Veteran Stories:
Joan Bennett Johnson (née Cobb)

  • Joan Cobb married John H. Johnson of the 1st Canadian Parachute Batallion at St. Mary Magdalene near Petersfield in Hampshire England, 1945.

    Joan Johnson
  • Mother Olive Kentfield in WAAF with daughter Joan, age 15, and young son Peter age 5. Photograph taken in England in 1941.

    Joan Johnston
  • The LINK was a cottage in Foxlease grounds, United Kingdom, was donated by American Girl Scouts, 1941.

    Joan Johnston
  • Joan with Head Gardener Mr. Craze, and other gardeners Peg and Ann. Photograph shows Mr. Craze teaching the women how to prune in 1942 or 1943.

    Joan Johnston
  • War brides and returning troops on the ship the Mauretania. Photograph taken in Halifax, Nova Scotia, August 1946.

    Joan Johnston
Enlarge Image
Listen to this story

"The relief that the war was completely over and our men were going to come back, it was just an absolutely, an overwhelming experience."


Well, I was on the Isle of Wight, which is off the south coast of England. I was born in Ryde [England] actually, but most of my home was in Sandown, which is a seaside resort. I was quite happy living there by the seaside and lots of countryside, but some of that all came to an end when war was declared in September 1939. Our beaches were strewn with wire to stop the enemy from landing, and our island became a protected place. You couldn’t go there unless you actually lived there or were in the forces, you know. And so you know, a lot of things changed, and then, of course, there was the frightening aspect of being bombed, planes coming over directly to Portsmouth and South Hampton. So we spent many nights in the air raid shelters.

I was to leave the island in 1942. I’d had four years at Sandown Secondary School, and just prior to leaving school, we were interviewed, one at a time, by a group of influential people in the town to see, you know, what we wanted to do after our school days were finished. I really didn’t know quite what I wanted to do, but I said, well, I did know that I didn’t want to be hemmed by four walls, which is quite a statement I think for a girl who was just turning 16.

One of the people on that board was the Girl Guide commissioner for the Isle of Wight, and she knew me a little bit. I’d been a Brownie and was a Girl Guide, and she said what would I think about going to Foxley as a gardener. And I said I thought I’d like that. It was a wonderful place for me to be, well away from bombing, very peaceful there, very beautiful, lots of work and we actually had quite, they were quite strict with us, which I think probably was a very good thing. We girls had to be in by 8:30 every evening except once a week we could be out until 9:30. And we worked very, very hard there. They had plowed up some of the fields that normally would be used for camping, and in one, it was all potatoes that were ground, and in another, it was the root vegetables, you know, turnip and carrots and parsnips. And then another one, they grew the green vegetables, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, that type of thing, brussel sprouts of course. And we had animals there. We had a flock of 50 chickens, and we had two or three geese, and we had rabbits, and we had six pigs.

We named the pigs. Pigs are quite fun, you know. Once a week, we’d put them out in the courtyard and we’d clean out their digs, and they’d come in and they’d push their snouts down under the clean straw, and they were really quite fun. A bit later, they sold four of the medium size pigs, and we were left with two, and they actually had been named Paula and the one that I had named,, which was the smaller pig, which had black dots, and I had called her Porkina, which I thought was a very piggy feminine name. Well, one day, I’m afraid Paula and Porkina were slaughtered, and that was a sad day because we really did love those piggies.

In the meantime, I got married to a Canadian, Private John H. Johnson, B43298. He was in the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion. And I had gone to a dance with some of the other girls at Camp Borden [Ontario], and that’s where I met my husband. But one day, out in the garden, the gardener and I did not work very much. Our eyes were raised up into the sky and we knew that this was the day that we had waited for, was June the 6th, D-Day. Thousands upon thousands of planes came over, and that was really an absolute thrill.

And another one that I particularly remember was VJ Day, Victory over Japan [Day]. And my husband was stationed at the barracks, and I couldn’t get in touch with him. VJ Day was declared and I actually hitchhiked up to London, I got a ride on a truck and went up to London. And I wasn’t very familiar with London, although sometimes, when I’d lived at Ascot [England], I would take the train up there for an afternoon or something. But I hitchhiked up there and I walked around and I ended up in Trafalgar Square. And if you see pictures of it, behind Nelson’s Column, there’s the National Art Gallery, and there’s a part that’s raised up, and it’s like what I call a stone balustrade. And I stood there and I cried. What would I have been then? 18, 17, 18? Well, 18 maybe.

And you know, like you’ve seen pictures of when they have special events in London and Trafalgar Square would be absolutely packed with people. No cars. Of course, there weren’t many cars in Britain through the war, people just didn’t own cars or they maybe couldn’t get petrol. And the lights were back on, we weren’t going to be bombed anymore. It was the end. We’d really gone through an awful lot. And the crowd surged on through Admiralty Arch, on up through the mall, past Clarence House, that was where the Queen Mom ended up living, and right on up to Buckingham Palace. By then, it was nightfall, and like I say, the lights had come on again and that was wonderful. And we stood there, all this thousands of people, shouting, “We want the king! We want the king!” And about ten past 12 at night, the king and queen and the two princesses came out, and they waved to people, and people cheered like mad. The relief that the war was completely over and our men were going to come back, it was just an absolutely, an overwhelming experience. Gradually, the crowds broke up, and people burned whatever they could burn to make a bonfire in the parks, they sang and they danced. And I for one laid down eventually and slept. I was alone there in that huge, huge mass of people. But I was alone and so that’s my recollection of VJ Day. And it’s moving. It’s moving to me now, just as it was then.

Follow us