Valerie Paterson's Story


My brother was only 6 weeks old when war was declared, so my mother was excused from war work.  My dad worked at Handley Pages, (not sure that I spelled that correctly) the aircraft factory in Cricklewood.  He cycled form our home in Fulham, 10 miles I believe.  He was on the maintenance team.  Some nights he had to do firewatching there as well.

My mother saw how badly some evacuees were treated and was determined not to be separated from us.  We did stay with my grandmother in Mevagissey, Cornwall for 6 months.  The bombing seemed to settle down and my grandmother made it clear we were unwelcome.  My mother got us jobs as extras at a film they were making, "Johnny Frenchman"  starring Pat Roc.  It was a story about a feud between Cornish fisherman and French fisherman over the pilchard fishing, to get our fare back to London.  I was 8 years old at the time.  We spent most of the war in London.  If the bombing was bad, we went into my aunt's basement.  I think my grandmother was in London early in the war, as I remember she had an Anderson shelter in her backyard that we went in.  One night we had been inside to go to the bathroom.  The bombing got very bad.  We had a problem getting back in the shelter as my grandmother was fat and got stuck in the doorway. 

One of my vivid memories of going to school in London in the war was gas mask practice. I had a bright red one that was especially for young children.  I was terrified of it.  At school I was usually very meek and law abiding.  When it came to gas mask drill I hid in the lavatories.  When my brother was a baby he had a contraption that he was put in that someone had to pump.  I was always worried because our cats didn't have gas masks.


I was born in Fulham, London, at 67 Rosaville Road. My brother and sister were born there too. Our family Doctor, Doctor Walters delivered us. He was a real family doctor. When my dad was out of work he told him not to worry - to pay him when he could. He took a real interest in our family. He had a practice in Fulham (poor working class area then, but now gentrified with trees in the street and some windows have bars on them) and a practice in wealthier Barnes. He also worked at the London Clinic sometimes. My sister was 5 years older than me and when she started school I caught everything at 11 months old. Measles, Bronchitis and finally pneumonia. No antibiotics back then. They had a kettle steaming and waited for the crisis. Apparently Dr. Walters came and took it in turns to walk the floor with me. I guess that toughened me up. I was seldom sick after that and had just about perfect attendance in school.

We had the bottom half of a small Victorian terrace. Just two rooms and a kitchen I believe. I clearly remember my brother being born. I guess it was traumatic. There was some nurse person who went around carrying a large white enameled jug. She stood me in front of the sink and tried to get me to wash my hands and I remember hiding them behind my back and refusing. At another part the old lady, Mrs. Henley, who lived upstairs was minding me and I fell down the steep stairs. I refused to let anyone look at my back, so they took me into my mother in bed and I remember lying over her knees while she examined my back. Later there was a lot of excitement and they took me in to see my mother. There was this "thing" with a lot of black hair tucked in beside her in the bed. The nurse was still swinging the large enamel jug. I remember thinking "Is this what all the fuss is about," or something similar. However, my brother and I were very close friends as we grew up. He was only 59 years when he retired and died suddenly (heart attack) the next day. I still miss him at times, especially when I'm buying birthday cards and I see the sign, "Brother."

When I was 5 years old we moved to 35 Rosaville Road. We had so much space. My parents really worked on that house and made it beautiful. They even papered the ceilings. My dad left school at age 12 years as his mother needed him to work, (I'm afraid I remember her as being cold and selfish) but he could do anything in the house. He ran a multipoint geyser for the kitchen and bathroom - I remember writing about this before. I had the most wonderful caring parents and feel I was so lucky.

When I was 12 years the old lady who owned the properties died and occupants were given first choice to buy them - they were rent controlled so would have been hard to sell. My parents could afford a deposit and borrowed $20.00 from an aunt for the lawyer's fee. I remember the mortgage was $4.00 a month which seemed a lot by by the time I was 18 years they paid by the year, in case they forgot. Fulham was a close neighborhood and a good place to grow up. We had a tiny back yard but my dad grew tomatoes, broad beans, lettuces etc. My mum love flowers so we had flowers too. My lovely mum was super-gifted. She left school at age 15 years as that was all the education available to her, but she could read and write really well and spell anything. She was particularly good with figures. When we were older she got a job as a filing clerk at Lyons, the tea people, but eventually worked on a computerized payroll.

When I was in my early 20's, back from college, 1960s I think, Britain was allowing large numbers of immigrants as they needed people to drive buses etc. and some people from South Africa moved next door. There were about a dozen people but no children. Some worked day shift and some night shift, so I guess they shared beds.

My parents were quite frankly terrified, sold the house and moved to East Sheen.

My parents were very protective. There was no way they would have just let us go off ( to be evacuated) without one of them with us. When war was declared in September 1939, my dad took us (my mum, 3 month old brother, Ken, 3 year old me and 8 year old sister, June) down to stay with my grandmother in Mevagissey, Cornwall. She has a cottage on Cheese Warn Farm there. Auntie Edna and her 6 month old daughter, Jacqueline came too. After 6 weeks nothing seemed to be happening, so we all went back to London.

At one point, Mum, Ken and I went back to stay with Granny again. My brother was around 5 years old, so it must have been in 1943 or 1944. My parents allowed my sister, June, to be evacuated with her school to Midhurst (Lady Margaret School), but she was so homesick that she came to Mevagissey as well.

My grandmother made it quite clear we were unwelcome. Jacqueline and her mother were there as well and it was quite obvious that she preferred them to us. Granny always gave Jacqueline the skin off the rice puddings. It was considered that my father had married beneath him and as a child I never understood why. My mother was so pretty and so gifted. They were a well suited and loving couple. One day a German plane dropped some bombs near Mevagissey and on another day a plane machine gunned my grandmother and sister as they were crossing a field. Fortunately no one was hurt, but my mother had had enough. "If we are going to die," she said, "we'll be together as a family." A film was being made in Mevagissey called "Johnny Frenchman," starring Pat Roc. My mother applied and got jobs for herself, my brother and I, as extras. It was really well paid. I seem to remember my mother saying 10 shillings a day." Auntie Edna applied for her self and Jacqueline, but was refused. My mother saved up our fares and back to London we went. If air raid siren went, we went to my aunt's basement at the end of the street. At one point when the bombing was bad we went to Piccadilly Circus underground and spent the night there. My Aunt was a regular there and had some reserved bunks. Her house had been bombed and she was too afraid to sleep anywhere else. Some nights American Service men got off the trains. They seemed to be a different race, tall and suntanned young men. They were upset to see children in the subway and showered us with chocolate and gum. We probably looked like pale little waifs to them.


I guess my experiences were different to most. I was barely 3 years when war was declared on Germany on September 2, 1939. I was only evacuated for 6 months, with my mother and brother, as she would not let us go to strangers. I remember being frightened at times, but I don't remember feeling we only had the basic necessities. My parents was very clever and creative. I remember my mother knitted and sewed clothes for us. My dad grew vegetables in our small back garden. We didn't have many toys, but we treasured what we had. My favourite dolls were given to my mother by the Salvation Army when she was a child - Susie (a china doll) and Gypsy. Gypsy was a brown, velvet Norah Wellings doll. She might be quite valuable if my brother hadn't drawn boobs on her with red crayon. I still have them. (The poor dears could use some new clothes.) My dad made us a blackboard and easel. He made me a doll house and my brother a fort. At point they managed to get my sister and I new dolls. I never really cared for mine. At one time a little girl at school was crying because her house had been bombed, with all her dolls. I asked my mother if I could give her one of mine. Well, the only one I could bear to part with was the new one. I felt guilty because everyone said I was a wonderful to give away my brand new doll, but I wasn't attached to it anyway.

I consider myself fortunate in many ways to have been born at the time that I did. Children today seem to have so many material possessions. In America they don't seem to have much time to just do nothing.




Updated 4/29/07