Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Some sunny day

A couple of weeks ago, it was the 70th anniversary of VE Day

Life during wartime is not an experience many of us have shared or can even imagine, but for people like my mum, it remains a powerful memory.

Here she is; Nurse Rhonie King. She worked at St James' Hospital in Balham, London.

She recently sent me two extracts copied from her diary kept at the time. 

This is from 1944, when she was 20;

The long wailing sirens sounded, warning everyone - an air raid alert... I was looking out of my third floor window [in the Nurses' Home] and heard a doodlebug* approaching our hospital. I prayed it would go over, but the engine cut out, it dipped, and I knew it would soon hit the earth. There was 15 seconds to find somewhere to lie flat and cover my head. Then an awful wait, followed by a shuddering explosion. 

The bomb had demolished one end of the hospital and a row of shops and houses. All our local favourites razed to the ground - the little cafe, the butcher's, grocer's, hairdressers, confectioners, tobacconists. Wards 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 were smashed and everything hung in tatters. It was utter chaos...

There was no time to be heartbroken or tired. More and more casualties came pouring in - crying, screaming, frightened, in terrible pain, shredded clothes, burnt skin, broken bones, blood and gaping wounds, and the all-pervading smell of gunpowder...

All night we worked and all next day, till we were exhausted. But it had to be done. 

(* A doodlebug was a V-1 flying bomb.)


 The second extract contains her memories of VE Day itself; Mum was 21. When she and her friends came off duty in the evening, they headed to the West End to join the celebrations.

Once in Trafalgar Square, we were stunned by the noise and the brilliant lights, after so many years of total blackout... Now, here were neon signs flashing on many buildings, restaurants ablaze, coloured lights in all directions, theatres lit up. Searchlights picked out Nelson on his column... Fireworks exploded...[and] people shouted and roared, clapped and sang, cheered and hurrayed.

Along with everyone else, we danced and sang and cheered all the way up The Mall...Young men climbed lamposts waving flags, there was music all around, bagpipes, mouth organs and drums, groups of complete strangers linking arms, dancing, kissing, hugging, singing - anything to express joy.

At Buckingham Palace...thunderous cheering broke out as King George and Queen Elizabeth and the two princesses appeared on the balcony.

So somewhere in that vast elated crowd captured by the Pathe News film are my mum and her friends; every time I see it, I think perhaps I'll spot her, though I've seen it lots of times.

And as coincidence would have it, look what I rescued from the charity shop skip recently; a World War II gas mask in its original box. 

I know they aren't particularly rare, but I was sad to see it being thrown away, so I asked if I could take it and give it to school. Every year, the Y6 classes do a topic learning about World War II, and I thought it might make an interesting resource.

Mum went on to train as a midwife after the war, but eventually left nursing in the late 1940s to become a member of the Women's Land Army. 

Don't mess with a woman carrying a scythe!

My mum, like so many other of her generation, lived through so much hardship, destruction and misery. And how glad I am to be living a different life, in different times. 

1970s Miss Mary of Sweden dress, 1960s vinyl/tapestry bag, shoes, sunglasses and bangles - all charity shopped

This 1970s dress has a 1940s look about it, so it seemed a fitting tribute to my mum's wartime experiences.

Though I very much doubt she wore bright red, polka dots, or heart-shaped sunglasses.

Thank goodness I get to live in full colour!



Lynn Holland said...

Lovely to see you over at my blog, I hope you enjoy your day your Liverpool trip, as much as we did, when you next make it there.
You've written a great post about your mum and I love all your outfits, I've been having a quick read back.
We've got the same mustard/yellow jacket. I wear mine a lot and love how you mix yours with so many prints.
I'm following along now so will be sure to check out your charity shop finds. It's the best type of shopping for me and I'm going to pinch your words as my motto Curtise "open mind and eagle eyes" hee hee

Anonymous said...

Wow Curtise, what an interesting post revealing such an impressionable stressful time in your mother's life. It must be so interesting to read over her journals. Those are definitely our heroes. The ones in the front lines of the worst times in history. I am so thankful for that.

Sheila said...

I love the diary extracts - so vivid! A few of my relatives fought (in the Canadian military) during WWII, including a now-deceased great-uncle that we used to visit regularly. He was a radio operator and I know he was stationed in Europe, but he would never talk about it. I wish I'd known what he went through. I am always grateful for those who have served for us - it does make one appreciate what an easy life we live.

You're looking FABULOUS (worth that all caps shriek) in your red dots.

Angels have Red Hair said...

It makes our own "bad days" pale into insignificance doesn't it ... they bred them tough back then :0)

Sue said...

Lovely story and photos of your mother, amazing woman. Now lets get to you dear Curtise in that bloody gorgeous red frock with SPOTS on it, my fave!! You look so summery in your garden, we had a heavy frost this morning, dam cold start to the day but the sun did arrive and made life fabulous again.

Tilly Rose said...

A beautiful post my lovely....

My family recall several tales that are so similar in the Fens with living so close to a marshalling yard where freight, soldiers and armoury would've trundled through day and night...

I think it is so important to write these treasured snippets down to preserve for our future generations :)

Lovely to say hello!
Do pop by and visit me if you have a spare five mins too!
Tilly x

Olga Rani said...

Oh, how nice of you to post these snippets from your mum's diary. So interesting to read. Though my grandma didn't like to talk much about her life during the war time too much, she did share a couple of stories. They lived on the Nazi occupied territory. Her husband was executed for helping partisans and she was left alone with a baby child (my father). I often tried to imagine how it was to live life in such circumstances. Indeed, how lucky we are to have lives we have now.
This dress is such a beauty and you look ravishing in it.

Mother of Reinvention said...

Your Mum looks a strong beautiful woman and writes very well. I can't begin to imagine how hard life was for people during the war. My Mum was very small, or so she says, but she vividly remembers the bombing raids coming up the Firth of Forth trying to hit the gasworks in Edinburgh. Must have been very scary for everyone. Really lobe that dress. Xxxx

Melanie said...

How interesting to read those extracts from her diary.
From time to time I miss going to the WWII events we used to frequent, I have my own original gasmask in box :)
I really love this outfit, those shoes are wonderful ❤ xxx

Kezzie said...

Lovely to read your Mum's diary. I can't imagine life like that and all those shops being destroyed. What happened to those business people? And did all those patients die?
I'm glad you rescued that gas mask. My Headteacher (previous) threw out the artefact cabinet we had in our entrance hall and I think all the artefacts just got dispersed and forgotten about, sad.
Love the 40's look. X

Lisa said...

What a wonderfully strong and practically person your mum is. I really do take my hat of to her for the range of interesting and challenging career paths she took.
What a treasure her diary is to have.
I can't believe someone would think the gas mask was only suitable for chucking out, like you say the school will really appreciate it.
Lisa x

Vix said...

The agony and the ecstasy - the raid and the celebrations after those long, hard, traumatic years. What the last generation lived through! Your Mum wrote so well, just like you.
Don't you look like your gorgeous Mum, too? Just stay away from the scythe.
That Miss Mary dress looks wonderful with the tapestry bag and those sexy red shoes.
Blimey, it must be a lot warmer ooop North. I'm in a fur coat and boots today. Not fair.
Love you! xxxxxx

Ulla-Marie said...

My mother was one of the Finnish war children who came to Sweden as a 5-year-old in 1940. She packed your bag every time it thundered until she was a teenager even though she knew it was thunder.And ... she used to dress in red and White polkadots ... hmm.

mondoagogo said...

Your mum's diary really brings the sensations to life in those short paragraphs, the way that they had no time to be sad or tired, and of course the noise and light after all the blackouts and darkness must have felt physically overwhelming, as well as uplifting.

It seems trite to talk about clothes after reading about such visceral experiences, but that is a lovely dress on you. You posture is demure, but that cheeky expression belies it!

Goody said...

Better someone bring in an old gas mask than a live bomb (they do turn up from time to time having been used as doorstops for the past 70 years, and thought to be disarmed).

I used to wonder what the last generation thought of us-did we seem spoilt and weak? Older myself now, I suspect they are just happy their children didn't need to experience all they did.

Your mum looks like she means business on that tractor. Thanks for sharing her diary entries. Coincidentally, I'm teaching WWII next year, and am currently writing the syllabus. I've been dreading it, to be honest. It feels too close still.

Lovely dress, and I am impressed how you carried the design of the bag through to the bangle.

Bobbi said...

Great outfit - red is a wonderful color on you.
Thank you for sharing your mom's diary entries. I can't even imagine how she must have felt. I've watched so many documentaries about the war but personal accounts make it so much more...I'm not sure what word I want to use.
I'm sure the school will appreciate the mask - it will make history more real for the kids.

Becky said...

What an incredible first hand account! It really brings history alive to hear a personal story. The red dress is absolutely lovely on you <3

Suzanne said...

This really puts all of our trivial complaints into perspective doesn't it?

I think it was a great idea to offer the mask to a school. Show and Tell is always better than just Tell.

The dress is so pretty.


Mim said...

That tapestry bag is fabulous. And the gas mask was well-rescued - I keep wishing I knew where the skips were at my local chazzas so I could go dumpster diving; I hadn't realised how much good stuff got thrown out till I started reading your blog.

Your mum lived through some real awfulness. It's heartbreaking to read about the bomb hitting the hospital and realise it was happening in so many places, to so many people. Thank you for sharing the entries.

bahnwärterin said...

ahh - that dress! looks gorgeous on you!
my mum was born 47, but granny - worked for the telephon company in dresden and got bombed out, luckily before that huge attack at the 14.feb.45 she went back to her parents in the countryside - and granpa who was as ambulance man (conscripted) in the battle of stalingrad and afterwards in a hospital (lost half of his feet to the frost) while his mother and sister where bombed out 3 times in berlin - told me a lot about that time. and lately i did read about the backgrounds of the politics in that days - and it all fell in place in my head. i hope the remembering of the war will not end in "folklore" - every new generation must realize what it means and how it could happen!!!
your mum looks impressive with that scythe!

Unknown said...

My Mom and Dad talked about the war many times. My dad was a farmer so he didn't fight, but he spent a winter building planes. My mom worked in a plane factory too. That dress does look like it's from the 40's by the way, love it! :)

Mrs Bertimus said...

Utterly amazing.
What a privilege to share those diary extracts, thank you x

diaryofapennypincher said...

Amazing diary extracts, and your lovely red outfit has a 40's feel about it. We really don't appreciate what that generation went through, but we should never forget it.

Virginia at A Sewing Life said...

I am a nut for WWII history, so I loved reading your mom's stories. My mom was born in 1944 while her father was fighting in North Africa and then France.

My host mother for the year I spent in Germany during high school was a young child during the war. She had one very stark memory of playing with and losing her family's ration books. Luckily the books were eventually found in the wood box.

Your resemblance to your mom is strong. She has a wonderful presence which you also do. Beautiful red dress!

Asparagus Pea said...

Look how hot your land girl Mum is! ( If that's not too weird). Watch out for those old gas masks if you're planning to use it as a handling object in schools - some of them have asbestos in them. B xxx

Peaches McGinty said...

I'm absolutely riveted with your Mums diary entries, how amazing to have this and what an incredible insight, your Mum is a brilliant writer. I really do think it's vital for future generations to have knowledge of these most awful times, my Nan told incredible stories, there was even an internment camp near where we live now, how awful for them - they are such amazingly powerful pics of your Mum, that scythe! and you are equally beautiful in your red polka dot ensemble, like you I'm thankful for the times we live in too x x x

Peaches McGinty said...

ps I should say - awful for the people who were in the camps, the conditions were utterly dreadful though apparently locals passed food through the barbed wire x x x

Anonymous said...

What a great insight to such an intense time, thank you for sharing this. Hubby's Nan lived throw the raids and used to speak about the feeling and emotion of the time. I really can't imagine. I too am thankful we live in the time we do today albeit with it's own threats.

SAM said...

Thank you and your mom for sharing. Amazing fortitude. As always the clothes are amazing but those diary exerts are treasure.

Forest City Fashionista said...

Thanks for sharing your Mum's diary entries - I find stories like these from WWII so fascinating. I can't imagine what it would have been like living though that experience (the lucky ones that did live through it) and carry it around in your head for the rest of your life.

The red and white dress is so pretty - I'm sure your Mum thinks it looks marvelous on you.

Natalia Lialina said...

What a wonderful post, Curtise! I loved the fact that your Mum wrote a diary, and now you (and even us, a little) can read it. It is indeed a treasure, and I imagined all vividly! That first photo of her - she is lovely, enchanting! And as a Land Girl - wow! Now I can see, I think, who you get your gorgeous figure from. You look absolutely beautiful in this red polka dots dress, with all thoughtfully matched accessories - and even tiny daisies play with you today, falling off your red beauty! Thank you for this post! xxxxx

Unknown said...

Loved reading this post today and hearing about your mums experience during the war I would love to sit next to hear and listen to more of her experience's her diary makes for very interesting reading what a lovely item to treasure. I have spent a lot of time the past few months finding more out about WW11 as you know I held a vintage event to help mark the 70th Anniversary of VE Day I learnt so much and have found many interesting people and groups since. A very hard but interesting period in our history. You look gorgeous in your red and white polka dot a fitting tribute to your mum. dee xxx

thorne garnet said...

I never want to experience anything like that. Your Mother is a hero.

Kezzie said...

Thank you for being honest Curtise! I just wanted to know what people thought of it and that is a valuable opinion that I wanted to know! I wasn't sure if people just thought it was dumb or. If there was another reason. X x

Melanie said...

I enjoy reading your mother's writing - she brings her time to life, and what a life. I cannot imagine the terror of things, not to mention people, being blown up down the block. And the sheer relief and joy at the end of it all. It gives one pause.
You are beautiful in this dress of reflection. Your talent for writing is also a wonderful gift.

Charis said...

WE really do take our lives for granted don't we? Your mum's first diary excerpt made me teary, it's must have been simultaneously terrifying and numb. Such a strange time to have lived through.

Hurrah for red dresses & polka dots!

mispapelicos said...

Wonderful to see your mother and all the lovely pics and the vivid story.
You look a lot like her. Strong wonderful women.
Thank you for this lovely post, dear Curtise.

Unknown said...

Been away for a week but so glad to not have missed this post. Your mum and those of her era are such an inspiring bunch. These are familiar themes but somehow when you hear it in their own words it's still very touching. These diaries are such a great thing to have, I hope you can share some more.

freckleface said...

Oh wow, I read this post several times, just to absorb it more. I love that you have a first hand account written at the time, it's so authentic and of course every detail is there. She certainly is a most beautiful writer, easy to see where you got it from. I have a great fascination for WWII, which comes from listening to my grandmother's and Aunty Dolly's accounts. They spent the whole time in London, too. How absolutely amazing that your mum was there that night. Are you going to take the kids to see the film? What a truly wonderful idea to take the gas mask in to school. I sometimes put a 1940s CD on for my old lady I sit with and we sing Vera Lynn together. Very poignant. You look beautiful in red polka dots, that shape is perfect on you and I love your shiny red shoes and heart shaped sunnies. Oh, by the way, we'll meet again, don't know where, don't know when, but we must get a date in the diary! Xxxxx

Jazzy Jack said...

You look so ladylike in your red, but also way out with your heart glasses!
Great to remember what peoole like your Mum did for us all. She is formidable with that scythe! Xo Jazzy Jack

Miss Magpie said...

I just finished reading a book about a London hospital in the war and part of the story was exactly what your Mum described, makes you suddenly realise it's not been made more dramatic for effect!

I absolutely love your outfit, every last bit but the bag best of all. x

Unknown said...

What a wonderful story ! And how beatiful you are dear Curtise !

Fiona said...

That line 'there was no time to be heartbroken or tired' really sums up your mum's generation doesn't it? It was a privilege to read the excerpts from your mum's diary Curtise. I have heard so many tales about it from my nan and mum, who was born in '39 and living in rural Sussex she didn't experience too much hardship but did recall the Germans dropping their doodlebugs in 'bomb alley' on the way back home.
Love the red spotty frock on you!

Kaffesoester said...

If only more people would keep a diary like your mother's. It's so interesting to read for later generations, and important too. Compared to history books her story has so much more credibility because she lived it. With the passing years it becomes even more important that we teach all children about these horrors, so our future generals, prime ministers and colonels will choose war as the last solution to a conflict. Not that that's been the case in our lifetime, but we have to keep trying. Your mother's journal is then important evidence and a great tool for explaining the horrors that war always causes!

You look lovely in Miss Mary of Sweden. Of course you have a gorgeous handbag to go with it! And som fine weather too - I see bare legs, right? Not happening in Denmark, I tell you!

Shawna McComber said...

What a beautiful post, Curtise! Such a treasure to have your Mum's words! I love the fluttery dresses of that era and this red one looks great on you! xoxo

Catherine said...

how wonderful! thanks you for sharing those passages from your mums diary. she writes so well and i was fully absorbed in her stories! will you be watching A Royal Night Out at the movies? i totally have that on my list to see!