Kay Innes, BEM - War memories
I am Kay Innes (nee Evans) and I was born at Maidstone in Kent, but during most of my early life I lived at Sandwich, one of the great Cinque ports. It was a most delightful little town. We were three miles from the sea, with the famous St George`s golf course in between us. Sandwich is between Deal and Ramsgate.
We were living there at the beginning of the war, and were within the three mile band set by the Army all the way round the coast.. Everyone living within that limit had to be evacuated. My father was Clerk to a Rural District Council, and the whole of the council office was evacuated to Nonnington, at the back of Dover, to a gorgeous mansion that had been a physical cultural college before the war. It was about 12 miles from Dover and I worked in the Food Office to start with. We had the most marvellous view of all the dog fights that went on during the Battle of Britain, when the RAF were fighting the might of the Luftwaffe in its offensive to smash our Air Force prior to invasion by the German Army. We saw planes being shot out of the sky and parachutists floating down. We hoped and prayed that our boys were not the ones coming down in flames. It was a very exciting time but we all recognised the seriousness of the situation. I was twenty then.
Later on, we had the big bombers going over to bomb London and other places. We saw our fighter planes, the Spitfires and Hurricanes weaving in and out of them shoot them down. It was fascinating but terrifying really.
I joined up in 1941, and went into the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) and I trained at Honiton in Devonshire, a lovely little town. I wanted to drive in the Army but they wouldn`t let me because I hadn`t already held a license. Not many girls held a licence at the age of twenty in those days. So a group of us volunteered to become clerks, pen-pushers. Six of us were taught by the school master of the local village school to become typists. There we were with these typewriters with boards over the keys so that you could not see the letters. In six weeks we became quite proficient. Then we were posted. The policy was to post us as near to our homes as possible. I was sent to Chelmsford in Essex, and when I got there I thought,` Oh lovely! Not too far from home`. However, it was a transit camp where troops stayed for a short time before being sent to wherever they were required. I was informed that I was going to Dover, which was even better. Twelve miles from home ! I was absolutely thrilled, you can imagine. I went to 71 Ack-Ack Brigade, stationed just below the castle. We had four huge Victorian houses, one was the cook-house, one was the officers` mess, one was for the ATS and one was the office and the ORs ( other Ranks).
I was swept into the Brigade office, with typists all over the place. I never used my typing and I lost it completely because it wasn`t needed. I was just a filing clerk. Gradually, as time progressed, I was asked to go and be a G OPs clerk. > G ops means all the operational side of the Brigade - and I worked for the Brigade Major. We were a lovely group, and actually we had a super time. Dare I say it, I was not involved with the girls` side of the Army I was working at Brigade HQ with the men. So we didn`t have anything to do with square-bashing or marching up and down the road, thank goodness. The women who were in the Army in a position of authority, well they thought they were the bee`s knees, and I was only Lance-Corporal Evans !
About this time we were under shelling from the cross- Channel guns over in France. We had no warning, just a great crunch. This part of the country was called Hellfire Corner at that time. The shelling happened quite a lot but funnily enough, we never seemed to go down into the shelter, we just carried on. The whole of Dover was just a ghost town, everyone was evacuated away from it. When I had a bit of leave or time off, or something like that, we would walk through the town helping ourselves to apples , plums and pears from the gardens of deserted houses. We had an orderly who was about five foot five, bright red hair and green eyes and he stuttered. He was the most marvellous magician . He used to give us shows, and do you know, he didn`t stutter one bit whilst he was doing his act. His name was Gerard de Rosay and he was an artist in civil life, and a very good artist too. So you can see that we had lots of fun really in spite of the shelling and bombing.
Whilst I was in Dover I met my future husband who was a G. Ops officer. Of course we shouldn`t have had any liason at all because it is just not the thing for other ranks and officers to mix. At this time my Brigade Major recommended me for a Certificate of Merit. It was a very trying time as we didn`t have set hours, we just worked through the night if necessary. You didn`t have time off in lieu, you just got up the next morning and carried on. We did work very hard, and I supposed he liked me , so anyway, I don`t know, but I got this certificate.
Being ops clerk to the Major, I had access to secret documents, and one day, it would be in about 1944 by now, a message came in which told us to be prepared for pilotless aircraft coming over, which of course turned out to be the buzz-bombs or doodle-bugs as they were universally called. So the whole of the Ack-Ack Brigade H.Q. was moved to the back of Hythe to Saltwood, another lovely village, and once again the office was put into the most gorgeous country house. We were very high up and the view stretched almost to the sea from the Brigade office. We were billeted in private houses across a field . You needed your welly boots on to get to work. As foretold, the doodle-bugs arrived and they were horrendous, terrifically frightening. To start with they all came over and went to London, but gradually it became realised that they could be stopped from reaching London . So every available gun that could be fired was brought down to the coast. When the guns were firing at these things, the sky was black with smoke and the noise was horrendous. I am sure that one of them came along with 71 Ack-Ack Brigade`s name on it, but the RAF managed to tip its wings and it turned and flew out again. When one of these doodle-bugs exploded the blast was quite tremendous. We took no precautions that I can remember. We were just in this lovely house and if one exploded near, the windows came in and went out again. They didn`t break. Funnily enough none of them landed on Dover, we got the lot. It was a terrible time really, between Rye and Hastings and our bit. Then of course there the V2s but we didn`t get any because they had moved further north.
Because I was only twelve miles away, when I got leave, I could go home. To get there, I had to go from Saltwood station to Dover and wait about two hours for another train to Nonnington. So I got the old bike out and cut the corner off as it were. It only took me three-quarters of an hour to cycle through the Elham Valley and through all the pretty villages, which was so enjoyable. One of the ORs used to come half-way with me and when I came back, he would meet me again. Even though the war was on, we used to stop for cups of tea and cake at one of the little cottages by the side of the road. It was marvellous to be able to do this in the quiet countryside! If you saw one of these buzz bombs coming over, you just dived into a ditch or anywhere to hand, kept your head down.and hoped for the best.
My father, being ARP ( Air Raid Precautions) controller for his district received a small petrol allowance, and on one of my 24-hour leaves, we decided to drive to Canterbury to see the film,`Gone With The Wind`. We went for the afternoon session before it got dark as cars then had their headlights covered and only a small slit was seen. It was very difficult to drive in the black-out with such meagre lighting to see the way, that`s why we went for the matinee. As we came out, I looked up and there were German aircraft all swooping down and dropping their bombs. I can see them now with their black crosses on the wings. Canterbury was bombed in the war. If you go there, you will see that the centre has been completely rebuilt. We were so lucky to escape with our lives. I can`t remember where my mother got to, but father and I found the car and crouched down round it until the raiders passed. Apparently, my language was absolutely diabolical. Can you imagine?
At the beginning of 1944, I had a letter to say that I had been awarded a BEM ( British Empire Medal). I suppose the Brigade Major nominated me as I worked for him and he knew what terrible times we had been through. They used to call our part of the country Hellfire Corner, and it was! But I would have hated to have been in the Army anywhere else. We were in the middle of the countryside and it was all so operational and interesting. Also I was with such a lovely group of people. Unfortunately, I couldn`t go to Buckingham Palace to collect my medal from the Queen, they had to send it by post. But I did go to the palace a few years later when my father got an MBE (Member of the British Empire). My mother wasn`t well enough to go so I went with my cousin. of course the Queen had not been on the throne very long then. I remember that the invitation said ` discrete dress`, so I wore grey and my cousin wore navy blue. It was an incredible experience though there was a lot of hanging about, waiting in this room and then moving into another room, protocol and all that . There were vast long corridors and big alcoves with coats of arms and things over the top. I have a distinct memory of gazing up at one of these and do you know it was covered with dust on top. I thought `Goodness, someone ought to get cracking with the old duster!` I think my father got the medal for all he`d been through with all the bombing and the doodle-bugs . Somebody must have recommended him. I don`t know what the Queen said to him, but it was quite an occasion.
We got married in September 1944 . My parents had a farm cottage in the grounds of the beautiful country house in Nonnington to which the Rural District Council had been evacuated. At first they had a bedsit with their own furniture in the big house, before getting this cottage. It was a beautiful day and the wedding spread out into the garden after the ceremony at the lovely little village church. Kind friends rustled up points from their rations books to buy dried fruit for the cake for example and coupons for the dresses etc. It was a wonderful occasion.After the wedding, my husband went to be Gunnery Instructor at Manobeer, near Tenby in South Wales. We shared a cottage with another couple, and when the war ended, if you were married you could be demobbed straight away. I remember the end of the war being announced over the radio as I was sunbathing in the garden at Nonnington.
Now I had to learn how to cook! You see, after all those years not being at home, having my meals put in front of me in the Army, and all the difficulties with the rationing, it was not easy. I remember trying to make blancmange with cornflour and Camp coffee. But actually, we did have a wonderful time down there. Gordon, my husband, went to Teacher Training College to do the special year. Members of the Armed Forces could take what they called emergency training which only lasted for a year. We were in London by now, and I had Sue, my first infant, and we bought our first little house. Goodness knows how we afforded it. It was down Shooter`s Hill, on the edge of Kent near Bexley Heath. There was an estate where the children went to school. When Sue was five and Sally was ten I decided to go for teacher training myself at the age of forty! Another big change in my life, to start writing essays having never done one since I was at school! I went to Eltham to the training college there as a day student. It was easy to pop across to Eltham from Shooter`s Hill. There were about six or seven of us mature students all amongst these eighteen-year olds and we had a wonderful time. They were marvellous these children, very kind to the elderly. You usually applied to go to college the previous September or October but I didn`t know that. I went in the following March and said, `Please can I come?` `My dear, ` said the head. `I`m afraid the secondary department is full, but if you will come and do nursery teaching, you can start in September.` So I did nursery training and craft as my special subject.
My first job was on Woolwich Common in a nursery school. I became very friendly with the headmistress, who was my age. It was ridiculous. Then the next thing was that I was head-hunted for the Thames Mead school. The head there wanted me to set up a department, but I didn`t want to go. I had to make the decision which was very hard. I had a long think, and my head, she was lovely. She said, `Kay, if I were you I`d get out of nursery and do secondary. That`s when I was tempted to go for this Thames Mead place. Then a friend of mine told me about an advert in the Times Educational Supplement for a craft person in Tenterton in Kent. Well, that was my home ground. I thought, ` Ooh! Lovely!` So I wrote off to see if I would even be considered and I didn`t hear for a couple of months or so. meanwhile they were pressing me to take this job at Thames Mead. I wrote off to Tenterton to ask if my application was being considered or was I not needed? I got a letter the next day, `Come for interview tomorrow`. So off I went to Tenterton for this interview. Normally you have a board of governors to face but all I had was the headmaster, the head of domestic science and me. It was a lovely school housed in a country mansion given by somebody or other, a big house. The headmaster said, `Well, if I don`t get an application for a domestic science teacher because that is what they wanted in three weeks the job is yours. So I lived on tenterhooks through those three weeks and then I got a letter saying that the job is yours.
It meant selling the house and buying another and sorting out the kids, oh chaos all over the place. At first we lived in an ordinary semi-detached house but later I bought a tannery cottage. There were four cottages in a row , all made of wood, three stories high . It was lovely. I had the most marvellous sixteen years at that school. Sue went to Ashford to school. Ashford used to be a little market town when I was a child. We went to Ashford shopping. But you should see it now. It is massive because, of course, it is on the railway route of the cross-channel tunnel. They have built it up and built it up. It is just incredible now. After some years at the school, they started introducing boys and I thought,` Oh dear, I don`t think that I can start coping with boys although actually they did some marvellous work`. Also, they started to change the curriculum at this time from to CSE`s in the fifth year to O -levels in the sixth form., which I considered were to easy. Instead of the boys making things in metal-work or wood work, it was all designing, pen and paper stuff. No, I didn`t think much of it. I went on holiday to Hereford with a friend, and we did a tour all round the Black Mountain country , and I fell completely in love with that part of the country. I said, `When I retire, I am going to come down here.` And I did. Actually it was just before I was sixty, I retired a bit early. I put my house on the market, went down at half-term and I bought a cottage, a five-hundred year old cottage. It was beautiful and I had a view of the Black Mountains. So in the July of that same year, I was down there, and I stayed for seven or eight years. That`s when I started Music and Drama down there.
Sue was in London and Sally was in Romney Marsh and suddenly I thought,` What am I doing in Hereford and they are all in London and Kent?` So I went back. When I had sold my tannery cottage, I made quite a profit as prices in Hereford were much lower, but when it came to coming back oh dear! the prices were terrible! Tenterton had become very popular - the place to live. It was the worst move I did in my life. I was not well at the time and I was not happy back in Tenterton, when Sue`s husband got a teaching job in Peterborough. She and her family came up and moved to Bourne . She suggested I moved to Lincolnshire. I came to look around but didn`t like the area around Bourne it was too flat. The next time I came up, I came this way. I went to Oakham and called in at an estate agent`s called Frank Innes. I thought,` That`s an omen`. They only had one house that was suitable and it was this one. That is why I am here living in Colsterworth. My heart is still in Hereford, if I am honest, but I do not regret coming to live here.
I would certainly do my time in the Army again. It was so interesting and exciting and so much happened in the Kent area. If I`d been stuck in the country with the ATS female admin department I would have gone mad! I was with such wonderful people. I am still in touch with some of them.