And then there was Doris Dewing.
On September 1st, 1939, Two days before war was declared, eleven year old Doris Dewing and her eight year old brother, Arthur got on a train leaving London for an unknown destination. They each had a label with their name attached to them and they each carried a single bag and their gas-mask. Their parents joined a throng at the station with questions but got no answers. ( There is a book written about this mass evacuation of children from the city to safe-guard them from the imminent bombing. It is called, “No Time to Say Goodbye”). They arrived at Saunderton Lee, a small town in Buckinghamshire near Princes Risborough and were billetted with another brother and sister with the Eddles, a country farmer and his wife. There was little consideration for compatiibility and if you had room in your house for four evacuees you got four allocated to you. I was twelve at the time and was living with my parents In the village of Ailsworth, five miles west of Peterborough in Cambridgeshire and the whole village was allocated quite a lot of evacuees from the east end of London. As we had a spare bedroom, we were given two evacuees. This was later changed to a chaperone mother and her son. They were unhappy about everything especially when they found we had an outside toilet and even more when they discovered it was not a water closet.
Getting back to Doris, she went to school in Princes Risborough and after a year she and her brother were moved to Aylesbury to a different school. At both locations they were treated fairly well but were expected to help with the family chores. Their parents visited only occasionally for the day and most of that day was used up by the actual journey. After about a year, with no bombs falling on London, Doris and Arthur, together with most of the evacuees, moved back home. That’s when the bombing started and they, with their parents slept in an Anderson shelter in their back garden. The city provided shelters to all who wanted them and the Anderson shelter was the most common. It was like a small Nissen hut partially buried in the ground with sand bags on top of it. They came with four bunk beds. One night while the family was safely in their shelter, their house received bomb damage sufficient for them to move into another house. All this time, Doris and Arthur were going to school. One evening Doris’ mother called them to go outside from where they could see their school burning. Doris was in the Womens Junior Air Corp until the end of the war.
In 1944, when Doris was sixteen, she answered an advertisement in the paper and got an interview with the British Broadcasting Company, the BBC. They hired her as a teletype operator and by taking evening classes at Regent Street Polytechnic, Doris became a short hand typist and gradually improved her job, culminating in her being the executive secretary for a senior lady who was in charge of administration for the BBC Overseas Services. This department provided announcers of all European origin sending messages to the German occupied countries of continental Europe, including coded messages to the underground resistance fighters. This included, “The sad notes of the violins of Autumn wound my heart with a monotonous languor” Which is from a French poem and was the signal to the resistance groups that D-Day would begin in 24 hours.
When the war ended on May 8th, 1945, Doris went with a friend to a VE-Day dance in Putney and had the good fortune to meet a 17 year old, good looking freshman from Imperial College and started a relationship that so far, has lasted for 71 years.
I have included Doris in my series of “characters” but she is not really a character by my original definition, but she has been such an important agent for our family and, in particular, for me and my career. She suffered through five changes of location and has always been the dominating factor in getting us settled. I feel that we both, by our own efforts, were able to escape the environment that might well have been our destiny and we have been able to forge for ourselves a long and happy marriage of 65 years. I am happy to have Doris as a loving wife rather than as a “character”. Thank you Darling.
8 thoughts on “Character Number Seven”
You are truly an amazing couple. Not only together after all these years – but happily together…
that brought tears to my eyes, I love you both!
Brought tears to my eyes too. Glad that Grandma made the characters list.
Excellent. Doris has history and had an exciting life during the war. It brings reality to the war that you guys lived through.
Such a wonderful post. Looks like you got the whole family teared up! I love you both!
Sounds like Doris should also be writing her memories! Keep up the wonderful writing.
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Me, too! I still remember getting an army uniform in Connecticut for my birthday and going out in the rain and sliding around in the mud like a soldier. At that time in the 60s, us kids figured we were headed for Vietnam, and war was a bit glorified by John Wayne in the movie “The Green Berets” and 2 TV shows, “Combat” and “The Gallant Men”. When I came inside that day, Doris’ mother, my grandmother, who lived with us, uncharacteristically opened up and told me what war was really like. She told me about the day she took Doris and Arthur to the train station and they were given numbers and she said goodbye, not knowing if she would ever see her children again. She said as she walked home, she stopped by a graveyard and just started crying and crying. I never forgot that story. I’ve never been able to even tell that story without crying. I think she wanted to take the romanticism out of war for me. My brother and I were lucky that the draft ended just before we would have been sent to Vietnam. One thing I don’t know, is very much about Mom’s father, my grandfather. She said she would write about him some time. All I know is that he was older than Granny and served in WWI. I know a little more about my paternal grandparents through Dad’s stories over the years and even from his blog. One last thing. The actor Michael Cain also was numbered and sent out of London like Mom and Uncle Arthur. He writes about it in his book, “What’s It All About”. There is also a movie about this called “The Hope and the Glory”. I am so glad my Mom and Dad have stayed together all these years and I also miss Granny, who lived with us in Montreal, when we were briefly in Indiana, in Atlanta and in Jacksonville.
I have enjoyed reading your characters. Life is an amazing journey, best spent with someone you love.
Thanks for sharing,