MiLL HILL - The war years
by Ann Griffiths
My parents bought a house in Sunnyfield when they married in 1934. I was born on 23 March 1939, six months before the outbreak of WW2, and was christened at St Paul's. In late summer, when war was looming, my mother and I went to stay with family members in Selsey and Worthing. However, we returned to Mill Hill in November 1939 when the threat of an imminent aerial attack on London had lifted. In the meantime my father had put an Anderson shelter in the garden; this was partly dug into the clay and was covered with earth and sandbags. By late summer 1941 we were sleeping in it every night. In November 1941 a 500lb bomb fell in Sunnyfield about 70 yards from our shelter and demolished two houses. A second bomb fell from the same plane and flattened more houses at the far end of the road. We lost a few roof tiles, shed and garage windows were broken and all the doors in the house blew open with the blast but we were unharmed. My father was in the Home Guard and when he went round to help he heard a woman calling out, "The blood is dripping on my head" but it was only water coming from a broken pipe.
After this experience my parents decided to build a shelter onto the side of the house. It was ready for use one week before Christmas 1941. It was made of reinforced brick with a concrete roof covered with two feet of earth. Inside we had an electric light and fire. It was rather dank but we could sleep there safely. I had a little bunk against a blast wall.
I started ballet at Miss Jean Boggon's School of Dance, when I was two-and-a-half, and continued until I was about twelve. The lessons were above the gas showrooms in The Broadway. After our lesson my friend and I used to go to Woolworths and buy a twopenny ice lolly. In June 1944 we were due to put on a matinee at The Rudolf Steiner Hall in Baker St, in aid of The British Sailors' Society, but although we had a successful dress rehearsal the actual show had to be cancelled, as Hitler had begun to send doodlebugs over London.
In those days there were only fields immediately north of Sunnyfield, where we could pick bluebells and climb haystacks. In the summer we used to go swimming at Mill Hill open air baths, where there was a water fountain and a chute that I liked.
No food could be wasted and my mother went mad when our maid, Peggy, threw away a saucepan full of boiled bones not realising they were the basis of some nourishing soup. My mother used to go to the shops most days. Sainsbury's, at the bottom of Mill Hill Broadway, had what I remember as a black and white marble floor and was two shops joined together and connected on the inside, with a booth at the end where you went to pay. Bacon was sliced for you and biscuits were in big tins. There was a draper's shop opposite Woolworths, which had a brown, lino floor and the assistant put the money in a cylindrical tube which was attached to an overhead wire. The tube went whizzing across to the cashier, who sent back the receipt and any change in the same way. We belonged to Boots library and there was a British Restaurant in Hartley Avenue which served pretty awful food. I used to go the Capitol cinema, known as the Fleapit. They had children's films on a Saturday morning.
In 1945 I went to St Gabriel's School in Hammers Lane. It was a girls' private school run by Protestant nuns who wore brown habits. It was connected to a parent boarding school in the Newbury area. The principal was Sister Muriel and she was assisted by Sister Winifred, Sister May and a couple of lay teachers. In the lower forms they took boys and I had a boy friend. We used to kiss behind the bicycle sheds. Sometimes the vicar of St Michael and All Angels used to come and teach us, though my parents found him too "high church" and preferred St Paul's. After the War the school moved back to its home in Flower Lane, which had been requisitioned for military purposes.
On Victory in Europe Day, 8th May 1945, there were great celebrations and I was allowed a taste of champagne! The following weekend we went up to London to see the major buildings floodlit, including Big Ben. Just after VJ day we went up to Ludgate Circus to see the Royal Family and the three service chiefs on their way to a thanksgiving service at St Paul's Cathedral. Winston Churchill was in a closed car but was received with tremendous cheering. On 25th August we had a street party with games and on VJ Day, itself, there was a big bonfire at the top of Lawrence Street.
There were many celebrations in the summer of 1945 and I have programmes for the Copthall Allotment Association's Summer show and Garden Party (18. 08. 45) and a "Grand Garden Fete" (01. 09. 45), both in aid of the building fund for the Mill Hill branch of the British Legion, and a "Victory Fete" in aid of Mill Hill Social Services, held at Highwood Park, home of Mr and Mrs Nell. Highwood Park had beautiful grounds with a swimming pool, private golf course, several summerhouses, a lake and an artificial stream with a series of waterfalls.
The official Victory celebrations took place on 8th and 9th June 1946. We went up to the Victoria Memorial in London and I sat on my father's shoulders and watched the long procession of the mechanised forces and the marching procession. The next night we went to St James's Park to see the illuminations, which looked like fairyland, with the fountains constantly changing colour, the trees lit up and model gondolas on the lake. Buckingham Palace was red, the balcony white and there was a big blue V over the palace made by two searchlights. I still have my copy of the message sent to all schoolchildren by King George VI. It was on card with the Royal Coat of Arms in colour at the top and a time line on the back, with a space for "My Family's War Record".
In 1948 I started at South Hampstead High School. My father dropped me off on his way to work near Marble Arch. My father left Sunnyfield after my mother died in 1968. I now live with my husband on the South Hampshire coast - but I still keep memories of Mill Hill.
Copyright 2008 - Ann Griffiths, Havant, Hants.