Thursday, January 1, 2015


We left mum working at the Sugar Commission and telling of her sister Amy's nervous breakdown and of Amy being recommended for the MBE.  World War One continues.

Excerpt from 'THE CLOCK OF TIME" by Gertrude Ruston (pp. 29-33).  (Pictures provided by me to add a bit of something extra to the story).

The officer in charge of the Registry, an enormous task who was also called upon to undertake numerous confidential jobs, was later also decorated.  His name was Henry Thomas Ruston, and he was inclined to be a ladies' man.  He and I became friendly and he posed as single man, but I hesitated to go out with him.  Eventually he admitted that he was a widower and had a small boy about the same age of Amy's son and, when time permitted, Harry and I took the two boys out with us on a Sunday to Hampstead Heath.  I remember clearly that, at one of the restaurants, there was a funny little waiter in an oversize dress suit who recommended us to have "'am and heggs", which proved to be quite tasty and much enjoyed by us all as an addition to rations.  It became a favourite port of call when we were in the neighbourhood.

Great rejoicing when my brother-in-law Ted arrived home on leave for Christmas quite unexpectedly.  The first thing he asked for was a bath and clean clothes.  He pulled up his sleeve and showed us body lice inside his shirt.  He was hastily sent to the bathroom and told to throw his clothes out of the window so they could be fumigated.  He revelled in the hot water, disinfectant and clean clothes so that he could get rid of his unwelcome guests.  Officers and men alike were alive with these lice.

Ted was fond of music and decided to buy a gramophone and records to cheers us all up.  There was one advertised for sale close by and he brought it home.  It was a nice piece of furniture in walnut with space below for the records.  On Christmas Eve Ted thoroughly enjoyed himself playing some well loved music and the home came to life once more.

While Ted was playing one of the well-known lively tunes from Rigoletto I went into the kitchen to speak to mother, and found her with a saucepan in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other dancing around t the music.  She looked quite embarrassed until I joined her and then we both went mad for a few minutes - most unusual for my very quiet and reserved mother.

 It was a very happy Christmas and we all tried to put the worries of the war in the background.  Leave was of short duration but the respite of men and families was so very much appreciated, although farewells were desperately sad.  We all said "au revoir".

With the growth of our work at the Commission more space was necessary, and we had been moved to part of New Scotland Yard, headquarters of the police, and were very close to the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, 10 Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, the Admirality and all the most import government offices.  My office was larger and more comfortable and I had a view of the river, Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament, but it was undoubtedly in a dangerous area.

In the early days of the war we experienced raids by Zeppelins, and we could see them quite clearly.  When they came after we had gone to bed at night, we all got up an went out into the street in various stages of dress or undress to watch the airships, which were clearly visible in the sky and looked like large silver cigars.  When they started to come our way we all took cover.  Then came the weapon that put paid to the Zepps.  I was told it was invented by an Australian.  (Note:  I have seen documentaries about this invention and have not heard reference to it being an Australian idea but mum certainly was told it was, so perhaps it was).  It was an inflammable bullet to be fired into an airship from above to ignite the gas and set it on fire.  Where was some delay in using it because of the danger to a 'plane which would have to fly above the airship, fire the bullet, and endeavour to escape before being caught in the explosion.

Eventually a Royal Air Force pilot named Robinson volunteered to fly a 'plane and use the new bullet.  Many of us saw it happen.  The Zeppelin came over intending to drop its bombs and then we saw the little 'plane high above.  The next minute there was a terrific explosion and the airship was enveloped in flames.  Although they were the enemy, most of us felt sorry for the crew of this mighty Zeppelin as they all died in the conflagration.  The wreckage dropped not too far from us in Cuffley, North London. and people tried to get near to the place where it landed, however the heat was too intense and nobody could have escaped.

Needless to say, the pilot of the little 'plane was decorated for his bravery and became a hero overnight.  His photograph was everywhere and that bullet put paid to the Zepps.

Next we had to stand up to the latest in aeroplanes from Germany.  They came over and dropped bombs, frequently indiscriminately, resulting in much damage, one of the favourite targets being the East End of London, the docks, and homes of the poorer people.  It was necessary to evacuate many children to the country, and some were even sent to Canada and America.

 Many thousands of troops arrived from the colonies, and we became quite accustomed to mixing with Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and Indians and, on the whole, we enjoyed their company and learnt to discount many of their stories.  Nearly all the Australians claimed to own sheep stations and acted as though money was no object.  Colonial troops certainly had more money and were far better paid than the British Tommies.

Being in New Scotland Yard we were advised as soon as enemy 'planes had been seen to cross the coast and were headed our way.  All the staff had to go into the basement when danger threatened and, if caught in the office when a raid was expected, we were forbidden to leave the building because of falling shrapnel from the anti-aircraft guns.  I well remember the French 75 placed not far from us, which shook the lifts every time it fired.

It was my responsibility to see that all female staff went down to the basement when an alarm was received as, in our building, we were very vulnerable.  At times there was some reluctance on the part of staff members who did not wish to go into the basement for fear of being buried.  Occasionally one of the women, considerably older than I went into hysterics and I was obliged to slap her face quickly to stop panic spreading.   No pleasant, of course, but V.A.D. training had prepared me for such emergencies.

There was no eight hour day, nor did we receive any overtime and we often had alarms late at night when we were preparing to leave to catch the last train home.  We tried to catch a meal at a nearby restaurant before it closed down, as we were usually very hungry.  Police and air raid wardens were all around ordering people off the street when there was an alarm but, when it came to the need for food before a long trip home, some of us took the risk of shrapnel, dodged in and out of doorways, and eventually managed to reach a restaurant in time, just before the door shut.

The underground stations were used by thousands of people as bomb shelters at night and, if wanting to catch a train, it was difficult to get past and avoid stepping on children and adults lying down ready to sleep.

It was frequently midnight or after when I reached home.  My sister could mostly leave the office much earlier than I, and she was able to tell mother when I was likely to be late.  Telephones in private homes were not common in those days, and many people spent long hours wondering and worrying about their dear ones.   After a raid, when all the enemy 'planes had been accounted for bugles sounded the 'ALL CLEAR", and it was a case of business as usual.  There were times when I could not get home by public transport, and I as obliged to go by growler, a horse drawn cab, the only thing available and it took ages.

Saturdays were not free and I remember one Saturday morning, when working at the office with my boss on a special assignment, we heard about 40 'planes approaching.  Mr Runge and I watched them from our balcony, and he said "don't they look find - the Germans ought to  come over now!"  Suddenly the guns started to fire and the warning went.  They were German bombers and had crossed the coast without being spotted.  There was a terrific row about that.  It appeared there was a wedding on and those who should have been on duty were A.W.L.  Needless to say, the boss and I quickly took cover and the bombers passed overhead and found easy targets in the city.

The two chiefs, Runge and Rewcaste, were good friends but loved to score off each other  We could never obtain a replacement of any of our equipment without producing the old one to prove that it was worn out.  Mr Runge had the remains of an india-rubber, so small one could hardly see it, so he sent it in for a replacement.  Somebody showed it to Mr Rewcastle and he sent a note back with an almost new one attached and a message "mine for a similar period - try to be more accurate!"

Another time Mr Runge accidentally dropped a lighted cigarette into his wastepaper basket and it scorched some papers before he extinguished it.  Mr Rewcastle walked into the room and said "I can smell something".  Immediately Mr Runge retaliated "I didn't notice it until you walked in."  Thank God, a sense of humour often helped us to keep going.

I apologise that this is a rather long post but felt it all belonged together and I feel that is a good place to leave mum for the time being, having a laugh at her two bosses of whom she was obviously very fond.   Next time we continue on in 1917 with even more excitement in mum's life.


  1. Don't our lives seem dull when compared with hers?

  2. Hari Om
    Mimsie, this is valuable in oh so many ways; this being the centenary year of the start of that war. I was always interested in air history and particularly from the perspective of the development of the RAF... oh this may interest you;
    "The Pomeroy Bullet was an explosive machine gun bullet deployed specifically for use against the Zeppelin threat over Britain. The incendiary bullet, developed by New Zealand engineer John Pomeroy (1873-1950) in 1902, was quickly adopted by British defence services as a means of combating the growing German Zeppelin threat in the skies above Britain."
    ...which I got from HERE...

    I adored the image of your 'grandmother' in the kitchen... &*> YAM xx

  3. Oh dear. I am so glad that she could find something to laugh about. Such a frightening time. For everyone.
    We tend to forget (gloss over?) the impact of war on everyone whether they are directly involved or not. Children sleeping in the subways? Families divided for safety? Awful.

  4. I can well imagine the joy of hearing good music in the middle of a war would cause dancing in the kitchen. There is little enough to be happy about during war times.
    I'm laughing at the two bosses scoring off each other, nice to have friendly bosses.
    I remember hearing about the Zeppelins, but a long time ago and haven't thought about them since. I've read about the docks being targeted by bombers too, this was done to interrupt the shipping, (an attempt to cripple the country of "the enemy")and the fact that the docks areas was where the poorer masses had their homes was irrelevant to the bombers. A very sad situation though, with so many packed into such a small area, loss of many lives was inevitable.
    Another very interesting excerpt, thank you.