“Everybody has had hardships, but I still say although I went through the war, many people in my generation think we had a very good generation…I’ve heard that so many times.”
Before I started this project, I knew that our older generations had a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. But what became abundantly clear once I started taking the time to stop and talk to them about their lives, was that not only do they have a whole lifetime of experience, they also hold all of our history. Not just our American history, but the world’s history. I’ve now had the pleasure to sit and talk with two World War II survivors. Two women who lived through the same war, with completely different experiences. Miss Olga living in Indonesia, and now Miss Anne living in London.
Sitting in her living room, Anne painted a picture for me of life during the war. The contrast of the stories she shared, versus us relaxing on her couch, safely within the walls of a house nestled in a comfortable retirement community, was too much for me to wrap my mind around. It was difficult for me to believe that the words that she shared were her life, and the lives of many others, all those years ago…
Anne was born in New Delhi in 1930. Her father was in the military, and when she was just under a year old they returned to London. She was the middle child, having an older sister and a younger brother.
“They always say that middle child is rather different.”
Prior to the start of the war, Anne’s childhood was colored by her struggle with asthma, spending much time in bed and convalescent homes. Understandably, her parents catered to her, and did all that they could to keep her well, including introducing her to dance, which would play an important role later in her life.
“My sister, not very long before she died, she said ‘You know Anne, I could have really disliked you’ And I knew why, because I got so much attention.”
While Anne may not have been free to play with the other children or run around like little girls do, her childhood was safe and comfortable, until the start of the war. Then everything changed.
“The siren would go. The warning siren. And as soon as that siren went, you took cover. You prepared yourself for any kind of damage that might be done. And then the all clear would go and you knew it was safe.”
A “normal” childhood was no longer a possibility. Reality was now the very real threat of being attacked after nightfall. Closing your eyes to fall asleep, not knowing if you would wake up to a nightmare.
“I used to go to school in the morning after the planes had been bombing London. We had a railroad line in back of us and there was a gun going up and down the line shooting at the planes. In the morning we would go to school and collect the shrapnel from what they were shooting at the planes at night.”
While all I could imagine was hiding under my bed, refusing to go to school, Anne shared how life went on. Despite the uncertainty of the night to come, the people of London continued about their lives with daily resilience.
“You just went about what you were doing. Before the war actually started, when we were preparing, they had what they call the Anderson shelter. You would dig a hole in the garden and the government would give you this metal frame to put over the hole, and then you would cover that with dirt. Like a dugout.”
It became clear to Anne’s parents that their children were no longer safe in London. The government had began evacuating children to other countries, and Anne’s parents felt it was in their children’s best interest to send them to safety.
“The government would take charge of the children and they would go to different areas. But the parents never knew where their children were going. It was like a group of children and families would come and say ‘I’ll take her or I’ll take him’, but my mother didn’t want that.”
Anne’s mother wanted to know where her children were going. To know who they were with. Anne isn’t sure how her mother heard about the Davis family, but before Anne knew it, she and her siblings were headed for Wales.
“My mother was alone which was terrible. I never thought about that. I saw my mother once from 11 to 14…She took us to Paddington Station with labels on us with a destination. I’ve often thought how terrible that must have been for her saying goodbye to her three children. She had heard this was a nice place but she had never been there.”
The bravery of Anne’s mother is humbling. To walk her children to the train station, her precious babies, and watch the train pull away, not knowing when or if she would see them again. Thankfully, they could not have gone to live with a better family.
Mr. and Mrs. Davis, parents to three children of their own, took in six children during the war. In a house of eleven people, Anne quickly learned that she was no longer going to get all of the attention. Not only did Mrs. Davis have nine children to care for, the family ran an Inn, as well as the pub downstairs. Anne spoke so highly of Mrs. Davis, it made me wish that I could meet her. It was clear that not only did she meet a need for a young girl missing her mother, but she became a role model of sacrifice and love.
“Mrs. Davis was an amazing woman. She milked a cow in the morning…and then she took care of the bar. She did all the laundry and all the cooking for all of us kids on a coal stove. She was an amazing woman.”
But while Mrs. Davis may have kept it all together on the outside, every parent knows that at some point you need a little break.
“I think she sent us to church so she could have some peace and quiet. Sometimes three times on a Sunday we’d be in church. No wonder, she wanted some peace!”
Not only was Anne blessed with the opportunity to live with a wonderful family who would help define the rest of her life, but living in Wales also gave her the freedom to breathe, quite literally.
“I’ve often said I think I would have been a completely different person if I hadn’t gone to Wales. Being in the Welsh air instead of in London with all the smog and everything, I had one asthma attack the whole time I was there, because I was in the mountains with fresh air.”
The clean air gave Anne the opportunity to pursue a passion she had discovered in London; her love of dance. Mrs. Davis, of course, being a key supporter of Anne’s dreams, invested time training the children in performance, dance, poetry and song.
Anne’s time in Wales, though it was brought on by dire circumstances, made her who she is today. If she could go back to any time in her life, those three years that she spent with the Davis family is a time she would relive over and over if she could. Even if she hadn’t said it herself, it’s written all over her face when she speaks of her time in Wales. She had recently returned from a visit at the time of our interview.
“When I was getting into Wales this time, I said, ‘It’s like I’m coming home.’ Its very strange. I think I matured so much while I was there, 11 to 14, you’re really getting within yourself and maturing at that time. I’ve felt that so often when I’m going to Wales. I’m coming home.”
But while those three years are remembered so fondly, Anne did have to return to London at the age of 14 to work, even before the war was over. But it wasn’t the last time that Anne set foot in Cross Inn.
When Anne was about 23 she was visiting Wales and decided to pay the Davis’ a visit. She had not seen them since she left their home at age 14.
“When I got to Cross Inn, there were a whole lot of people there. I went in and said ‘I’ve come to see Mr. and Mrs. Davis’ and they said ‘Oh, we just buried Mrs. Davis’. Can you believe that? That was the first time I’d been back since I left at 14 and I went the very day that they buried Mrs. Davis.”
Though she went to pay a visit, she ended up arriving just in time to pay her respects to a woman who had helped shape her life. She drove to the cemetery and placed flowers on her grave, not having the chance to see any of the rest of the family. But it wouldn’t be her last chance to connect with the family she loved so much. Their paths would cross again by chance, many years later.
– This is part one of a two part story. Click here to read more; including Anne’s return to London at the height of the war, her career as an actress, and her chance meeting with the Davis family.