My Childhood Memories of WW2 by Aileen Thomas

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As I was born in Earlwood in 1939 these are the memories of a very little girl. I grew up in Ronald Avenue on the banks of Cook's River (always referred to as "Cooky"). Since I had a very vivid recollection of the war and my brother (4 years older) did not I asked myself if I just imagined it all. As a young woman I spoke to my mother who assured me it really did happen.

Air Raid Shelters, Blackouts and Permanent Daylight Savings

All large buildings had a shelter. I don't know if all homes had one but we certainly did. I hated it. It was a big tunnel like hole in the backyard. There would be practice raids usually in the early evening. I was never afraid as we knew it wasn't real except for two nights. I still remember, little as I was, being terrified.

Just as we were about to go into the shelter the lady next door came to say her 18 year old daughter was somewhere between Canterbury Station and home. Remember everything was pitch black. All windows had black blinds, the street lights and car lights had grills which only allowed a tiny spot of light. My father said he would go and help this girl but he would need to go back with her to the shelter at the station. As I got older I realise what this meant he was leaving his young family with our 80 year old grandfather in what we thought was a real raid. Later as an adult I learnt one was the night the Kuttabul was sunk and the other was an unidentified plane off Nowra.

My parents were young active people. I remember my mother was on "the bucket brigade". As my father had a car from his work (there were very few private cars and even if you could afford a car there wasn't enough petrol) he was an "ambulance driver". After the so call raids were over and the "all clear" given, we children came up from the shelters and were collected by "an old lady" whom I sure must have been all of 50. She took us to a house that was still standing and not burning while our parents "put out the fires with buckets filled from the garden taps and took the injured to which ever hospital was still standing namely St George or Canterbury." Just how this worked I can't remember but I still remember being cared for by the lady we call Mrs I0 short for her surname.

We had Daylight Saving all year round to save power and help with the blackout. It was reasoned that less power would be used between say 5.30 and 6.30 am then between 6 and 7 pm. We played cricket in the middle of the road (there were few cars so we just called "car " and run to the side) till about 8 pm in summer. Our mothers had no trouble getting us to go to bed even in when it was summer time because our houses were blacked out. Once the blinds were down it was like midnight even in the middle of the day.

The air raid warden's house was in Waterside Crescent. It had a huge aerial and security wall. We always referred to it as the haunted house. There were a few wardens who took their job very seriously. Many of them lived "up in the battles" which was the area of the war service homes. I think these were men who had been to WW1 and were either injured or too old to go to World War 2.

There were very few able bodied young men left as all had been conscripted. I think my father and 3 grandfathers were the only men in our street. My father was classed as Essential Civilian Service. Plans were drawn up to evacuate Sydney if necessary. My Grandfather along with my father run Grace Brothers Removals who had the largest fleet of vans in Sydney. Petrol was rationed so some cars and all trucks had a charcoal burner to switch over to when the petrol run out but this would result in less power and speed.

Dad had a letter from the Prime Minister to provide petrol for his fleet once the evacuation order was given. As the war moved to the Pacific this became more important. Dad also worked for the American Army as a Civilian to move their equipment. There was some mix up and Dad was called up by the Australian army and told to report that night. I can still see a jeep coming up our drive way with 2 American army men saluting Mum calling her "MAM" (I had never heard the word) and arresting Dad. I was terrified but Dad kept telling me he was coming home that night. He came home and worked for the American Army till the end of the war.

Starting School during the War

I started school at St Mel's school Campsie in 1945. While the war in Europe was coming to an end Australia was under threat from Japan. Schools had shelters and almost everyday after lunch we would go down the shelter for a practice. We all had to have "a thing" I can't call it a better name to put in our month in case of bomb blast. You could use a peg. I remember starting school and being very up set because I only had a peg. Mum went to the shops the got me the correct item and I started school happily. It was rubber a bit like a mouth guard. It tasted horrible.

Buses, trains and trams were all camouflaged. One day a red bus came around the corner to take us home. I had never seen a red bus (wouldn't see another till about 1946) we just stood there till the conductor said, It's OK kids get on.

Ration Books and Identify Cards and the Land Army

As Australia was not under direct attack (Try telling that to the people of Darwin and Broome) it was our job to feed Europe and the allied forces. The trouble was most of our men were overseas, enter the Land Army. Many women went on farms and cattle stations whilst the men were overseas and produced the food thus becoming known as the Land Army. I remember them marching on Anzac Day.

While we were sending food overseas we had rationing of tea, butter, sugar, meat (I think) and clothing . Each week you took the coupons for that week to the local shop to buy your ration of these foods. We all had to carry an Identify Card. I think it was considered a serious offence if you didn't.

The Day the War Ended

The war in the Pacific ended on 15th August 1945. As the 15th August was, in those days, a Church holiday for Catholic schools I was not at school. As I was walking to Canterbury Station with my mother all the state school children were coming towards us waving Australian flags. I remember my mother telling me I must have a flag to wave and we went to the shop in Canterbury Road to get a flag. I waved the flag because Mum said the war was over. That afternoon my parents took my brother and I into the city and even as a little girl I realised Sydney was going mad.

About 12 years later I worked for the Department of Taxation in Martin Place and if we were looking for records before 1945 and couldn't find them we just wrote them off as "end of the war". Legend has it that when the war ended the staff picked up what was on their desk and threw into Martin Place.

These are some of my memories. As I said before I was a very little girl: I am about to turn 76 so I feel that if the story of life in Australia during World War 2 is to be recorded there are only about 10 to 15 years left because personal memories will die with the death of my generation.

Aileen Thomas