Adventures in Rye – The Day the War Started

Memories of an old Ryer

by Winnie Hollands

Do you remember the day War broke out?

Sunday 3 September 1939. Everyone had been on tenterhooks for some months but today we should all know for sure. At eleven o’clock Neville Chamberlain was due to speak on the radio.

The message was “The United Kingdom is now at war with Germany”. We had been led to believe that the main danger would be poison gas. There were eight of us in our family including my in-laws, running a grocery and greengrocery business in Cinque Ports Street. The shop and living quarters were spacious and we were very lucky to have three cellars under the building. Within seconds of the Prime Ministers announcement at 11am. the air raid sirens sounded. We soaked blankets in a bath of water ready to hang over the cellar doors and prepared a stock of food in case we were holed up for any length of time. I don’t think any of us knew what to expect. We had a large room behind the shop that had been used as an armoury many years before, so it had extremely thick walls. Two double and two single beds were set up in this room and six of us slept there. My sister-in-law Nellie and her husband George felt safer in one of the cellars.

There were not to be any gas attacks but later in the war Rye had air raids when conventional bombs were dropped doing a lot of damage. The siren sounded on most days but usually it came to nothing. We gradually settled down and took each day as it came. Food was rationed, some items were very difficult to come by. Nothing was wasted and everyone became much more reliant on the vegetables we would grow ourselves and exchange with each other.

Two pennyworth of meat on each ration book seemed very little but if you had four books eight pennyworth would make a lovely hash. Then there was our fishing fleet – for two shillings you could get enough fresh fish to feed the family for a day. There were plenty of rabbits about. Father-in-law skinned them and sold the meat for eight pence, the skins fetched a shilling each. In the shop we also had a bakehouse allocation, this was a great help as we made and sold cakes and pies. Nothing was wasted, everyone mucked in and helped everyone else. The Army took over the Hope Anchor Hotel.

St Margarets Terrace after a Raid
St Margarets Terrace after a Raid

The Navy were housed in the New Road School. Very often we would have a couple of soldiers or sailors for supper. My Father-in-law met them and invited them in, but they soon moved on, many of them did not survive the war. The first year soon passed, life had to go on but I don’t think any of us thought the war would last as long as it did. We were very lucky in our part of Rye. In those war years I possessed a Cossor Bakelite Radio which had cost just thirty shillings. I wish I had kept it. I saw exactly the same model on an antique show the other day – it was valued at £300!

“Rye’s Own” February 2001

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