Marlene Heselden

Photo:Photograph of Marlene and her brother Sidney on the train to be evacuated to Wales in October 1942. The children had been issued with a slice of cake and a glass of milk at Paddington Station.

Photograph of Marlene and her brother Sidney on the train to be evacuated to Wales in October 1942. The children had been issued with a slice of cake and a glass of milk at Paddington Station.

Marlene Heselden

Recollections of the cruelties of war.

The outbreak of war

Born in 1935, Marlene Heselden (nee Saysell) lived in Blackheath Village with her family at the outbreak of war in 1939. Marlene was the youngest child in a family of twelve. With the commencement of the Blitz in 1940, the family had to spend most nights in the shelter as the area suffered heavy air raids. Living in a flat, the family had to make use of the communal shelter. Marlene recalls, ‘The air raid shelter damped down the noise a little, but the building shook with every explosion, my body taking up the tremors. We slept where we could find space’.

'A dreadful place'

By 1941, the youngest children of the family had been evacuated to Dorset, whilst the older siblings remained in London. However, Marlene had not been evacuated and travelled along with her mother to Scotland to stay near to where her father was posted. When Marlene’s father was relocated, they returned to London. In October, 1942 Marlene was along with her brother evacuated to Wales. The billet the siblings was allocated was ‘a dreadful place’.  Marlene recalls: ‘We were kept short of food, almost starved eventually, and we became infested with fleas...we were constantly hungry and used to steal vegetables from gardens and allotments...We were beaten for no reason with bundles of firewood’.  The siblings were eventually rescued by their father after he had become concerned for the children’s well being. Returning home, the children were immediately taken to an isolation hospital badly infected with scabies and weak from malnutrition.

The only survivor

Back in London, the family relocated to Lewisham. One morning in June 1944, Marlene was visiting her sister Doris and her two young children. Marlene’s sister Pauline had just arrived to walk her home when a flying bomb suddenly cut out over the house.

‘There was a rush of warm air, then black, hot suffocation, the smell of burnt dust, and the taste of it, choking me. I tried to raise my back, but have no idea how long it was until I heard the sound of digging, and felt a cold draught of air across my face. I was aware of an ambulance bell ringing, then thankfully, I passed out’.

Marlene suffered serious injuries and spent more than a year in hospital. Doris, her husband Albert and their two young sons were killed. Pauline had also lost her life. Marlene recalls, ‘I was the only survivor of our family. My childhood had died with them beneath that rubble’.

This page was added by Malin Lundin on 25/06/2012.

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