Jean Martin

Photo:Jean Martin in front of the family's air raid shelter in Erith

Jean Martin in front of the family's air raid shelter in Erith

Jean Martin

Childhood memories of life on the Home Front.

Jean was born in 1937 and so was too young to remember the outbreak of war on 3rd September 1939. Her wartime memories are reflective of the fact that war was a normal part of everyday life. Her father was not drafted into the forces but worked as an engineer at Woolwich Arsenal and volunteered in the Auxiliary Fire Services.

Shelter life

The family had an air raid shelter in their garden, which was connected to their neighbours, Aunt May and Pop's shelter. The shelter was comfortable and well lit – Jean and her sister shared the top two bunk beds. Vegetables were grown on top. Although the shelter was draughty and cold the family slept there most nights instead of going up to bed indoors. Often they could not sleep due to the noise of the raids and played card games. As there was no toilet in the shelter the men used to announce that they were going to ‘water the rhubarb’ and she did not understand what they meant!

Air raids

On one occasion, when her father and uncle were on duty fire watching, and ARP warden announced that their house was alight. Pop ran indoors and found an incendiary bomb lodged in the ceiling of the bedroom – after dislodging it with a rake he threw sand on it. Jean’s mum was not happy as sparks landed on her eiderdown. The family lived in an area surrounded by factories and the railway line, but fortunately did not receive very much damage. They became used to not having gas, water and electricity, and their windows often shattered. Streets were patrolled by ARP wardens who warned of the dangers of showing lights, and they kept candles and hurricane lamps to hand.

From 1944 doodlebugs were used. When Jean had her summer holidays she was instructed to keep watch and alert the neighbours if she spotted one. On the 1st July 1944 her father was injured when a V1 fell on Woolwich Arsenal. He was the only survivor. He was initially taken to the Royal Herbert, and then later to a hospital at East Grinstead. Jean and her mum visited once a week – during one trip the air raid sirens sounded and a bomb exploded close to the train, although none were injured. Many of those admitted to the same ward as her father were pilots suffering from facial injuries.

When he came out of hospital he was very nervous, particularly as the V2 bombs were being used. Jean was evacuated to Gloucestershire, to stay with friends but she was homesick.

Growing up

When the war ended in 1945 Jean was unwell with measles and was annoyed that she had to stay in bed, missing all of the street parties. After the war shortages and rationing continued and as she grew older, Jean realised how awful the war years must have been for others. Her father suffered from his injuries for many years after the war. Her family in Guernsey survived the war largely unscathed although Jean’s aunt and uncle had been imprisoned in a German concentration camp. Their daughter and her children had managed to escape to England but her husband had to stay, and was involved with the resistance.


Jean Martin
Jean Martin (72k)
To read more about Jean's wartime experiences please press the above link.

This page was added by Malin Lundin on 16/01/2012.