Second World War: Gas Masks and Ack-ack guns

For one girl in England during the second World War, gas masks and ack-ack guns were just part of life.

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When the second World War broke out in England in 1939, I was living in the suburbs of London in Worcester Park, Surrey, with my mother, father and younger sister. I was just in my early teens, so it seemed so scary to hear the word "war." We had to go to our local school building to pick up our gas masks and be shown how to use them, which was a very scary experience in itself. Everywhere we traveled we had to have our gas masks with us. Many of the children were taken by ships to Australia where they would be safe. By the time my parents decided to let my sister and me go it was too late; the last ship was ready to leave. 

In early 1940 we moved from the London area to Penketh, Lancashire. For two years at the beginning of the war we were bombed about every night. My dad would turn a sofa over against a buffet and we would sleep underneath there, away from any flying shrapnel and glass. I can remember the house and dishes shaking from the big ack-ack guns 100 feet from our house. The German planes would follow the Mersey River looking for the big air force base, but although bombs dropped all the way around it, none actually hit the base.

I began working at the air force base for Air Ministry, a government job, at the beginning of 1941. I was secretary to the overseer of the European Theater of War. The office was classified highly secret. Even my father, who worked at the base, had to be escorted to my office by a security guard. In June 1942 all British air force personnel and civilians were shipped out to Europe, and the

American Army Air Corps came in and took over the base. Out of 225 English gals, only 12 of us were kept on to work for the Americans. I was lucky to be one of them and became secretary in Col. Ott's office. At the most critical time in the War we were working 24-hour days: all day, all night and all the next day. My husband-to-be and I were stationed at the same base. On July 7, I met him and we started dating. We were married 15 months later on October 25, 1943. Our oldest son was born in Lancashire, England, onJuly9,1945.

At the beginning of 1944 the Germans were sending over robot planes - you would hear the drone of the engines and then nothing, you would just sit waiting for the boom when the plane dropped. One dropped two houses from us once.

Another time we were on a bus coming home from town when a plane dropped on a school and restaurant; if our bus had been a minute sooner we would have been involved. We jumped out of the bus, and you could hear the children in the building screaming. Only six lived. Everyone in the restaurant was killed, including some American airmen. Seeing the devastation in the Persian Gulf on TV brings back many frightening memories. Hearing the air-raid sirens gives me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. One Saturday afternoon two German planes flew low down Main Street, strafing everything on the street. Many people were killed or maimed. No one knew how the planes got so far inland, and no one saw them coming across the border.

Harold came back to Grand Junction in October 1945. My son Paul and I reported to the camp in Tidworth for processing in January 1946. I was homesick for several years. I had left my family, friends and relatives, and knew we did not have the money for me to go home to visit. But after I finally made a trip to England in 1962, I seemed to settle down better to my life in America.

Hazel Fiegel
Grand Junction, Colorado

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.