At War

Anne Berry wrote the following biography when she was a child. It consists of the memories of her grandmother, Gwen, who was born in 1924.

When the Second World War began Gwen's family moved to Plymouth. Her father worked in the dockyard. At this time there was lots of bombing in the city. Gwen spent the nights under the stairs of the house in which they had a flat.
Her father became ill so they moved back to Gwen's grandparents' house in Paignton. After a while they found a flat over a tailor's shop, then moved to a house in a nice part of town near where she was born. Gwen returned to the dressmakers' and finished her apprenticeship*; she was then drafted into war work. She went to a hospital called Salisbury Infirmary. She lodged with a family and learnt a lot about Wiltshire County and Stonehenge. She met a lot of people who worked in the hospital; she went to art classes, poetry reading and the theatre. In the work room Gwen made nurses' uniforms for the Matron and senior nurses, aprons, and shrouds for people who had died.
Above: May 8th 1945. A crowd in London gathering to hear the victory speech by Winston Churchill.
By Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Finally the day came when the war ended. It is now called V E day which means Victory in Europe. The five in the workroom were too excited to work so one of them suggested to Gwen that they should go up to London to join in the celebrations. They went to ask permission from Matron; she didn't give permission but said, "I didn't hear that!" This meant that everyone was too happy to notice that they were missing.
They took the next train to London and spent the day just walking about the streets. In Trafalgar Square people were singing and dancing in the fountains. The streets were crowded with people, soldiers and sailors.

They arrived back in Salisbury very late at night. The only place they could get hot drinks and food was at the Salvation Army stall.
Gwen then went back to Paignton and then her friend Jean who worked in a wool shop introduced her to her employer. She helped her start her own business by giving her sewing work.
Anne Berry

*See the rest of the account of Gwen's early life under Childhood

Left: 'This winter with the risks of infection increased by the herding together of people for shelter...'
A 1940 advertisement for Ostomalt, which appeared on a blotter given to the medical profession by Glaxo Laboratories Ltd.
Vanessa Griffith collection


In 1939, at the beginning of WW2, only 30% of food was produced within the UK. Rationing of food began in January 1940 with limits on the sale of bacon, butter and sugar; other foodstuffs followed. Restrictions on the sale of meat did not end until July 1954.

See here for more on rationing: