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World War II Tuesday, 7 September, 1999, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
Your memories
children being evacuated to the countryside
Children were evacuated from the cities to the countryside
The day the war began
Add to BBC News Online's collection of accounts about the day war broke out by emailing us either your own memories, or stories told by friends and relatives about the beginning of the war.

Click here to email us your memories of 3 September 1939

Last updated: 1715 UK 1815 GMT, 7 September


I was nine when war broke out and living just two miles from the Kent coast, inland from Walmer. I heard the broadcast and well remember Mr Chamberlain saying "No such assurance has been received and therefore this country considers itself in a state of war." My parents were visibly shocked, despite the fact that war was a strong possibility.We went to the beaches when the troops were being evacuated from Dunkirk and gave them cigarettes. We saw shipping being hit by mines in the English Channel, we were kept awake many nights by the artillery duels across the channel and we were witness to the air battles when the Germans were trying to destroy the Radar towers at Dover. When the 'invasion' was deemed to be imminent My father together with an 18 year old youth from next door were given an old .303 rifle and 10 rounds of ammunition and told to man to sit in a trench at a fork in the road, just outside the village. As the raids and shelling got worse, I and my two sisters were evacuated from Kent, me to relatives in Yorkshire. Reading the contributions to this column I note with interest, those who, like myself,no longer live in the UK. I left in 1953 and have returned only once.
Alan Swallow, New Zealand

I remember being woken up early on the morning of Sept 1 and assembling at school, then being put aboard a paddle steamer and being taken to Felixstowe where we slept in a school classroom on straw, boys in one class, girls in another. The next day I was billeted in the village of Lower Holbrook in Suffolk. We stayed there until Dunkirk fell, then we were moved to Kenilworth in Warwickshire.
Alan Pocock, England

S: I was 8 years old and clearly remember the speech by Mr Chamberlain on that Sunday morning. Our family had returned early from a holiday at Jaywick (nr Clacton) and I remember the street lights already dimmed, painted blue, outside the station at Watford. This was to be the only holiday that we spent together.
Gordon Coverley, Canada

I was sixteen when the war started and we here in America watched the drama unfold like a movie to which we had not paid admission. It took on reality, however, with the Dunkirk thing. My father, a decorated veteran of WWI, sat me down and put his arm around my shoulders (he never did that before) and told me what war was. I remember wanting to cry (at 16!). It only took a few minutes but when it was over he finished with, "The Limeys are going to save the world." And they did. Forgive the language but that's what he said.
Robert Russell, USA

I was 2 yrs old. I have vivid memories of the air raid shelter and sounds of the sirens and smell of the gas mask. It wasn't a pleasant time-constantly being lifted from bed into the shelter. My siren suit was beige and very warm. When in school we were marched into the shelter in the playground/with gas mask. Hurrying home from school in case the sirens started. No counselling for us, perhaps families talked more in those days. I thank God for the brave men and women you fought for us who came from all corners of the Empire.
Sheila Roberts, England

I was 14, living in Maidstone, Kent with my parents. I clearly recall listening to Chamberlain's radio message, and even more clearly recall the air-raid sirens going off about 10 minutes later. My father and I started to dig an air raid shelter in the garden. It would be fair to say we achieved more in the next 4 or 5 hours than we did in the next 12 months - until the Battle of Britain started in fact. I joined the RAF in 1942.
John Marshall, Australia

I was nine at the time living in Timperley nr Altricham, Cheshire. My Dad owned a newsagents with an extention speaker from the wireless into the shop. It was on this that I heard Chamberlain. I have other vivid memories of that day, but so little space to put in it. Later in life I became close friends with a German who was at the invasion of Poland, France and Russia! He was captured by the Americans in the desert and spent the rest of the war in the USA.
Gordon T. Adams, USA

I was just six years old when war broke out on September 3, 1939. It was a Sunday and my two older brothers and I were playing on the beach at Rustington on the Sussex coast. Because of the threat of war our summer holiday had been extended much to our delight. Suddenly the siren sounded and the next minute our parents were rushing us up the beach to the hotel where we were staying, leaving my sandals sitting on top of a breakwater. By the time the All Clear sounded and we were allowed to return to the beach, the tide had come in and my sandals were gone! We never did return to our house in Cricklewood, but stayed in Rustington for four months before moving into a house in Pinner, Middlesex, thought to be a little safer than living in London.
Mary Cully, Canada

I was but a mere lad of 16 when the Germans came to our village. I found myself in a difficult situation because my mother was Polish and my father German. I, however, chose to fight with the Germans and joined the SS. I fought for three years in Russia and was captured near Smolensk. I spent 10 years in a labor camp. I went America after the war, but I'll always remember that first day of war.
otto, USA

I was 16 and heard the news on my granny's wireless . I was horrified because my boyfriend was in the Army and I thought he would be killed. I was right. He died during the Dunkirk evacuation . Later on I met a handsome GI called Frank who helped me get over my broken heart . After the war we moved to the US , where I still live today with my son and his family .
Phyliss Anney, US

I'd been evacuated all of two days - from Islington to Bedford. That morning I'd gone fishing. I got back too late for Chamberlain on the radio but in time for the first siren. I'm now 71 and I've never been fishing since.
David Bernstein, England

I was 9 years old when WWII started. We had all been issued with gas masks and thought we would be gassed immediately. When the siren sounded we rushed to put them on - very hot, rubbery and claustrophobic!
Eileen Green, England

I was 7 years-old and remember the first siren. I was singing in the church choir at St.Georges Church at Beckenham, Kent. My dad was a fireman and we lived in Quarters at the Fire Station.
J.W,Wallington, UK

As a Brit born after the war, but currently living and working in Poland. I would also like to thank all those, like my father, who fought in the war and enabled us all to live well today. I also support Arthur Nowacki's comments. Especially having recently visited 'Westerplatte' near Gdansk, where from 1st September 1939 Polish soldiers, although surrounded, bravely held out against German attacks for several days, hoping against hope for help from Britain. On the subject of reconciliation, it was interesting on 1st September 1999,to see on Polish TV the reporting of the current visit of the German President to Poland.
Nigel Adams, Poland and UK

Like Martha Zantides, I was lucky enough to be born 16 years after the good guys won. And to Claire Litt and the rest of that generation of Heroes, I say thanks. Had you not stood your ground, had you not sacrificed, had you not endured, our lives and the lives of those yet to come would be unimaginable. Bless you all.
Jeff Myhre, USA

I was born 15 years after the war, and I am a Swiss. I have never experienced a war, I have always had a good, comfortable and safe life, I have not lost the fine years of my youth. So why am I interested in these things? I feel we all do owe much to those who served and fought against the terror, to those who lost their father, husband, fiancÚ. Let us not forget them, let us offer our support for those who survived. They have fought and suffered for us, those who live in peace today!
George J. Hurter, Switzerland

September 3 is my father's birthday. He was 36 on the day the war started and not long after that was shot on an unarmed merchant ship from Trinity House. He spent six months in hospital in Dover watching the planes go over to bomb London where his family lived. I do not personally remember the day as I was only four but it is a powerful part of our family's memories.
Inez Kirby, USA

Although I was only 3 years 9 months of age I remember well that fatefull radio speech. I can also remember the look on the faces of my mother and father. After the speech my father got down his A.F.S. (Auxillary Fire Service)uniform from the kitchen cupboard. A few days later a crocodile of evacuees came up the road. We took in two brothers from Totenham Danny and Terry.
John Blackwood, England

My father was a private in an English army regiment at the war's beginning. One anecdote I'll never forget is how he and one or two others were instructed to guard a particular stretch of southern beach against possibly imminent German invasion. All they had for beach defences was a string of barbed wire attached to two sticks. Supplies were so scarce they couldn't afford to lose the barbed wire, so every day they'd carry it down to the beach, erect it in the sand, and at the end of the day roll it up and take it back to camp. I don't think the humor of it struck him until much later.
Patrick O'Connor, USA

I was almost two when war was declared by England. My Father had moved my mother and I out of central London to what then was a small village, Hillingdon. What he didn't realize was that nearby Northolt airfield would become a target for German bombers.

My kindergarten (nursery school) recieved a near miss one night when a land mine was jettisoned by a German bomber into a field alongside the school, Even though the bomb didn't explode, the impact was sufficient to cause earth tremors that disturbed the foundations of our house and others nearby, broke our windows and basically blew away the kindergarten buildings which were prefab type. Fortunately no one was hurt.

Other memories include sitting on my father's shoulders on top of our bomb shelter and looking east towards London in the Blitz some twenty miles or so away and seeing the sky lit so brilliantly with an orange/pinkinsh glow that we could see at night even more clearly than with a full moon.

On VE day my father, his brothers and friends celebrated at our local pub, even though he was a quite abstemious. When the pub closed at 2pm, he had a long line of soldiers, sailors and airmen in tow from all parts of the world including Americans, Poles, Canadians and others. I was spoilt with all kinds of goodies given to me including candy and gum and a taste of beer and the party continued until long past my bed time since our guests wouldn't allow my mother to put me to bed!

The war was hard for England and worse for others who were also attacked by Nazi Germany. I count myself and my family lucky to have survived
Edward D Barnett, USA

I was twelve, my brother was nine. We were in Wimbledon. My brother and my father began digging in the back garden, for an Anderson Shelter. Under a plum tree. My brother dug and dug. Tiny, thin hands trying to protect his family. He fainted from the heat.

Later on, my father crouched in that shelter; bombs falling nearby. Blast ruined the house. My father was safe. My brother's efforts were not in vain.
Jill Stafford, Canada

My earliest prewar memory was in Jan. '33 at age seven when I brought the evening newspaper home which announced Hitler had taken over in Germany. My poorly educated dad said, "That **** is going to start the next war." We then lived through the years of the '30s in the U.S. where the Great Depression seemed to be unending and unsolvable. By the time the shooting started in Europe most Americans wished to stay out of the conflict. Many blamed the authors of the Versailles Treaty who had agreed with the noted economist, J.M. Keynes, that the treaty made another war inevitable when he resigned from being a delegate to the treaty convention.

We never did imagine that we would eventually get involved and that the destruction wrought upon humanity would reach the level it did. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed after WW2 and a punative treaty was not written and the peace we now see in Europe is the result. Had this been the policy after the first war Hitler would have returned to his previous role as a drifting hobo and what we see today in Europe would have happened twenty years earlier.
Steve, US

I was a young girl in WWI, and a young mother when WW2 broke out. After losing two uncles on the Western Front, I was terrified my family would be devastated again. Luckily my husband and the rest of my family came through unscathed, but there were many we knew who did not.
Claire Litt (92 and using the Internet), Newton-Le-Willows

My very earliest memories are of the liberation of Italy by the Allies. Living near the Swiss border we were amongst the last to see Allied troops, Canadians I seem to remember, but after all my young life being filled with the terror of the Nazi occupation, it was I day I'll never forget.
Juliano Apsay, Como, Italy

Your special report was interesting. We must not forget, however, that after declaring war on Germany, Poland's allies England and France, failed to give the Poles any direct aid as the German (and later Russian) armies overran Poland. That September the Poles could have used a lot more than paper declarations and fiery speeches.
Arthur Nowacki, Canada

I was 12 years old and was with my father who had driven into Selsey on the South coast(well away from Germany at that time). On leaving the village we stopped for petrol. The owner knew us and as my father got out of the car the owner said "the balloon's gone up they've invaded Poland". We returned to our holiday home 3 miles away. The next day I was staying with the local farmer and my parents returned to London to tow an ambulance, expecting bombing to start as soon as war was declared. A new and unknown life had begun for me.
K.Arliss, Canada

No single event in the history of mankind has had a created impact on the human psyche. I was born 16 years after the end of the war and my childhood memories are dominated by films, books, comics and TV series all about World War 2. I believe the intensity of our memories will never fade through the generations, and that it is a good thing that the horrors are always held up as the best (or worst example) or what we can do at our very worst - as a warning of the depths to which we can drop down to. I would like to say to all those who fought against Nazi Germany and the Japanese, thank you for the sacrifices you made and winning so that good may triumph and on a personal note that I have the freedom of thought and the freedom to be myself.
Martha Zantides, UK

I was 10 years old and staying with my grandparents in Ireland at the time of the announcement. I was quite immature at the time and was only worried that I wouldn't be able to get back to Ireland if there were bombs dropping everywhere. Also, my grandparents, like others down their street, thought it would be all over by Christmas.
Billy O'Tomme, Ireland

We had no idea if the war was going to be a short or a long haul. All the young people and children of my age had never experienced anything like it, unlike our parents of course who had experienced the first war.

The only battle I can remember is the battle of the Drebbeberg, near Arnhem, where the Germans invaded and inflicted a major defeat on the Dutch army.

So many Dutch soldiers fell there, it is was absolutely terrible. This was so overwhelming I could not imagine beyond it.

All we had a feeling of was that there was a terrible event had begun, something that could not just be undone.

We did not know what the war held in store for Jewish people. We had heard from Jewish children, who were also members of the young socialists, about what was happening in Germany, especially those who had moved from Germany to the Netherlands, but it did not create a strong impression on that day.
An Schats, Netherlands

It was a Sunday when war broke out. We were told the news in church, I was only 15 years old in 1939.

I don't think people thought it would last so many years. I saw many of my friends joining the forces and wanted to do the same, I call it the spirit of adventure. Like the young men who went to war in 1914 they wanted to see the world. Today young people go to college or trips abroad.

My Dad would not allow me to join up, but I received my call up papers when I reached 19. I was going to join the WAAF (The Women's Auxiliary Air Force) with a friend from work called Doris.

But another friend Betty, her Mum suggested the Land Army. So we all joined the Land Army thinking we would all stay together. But we didn't, they sent us all to separate places.

I was sent, along with 30 other girls from Yorkshire to North Wales. We were field workers, potato picking and harvest work.

We worked hard, but it was a wonderful time in my life, I was really happy.
Joan Entwistle, Leeds, UK

As a 13 year old schoolboy, I did hear Neville Chamberlain's broadcast about the commencement of hostilities with Germany. At that time, being a 13 year old, it didn't register with me, as it would have done if I had been older, as it did in later life when I joined the Royal Navy.

Most of my Navy life was spent attached to the Pacific Fleet, against the Japs, when the horrors of war was brought home to me, by what I saw in Hong Kong. I can understand the feelings of the POW's, and the anger they felt, and still do. My shipmates felt exactly the same. Yes life did change for most of us, we joined up as boys of 17, and came home as worldly wise young men.
Peter Strickland, UK

I wasn't born until 15 years after the outbeak of war. But for all of you who can remember, and performed your appointed tasks over the following 6 years, thanks. I enjoy what I do because of people like you.
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

As with the previous comment from Mr Newdick I would like to add my thanks to all the brave men and women who fought and died to ensure the freedom that we enjoy today. Thank you.
Chris Loughnane, Ireland/Finland


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02 Sep 99 | World War II
01 Sep 99 | World War II
01 Sep 99 | World War II
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