The aftermath of an air raid was a chaotic affair, with multiple agencies sending people to deal with the bombing. There could be fire services, the police, ambulance, ARP, utility companies disconnecting gas supplies, the Town council’s structural surveyor inspecting how bad the damage was and possibly the military guarding unexploded ordnance whilst it was defused. It was therefore essential that all had correct identification papers to show they had a legitimate reason to be at the site. The same also went for those locations that administered these processes, where security was important to ensure that the correct people had easy access and those who had no business being there were not admitted. Different agencies therefore issued their personnel with identity cards that showed they were on official business and it is one of these we are looking at today.
This card was issued by the Borough of Guildford’ ARP services to a member of the Surrey Red Cross who was stationed at the First Aid Post at Houghton, Guildford. The card is typical of these sore of things, having no photograph and being simply filled in with a fountain pen. To show legitimacy, the rear of the card has an official inked stamp:
This card was issued in September 1940 and the war was brought home to the borough in 1941 as recalled by Betty Ford who was seven at the time:
We lived in Guildford, Surrey, my first recollections of the war were people coming to our house with gasmasks. I wanted a “Mickey Mouse” respirator, because it was red, but these were only for children under 5 years of age. We had to carry these slung over our shoulders wherever we went; at school we had to practice wearing them in lessons.
We had air raid shelters erected in everyone’s back gardens 6 ft deep. They were dry in summer but they had 2ft of water in them all winter then they were unusable.
1941 the bombing got bad, the sirens were going night and day, it was at this time that children were evacuated out of London to the country. The younger children were sent out into the country or some even abroad. Although we weren’t that far from London, they came house to house asking if people could take an evacuee in, nearly everyone did. These evacuees were 15 to 17, although my mother didn’t realize this, and said we’d take a boy, being she had a little girl. Came the day he arrived a knock at the back door, mum shouts” come in” in strolls 15 year old Jeff with 2 grey blankets under his arm, 6ft 3ins tall, he had to duck to walk through the living room door. My mums face was a picture, she had visions of a little boy,not a strapping 6 footer. Jeff stayed with us for 2 years; he left us when he was 17. He joined the RAF, the last card my mum had from him was Christmas 1943, from Scarborough saying he was training for aircrew. We learned in 1970 he did survive the war. The blankets that our evacuee arrived with later made into a beautiful winter coat for me by my mother’s friend. I wore it for years.
I’m now 70, but still have vivid memory’s of those 6 years of my childhood, the German bombers going over our house and looking out of our window and seeing a huge arc of yellow and orange light towards London and my parents saying “the poor devils are taking a packet tonight”. I think the most frightening things were the Buzz Bombs just to see one go over very low and then suddenly shut off its engine and just drop, it was terrifying.
We used to stand in our back gardens and watch the dog-fights between the fighters and bombers, not aware of the danger of falling shrapnel and bullets, until my mums neighbor felt something warm running down her arm, and saw blood she’d been hit with a piece of shrapnel, we never went out to watch again. After the air raids, all the kids would collect all the shrapnel in their gardens and see who had the most. We had a copse at the bottom of our garden, my mum woke me up one morning in summer and said” come and look” out of the back window the trees were covered in strips of silver foil, glistening in the sunlight it was like Christmas decorations although it was summer. The Germans dropped these to break the radar screen at a nearby radar station.
When going to town everywhere you went were queues of people mainly women and children. I can remember standing for hours with my mother, sometimes you joined a queue and didn’t know what it was for until you got it passed down the line from the front, or you got to the front of the queue.
When the air raid warnings were going off all night long, we had many sleepless nights; we used to go to bed fully dressed, with coats and footwear ready to put on quickly and run; twice a month my parents went to my grandmas we’d stay two nights, Saturday and Sunday just to get a decent nights sleep without the wailing of the siren, my gran lived in Salisbury, Wilts.