Chapter 8, Pt 2 of 6
WAR TIME INCIDENTS
What had happened was that the bell which we had fixed in the shelter had gone wrong and the patient’s husband and his band of helpers had been ringing all the bells and knocking at our doors, all in vain. Then this policeman had to jump over our high thorny fence to wake us up. After this little episode Sheel decided to sleep indoors, come what might.
Mary, myself and the children still went down to the shelter every night. The winter had started with a vengeance and the cold icy winds would whistle around us most of the time. One night when I had just dropped off to sleep I heard my daughter whimper a little and then give a cry. I stretched my arm and patted her on the back a little and told her to go to sleep. She was quiet for a while and I brought my hand back into the bedclothes. Why, it felt damp, but I was too sleepy to investigate the matter. She cried again and I repeated the same action. This time I knew that my hand was dripping wet. I turned the light on.
The spectacle which met my eyes was comical as well as terrifying. My bed was almost floating on the water. I could see quite a few other small articles, insects and dead beetles also moving about in it.
“Mary, Mary,” I shouted. “Come on, wake up. The water is coming through.” Mary was a robust young girl who usually slept like a log. I stood up and shook her about a little. “Oh, what is it? Is it the bomb?”
“No, but it is the water. We must get out of here.”
The children were already sitting up and looking round with their alert, anxious eyes. We wrapped the blankets round them and carried them out of the shelter, but to make matters worse, it was snowing heavily outside. We had to move fast and work strenuously to bring out most of the things from the shelter. The old mattress, on which I had found myself floating, was the most difficult item to pull out of that small opening. Bombs or no bombs, we were determined to sleep comfortably in our bedrooms that night.
The next day, our shelter was half full of water; it was only the top bunk, which was visible. The pump which we had fixed in there had gone out of order, and so we had to bale the water out with buckets tied to strong ropes. The scene reminded me of the well in an Indian village.
We could never go and sleep in the shelter again. We turned our dining room into the bedroom, and to give extra protection to the children, we made their beds on a mattress and placed our large kitchen table over them. The raids became intensified. The Battle of Britain was still going on.
I was struck by the most strenuous and often unrewarding work done by some of the ordinary British housewives in those difficult times. They must have had the hidden gift for organisation and a burning desire to help humanity. I count Mrs Newbury of Cas-o-Felix, Lower Dunton Road, among them. She was just an ordinary housewife with her husband and a ten-year-old son and the home to look after.
I had known her since before the war. You could not help being attracted by her. She was tall, and slim, had black, wavy hair and an oval face. She wore spectacles and a charming smile all the time. I can never forget the conversation we had together when she came to ask my help for the “Bring and Buy Sale” she was arranging in Dunton.
“It is all for the good cause, Mrs Chowdhary,” she went on. “We do need the new ‘First Aid Point’ urgently. I dare say you know all about the destruction of our old one.”
I nodded with great concern.
“It was dreadful Mrs Chowdhary. Altogether, eleven high explosives were dropped on and around our Point that night. I never thought I would survive to relate the incident. I was in full charge of the Point and was standing just outside it when I heard the bombs falling. In no time at all, I was thrown by the blast under a bridge, which spans a nearby ditch.
“I must have laid there stunned for several minutes and when eventually I managed to scramble out I could not see the Point, my home or any other building. It was just one mass of ruins. I was trembling incessantly but in that great hour of stress my short favourite prayer came to me. ‘God will take care of you. Be not afraid, Be not afraid.’
“After that I ran like mad to rescue some of the victims, to telephone for help and to get a conveyance, in the shortest possible time. Being the Chief Air Raid Warden of the Area, I had a heavy responsibility.”
“You certainly did. And you made the superhuman efforts Mrs Newbury.”
“I do not know about that, but there is no doubt I was meant to do this urgent work. I completed my training in First Aid and in Anti-Gas Measures etc., in May 1939. I somehow foresaw things, and when the war did break out I enlisted as an Air Raid Warden straight away. My husband followed suit and so did Mr Anderson, who had the Provision Stores-cum-Post Office in the village.