Air raids and wartime rationing

Betty Preston remembers growing up in wartime Britain

By John Cheves

Air Raids.

The first I knew about the war was when the air raid sirens went off. The sound was very scary, it went up and down very slowly and we all rushed outside to see what was happening, only to be told: "It is an air raid, go to the nearest shelter or stay indoors. German planes have been sighted, we must stay out of sight until the all clear goes." We didn't know what the all clear sounded like, but we soon found out. It was made by the same machine, but it didn't go up and down, it was all on the same note.

Then big balloons appeared in the sky. They were enormous, with big ropes hanging down, to trap enemy aircraft that were flying very low. In Devon they turned the sign posts back to front to confuse the enemy if they managed to land. In Devon and Cornwall, they are still like that in places, but now they only confuse the tourists,  haha.


I was in London when they took all the railings down right round Hyde Park and probably everywhere. Ration books were given out. They contained coupons, which you needed to buy everything.... food, clothes, sweets (if you could find any). Books contained food coupons and clothing coupons. Food was: 2oz margarine, 2 slices of meat, powdered egg, 1 spoonful of orange jelly (very bitter, ugh), ½ lb of flour, baked beans, tin of spam (ugh), whale meat (ugh). We had no sugar and no sweets unless we were very lucky. No bananas, no oranges, no peaches. The first time I tasted bananas was about 1948 (yum), but we only had one. Everyone had hard toilet paper or cut up squares of newspaper, cut up by ourselves and put on a nail by the toilet, or izal paper which hurt your bum!

Songs of the day.

The only music we heard was in big stores like Woolworths. The only ones I can remember are: "There'll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover", "You are my sunshine" and "Chicory Chic Chala Chala". We all had gas masks issued to us, Ugh, they smelled horrible, a mixture of rubber. Mickey Mouse for the boys and Minnie Mouse for the girls.

This page was added by John Cheves on 14/04/2009.

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