Memories of World War II
To celebrate V-E Day, Key.Aero visited Jean Crawley who was just a young girl living in the UK during World War II. It was an absolute honour to be able to listen to her incredible stories, reminding us what day-to-day life was like during that era.
Jean had just turned 13 at the start of September 1939, and still remembers the first day of that month vividly.
Take a look at the exciting, eventful and many life-threatening situations Jean and her family experienced in this video:
Living through World War II
“My entire secondary school education was during the Second World War.”
Jean Crawley says this sentence so casually and matter-of-factly, it’s as if it’s the most normal admission in the world.
“I was walking along the road with a friend of mine and we just looked at one another and said, ‘We’re at war,’ without the foggiest notion of what it meant,” she smiles. “We’d just heard from the King on the radio.” It was a situation that Jean admits her young mind could not fully comprehend. “It didn’t mean anything to us. My parents sometimes talked about the First World War, and I’d had an older brother who’d been called up to it halfway through, but I didn’t really know anything about war.
“You just take it at that age, don’t you? It was life at that time. I didn’t know anything else, so I didn’t think it was strange.”
Going to school during World War II
As such, Jean soon settled into a pattern in which the most important years of her educational life were carried out against the backdrop of the threat of bombs. “They immediately dug out the big field at the side of the school to make trenches, and they made us practice rushing down into them when the bell went, which we thought was fun,” she laughs. “Then they built these air raid shelters. I remember once when we were in the middle of an exam – we got called out and had to put our gas masks on, which we always carried. But the only reason they made us do that was so we couldn’t talk to each other about the exam – it was nothing to do with safety, it was so we couldn’t cheat!
“I do remember being in the cloakrooms once when the sirens went off. It was around dinner time, and if it happened then you were allowed to go home for dinner if someone could pick you up. My friend’s father came and got us. At that moment, as we were driving home, a German plane actually came down and followed us. We didn’t know at the time but were told afterwards. It was quite dangerous, but we weren’t aware of it.”
“At that age, you’re not frightened, are you?”
Jean’s lack of fear came in pretty handy, because it allowed her to escape the reality of how dangerous life could be. “I don’t remember being frightened at the time… I do recall going to the cinema once with my first boyfriend, and one of those silent bombs came along. You couldn’t hear them until they suddenly exploded. I remember seeing that, because it had flames coming out of the back of it. I saw it go across us. We went on walking and went to the cinema, and I got into awful trouble when I got home.”
How close did it get to you?
“Quite close, really,” she says. “We heard a big bang.”
There were other times when the presence of German planes could be heard. “A friend and I used to hear their planes going over as they were on their way to bomb Coventry,” she recalls. “The enemy planes had quite a different sound to ours. We just used to say, ‘They’re going to Coventry again.’ I remember that people would dread a moonlit night, because everywhere was so clear.”
Sparse news to prevent fear
The lack of fear seems astonishing, yet Jean puts it down to a lack of information. Decades before 24-hour news and the constant scrolling of social media feeds, updates during the war were comparatively sparse. “You listened to the Six O’Clock News, and at 7pm there was a programme called In Town Tonight,” says Jean. “They gave you the day’s news, but they didn’t tell you much. They believed if they told you too much, they’d be giving things away.”
Jean smiles. “We didn’t really know anything,” she says. “I think that’s why I wasn’t afraid.”
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