Interview by James Holland
You’d like to know my first impression of London?
That would be great. How old were you? 18?
Yes; I lived with an aunt and uncle in Carshalton Beeches, Surrey simply because my mother was in Edinburgh and in those days you didn’t go and get flats of your own. If you were going to work somewhere you had to stay with a relation, or someone you knew. I started in the foreign office. I’d been to secretarial college first. Carshalton Beeches in those days was so countrified; it was a lovely part of the world and I used to travel from there to Victoria every morning. Then I hadn’t been in the foreign office for very long when they said there was a new small department in the cabinet office and they wanted somebody. I don’t remember whether I volunteered or whether I was directed – I don’t know but I went to the cabinet office which was in Whitehall Gardens in those days, for a very short time, and then we went to Richmond Terrace. When I arrived there I realised it was the most fascinating and interesting job I could ever have. I was being introduced into the very top of the……well, it wasn’t wartime then but…..
This was 1938 was it?
Yes and then there was the signing of the Official Secrets Act and I took that very seriously. I think I must have been rather a serious character at that time! Then I was assigned to a chap……did some work for a chap called Major Jacob and he was extremely bright. He was one of the up and coming lights of the Committee for Imperial Defence. The sorts of things that I found myself drawn into were the highest level of secrecy and we knew what was happening and nobody else knew what was happening.
At that stage, did everybody think that war was inevitable?
We knew it was but everybody else didn’t. I used to stay with people for weekends and there was always an argument about whether there’d be another war and I knew and this was extraordinary.
Did you find it hard not to interject?
Yes and to say all the sorts of things that were happening……but you don’t want to know this……
Oh yes I do!
We started working extremely late and within about 6 months, I would often get the 12.38 at night from Victoria to go back to Carshalton Beeches. That was before the blackout but I wasn’t fazed. I always got into conversations with anyone who was sitting with me; no fear at all. The work got more and more and we started sleeping in the office………something goes badly wrong with tape he………something goes badly wrong with tape here for 40 seconds or so…….our window faced Whitehall and suddenly there was a crowd gathering and they were shouting “Down with Chamberlain! Stand by the Czechs!” And we thought they might throw stones at us and we drew the curtains. You see, we never thought from the very beginning that we’d lose the war – I never thought…..and this chap I worked for, he was wonderful and when you think of all the things we went through – Dunkirk and all those things – still, we didn’t think we’d lose.
Is that because you had faith in British capability or because it seemed so impossible?
Because it seemed so impossible and we worked so hard and we knew so much and I remember somebody talking about the various ways the war against Germany could be lost……they were discussing if we lost command of the sea or prevented (?) an attack from the air or allowed France to be overrun by the German army……we weren’t prepared. That was what was interesting; it was a phoney war……we needed that year desperately to prepare and that’s why we worked so hard. All this I knew. Every day life was quite normal. There were shortages of various things, but not much.
But you got fed ok?
Oh yes, that was before the blitz. The blitz itself was quite extraordinary. I still travelled up and down and suddenly you’d be walking through glass walking towards Whitehall. We had a shelter in the office but nobody ever went to it. We had a bomb in Parliament Square and my office was on the top floor at Richmond Terrace and I heard this thing whooshing through the air and suddenly this tremendous noise and I stood at my desk absolutely petrified but I didn’t do anything til it was all over and then I ran! Those sorts of reactions you know?
Can you remember the last summer before the war? When Chamberlain announced war – 1939?
I went to Switzerland on holiday – first time I’d ever been abroad I think, with a girl from the foreign office and I got a telegram from the office telling me to come home. I felt so important! So young and the government asking me to come home. It was a lovely summer as I remember.
Everyone still enjoyed themselves even though there was the shadow of war?
Oh yes; everybody did. I use to play tennis and cycle and all sorts of things.
You didn’t let it interfere too much?
Apart from my job; it took every moment of my energy; there was no social life. In 1941 – my 21st birthday was the 17th January – the night before we worked all night at the office and as a reward I was allowed to go and see Gone with the Wind the next day. Then they suddenly decided to set up a joint chiefs of staff in Washington, USA and this was before the US came into the war and they were going to send a small delegation under a pseudonym – under cover and only 4 of us from the office were sent. My major let me go for a year. That was my first visit to the States. We travelled by ship and had 2 escorts which left us in the middle of the Atlantic. The Hood was sunk and they went to get the Bismarck and we were left on the high seas without any escort. They told us to go to bed in our clothes and take a panic bag in case anything happens. I couldn’t think of anything except my passport and a lipstick! We got there though and I went to Washington and that was very interesting. Halifax was the ambassador then.
Did you think much of him?
No I didn’t actually but still he was quite popular.
Did you ever think he might have been Prime Minister and not Churchill?
No; once Churchill was on the scene, he was our God; right from the word go. My boss was absolutely in ouch with Churchill. He let me do lots of things on my own and I remember once, I use to do what were called Tank Returns. I think I gleaned information from telegrams – how many tanks were being produced and I used to do these statistics. And one day there came back from Churchill “What is this?” With a ring round it from Churchill and my calculations were wrong and I’d never been so embarrassed in my life. Jacob said “Don’t worry; mistakes happen in the best regulated families!”
Did you ever get to meet Churchill?
When we were in the cabinet war room where we went during the blitz, sleeping in the war cabinet office, we used to work in the corridors and everything had to be typed and he used to come along and look over one’s shoulder to see what you were doing. I was absolutely in awe of him but you got used to having all the notes – the actions of the day – we used to get communications from him all the time and it was a tremendous time.
I’ve got a sense from what I’ve read that when he made one of his rousing speeches, there was a tremendous uplifting in confidence. Was everyone talking about it?
Everyone was glued……we had wireless and that was our lifeline. I used to type the speeches before he made them – that was the sort of thing I did. I knew about the bad times, which nobody else knew and I had to go home to my aunt and uncle and cousins and say nothing and my uncle was such a pessimist and he used to listen to Lord Haw Haw and I used to get so furious. He had been in the first war and had lost an eye. I think he was buried alive in the 1WW……I don’t know where I got it from, but there was a big notice and I stuck it on the mantelpiece……I think Queen Victoria said it…..“We are not interested in the possibility of defeat; it does not exist!” Then I remember Dunkirk very well. Going home on the train after working and knowing what was happening and knowing we’d be left alone to fight. I was exhilarated.
You get the impression that there was a part of Churchill that was quite relieved to not have the burden of having to deal with the French allies and so on. When you are on your own, you make the rules.
That’s what I felt. Jacob became a lieutenant general and became director general of the BBC and I was a lifelong friend of his til he died aged 90 something…….during the blitz we slept at the office and we used to go to Lyons Corner House in the Strand for breakfast – everybody went. I remember one day sharing a table with a couple and there had been a very bad night and they were so pessimistic and they almost made me very low listening to them. I went back to the office and told Ian and said “It is awful what they were saying.” He said “You should have said that maybe your opinion, but I don’t want to hear it!” When we won the battle of the Atlantic, we knew we’d won the war. How ever long it took, we’d turned a corner, and that was very early on.
When the enigma codes were cracked.
Oh yes and that was a secret, secret, secret and also the atomic bomb. That was interesting and that was a thing I never, never divulged. There was a special committee.
So at a very young age, you were given a lot of responsibility weren’t you?
It was tremendous. I went on 5 conferences one year – Washington, Quebec, Yalta, Potsdam, Moscow……in those days we weren’t afraid. We flew over enemy territory I think, the first conference in Moscow. We were given flying suits and things and went off at dead of night and we had no fear. Now I hate flying; I’m terrified out of my wits. But then you flew all over the place, in Dakotas usually, or converted bombers but they made us very comfortable.
It must have been exciting.
It was – San Francisco in ’45 (?)
Lyons Corner House – everyone used to go down there for breakfast and morning coffee and so on?
Oh yes – it was THE place.
Was it a smart place?
The food was good.
You could get bacon and eggs?
They had everything there. We went to the cinema a lot. There were very good foreign films – I used to go to the Academy or Studio One in London and we all read books of course.
What sort of books did you read then?
Ordinary books like Gone with the wind and Forever Amber; that sort of thing. I read an awful lot of travel books and I couldn’t get enough of the 1WW – All Quiet on the Western Front, Ian Hague……all sorts. Because we had no television, we used to read an awful lot.
When did you read? In between typing reports and so on?
Well yes, and smoked like a chimney; we all did. We smoked everything until they became…..State Express and Players…..that was in London. Passing Clouds were expensive; half a crown I think, but suddenly cigarettes disappeared and we couldn’t get any. During the blitz, in Carshalton Beeches, I slept under the grand piano when I was at home and my aunt and uncle in a cupboard under the stairs. My 2 cousins were evacuated to Edinburgh. My aunt and I smoked and when cigarettes were so short I used to go out looking for them in all the sleazy little cafes…..anywhere and we smoked absolute rubbish but it kept our nerves steady during the bombardments.
Was it during the blitz that cigarettes started getting a bit short?
I think it must have been after that. I remember doing anything for a cigarette. Isn’t that extraordinary!
Can you remember the Battle of Britain taking place?
Oh yes; you use to look up in the sky……..
You used to watch it did you?
Oh yes; that was fascinating.
The big air battles over London at the end of August, beginning of September?
Did you know the significance of what was going on then?
Absolutely you see, because that’s what I was…..I mean…….Scapa Flow……all those sinkings of ships – I had to be very careful and not mention them, you know?
You always get the impression that most people think there was the phoney war when nothing really happened for us until the BEF was ?? but everyone forgets the naval war started right from the word go and people forget about that don’t they?
And you would have known all about that. It must have been extremely difficult going home every night and having to keep quiet.
It was; before I went to the USA – must have been 1941, I used to come home and my aunt whom I adored – loved her more than my mother – she used to say my face was grey and she was getting very worried about me – I must have been 20 – I had a dream where I left my body and looked down at my sleeping self and I told it to her as a joke and she said “That’s extreme exhaustion; working far too hard.”
You must have been working incredibly hard.
I was but I loved every minute of it.
Did you get breaks during the day?
We often worked all night. We had to have the minutes ready for the Prime Minister first thing in the morning. The Defence Committee used to meet at 9 at night and I had to wait til Ian Jacob came back from the meeting, dictated the minutes and then they had to be done that night, so sometimes we worked all night. The next day we’d be a bit bleary eyed but we were young and I was so fascinated. The other secretaries in the office worked in shifts but not me. I worked all the time the hours that my boss did. Churchill made him a colonel and then a brigadier and then all sorts ……another thing I knew in advance was about flying bombs. There was the Crossbow Committee and Ian Jacob ran that and they first of all thought it was going to be a tremendous warhead – terrifying. In the end it was much less but the first night I saw a flying bomb…..at home, we got so used to seeing bombs, they didn’t take it seriously. I said to my uncle “We must go to the shelter! We must!” They couldn’t understand but they soon did.
Do you think they realised that you knew?
I suppose so but they were more frightening than anything. The weather was very dull and overcast and I remember thinking we’d been absolutely forsaken; that was my lowest time; that wasn’t good. Not that we weren’t going to win but that that wasn’t good; they were terrifying. Only once did I come near a flying bomb. I was on the train from Carshalton to Victoria and you could see this thing; you knew that when the engine stopped it was going to plummet and it came down 2 or 3 fields away but it blew the glass of the train compartment out. I took out my compact and I powdered my nose! Extraordinary reaction. The conferences I went on, I had to pretend I was going somewhere else at home. I left my ration book with my aunt so she could get my rations.
Do you remember at the beginning of the war when you were on the train, looking out at the fields….do you remember thinking that life was carrying on as normal?
Yes; except for central London where all the sandbags were in the doorways and we used to carry gas masks to begin with, but then soon you didn’t bother.
Wandering around London, there’d be troops everywhere?
Oh that and after Dunkirk, it must have been at Victoria Station, I saw the troops as they came back, looking absolutely dead on their feet, which they were; bemused. All the various military operations we did, we knew about. Pottsdam was probably my last conference and that was interesting but Yalta was fascinating. The Black Sea was so blue.
You stayed with Colonel Jacob throughout the war?
I was his private secretary for the whole of the war. In 1946 he was going to the BBC and he asked me if I wanted to go with him and I said I didn’t; I wanted to go on travelling and was there anything else I could do. I was sent off to the Control Commission in Germany and landed up in Berlin as personal assistant to the deputy military governor and I was there for 4 years and that was interesting……you don’t really want to know all this.
I do; it’s fascinating – what you did; what you thought……your situation wasn’t typical though – a young woman at that time……
You were in a cocoon. I never thought of parliament; parliament didn’t exist in my mind. We were our own department – the prime minister and the minister of defence. I had that year in Washington. I shared a house. I was too young to sign a lease and so someone signed it and we rented a house in Washington. We had to get permission from the Embassy so that it was all proper. There were 2 young men and 3 girls. We were there for Pearl Harbor. On that day we were going for a picnic somewhere and we heard on the radio what had happened. We turned back and went directly to the office and there we had to work like blacks.
You knew the significance?
Oh absolutely; before we rented this house in Washington, we stayed in a small private hotel and I made friends with a dear old lady and she said “Mark my words, the Japanese are going to do something on the west coast. I know it.” I didn’t pay any attention then but I’ve never forgotten it. The first time I went to the US in 1941, the Americans were isolationists and we’d come from rationing and they had about 2 meatless days a week and they thought that was rationing!
You could get cigarettes again!
Not just cigarettes but onions! That sort of thing. Washington was a tremendous experience but I was still doing the same sort of job because we were at the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
To go back to England, did you like London when you first arrived?
When I first came to London I knew nothing about it. We had various cousins living in London and an uncle of mine said “Would you like to do some sightseeing?” We walked in London on a Sunday – must have been about 1937 and I’ve never been so impressed; it was so beautiful and so quiet and all the buildings that were subsequently bombed were all there of course. I used to read a lot of poetry – Westminster Bridge – so beautiful. I loved it then.
Were you impressed by the huge array of shops.
Yes but I was swept into this maelstrom and everything else went by the board.
Did you have to wear uniform?
Never; I’ve never been in uniform. All those conferences I was in civilian clothes. There were very few of us; some conferences I was the only secretary.
Where was the best place to get clothing?
Swann and Edgar in Piccadilly; a department store. I bought a suit there for £8; so expensive! We didn’t have many clothes and we had no nylons unless you knew Americans. Before that I think we had stockings made of stuff called rayon. They were 1 shilling and 11 pence and if you had silk it was 2 and 11. I remember my first Christmas present from Major Jacob was 2 pairs of silk stockings and my aunt was horrified because it wasn’t proper. If she’d known him – he was the most austere – he was feared by all the young officers and by everyone else except me. He was the brightest chap in the cabinet office. General Ismay (?) was the head of the team and he became Lord Ismay. He gave me a photograph – that was me with my general in Berlin – Neville Brownjohn – that would be 1947…….can you read that?
“In memory of many voyages around the world during the Second World War and with grateful thanks for all your help.”
He was magic, General Ismay. He was the kingpin in Churchill’s ?? and Ian Jacob wrote a book………………..wonderful dinner parties and things. Very rarely were any Russians allowed out to socialise but General Molina (?) came one night with his driver and I was included in all the parties and everything which was wonderful – all these famous people – and in those days we wore dresses off the shoulder – strapless dresses and I had a blue velvet strapless dress which I loved. After dinner – they’d all had a lot to drink and I knew this Russian was looking at me and he came across the room and bit me on the shoulder! Isabel, Lady Brownjohn, rushed upstairs for the TCP!
How did you react to that?
I was absolutely horrified but he was so drunk I don’t think he knew what he was doing. I think he was sent back to Moscow, but not because of that. We met all sorts of nationalities. It was a different life altogether.
Did you have any involvement in the Nuremberg Trials?
I went to them, yes. General Brownjohn left and General MacLean came. That was nearly at the end of my time in Berlin which was 1950.
Going back to the beginning of the war again, when you started your job, did you have a very strong sense that Nazism was a bad thing?
Do you think everyone felt that or was it because of your job, you were more informed?
I don’t think they thought of it.
I get the impression that most people thought Hitler was bad news because he was a dictator.
Yes, I don’t think they gave it a thought. All those people who’d been in the first war had their ideas and most of them said there wouldn’t be another war.
Do you think that’s because the 1WW was supposed to be the war to end all wars?
Yes, that’s very true.
I am very interested in what people were thinking about at the time.
There were all sorts of things I knew that I couldn’t talk about – clothes rationing and so on. It didn’t come in straight away but when I first went to Moscow which was I think in ’42, I was given extra clothing coupons before I went – the day before we went. I was told we were going the next day or the day after and I had to go home and hurriedly pack.
When you said you knew there was definitely going to be a war, was that because you knew more about Hitler and his way…….
The first communication I saw about him talked of gangsters, and I’d never heard the expression and of course the Jews……we knew about the persecution of the Jews and that was dreadful. There was a secretary in the office who was Jewish – charming and I’m still friends with her today – we were always worried about her seeing this communication – that was dreadful.
I’ve never been able to make up my mind whether Chamberlain really thought he could avoid war or whether the white paper at Croydon was more a delaying tactic.
I think he was slightly naive. You ought to read Churchill’s account of the war.
I think it’s very interesting that there seems to have been these two different strands – you in your department knew what was really going on and then there was parliament…..
There were lots of other departments that we dealt with but they weren’t in the inner circle; the secret circle. I met Eden.
He was very close to Churchill wasn’t he?
Yes he was. At one of the Moscow conferences he was with us although I can’t think why. In the embassy in Moscow we worked in the drawing room and he used to come in in his dressing gown at about 11am as if he’d just got out of bed. In Moscow we were given all sorts of things – caviar and a box at the Bolshoi every night. That was one of the most wonderful occasions I’ve ever known – we had a special concert with ?? singing and bits out of various ballets and Stalin came and he very rarely went out like that, but Churchill was at this conference. And suddenly I looked up and there he was. We had boxes on the right and left and they were in the middle and the applause in the theatre when he stood up …..then he stood back and presented Churchill and the applause was deafening! I remember one of the secretaries beside me in the box using a swear word I’d never heard before. She said “Oh God’s nightgown!” I thought it was a lovely phrase! It was a wonderful occasion. The ballets……oh……we’d have been working and then we’d just go in our ordinary clothes.
From the moment you started working for Ian Jacob you worked very hard but you must have had days off?
Very few; if he had a day off then so did I.
And that’s when you went off to the cinema?
Did you ever go to night clubs in London?
I didn’t. For one thing, there was no time. If I’d been older perhaps but it didn’t occur to me that I could do anything else but work, and I was so interested in it and I did so much overtime……I am ashamed because I cheated – you had to sign a book……I was naive – I was paid £2.10 a week and I could have made so much money with the overtime. I didn’t pay rent with my aunt and uncle so I was spoiled.
Your £2.10 went a long way especially if you didn’t have time to spend it.
And we had a cook until she had to go and work in the munitions factory, so I was very spoiled in that way. In Berlin, we had 14 servants in our house.
When you went to the cinema, did you go with friends who you worked with?
Yes; oh there was all sorts of hanky panky! I was engaged in Washington, the first time and I had a number of boyfriends, especially in Berlin; before I met my husband and when I met him, that was it.
Can you remember how you felt about all these young men going off to war and thinking that a lot of them wouldn’t come back? Did you have a fairly pragmatic view of that?
It didn’t affect me…….I only knew one chap who was killed and he was in the Air Force and he was flying back from a mission and pranged into balloon cables. Various people in the office lost brothers and things, but it never affected me. I never lost anybody during the blitz either. When we were in the Cabinet War Office, we thought we were going to be perfectly safe; you felt safe – didn’t even know the raid was on but one bomb would have knocked us to smithereens but because we didn’t know. And we slept down there, right down below where the Cabinet War room is now and it was so dark in the morning, we had to be woken by Marines who were our guards. They’d come in “Half past seven miss!” There were no loos down there so we had to go upstairs, past the sentry at the door and go up another flight of stairs into the main part of the building to go to the loo. You can imagine what it was like in the night; dreadful! There are 4 of us left and we keep in touch all the time.
Was that very popular going to that?
Well, there was only me and another girl; any luxury I loved.
And it must have felt as if you were treating yourself.
Yes; you see we didn’t spend our money on anything else. The first time I ever saw television was at Radio City in America.
So was Pruniers (?) your favourite restaurant?
Everyone will remember Pruniers. The reason I came back to London was when I married my husband, first we were in Cologne and then he was sent to Korea and was away for nearly 2 years. I stayed with a cousin in London and having come through the blitz and everything, I got to love it. Then we went to Scotland where I had my 3 children and my husband commanded the ? brigade in Ayrshire. He retired early and bought a house in Edinburgh and it was a blissful time and then he died. I had so many friends in London and somebody asked me what I was going to do. I had 2 girls at university and one still at school. They said “What would you like to do?” I said “Go back to London.” So I did and I’ve been here ever since
And Wendy’s only just round the corner isn’t she?
Yes; she’s a live wire; too clever for her own………..I met homosexuals for the first time. When I went to Berlin in 1946, I was met by General Brownjohn and we went to a party and there were all these lovely young men and I was thrilled and the General said “Don’t you know what they are?” Anyway, they were charming!
You do feel that people who experienced the war experienced something unique which people of my generation can’t possibly hope to understand or appreciate.
How it happened, I don’t know. It just fell into my lap; I was there at the right time. We felt so privileged to work with ? I couldn’t wait to get into the office.
You must have felt that you were doing your bit?
I didn’t think about it that way. I was absolutely fascinated. I would have killed anybody if they’d tried…….the interesting thing is that in all those years I only once had a cold in the nose. All that travelling; all those different people…..in Berlin we had our own planes; our own train and I was desperately in love with the ADC! Brownjohn left his wife for another man during the war but came back again. She was eccentric. It was a funny situation but I was very fond of them. They were so good to me.
And this was when you had 14 servants?
Yes; he used to lose his temper, especially about Jews and Arabs. I remember at one dinner party – Isabel his wife was a very elegant homemaker and in the centre of the table was a lovely fruit display with grapes and so on and someone said something which annoyed him and he got up and took the bunch of grapes and hurled ??? he had a terrible temper. He used to kick the radio and smash it……
But not Ian Jacob?
Oh he was different; he was so upright; so bright; the brightest of the lot.
Did you ever see Churchill lose his temper?
No. Ian was so close to him. Even after he retired and was going gah gah, Ian used to go and visit him. I visited Ian in Woodbridge til he died. He mellowed over the years. He liked me, especially in Berlin, giving him all the juicy bits of gossip.
When you worked for him, was it a case of always being very deferential? Did you have a working relationship where you could be quite frank?
Oh absolutely; I used to ask him about falling in love and all sorts of things. In Washington, I was supposed to be there for a year. He was at that conference on board ship in the Atlantic and they called in at Washington on the way back and asked me to come back then as he hadn’t found anybody else as…… that was when I was engaged to this young man.
Was he American?
No, British. It was thought we were too young to marry and we broke it off. Thank God I did – my life would have been different that’s for sure. There are several reasons why I don’t write a book myself. There was too much for a start and I have to look things up in the Churchill Memoirs to see dates of the various conferences and events. Having met all those generals…..Alexander was my favourite.
Did you get to meet Monty?
Monty I didn’t like.
Did you meet Auchinleck?
No, I didn’t but he was sacked and poor old Ian had to do that. It was a very sad business to have to do it.
Do you remember the film Death or Victory?
No. We went to the cinema an awful lot.
To the ones in Leicester Square?
Yes and there was one at Victoria – the Odeon I think and Sinatra and Bing Crosby and all the big bands. I loved the big bands.
Did you have records?
Wind up gramophones but I am going back in to the 30’s now. Bing Crosby was my favourite but then when I was in Washington, I began to hear Sinatra and then it was 6 of one and half a dozen of the other.
Were you a Glen Miller fan?
Yes; I was in New York when his plane went down. A strange thing happened in San Francisco. At the end of the conference I was supposed to take a ship up to Seattle with documents and then a train journey across Canada and pick up the aeroplane to go home. I was thrilled about this until Ian suddenly said “You can’t do that. You have to go to Washington and report to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the San Francisco conference” and I was so disappointed I didn’t talk to him for the whole of the rest of the day. The people who were going on this trip they got the train across Canada, got onto the aeroplane and were never heard of again; they crashed; lucky escape.
When you were doing your daily train journey into Victoria, did you then walk from Victoria to Whitehall? Down Victoria Street maybe?
Yes and Victoria Street bares no resemblance to what it was. If it had been a bad night the night before, I’d be wading through glass.
A Heinkel crashed into Victoria Station.
I can remember when London was burning, my train stopped at Clapham Junction and I stood and looked out – it must have been on my way home at about 9 at night, and I saw the bright red lights in the distance and I thought how dreadful. But the trains still ran you know and they had every excuse not to.
If you wanted to get about town, did you use the underground?
I didn’t like the underground; buses mostly; big, red London buses. Don’t forget, London wasn’t crowded at all. People had gone off.
Even during the phoney war it seemed uncrowded?
You’d never know it compared to now. When things got short, there was a shop called Fullers and people used to queue up for Fullers walnut cake and everybody of my vintage remembers that.
Where was Fullers?
There were branches; we got ours in Sutton, near Carshalton Beeches. Carshalton Beeches used to be so very beautiful and Epsom Downs.
That’s incredibly helpful.
I can remember when the Russians closed the frontier. We were at a big ball in full evening dress as we always were for these things and my general was there and the ADC who I adored and we were having a wonderful time. Someone came in with a telegram and gave it to my general. He’d been drinking – we all had – he was swaying and he really was drunk. He beckoned me and said “We’re going back to the office.” And that was when the Russians closed the border.
When did you go back to England?
I went back to get ready for my wedding. I was married 2nd September 1950. I met my husband in May 1950 and we were engaged on 11th June and I went home at the end of July and I didn’t see him til August when he came back to London. After we were married we were immediately sent to Cologne which was interesting to and I had my first dog there. It was a blissful marriage and we had 3 wonderful children. The middle one, Susan, I don’t know if you know but she died at university. That was a tragedy but that was the only tragedy. I am not looking back and embroidering. Wendy will tell you, I was much more a wife than a mother. We did so many wonderful things together. Susan died in 1977 and it was like the end of the world had come and then suddenly I was summoned to Buckingham Palace to help the ladies in waiting with the Queen’s jubilee and I did that for 6 months and that saved my bacon.
I remember the jubilee very well. Our house in Wiltshire was judged the best decorated house in the village.
Do you know West Knoyle? The ADC I was in love with came from there.
What happened to him?
He left Berlin; it was a tremendous parting! It was an infatuation! It wasn’t right.
It sounds like you had lots of boyfriends.
I did; I had a wonderful time. So many of my wonderful friends are dead now though.
But you’ve still got a few friends left from that time.
Yes. Oh I had a lovely life with my husband…….
Well, thank you very much.
I don’t what you can use……
You’d be amazed; it’s the little details.
It was the exhilaration of knowing that we couldn’t be beaten. We never, never thought we would be – only that one day I told you about with the flying bombs and you know we popped off guns at those things but it was just for morale. We knew perfectly well we’d never hit them and we never did.
I think it was only the Typhoons that could get them; were fast enough to chase them and shoot them down.
Then came the V1’s, but we became not acclimatised but……I was in San Francisco on VE Day so I missed the celebrations in London but I loved San Francisco. We were there for quite a while and when we flew…….we always had bunks, not like now when you’re stuck together and these were converted bombers. My first flight back to the UK from Baltimore was in a Flying Boat and I’d never flown before. You had to congregate in the middle of the boat before it took off and I was the only woman on board and Alexander Cadogan who was the under secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was sitting beside me. He looked at me and said “Is this your first flight?” I said “Oh no!” I had to lie. I was given a bunk at the tail of the aeroplane and I undressed and I had a nightie and the pilot came through to see if I was alright and I had no fear because of my innocence. I thought we are in a flying boat – if we come down in the sea, we’ll float. Absolute rubbish of course! It took us 19 hours. Can you imagine? Undressing into a nightie? It never occurred to me not to, but how stupid! And I remember that nightie to this day!