CHAPTER 5

"TO THE UNKNOWN CITIZEN"

When famous men or women die the community knows and pays its tribute of reverence.

But what of the men and women whose names are known only to their own family, to their neighbours and to the butcher, the baker and the milkman? We in Civil Defence did our best to provide for the safeguarding and helping of our fellow-citizens and they, in turn, gave us their gratitude and respect, but this record would not be complete without a tribute from us to the tens of thousands of men and women who, for various valid reasons, (whether of health, care of children or advanced age), could not assist us actively but who " stuck it " quietly and uncomplainingly.

The Government invited those who could do so to leave the Town in order to reduce the potential casualties, and thousands of mothers went with their children. But other thousands of women stayed in a determination not to leave their men or the members of their families to fend for themselves while they sought safety elsewhere. What this meant to the comfort and health and morale of those men and those families is known only to themselves, but I hope that some way. somehow, they have let the women also know, for they deserve that knowledge.

Although food rationing from January, 1940, onwards ensured a reasonably fair distribution of rationed goods it did not eliminate the difficulties of shopping for those goods and for the unrationed goods. Accordingly, day by day, week by week, and month by month, these heroines, young, middle-aged and old, to the strain of the war had the added physical strain of long waits in queues and the burden of carrying home those things which could be bought.

And all this on top of the ordinarily arduous job of the running of the home.

After the first week or two of the blitz, the womenfolk of the Borough did their work and their shopping with one ear cocked for the approach of danger but without departing from their normal routine unless danger became obviously or audibly imminent. Then, after a short period in shelter, they would re-appear to tackle their jobs anew.

The men too, had their share in the troubles attendant upon living in the Borough in wartime for, with bad travelling facilities, long hours of work and the back-breaking job of " Digging for Victory, " they had little time left for rest or recreation, and some of that was used for " unofficial " help with fire-fighting, Civil Defence and Home Guard.

The rumble of enemy planes, the roar of the barrage, the crash of exploding bombs became for long periods part of the normal life of ordinary men and women not trained to the idea of war but caught unexpectedly into the maelstrom.

And, amazingly enough, ordinary men and women, (Civil Defence and others alike) adapted themselves to those abnormal conditions. They slept in shelters or cellars or under the table or wherever they thought the safest spot ing the house, they got what sleep they could, they slept in their clothes for weeks at a time. At night they lay and wondered where the next bomb would fall and then, as the engines ot the raiders died away in the distance, came out in the grey morning light to lick their wounds and count their losses - and prepare for the next night.

Over all brooded the " black-out "

Night by night, from dusk to dawn, the Town was buried in a pall of darkness, and town dwellers became aquainted with the fact that on a clear night stars are only beautiful but give a diffused light and learned that the periods of the waxing and waning moon are important to others than astronomers and the Navy.

In peacetime, even in the most rural of areas, one will see a cottage light somewhere twinkling in the distance and derive thereby a sense of companionship, but in Walthamstow at night, during the period of the full black-out, there was only an occasional hooded torch-light or, even more rarely, a masked car-light to be seen in the streets which were deserted save for the late travellers or those whose duty required them to be abroard.

During the years before the war began, we had watched the lights of the spirit of man being extinguished in country after country in Europe by the forces of real evil in the German Concentration Camps and by the thugs of Italy.

For those of us at home, the physical blackout had come at one stride in 1939, but although this weighed heavily upon us, and for a timecompletely submerged social activities, such is the eternal resiliance of the human spirit that a modified form of social life was revived and men and women again became sicial beings.

While therefore we will still hearken to adjuration "Let us now praise famous men", those who saw the Walthamstow men and women calmly and courageously face death, danger, and damage, will also add "and let us also praise the unnamed men and women".

It was Lincoln who said, "The common people must be the best - God made so many of them" and during the "War over Walthamstow", they proved it to be true.

Part I - General

Part IIa - The Services

Part IIb - The Services

Part III - The Story of the Raids

Part IV - Flying Bombs & Rockets

Part V - To the Unknown Citizen