Jill Browning

Recollections of evacuation and doodlebugs.

Evacuation to Sussex

Born in 1930, Jill Browning lived with her family in Norbury, southwest London, at the outbreak of war in 1939. In the first months of the war, the family left London for Piltdown, Sussex, to escape the expected bombardment of the capital. Whilst her family returned to London, Jill remained in Sussex for three years. Initially, Jill’s mother rented a cottage in the area but once she returned home, Jill was billeted on a local farm. She recalls her time in Sussex as ‘a very happy time of my life’.

Doodlebugs

'People’s private lives suddenly thrown open for everybody to see’.

In 1942, Jill returned to Norbury to continue her education, having been taught by a former governess during her time as an evacuee. Jill remained in Norbury for the duration of the war and experienced the V1 and V2 rockets in the latter part of the war. She recalls the effects the bombing had on the area. Following a particularly bad raid, the local bus stop and a row of houses had been destroyed by doodlebug:

‘The air was full of plaster dust and you get these bizarre things ... like the bedroom wallpaper all exposed. Pictures still on the wall. No bedroom there, no floor. You know really bizarre things and people’s private lives suddenly thrown open for everybody to see’.

Crashing planes

In the early months of 1945, a plane crashed on the family’s house. It was a Sunday morning and Jill was walking back from church.

‘About hundred yards away from the house, I heard this low-flying plane and looking up I sort of knew, part of me, that it wasn’t a doodlebug but because we were so used to doodlebugs I threw myself down on the ground which was what we’d all got used to doing ... In those days you laid on the ground and put your hands over your ears waiting for the bang’.

Getting back on her feet, Jill soon realised that it was her house that had been hit. Rushing back to the house, Jill eventually discovered that her mother and her two tame mice had escaped unharmed. The rescue teams quickly arrived at the house. Jill recalls, ‘I have a memory of the wardens going through the downstairs of the house picking up photographs and saying ‘Who is this? Is he in the house?’, ‘Who is this? Was she staying here?’ Jill’s father and sister, who had been at the pub to celebrate the latter’s promotion to petty officer in the Wrens, arrived home shortly after, ‘when they saw all the emergency vehicles outside the house ... their celebration must have dried up in their mouths’.

After spending a few nights with a neighbour, the family was re-housed and eventually returned to their home the following year.

This page was added by Malin Lundin on 19/08/2012.

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