When I reached the sitting room again, I sat on the sofa and, suddenly, I leapt to my feet and the whole house erupted and I was buried under the debris. I was unable to move in any direction and my right leg was lodged on top of the hot coals from the fire.
I was born in London on 6 November 1926. My parents were Charles (Charlie) and Catherine Martin. He was English and my mother French.
I had a very happy childhood and attended St Augustine’s Convent School in West Ealing.
Then in 1939 my best school friend, Heather, and I were evacuated from London. The scene was exactly as is sometimes shown on TV – hundreds of children carrying cases of belongings and carrying gas masks and boarding trains for an unknown destination.
When we arrived in Dorchester we were taken to a hall and people chose who they would take into their homes. Heather and I went to the same destination.
The landlady did not want us hanging around the house and school hadn’t yet started so there was nothing to do but wander around and try (unsuccessfully) to go to the cinema. We were underage and they were very strict about it!
My father drove down to Dorchester with my mother and Heather’s mother. Someone locally said that many of the evacuees were running around and meeting up with boys! That didn’t apply to us! However, our parents weren’t too keen on the setup and later on, Heather and I were told that we were going to be boarders in a convent school in Weymouth.
Heather and I were pleased about that and thought it would be rather nice – having read fiction about boarding schools with secret midnight feasts etc. How naïve we were!
It was a different state of affairs at the convent at the weekends. Nobody could go out alone or visit the shops, no talking allowed in the dormitories and all letters sent home were censored even those we received from home.
I was moved again but this time with joy in my heart as my parents thought I’d better come home! I was over the moon at the news as I was very homesick. I returned home by train (in the care of the guard, as was done in those days) and collected by my father.
The evening of 11 December 1940 was a frosty night with a starlit sky but I have no recollection of hearing an air raid warning going off. We sat in the sitting room listening to the radio in front of a glowing coal fire. It must have been after 10pm when it was time to go to bed.
My Dad was already in the bed when I went to say goodnight to my parents and I clambered over to kiss him again and then to my mother who was still undressing on her knees in front of the lit gas fire.
I tried shouting but there was nowhere for the sound to go. I don’t know how long it was until I heard sounds but eventually I did. It took a long time to get me but then a voice reached me and asked my name. I answered back and he asked if I’d like to go out with him! I said I would have to ask Mummy first! They had to saw through some beam before they could get me out but, as soon as they were close, someone managed to give me an injection.
One of the most blessed events of my life was being lifted out of the debris, seeing the stars, and feeling the sharp air. I was amazed at being carried across debris of neighbours’ houses to another road where an ambulance was waiting.
I was in Acton Cottage Hospital for 4 months and I was treated so kindly but the pain was unbearable when I had my daily dressings.
It was a mixed ward – at the top were two ladies who had been badly injured in air raids. One of them became a life-long friend of mine.
The male patients were nice and cheery, one of whom was a soldier. In the bed nearest to me was a young man who worked on the railway and had suffered an injury. Sometimes, when I was in a lot of pain he’d hop over and hold my hand.
Then the day came when I was told that I was to have a below knee amputation. I was very upset. I seem to recall the ward was pretty quiet at that time.
So, eventually I was introduced to a pair of crutches! I was delighted to be able to get around again and eventually could swing from one step to the other on stairs without fear.
I had a big send-off from the ward as I headed off to my future to go and live with Dad’s brother an his wife in Hove. After living with them for a while, I moved to Northern Ireland to live with my Grandmother.
I began working at the Ministry of Pensions, in Belfast in 1942 when I was 16 years old. My first job was as switchboard telephone operator for the department. Another of my jobs was as Clerk to the N.I. War Pensions Committees. There were 25 members representing various organisations associated with ex-servicemen. The WPCs could not make decisions but could make recommendations to the Ministry which were given full attention and many times succeeded. It was my job to send out notices to the members, write the minutes, follow up their recommendations and let them know the results at their next meeting.
My next job was in the medical section which was concerned with arranging appointments for ex-servicemen and women who were being medically assessed.
My favourite work was in the welfare and children's sections where we dealt with war pensioners, war widows and war orphans. I was given the opportunity, as time went by, to go out visiting them in their homes.
In 1964 I transferred over to the War Pensioners' Welfare Service in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, and was able to continue with the work I loved so much.
I am not only a war disabled pensioner but also a war widow, as my dear husband Jim died as a result of his war injury.
My husband James Heggie, worked in the War Pensioners' Welfare Department when he left the army after the war. He ended up as Manager but after many years had to retire early because of the effects of his war disability.