Elsie Paine Part 2: Elsie recalls how the community pulled together during World War II and the horrors of the Blitz

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BRACKENBURY BORN AND BRED

In the second and final part about her life lived on Cardross Street in the heart of Brackenbury Village, Elsie Paine recalls how the community pulled together during World War II and the horrors of the Blitz

Aged just 11 when war was declared on September 3, 1939, Elsie Paine had little understanding of the impact that momentous day was to have on her and her family’s life. Speaking from her home in Cardross Street, Mrs Paine, now 87, recalls how she saw young men from Hammersmith sign up to fight to defend Britain and stop the advance of Nazi Germany’s troops. But it is the memories of the Blitz and her evacuation from London that remain today as painful and as poignant as ever.

Just over a year after war was declared, Hitler unleashed the might of the Luftwaffe with a merciless bombing campaign targeting London and other major cities.

‘When you’re young you don’t really realise what war means. Me and my sister, Lily, certainly didn’t understand the dangers our family was facing. Obviously my parents, Edward and Florence, were far more aware but didn’t let on.
‘We were all issued gas masks at Brackenbury School and shown how to wear them. You wouldn’t go anywhere without them.’

After a preliminary raid on September 5, 1940, the German onslaught from the skies began properly on September 7. Nearly 1,000 aircraft made up of 300 bombers and 600 fighters crossed the Channel. Fighter Command was staggered by the scale of the attack and RAF fighters engaged the invading planes in dramatic dogfights over London and the Thames Estuary. This was the beginning of the Blitz, a campaign that was to last 76 days and cost 430 civilian lives and result in more than 1,600 people being seriously injured.

‘We were all issued gas masks at Brackenbury School and shown how to wear them. You wouldn’t go anywhere without them.’

‘The air raid sirens made a terrific noise. Everyone would run for the shelters, often as they heard the anti-aircraft guns going off,’ Elsie says.
‘I remember my mum used to scoop up kids on the street to get them to the safety of the shelter. Everyone helped everyone else out. We had an Anderson air raid shelter in the back garden. Sometimes we would even try to sleep in it if the raid was particularly bad.
‘But when the government was expecting a really big attack we would head to the underground tube stations – like Oxford Circus – to get real protection from the bombings.’

In Hammersmith, Cardross Street itself was hit, and two bombs fell on Bradmore Park Road and Banim Street. Ravenscourt Park was also repeatedly hit. The homes destroyed were among many obliterated in Hammersmith.

‘You’d emerge from the shelter afterwards to find houses with all the glass blown out of their windows.’

‘Bradmore Park Road was damaged by one big bomb blast. I think a family died there. My older sister was going out with a fellow from that street who lost some of his family in one bombing. One of our neighbours lost their son. We all knew someone who was either killed, injured or made homeless by the Blitz.
‘You’d emerge from the shelter afterwards to find houses with all the glass blown out of their windows. Lots of homes that received a direct hit lost walls and sometimes roofs were blown off from the blast.’

Hitler’s hopes of breaking morale did not succeed. Instead, the will of the British people become more determined than ever.

‘You couldn’t let the dangers you faced worry you. You had to accept it and carry on with your life,’ she says, smiling.
‘We just got on with it.’

Elsie, like so many youngsters in major cities across the country, was evacuated away from danger. She was sent to live with a family in Windsor in Berkshire.

‘I still got to see my parents. But, it wasn’t the same as being at home. The mother in the house used to play me at cards. She had a habit of always winning and taking some small bets from me. She was no fool.’

Elsie Barrett – as she was before she married Jack Paine – lived on rations during the war years. She is convinced now that the key to a long life is one good meal a day – ‘Oh, and the occasional G&T!’.

‘My mum could make a meal out of anything from her ration book. She had been hard up for many, many years. But, we always had one good meal a day. I learned from her. People can’t imagine that nowadays.’

In the latter part of the war, Elsie saw the rise of the American-style big bands and dance halls. The craze for the music was, in part, an escape from the pressures of living under the constant threat of invasion or bombings.

‘We would go to the Hammersmith Palais to see a dance band. But, really all us girls knew that there would be lots of American servicemen – or Yanks – there.
‘A couple of the women would shock their families by bringing some of the Yanks home after the dance.’

At that time the Hammersmith Palais, formerly known as the Hammersmith Palais de Danse on Shepherds Bush Road boasted a £5,000 maple dance floor, as well as regular appearances by the Joe Loss Band. It was, as Elsie says, a popular haunt for US servicemen, famously known as ‘overpaid, over-sexed and over here’.

The hall was opened in 1919 and became well known as one of the most influential venues in Britain for jazz. It went on to host rock bands including The Who, The Clash and the Sex Pistols before its demolition a few years ago.

Elsie recalls that there were regular parties held whenever the Allies won an important victory over the Germans.

‘It was a way to keep our morale up,’ she says. ‘It was also a way to reassure ourselves that we were winning the war.’

To read the first instalment of Elsie’s life Click Here

Thanks to Jane and Michael Anderson for arranging this interview, and Hammersmith and Fulham Local Studies and Archives.

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