Kathleen Purbrick

Memories of the dangers of air raids on the Home Front.

Adapting to war

Kathleen was almost ten years old when war was announced and recalls the sense of panic she felt when she went to post a letter for her mother and the siren sounded – fortunately it was a practice siren, and not a raid.

Kathleen was issued with a gas mask which she disliked wearing but had to take to school every day – if she forgot it, she would be sent home to fetch it in order to participate in gasmask drills. As Kathleen’s mother wanted to keep the family close together she was not evacuated. Whilst schools remained closed in September for shelters to be built, those who had larger houses close to public shelters were encouraged to invite teachers and small groups of children into their homes to hold occasional classes. Kathleen’s mother consented, and the family piano was used for singing lessons.

The sound of bombs

The family had an air raid shelter which they furnished with mattresses so that they were able to sleep there during overnight raids. Kathleen was frightened during raids and covered her ears to block out the sound of the bombs falling. If raids were not lengthy Kathleen and her family used a public shelter, situated in the basement of two shops. There was more of a community feel within the shelter as people kept each other company during the raids and sang songs to drown out the sounds of the guns firing in Crystal Palace park.

After raids Kathleen and her friends searched for shrapnel and, under the guidance of local warden ‘Ritchie’, contributed to the war effort by collecting old clothes, tins and papers to recycle. The children also gave concerts to cheer people up – Kathleen took part in a concert for wounded soldiers.

Leaving school

Kathleen left school aged fourteen and was employed at a factory in Croydon, making Navy uniform. Whilst the air raids were not as intense as during the Blitz, the doodlebugs posed a new source of danger. Kathleen recalls being at work and hearing the engine of a doodlebug cut out overhead, before it landed some distance away. Her initial relief was not to last – on her way home she discovered that the bomb had landed at Crystal Palace, close to her house, and many had been killed, including two boys who had been sheltering in the public shelter which she had frequently used. Fortunately her mum had not been hurt as she had been able to see the bomb approaching whilst on her way home from work. Kathleen’s house had been damaged but none of her family had been hurt.


Kathleen Purbrick
Kathleen Purbrick (60k)
To read more about Kathleen's wartime experiences in her own words please press the above link.

This page was added by Malin Lundin on 28/01/2012.