6th August 2017. Gerrie Jones interviewing Joan Dolan. Can you tell us what name you were born with?
Audrey Eileen Joan Dowden.
Thankyou and when were you born, when was your birthday?
22nd June 1925.
26 Bedford Street, Portsmouth.
Can you tell me who your parents were?
My mother was Kate Elizabeth Higgins.
And what was your fathers name?
William Daniel Dowden.
What did your father do for a living?
He was a labourer in His Majesty’s Dockyard, Portsmouth.
Did he have any other jobs?
Well yes when he was younger, several, jack of all trades type of thing but never did get a trade of any sort he was just a labourer and ended up as an agent for the Prudential company for a short while when he was younger until after the First World War he went into the dockyard in Portsmouth.
So did your father serve in the First World War?
What regiment was he in?
And did he have any kind of position? What rank was he?
Well he did have a rank, he did come to Sergeant at one time but sadly as soon as he got promotion he disgraced himself. He was demoted but he never kept the position for very long, he was very good at shooting.
Was he a sniper?
Yes, he was a sniper, very very good.
Do you remember what battalion he was in? The Hampshires was the Regiment but Battalion.
No, I wouldnt have known that.
So did you have any brothers or sisters?
Do you remember what order they came in?
Well there was William Daniel Arthur that was my eldest brother then there was Sylvia, Sylvia, Olive, Beatrix, Catherine Winifred, Eena, Gladys, Ruby Elsie, Harold George Louie and Audrey Eileen Joan.
So you’re the last of the children then?
Did you have a happy childhood?
As good as any I suppose really.
What was it like growing up where you did in Portsmouth?
In narrow streets, no front gardens but little pieces of back garden, very small. Just enough to put your washing out and a toilet in the garden.
What did you like doing when you were a child?
Oh skipping, skipping and running, running all round the streets and chalking on the pavements and getting a good slap for it, playing ‘Up the wall’ and ‘Up the wall’ was standing on your hands with your legs against the wall and if you could stand there for quite a while with your head down and your legs up in the air, you were very lever and everybody thought you were a hero or something, but if your mother came out and caught you, you got a jolly good slap and sent indoors.
Anything else you liked doing, reading?
Yes, I could read very early in life. I was reading before I went to school.
Can you remember the build up to the Second World War,
The Second World War… oh yes, that was the whole life was full of rumours. Somebody always shouting and gathering on the corners of streets and always there was some sort of troubles. There wasn’t many fights but there was troubles. They were always having meetings because it was the build up and people were against the ones that were building up for the Second World War even though they had bitter experiences in the First World War. But they were still going.. and of course this man Hitler who took charge in Germany after the crash of Germany he came to the fore and therefore he built it up and that brought the Second World War because they were, they had built up their army and were more or less starting to march over Europe.
Can you actually remember the outbreak when it was announced that you were at war, where were you when that happened?
The Sunday morning, it was the Sunday morning and it was 11 o’clock and it was Neville Chamberlain that gave the announcement although we had all this build up to the announcement but we all had to listen tot he radiosbecause thats all we had was the radios and at 11 o’clock Neville Chamberlain announced that he had sent the letters to the German Chancellory and he’d asked for the reply that they would withdraw their troops from Poland and if they didnt by 11 o’clock there would be a state of war between Germany and England and that was the words.
Who were you with when you heard it?
Most people were in their houses, we were round in our 2nd room not the kitchen but the 2nd room and we had the wireless in their and thats where we heard the announcement at 11 o’clock from Neville Chamberlain.
And what was everyone’s reactions?
Well, in my house and well what my mother said ‘There you are, bloody war again. Casualties all over the place again as if we didnt have enough’, and of course she went off and she had her fork in her hand because she was cooking the Sunday dinner so she was waving the fork about saying ‘ There he is, there he is Hitler, shoulda put paid to him blah blah blah’. She was going of and it was announced.
Do you remember the Battle of Britain at all.
Of course, not half. Yes!
Can you tell us about that, did you witness any dog fights?
Oh yes, oh yes. You just stood up in the air and sometimes we run to the underground shelters but a lot of us stopped running to them and if it got very heavy the raids we did stay in the shelters and when… 1940 and then it started to get night time raids. I saw the Battle of Britain happen, thats what we did we just walked through the streets just the same. We had to get dinner for the workers, work didnt stop because Hitler was chucking his bombers down and there was dog fights with the Battle of Britain and the German planes. What were they called, those German planes, the first ones…. but anyway, yes I saw all the Battle of Britain.
Did any planes come down near where you live?
Yes, there was one that came down in the poor part of Portsmouth and sadly there was a lot of people killed because there was a lot of houses together in the poor part and that was quite a sad thing because the people in the air raid, we had air raid wardens and we had air raid shelters so we could go down to the air raid shelters and the air raid wardens would be going down through the streets to see if anyone was injured. We had air raids, German planes came right over and dropped their bombs and that was very traumatic.
When you seen the dog fights did people come out to watch and cheer our side on?
Oh not half, oh yes we were out in the street shouting ‘Give it to ’em!’, all that sort of thing.
And did any of your family join the forces?
No my father was in the dockyards so he was doing that and my sister was married and in the country. I went into the Land Army.
What about your brothers?
No I had one brother that was a merchant seaman and that was, he had always been a merchant seaman since he was 18 so he was on the convoys.
The Russian convoys he was at first but that was the earliest part of the war and they really really did. We went on the side of Russia and so we were taking our ammunition to Russia because they had to fight the Germans. So my brother was on the convoys.
And did he come through the convoys unscathed and nothing happened to him?
Yes he did and…
Didnt you say he was torpedoed?
So he wasnt unscathed then?
No he wasnt unscathed. He was torpedoed and then he was sent to another ship…
So what happened when he was torpedoed?
Oh he was, he got in a little life raft…
How long was he in the life raft for?
For about a fortnight because they were up in the Russian seas…
For 2 whole weeks?
Yeah they were big, these boats.
The life rafts?
Yeah, they are not life rafts as you would think of life rafts, they were big things.
Oh, ok. And what about your other brother, did he join the forces?
No he was an engineer in the dock yards.
Did anyone go into the home guard?
Yes, the one that was in the dock yard because you had to do some other thing. He was an engineer and if you were something like that, doing work that was essential because you had to keep the dockyards working and everything you had to do air raids.
Where did he go on duty when he was in the home guard?
When you were called up for Home Guard then because you were already doing important work in the dockyards and things like that you had to go to the air raid… th air raid centre then where the air raid wardens were and they were all given their tin hats and their posts that they had to stand at all night and what nights they had to stand so and they had to do a, you were duty bound to do an air raid wardens job.
So he wasnt in the Home Guard, he was an air raid warden?
Well they were home guards and they had their uniform which they had to put on and their tin hat and all the rest of it and go and stand at some place.
But in the Dads Army telly programme, there is the Home Guard and then there is the ARP Wardens.
Oh yeah we had ARP Wardens.
So he was in the HomeGuard.
He was in the Home Guard.
And so he wasn’t an ARP?
No not as, well… you’re on about just the same… the ARP people had sort of different uniforms and they put out the fires.
I was just interested in what Vin did?
Well Vin was in the Home Guard and so he had.. he was allotted a place to stand.
Do you know where that was?
Well I think he, he had, where was he… well there was so many places all over Portsmouth that had to be guarded.
So was he just part of the Portsmouth Home Guard?
Just the Portsmouth Home Guard, but you see he was an engineer during the day but he had to… all those that werent called up were in the Home Guard and would have to do that duty and it may have been 2 duties a week, it might have been 3 duties a week. And then they had their tin hat…
So when you went into the Land Army where did you get sent to?
Eastleigh. And sent on a farm on Eastleigh.
And was it a bit of a shock to the system going into the Land Army.
Yes it was. Yes it was a bit of a shock but I…
Did anything happen to you while you were in the Land Army?
Yes we got machine guns from the Germans when they were doing their daylight raids, we got machine guns…. when they were doing daylight raids and dive bombing they.. you know the Germans come zooming down and tatta tatta tatta…. nobody got hurt.
Did you ever worry what might happen to you?
Did I worry, no, I dont think I worried because we were doing things all the time, it wasnt time to sit… oh I think on of the Land Army girls… she did cry… she did cry but we told her not to worry about it because the German machine gunners came down.
What was the camaraderie like in the community in where you lived in Portsmouth?
Oh very very good, everybody helped everybody else. There was I cant think of anyone that didnt help or didnt…
Is there any particular occasion where the community really came together.
Oh yes, those terrible raids were there was a great community spirit, its alright my dear, its alright you know and my father was dragged into somebodies house one day, he had come to meet me from work and he was coming along the shopping, where the shops where and some woman grabbed him, he was coming to meet me because my mother had told him to go and get me because the bombers were about and some woman dragged him into her shop doorway, she said ‘Get in here you silly old fool, look at them up there shooting and banging like, bombs coming down, get in here’, so she dragged him into her doorway and he said ‘No I gotta go and meet my daughter’, and she said ‘You wont be going to meet any daughter if you dont get under the shelter’.
What about any other occasion, the lead up to D-Day, just before when the troops were delayed.
Oh yes we had them all packed down into Portsmouth, packed solid and because it was delayed the troops never had any food because they were, that part was all precisely done to march of and that particular day, particular hour, the whole streets were absolutely packed solid and it was all done in really very… packed solid with soldiers and machinery and oh crumbs every weapon you could think of was down the streets. And, we had them outside the door and dont forget there was these people and they were in and out peoples houses because they had to use their toilets because the landings were held up to go on board ship was held up.
What were your day to day living conditions were like?
We didnt think they were bad, they were only just.. well the food was getting short, must say we had bit a shortage of food and some of it was rather peculiar, you didnt know what the sausages were made off. But anyway whatever…
Do you think you ever went hungry?
No… no definitely not, never. I cant imagine anyone went hungry.
And did you get enough to drink?
Oh yes, yes we had, there was always milk for tea and never… sometimes tea got a little bit short and mother used to say not too much now not too much, that has got to last until the next ration comes out. But otherwise I cant imagine my mother going without a cup of tea, I cant… no we done very very well, it was done excellent so nobody could really grumble that they were hungry. They could grumble that they didnt have enough but they copuldnt grumble that they went hungry, I couldnt think of anyone who went hungry.
Can you describe what a typical day on the home front was like?
Oh everything was ordinary because people had to go to work. I still had to go to work and me father had to go to work so whatever rations we had my mother sorted them out evenly and fairly and people went of to work. If the raid was on… well you just get closer to the brick walls and thats get to work as you can but we used to going through the raids and you know got used to running through the raids and keeping under the gutters, you know the gutters on the top of the buildings, keeping close to the walls and so you just got used to getting on with life.
Do you remember any funny incidents at all?
There was an old bloke down our street and he used to when the raids came over he had once in his young days had been the one that thumped the, in the band he thumped the drums and so when the raids came over, we called him Old Carver that was his name and we said he was getting his drums out and he got his drums out and he was banging away at his drums happy as Larry. He was very happy and he was alright sitting on his doorstep banging his drum, he had been a bandmaster or somethig in his young days so that was him and thats what he did.
So with your father working in the dock yard he must have seen quite a lot of different sights coming and going due to the war.
Yes he did.
Can you remember any of the tales that he told you?
Well he said he came home after one of the big big raids and we were getting the wors tof the bombing and he said to my mother ‘Oh God you should see it Kate, you should see it down there. They are bringing them ashire as fast as they can and they are all lined up on the ground, the ambulances cant get in and out of the dock yard quick enough to let the wounded go into the ambulances, they are all laid up to to the gates of the dock yards’.
And what was this from?
From air raids, air raids and off the ships, the wounded.
This wasnt from any particular battle or whatsoever this was just from the raids coming over?
Yes and from the ships that were bringong wounded in as fast as they could and they were , they couldnt get them in the ambulances fast enough, there was a trnaround sort of thing, getting them in, getting them loaded, get them out and it was really… they were going out of the dock yard as fast as they were coming in, it was really wonderful, they were really really wonderful these people, driving the ambulances with the wounded, getting them loaded and into the ambulances.
Was that the same sort of thing that happened after D-Day?
Yes, oh yes and of course dont forget Jims brother was, he was one of the ambulance men and he got killed in the air raid because he, because he went down the bomb hole and another bomb landed on top of him..
Was that Charlie?
Yes that was Charlie.
So what do you think was the worst thing that happened to you during the war?
Wasnt a great deal that happened to me, I wasnt wounded.
What about that near miss when the Blue Anchor got bombed?
Oh that was, that was, I nearly. I could say I was as near as made no difference. That was a tale in itself because a gentleman came into Mother Flower shop where I worked and he…
Was it the landlord of the Blue Anchor came in?
No, a gentleman came in to the flower shop where I worked and he said, it was early in the morning and he said, ‘Would you make a really nice bougquet for my wife because we got the Blue Anchor (whoch wasnt very far from the shop where I worked) and he said its our anniversary and I would like a nice bunch of flowers for her because she works so hard in that bar for me. So I said thats very nice, my father would never think of giving my mother a bunch of flowers. Anyway, we said yes, he said make them as nice as you can and could you give them to her at 1655 because that is when she opens the bar, thats when she gets up because she sleeps in the bar due to the long hours in the evening. So he said would you do that and we said yes perfectly alright. So 1655 and I said yes thats fine and my manageress she said yes thats fine. She said ‘ I will send nell along with a lovely bouquet’, so he said ‘Thankyou so much because my wife works so hard for me’,. I thought that was rather nice of the man, anyway 1655 comes and the bouquet was ready and she said on you go Nell take them up to the Blue Anchor and it would have been about 1650 I would say. She said ‘Nip along with them’, it wasnt very far. Anway I got up there and as I was going up there the siren went, the air raid siren and I looked up at the sky and thought oh damn, but I knocked the door and she says ‘Oh thankyou’, I said ‘Well your husband said you deserved them because you work so hard’. She said ‘Did he really say that?’, I said ‘Yes he did he said you worked very hard for me and she deserves the nicest flowers, so there you are, there is your flowers’, then the siren was going, oh my goodness the sirens going so I flew and of course as I rushed down, it was only 5 minutes from the shop really, 5 10 minutes something like that. I rushed and the bomb came down and killed her and the Blue Anchor went up, and she never got the flowers, well she got them but she never enjoyed them. She got killed and the Blue Anchor was a shambles so I got away just in time. I saw the German pane and I heard the roar and looked back and up and there was the German plane, oh my god, swastikas, swastikas and I ran shouting ‘swastikas swastikas’ all the time and I flew into the shop and the bomb came down on the Blue Anchor.
Ok we will cut it there then Mum because this is actually quite a massive file my friend has got on his computer.