Extract from the memories of a lady from Strood working at Aylesford Paper Mills during WW2
I worked at Aylesford paper mill and we used to cycle to work. I got married in 1942, but I had just started going out with my husband in 1939. When I went to work on the Monday morning on the 4th September, he had already been called up because he was in the Territorials. He went over to France and came out at Dunkirk. My sister got married on Boxing Day 1939, three months after the start of the war, because her husband was called up for the Air Force. Both our husbands had worked with us at the paper mill. My husband came out of Dunkirk in 1940 and we got married in 1942 and the week after we got married he went to Africa.
There were air raid shelters at work. That’s how I came to join the St John’s because they wanted volunteers to stand in for the real St John’s people when the air raids were on and people had to go into the shelters. We took the ten week course, my sister and I, and passed the course and so we stood in as spare St John’s ambulance people just for work.
Most of the men had gone away, but there were quite a few left, older men like my Dad and my eldest brother, neither of them went because they were working on the barge on the Thames transporting essential goods on the river. There were more women in our section anyway because we made paper sacks but our work came under war work because we made paper shell cases to put over the shells. We had Singer sewing machines to make the sacks. That was the early part of the war.
We didn’t have a shelter at home, because we had a cellar, we were told to use the cellar, but it had obviously been used to store coal so wasn’t very nice. My Mum cleaned half of it and we put mattresses down there and we went down there 2 or 3 times but then we said ‘No’. It wasn’t worth it, if we were going to get bombed, we’d get bombed and that was it. When I got Jacqueline, she was born until 1944 near the end of the war of course, but there was no way I would have taken her down into the cellar. But that is what we should have done. We weren’t really that much the frightened type. We thought if it’s going to happen, it’s got to be.
At work, they had built enormous shelters. Being in the St John’s, we had to patrol the shelters and we had a bigger gasmask, a tin hat and a white band around our arm with the Red Cross on and we used to stay in the door of the shelters or visit another shelter. They had built them in orchards, there were a lot of big fields around there, now houses of course.
Immediately the sirens went we had to go straight out to these shelters.
We cycled to work for quite a long while and we always told that if a siren went off while we were cycling from Strood to New Hythe, we had to get off our bikes and go into the nearest field because. It used to take about 45 minutes to an hour to cycle to work. A couple of times we were half way home and we watched dog fights going off in the sky. Twice I remember that happening.