8th May 2020,
Today, Great Britain is celebrating Victory in Europe, VE Day. Whenever, I hear or read about the second world war, my memories of my grandmother always come to mind.
Whilst understandably many people didn’t like to talk about World War II, my Nanny Marzetti, always would answer my questions. I am not sure why, but it fascinated me. Not the fighting across the Channel, but the every day life which she endured.
My nan, Anna (Ann), was born in 1910, in the East End of London. During World War I, her family home was bombed, whilst she slept. She suffered a slight injury, leaving her with a rather crooked finger and nerve damage; as a young girl, I was always compelled to run my finger along it, as it would make my nan shiver. Bless her she put up with this for years!
At the onset of World War II, my nan was 29, unmarried (which was very unusual) and living at home with her family. She had trained as a machinist and was a member of the Salvation Army; always someone who did good, but I can’t remember her ever being particularly religious. She was young when women won the right to vote, and always instilled in me that it is my duty to vote. She worked her entire life, until she was eighty-two, she was a feminist, way before the sixties.
When I was little she would talk to me about what life was like in World War II, I am sure as it was so removed from my own childhood, that I interpreted her experiences more as stories. She would tell me about one event, and I would ask more and more questions, to fill the holes in my imagination. Eventually she would say, ‘it’s not a bloody joke’ (she was from the East End, remember) or ‘its wasn’t funny, we never knew if we were going to die one day from another’.
Imagine that, every day, every single day for six years. The family stayed in London throughout, though one brother towards the end of the war, signed up for the navy. He ended up in the Caribbean. He always joked, how lucky he was to get out of London and end up in paradise.
Throughout the Blitz 1940-41 London was bombed regularly, decimating whole areas of the docklands and throughout the city. Once war was declared, my nan used her skills as a machinist making uniforms and parachutes. She would do this all day, and in the evening during blackout her younger sister worked as a conductor, on the night trams. Scared of the dark, she was so terrified of the bombs dropping around her and that she might be killed, my nan would ride with her every evening, so she felt slightly safer.
Each day would begin with a long day shift at a factory, followed with spending the night in darkness, riding the buses with her younger sister. Once her 16 or 17 hour day was finished; she was unable to go home to a nice comfy bed. For at least the first half of the war, Londoners, from every walk of life spent their nights packed in to the underground tube stations, which seemed to the general public as the safest place to go. Knowing how unwelcoming the Underground Stations are today, I can’t imagine being packed on to platforms fighting for space on a cold concrete floor, desperately trying to get a night’s sleep, let’s not even think about the toilet situation.
So my nan, has worked all day, sat on a bus all night, slept on a platform for a few hours, with literally hundreds of other people. Can she go home for a bacon and egg breakfast? Not a chance! Rationing in England was tough, even into the early 1950s there were food shortages. Yet during the war, (and I know I’m sounding like Uncle Albert by now), food was scarce and unappetising. As early as January 1940, food was rationed, first to be limited was bacon, butter and sugar. Essentials. By 1942 nearly all other foodstuffs were strictly limited.
As bombing attacks became less common, I think many preferred to take the risk and went back to their homes. If you were a little further out of London, shelters were made in gardens. Again I can’t imagine how miserable this would have in reality. The temperature nearly every night in the UK is below 10 degrees, it is cold and obviously on the three days of a summer heatwave absolutely sweltering.
Today, in the UK people are struggling to get their hands on certain necessities and already life can feel inconvenienced. Our NHS staff are working and genuinely putting their lives at risk. In World War II, without exception, everyone lives were affected. Real hardship was felt, and a pulling together was essential. We often hear about heroic acts, our politicians and sport pundits especially love to use the word hero, but for me, my nan is my hero. Someone who loved her family dearly. How she managed to make these tales feel like adventures, I will never know, perhaps that’s how she dealt with the true horror of that time.