Tag Archives: Wartime Essex

Nellie’s Diary Entry. Remembering VE Day.

The Ages Of Nellie, Rocking Dog

The Ages Of Nellie

I have been thinking about the 70th anniversary of VE Day. I have also remembered my Grandmother Nellie’s diary entry for 8th May 1945. It simply read “War Over. Blackened fireplace.” I love the statement, you’d somehow expect something a little more euphoric after five and a half years of war. It is difficult to fathom her apparent lack of elation considering the family lived on the Essex coast. My Mum recalled witnessing the red glow of London ablaze, terrifying Doodlebugs and the constant drone of aircraft. There were frequent air raids and Mum hated the smell of the rubber gas masks. I remember her telling me that she felt particularly sorry for babies encased in the specially designed Mickey Mouse masks. I don’t think we can appreciate just how simply terrifying it all must have been. Together with the impact of rationing, worrying about loved ones, sleep deprivation, housing and transport difficulties life must have been fraught for the nation.

So…. my Grandmother felt the compelling need to blacken the fireplace on VE day. Nellie’s diary unfortunately was not one of those diaries worthy of inclusion in a museum to demonstrate the plight of those on the home front. Indeed entries were sparse but there were monthly “Red Letter Day” entries. Nellie’s husband Newsome was employed in a reserved occupation and thus at home. Pregnancy could have been a definite and inconvenient wartime possibility.

Wartime rationing left Nellie with a compelling need to hoard food and when she died in 1975 there was much to deal with! I remember numerous jars of Heinz Sandwich Spread, Marmite and Shipphams paste. There were tinned peas, packets of Typhoo tea and bags and bags of sugar. Most disturbingly there was a large bucket of eggs which had been preserved in Isinglass. Isinglass is a substance obtained from the dried air bladders of fish, and it was used to preserve eggs during WW2. The Isinglass would be dissolved in a bucket of water and then the eggs would be submerged in the solution. It would preserve the eggs for between 6 months and a year. We take eggs so much for granted today but during the war the standard weekly ration for a person was 1 egg or a packet of dried egg which equated to twelve eggs. Vegetarians were allocated two eggs. My late Dad recalled loving omelettes made from dried eggs.

Nellie’s 1975 eggs had a grey furry appearance and looked decidedly unappetising, especially in the eyes of three squeamish teenagers! As my mother had also grown up with a wartime “waste not” mentality the eggs in their bucket lurked for a month or two in our house. Eventually, even Mum realised she couldn’t quite bring herself to use the egg hoard.

I include photo’s of family, especially of my Dad who loved his time at sea during WW2. War for Doug strangely provided a wonderful opportunity to see the world, and he sent numerous letters detailing his travels. A stash of letters sent to his aunt and uncle survive and describe in detail stops in Malta, Egypt, the Far East and Australasia. I find it fascinating that my Dad could write, whilst serving in the QARANC in Germany my Mum was always the one who wrote. Very occasionally Dad would add his name and a kiss, and I appreciated that.

Doug’s Certificate of Service has helped me pinpoint where he was in the world at particular points in the war. Indeed I discovered that his ship HMS Belfast, took part in the Scharnhorst Action in the Arctic Circle. The German Battleship “Scharnhorst” was destroyed with the loss of 1,932 men (36 survivors) on 26th December 1943. A few years ago whilst on a cruise up to The North Cape I found it very poignant that I was sailing in the same waters that my Dad was sending and receiving coded messages deep in the bowels of The Belfast. Furthermore, I thought of all those from both sides who had perished at sea, and I shed a tear for them.

I am grateful that my Dad’s letters have miraculously survived, together with a touching archive of naval photo’s, documents and medals.

We as a generation have witnessed the passing of the last veterans of WW1 and now are likely to witness the sad demise of the last veterans of WW2. I feel it is vital to try and gain first hand accounts of war and the home front whilst we still can.

My Dad Could Write!, Rocking Dog

My Dad Could Write!

From A Boy To A Man. WW2, Rocking Dog

From A Boy To A Man. WW2

Fading Family Photo's, Rocking Dog

Fading Family Photo’s