My Teenage War

During the Second World War

By Phyllis Yorke

In 1939, I was 13 years old and looking forward to September when a great family party was booked at Firs Hall, Winchmore Hill. It was to celebrate my Grandparents Golden Wedding and my eldest sister’s 21st Birthday. This event did not take place, as, with the start of the war most, if not all places of entertainment and halls were closed.  

When Mr. Chamberlain made his broadcast I was at church at Middleton on the SouthCoast, having been evacuated to my Aunt’s. Imagine my feelings when walking back after the service the air raid siren sounded! I think there were quite a few false alarms at that time. For a few weeks I was free of school and enjoyed cycling and playing tennis. However, just as I was about to be sent to a school in Bognor Regis, I came back to my home in Winchmore Hill as Southgate County School had re-opened.   

It was a strange type of schooling, my lessons were in the mornings only, bringing a large amount of work home. I believe it wasn’t every day because two other schools were using the Fox Lane buildings. I have an idea one school was the Girls Grammar from Wood Green or Hornsey. By 1940 things at school improved and we went for a full day and packed lunches were brought and eaten in the classrooms. With a shortened lunch hour we were able to return home in the very early afternoon. At this time there were no raids, but shelters had been built in the playing fields and in the basements under the school. A few years later I took my exams for the General Schools Certificate in the basement!  

With the blackout, going out in the evening was rare. Fortunately the cinemas started again and I went with a school friend and her mother to see “Snow White & the 7 Dwarfs” at the Palladium in Palmers Green. Later in the war I queued up at the Capital cinema at Winchmore Hill to see “Gone With The Wind”. There were also the Queen’s which often showed old films. I believe the Intimate Theatre was open, as I do remember going to see “Twelfth Night”, which we were doing for the General Schools Certificate. Other forms of entertainment were listening to the radio, “Monday Night at 8”, and ITMA, and playing 78’s on the Radiogram, records with Flanagan &Alan singing “Run Rabbit Run” & “The Umbrella Man”.

The War was brought home to me in September 1940 when the “Battle of Britain” started, followed by the bombing. Although Winchmore Hill and Palmers Green weren’t Central London, there was enough damage and distress in the following years. My home had all the windows blown out twice and had minor structural damage. The first time it was a landmine in Greenmoor Link, which is the next road to where I lived in DraytonGardens. The next day my mother, very upset, toled me that my friend Elizabeth had been killed. She was a younger girl who I took to Southgate County School, having just come down, with her parents, from the Midlands. I believe her Father also was killed but her Mother survived. As a teenager I think this was when I grew up and became an adult.  

The second time our house was damaged was towards the end of the war when a V2 rocket fell on the corner of Ringwood Way. We were all sleeping upstairs in our bedrooms by that stage, so it was amazing that we were all o.k. My Father, who had served through the whole of the First World War, was an Air Raid Warden and I remember him coming home looking very grey, having dug people out after the incident at Barrowell Green. My Mother was a member of our road Fire Watchers and, as she was very small, looked like a mushroom in her tin hat!  

The bombs that fell in the Fox Lane area were during the day and fortunately we were in the school shelters. Maybe we were eating our marmite & raw carrot or baked bean sandwiches, or sucking the Horlicks tablets, (good for the nerves). Food had become increasingly difficult as the years went by, ration books gave very basic amounts, but bread wasn’t rationed until nearly the war ended. The bread was very dark and the margarine so hard it was difficult to spread. I sometimes was sent to the local grocers shop when “Lyons” had made a delivery and was lucky to buy a Swiss Roll from “under the counter”. A 2d bar of Cadbury’s chocolate was a luxury, I often went into a small sweetshop in Station Road just to ask if they had any for my ration coupon.  

We also had clothing coupons, and if you heard that some item had come into the shop you had to go there at once or you would be unlucky. This was very hard on a teenage girl, I once walked from Winchmore Hill to Palmers Green to go to Lilley & Skinners as I had heard a supply of Court Shoes had come in, I bought a black Pair!  

I went into the 6th Form, doing a Commerce course, but soon after I was 16 years old, left, to join an Aluminium Firm whose main offices were at Winchmore Hill, having come out from Euston at the start of the war. In an office of middle aged/elderly gentleman I was the only girl, so was thoroughly spoilt. Later we went back to the firm’s London offices as it was thought the air raids had stopped. However, we had to contend with “buzz” bombs and rockets and I travelled by L.N.E.R. to Kings Cross, reading gentlemen, between the tunnels to the terminal.  

On leaving school I went, (in the blackout), to evening classes to improve my speeds of shorthand and typing. I joined the “Old Girls” hockey team, which played home matches in Arnos Fark. Our best away fixture was against Standard Telephones & Cables at New Southgate, they always provided a real “High Tea” afterwards! In 1944 I joined the Chandos Opera company, part of Soutgate A.R.P. Entertainments Assoc. A master at S.C.School, Eric Armstrong, put me in touch with the Musical Director and two year later I played opposite him in the Gondoliers. I thoroughly enjoyed being in this Company, the first show I was in was in June 1944, it was the Yeoman of the Guard. The House Manager sometimes appeared at the side of the stage holding a placard saying “Air Raid On”! The next production Ruddigore was delayed until April 1945 because of the bombs, I must say it was very well rehearsed. Merry England was produced in October 1945, a real end of the War celebration.  

On the VE Day I met my friend Eileen (another S.C.School old girl) and we went to the City to meet my Father. The three of us walked from the Tower of London via Mansion House, St. Paul’s, Fleet Street, Strand, Leicester Square, Piccadilly and Regent Street, enjoying the celebrations all the way. Finally, down the Mall to BuckinghamPalace to see the King, Queen, the Princesses and Winston Churchill come out on the balcony. What and end to a great day.

This page was added on 25/08/2010.

Comments about this page

  • I was very interested to read Phylliss’ account, as we spent WW2 in close proximity. Despite being born in 1940 certain memories of the War are still very vivid in my memory.

    Living now in Watton at Stone, I spent my childhood in Palmers Green with my earliest memories of sleeping in an Anderson shelter – later to be changed the more comfortable Morrison shelter. We were situated in The Fairway, close to Firs Lane, and backed by an AA battery, which damaged every ceiling in our house. Later came German p.o.w’s who I remember vividly with their white circular patches on the backs of their uniform jackets.

    Ah yes, I remember the Palmadium – the most luxurious of the three cinemas, having not one but two circles – the Capitol, and the Queens being the most spartan. Across Green Lanes was Lilley & Skinner which, perhaps after the War, was remarkable in having an x-ray machine to ensure perfect fit for shoes.

    Firmly set in my memory is the sound of sirens, doodlebugs, and of course anti aircraft fire, although our family did not experience any bombing close by, apart from a crater on my Dad’s allotment in Barrowell Green which subsequently took years to fill in. I was, actually, born during an air raid at a hospital in Clapton.

    Just at the tail end of the War I started school at Hazelbury Infants in Westerham Avenue, for which my Mother and I had to cross the A10 to reach. One day, I recall, being sent into our Anderson shelter by the siren just as we were about to leave home.

    Of VE Day I have no recollection whatsoever, although at some time around then I was with my Mother in London and a GI handed me some chewing gum – I can still remember the taste, which was like nothing else I had experienced before.

    All this nostalgia prompts me to put ALL my recollections on paper ready for ‘VE Day at the Archives’ on Saturday 9th May 2.00pm until 4.00pm. 

    By Terry Askew (12/04/2015)
  • Hello Charlotte Just read how you were part of the Chandos Opera Co. I own 8 books which were owned previously by Jeanne Vincent, I think her father was the photographer who took the sev hundred photos. Many are of the operas you mention, if you wish I can send you some photos to remember old memories. In all they are super pics, there is one large old full album which covers around 10 operas from 1942-1950 and then the other 7 books are from 1950-1959. The first four of the 7 are Chandos and the other 3 are The Wood Green Operatic Society at the Finsbury Park Empire under the Managing Director Val Parnell and nd Chairman Prince Littler. I did some research and discovered he ran lots of wartime Operatic Societies. They are professional quality pics, and so atmospheric. I am an English lady who now lives in Spain. My email is angiemharper2@aol.co.uk if you want to contact me and I will send you some to look at. Many have actual dates, and some have the full cast. Kind regards Angie Harper

    By angie harper (10/01/2011)
  • Sorry Charlotte Of course my earlier email was for Phyllis – the actual best pictures in the large album are of the Gondoliers, so I think I have now identified Phyllis. Angie

    By angie harper (10/01/2011)

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