Joan Brownson in November 2009.Historica Canada
Joan Brownson and her friend Elsie,Trafalgar Square, London, England, 1946.Joan Brownson
Pay Book of Joan Brownson, 1944.Joan Brownson
Release Book describing Joan Brownson's Identification and Record of Service, 1947.Joan Brownson
Photo showing how Joan Brownson and her Camarades lived in Barracks.Joan Brownson
"But the blast had blown away the opposite way instead of coming towards us; it had gone the other way, so we were saved. So we said, oh, that’s another time that I didn’t get it, it wasn’t my turn to go."
I stopped school at fourteen and a half, I finished. And instead of going on, I started to work because that is what we did, because the war was on. I was working in a weaving factory. What they were weaving gun cotton that packed in the shells and things. Every night we were in the shelter because of the bombing. And we came up from the shelter and checked the house and the house was okay, just windows broken and things. So I took off for work and I had to walk because I couldn’t ride my bike because the streets were all filled with stones and glass, and stuff. So I walked up to work and when I got there, there was nothing there, just a pile of rubble. So, okay, I can’t go to work today, so I walked around the town and found another factory that was still going, and I got a job there. And so that sort of thing happened several times and we would lose our jobs because of the bombing.
I had two sisters. I was the oldest. And we used to go out to the end of the street, it was the movie house, to see the pictures, you know. And we would be sitting in there and the sign would come on, “the sirens are sounded,” that means there’s an air raid. And then we would still sit there and then another sign would come on saying, “the bombers are coming,” and we would still sit there and then the next one would say, “we’re closing up, get out.” (laughs) And we, we would run out and run down the street, and my dad would be pacing around, looking for us. And then just straight down the shelter and telling us off, you know. But, he was an air raid warden and his job was going around looking for people, and helping during the bombing.
There were lots of youth clubs around. We used to go to the youth centre, had get-togethers with teenagers and dancing, and things like that. And one night, there was about five or six of us used to go all together, boys and girls. We would be maybe 15, 16 at the time. And they would go all around and down to the dances. So one night, my friend, Betty, said, I can’t go tonight, she said, because I’m babysitting. And so I said, I’ll stay with you. So I stayed with her, and then when they were on the way to the dance, a bomb dropped and blew them all up. And so we said, well, it wasn’t our time to go.
When I first went into the army, we had to have shots, you know, vaccinations and things like that. And one vaccination that I had went bad on me, and I had a high fever. So I was put into the hospital, which was just a nissen hut [a corrugated steel building] in the middle of the camp. Just an upside-down metal tent thing. And I was in there on my own with a nurse, and the buzz bombs [flying bombs with a distinct sound] were coming over at that time. I was lying there with a high fever and we heard a buzz bomb come over, and the nurse ran in to me and she threw three or four blankets all the way over me, and then she went under the bed and we lay there and we listened to the buzz bombs and suddenly, it stopped and it fell and it cut the mission hut right in half that I was in. And we heard this big loud bang and then the nurse came up and took the blankets off me and we were lying, I was lying in bed looking up at the sky, there was nothing there. But the blast had blown away the opposite way instead of coming towards us; it had gone the other way, so we were saved. So we said, oh, that’s another time that I didn’t get it, it wasn’t my turn to go.
I was sent a little further down towards the coast in England and we were in a bunker, underground. It’s a great big field and there was an opening in there and when you went in and down, you were in a great big up bunker and there were long tables with a ridge on the table. And the tables were all sandbagged out into little coves, like they’re just little tiny things. I had to squeeze in between these sandbags and I was all alone in that little hole there. And 25 pound shells would come down on the table and we had to put three bags of cordite [explosive powder shaped into thin cords] into each shell and then put the cap on the bottom, just two or three times and then send it on its way. And that was actually quite dangerous but we didn’t really see the danger in it. We did that for a while and then it was D-Day and all the men from the camp were taken overseas.
So then I got transferred up to another place in Nottingham which was a little higher up in the country. And I don’t know if you know that D-Day really wasn’t such a big success. The Germans were waiting for the ships when they got over there, across the Channel, and a lot of them didn’t make it. And a lot of the boats and the ships and that had to come back with the shells still on them. So we had to take the shells and clean them off in acid baths in this other factory. And that was a nasty job, I didn’t like that at all. That went on for a while and then after that, I was demobbed [demobilized] from the army. I didn’t really like that too much because I wanted to stay in but I had a serious ear problem. Medical officer there said that if I signed on, I would probably have to get a medical discharge and I really didn’t want that so I got my regular demob and came home. Life went on after that. I met my husband and we got married and had two children and came to Canada.
Being teenagers, we really didn’t see the danger, if you know what I mean. Even when I was in the army, filling these shells. Our sergeant lost a hand with an accident. And yet, it never affected us really in that way. But I know it was the parents that suffered I think.