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Second World War » Grandma's Story

"As I Remember It"

Margaret Gray (nee Robertson) on her memories of the Second World War.

Skegness, Lincolnshire. 1939 to 1945.

As a child between the age of five and eleven, the war was something I just 'grew up' with, not really understanding what it was all about.

The "Black Out" was accepted as normal to me - no street lights and wardens going round the streets shouting 'put that light out'. Everyone had black curtains to prevent even a chink of light showing. The trees alongside pavements had white stripes painted on them to show up in the dark at night.

Everything was rationed apart from vegetables and, I believe, fish. There were big shortages of food and long queues were a regular sight. If you saw a queue you joined it even before you knew what it was for - it was bound to be something good! We didn't have many sweets or imported fruits. I don't remember having a banana until I was ten and what a treat to get an orange
at Xmas! My mother had a friend in South Africa who sometimes sent food parcels which caused great excitement - usually tins of fruit and corned beef, biscuits and choc bars.

There really wasn't much in the shops and everyone was told to 'make do and mend' - also to 'grow your own vegetables'. Many people dug up their lawns to grow them.

We were allowed one egg each a week. I wonder how my mother managed with all the rationing, but we never starved! One day, she found a tin of fruit at the back of a cupboard and it was a great treat!

As petrol was also rationed there was not much traffic. Horses and carts were in regular use and delivered bread, coal and milk. Everyone had a ration card and an identity card. Some people somehow managed to get more than they were entitled to and this was called the "Black Market". I think some people made quite a bit of money this way.

Rationing still went on for another eight years after the war ended, but not everything was rationed by then. I remember afterwards when a cargo of grapefuits was washed up on the beach, all covered in oil, and crowds of people went to collect what they could. The trouble was, the fruit was very sour and people hadn't much sugar to spare!

During the war the beach was prepared for any invasion by Germans by erecting barbed wire fencing and also concrete and metak tank traps. Mines were buried in the sandhills, so of course all the beach was 'out of bounds'.

Air raid shelters were built in some of the streets and some in people's back gardens. We had a large metal table, which was issued to anyone wanting one, and my brother and I would sleep beneath it during an air raid. Our garage was also reinforced with sand bags to make a shelter. When the air raid warning siren sounded at night, we thought it was great fun getting up in the middle of the night and drinking cocoa! When the siren sounded during the daytime, if we were in school, we all had to go into special shelters which had been built in the school grounds. We thought this was great - no lessons!

Everybody was issued with a gas mask which we carried everywhere with us in a cardboard box slung round our shoulders. Most raids were at night.

The worst of the war was in the big cities where there was huge devastation and loss of life. This was called the "Blitz". The cinemas managed to keep open in other places and we saw newsreels of it all. There was no television in those days, but everyone had a wireless where we heard all the news. This was our only other entertainment, apart from the cinema, as there were lots of variety programmes to try and cheer people up.

A few bombs fell around Skegness pier, but it was never hit. Several houses suffered and also a cinema and the indoor swimming pool. Everyone put sticky paper strips across their windows to prevent flying glass when there were explosions.

I remember seeing a German aeroplane which had crashed near the beach. People were taking pieces away as 'souvenirs'.

Butlins Holiday Camp was taken over as a Naval Base.

Anyone with spare rooms in their houses had to take in evacuees, lodgers
or members of the forces. We had a large house with eight bedrooms and I remember we had two teachers living in and also families of Naval Officers
who came to visit their menfolk. I used to plat quite a lot with these children.
A lady next door, who lived alone, had to take in six airmen.

We made our own fun by giving concerts in the garage, mainly singing, and charged the neighbours a few pennies. We sent the money to help the "War Effort" - buying guns and bombs. I remember we sent ten shillings which
would be fifty pence today.

My Grandma's sister, Great Aunt Ruth, had married a German bank clerk before the war and was living in Berlin. They spent the whole war living in a cellar and survived.

When the war ended, I was staying in Nottingham at my Grandma's house. I remember she gave me ten shillings as a 'peacetime present'. We went to a big fireworks celebration in the town centre. Everyone was so happy and excited.

Margaret Gray
(November 2009)

Related Features

  • Image Gallery (ONE)
    Capt. Robert Robertson, R.A., shown with his men, his wife and son, at RAF Hospital Ely, in Norfolk 1941, plus others.
  • Image Gallery (TWO)
    The 'subjects' are not known, possibly friends or comrades of Capt Robert Robertson?
    Who are they?
  • 1939 to 1945 -- As I Remember It -- By Eric Gray
    Eric Gray, the husband of Margaret (nee Robertson), talks about his memories of the Second World War.

Margaret pictured at Lanzarote home
Margaret pictured at Lanzarote home

Margaret in 1941, aged 7
Margaret in 1941, aged 7

Margaret and mother, Winifred, just after the war
Margaret with her mother, Winifred,
just after the war

Margaret, just after the war
Margaret, just after the war