Essays

Young Girl Prepares for War

Julie Breeze as a Schoolgirl, 1940

By Julie Hallett (Née Breeze), WREN

World War Two began when I was 13½ years old and lasted until I was 19½. So it occupied almost all of my teenage years. I was born in England, and when war broke out was attending school in London, the same school where David Thompson the Canadian explorer (1770 -1857) had received his education over 150 years earlier.

The possibility of a coming war had been in the news for several years in the early 1930's. I remember being terrified when I was quite young and saw headlines in a newspaper 'WAR, WAR, WAR'. Hitler came into power in 1934, so if the headlines concerned his policies I could have been under ten years old at the time. After a while I took the threat of war more for granted. However, in the late summer of 1938 our Prime Minister Mr. Neville Chamberlain returned from a conference in Europe assuring us that, through his success as a negotiator, there would be 'Peace in our time'.

Although war did come only shortly after this optimistic message, we were not caught unprepared. With remarkable foresight, members of the government had listened to those persistent rumors and had made plans to meet trouble if it came. Before hostilities had even begun many projects were underway. For instance; the whole population had been issued with Identity cards and gas masks (there were even special breathing apparatuses provided for babies) and there were plans in place for evacuating school children from cities likely to be targets for enemy bombers.

At the start, and without delay, our school was moved initially to Brighton, a holiday resort on the south coast of England, across the English Channel from France. However, the enemy swept across Europe from Germany so fast that ten months later we had to be moved farther inland to Farnham in Surrey, for fear of a pending invasion.

Great Britain is, and was then, too densely populated to feed all its inhabitants off the farmland available. We were accustomed to receiving imports from the Channel Islands, Denmark and other parts of the European Continent. Now we were cut off!

Julie Hallett