World War 2 Stories for Sheffield


London: One A.T.S. Girl's Experiences During the Momentous V1 & V2 Days

By Actiondesk Sheffield

People in story: Jean Simpson
Location of story: London (Belgravia)
Unit name: J Company No6 London District
Background to story: Army

        V.E. Day, 8 May 1945 Sloane Street, SW1 Jean Simpson (not the Seargeant Major, the other one).

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Bill Ross of the ‘Action Desk – Sheffield’ Team on behalf of Jean Simpson.

In the early summer of 1944, I was one of some ten A.T.S. girls working in the War Office and living in a War Department requisitioned house in Belgravia, London S.W.1. Small by London standards, but it was a delightful house and we were well pleased with what were luxurious quarters and the prestigious address.
We had an aristocratic neighbour, the young Marquis of Tavistock, recently discharged from the army on medical grounds, and living next door with his wife, toddler son and baby (he later inherited the title and eventually became famous as the Duke of Bedford, who reorganised Woburn Abbey into becoming a going concern after years of neglect).

The tremendous news of the D-day invasion had just broken with great rejoicing, although with little or no media coverage, we didn’t at that time, realise the horrific cost.

We did not know that the Civil Defence forces were standing by for an expected alert; the backlash from Hitler. It came on the night of June the 13th. Going to bed as usual, we were awakened by sirens. A strange whistling noise sounded across the sky, then deadly silence, followed by a deafening shattering explosion. The ‘all clear’ sounded quite soon afterwards, and we went back to our beds. This nightmare scenario went on all night. In the morning, we went to work, exhausted: there was a rumour of ‘pilotless’ planes. In those days, we hadn’t been conditioned by science fiction and it was unbelievably fantastic and terrifying.

On June the 16th, it was announced that Hitler had launched his vengeance weapon, the V1 (flying bomb), soon to be known as the Doodlebug. We had to learn to live with this fearsome situation. We knew that when the motor cut out, the explosion would come a heart stopping ten seconds later.

Every night we came downstairs in our tin hats and blue and white striped issue pyjama (we called them ‘Bovril’ pyjamas) after the shipwrecked pyjama clad man in the Bovril advertisement.

Sometimes, to relieve the tension, we played games. A favourite one was moving a glass around the letters of the alphabet to tell the future. We optimistically assumed that we would have one (a future, that is). Our concern was, would we get married, and to whom?

During this terrifying period, many thousands of innocent people were killed, homes were destroyed and buildings laid to waste.

The aim was to cause maximum devastation amongst the civilian population. Expectant mothers, children, the old and the sick were evacuated. Our neighbours, for the sake of the children, departed to the country. Those who lived in what were considered to be safe areas, were asked to offer hospitality breaks to beleaguered A.T.S. girls. I had a blissfully peaceful weekend at an ancient Vicarage in Baldock, Hertfordshire.

In London, the robotic attacks went on most of the summer until the R.A.F. was able to deflect them, by radar, to less harmful destinations.

On September the 8th, Hitler unleashed an even more terrible weapon of destruction, the V2. Unlike the V1, this could be targeted at a specific destination. Every night, the platforms of Underground stations became dormitories for weary Londoners seeking sanctuary. These scenes were dramatically captured by Henry Moor in some of his drawings.

We started to take our mattresses down to the little hall. As every old soldier knows, mattresses then were in three parts known as ‘biscuits’. We eventually became fed up of this nightly chore and fatalistically, returned to our beds.

The allied advance after D-day was not as rapid as hoped, there was a fierce German attack in the Ardennes, then came the heroic but tragic attempt to seize the Rhine Bridge at Arnhem. However, the V2s stopped when the allies captured Holland and Belgium, and the Nazis lost their launching sites.

At last, the tide was turning. In May 1945, surrender was accepted at Lunenburg Hath and the war was over. Thankfully and joyously, for one day, a public holiday was declared. Two of us volunteered to be on duty that day and whilst walking across London to our office, we were courteously approached by two American soldiers. They wondered if we would allow them to take a picture, as a record of this memorable day. We were immensely flattered. We never saw them again but we were surprised and pleased to receive copies of the snaps. The accompanying picture shows one of our friends holding a copy of the American force’s newspaper.

Victory, after six horrific years of slaughter, devastation and suffering, was briefly summed up in two words: “GERMANY QUITS”.