I have my hair shampooed and set, not knowing when there will be another opportunity.

Monday, 28 August

Eileen Potter
Report for evacuation duty, together with six of my colleagues, at the Divisional Dispersals Officer’s office, Kensington. One of us has a car, and is kept on duty for messages. The rest of us do office work and interview helpers who have volunteered to escort mothers and babies to the country. A man on the staff appears to be somewhat overexcited by such a sudden influx of female colleagues, and makes facetious jokes, and something is said about alleged complaints about his language and behaviour. We all feel, under pressure of work, that our language is becoming stronger and our manners less polite.

Read the full extract .pdf format (114k)

Download Adobe PDF reader