During World War II London became the center of the “lightning war,” or the Blitzkrieg. Germany’s Luftwaffe, the German Air Force, ran mass air attacks for air superiority over the United Kingdom, to draw out the Royal Air Force Fighter Command into a battle to the end and to cause the surrender of Great Britain.
Across Britain, more than one million homes were hit and 40,000 civilians killed—half of them in London.
The British government decided to relocate to safety children of London and other urban centers, sending them into the countryside to small towns, villages, and hamlets until the end of the war. Under Operation Pied Piper, other children were even sent abroad to Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the USA. A total of 3 million people were evacuated during the beginning of Operation Pied Piper.
Doris Edmunds was one of those children. At age eight, she arrived by train in a small village that had no electricity. Gas lights lit streets and a local town crier (the mayor), complete with a three-cornered hat, red coat and bell, regularly wrote war notes on a board for all to read about what was happening in mainland Europe.
Doris was greeted at the train station by “Uncle” Ted and “Aunt” Millie, who took her into their home. Other children also disembarked and were taken in to other residences. The evacuation location was not a good match for little Doris; local livestock and farms brought about a recurrence of her asthma.
Doris was sent back to her mother in London; she had remained in the capitol to work in a munitions facility putting together military aircraft radios in a store front converted by the government. Doris’ father was a member of the Royal Engineers. He flew gliders in behind enemy lines to make way for the Allies.
During this time, Doris lived through the bombing of London, called Total War by the Germans. At 11 years old, Doris went out to ride her neighbor’s bicycle. A rocket came down, hit a wall next to her, falling apart, it knocked her to the ground. Doris suffered a broken nose, a broken arm, and missing teeth.
Doris remembers the bombings—buzz bombs, small pilotless winged missiles; they could be heard coming from several miles away.
She also recalls V2 ballistic missiles (“V” for vengeance) primarily directed at London, against which there was no defense.
Doris and her mother lived across the Thames River in Streatham, greater London. Regularly, 6PM sirens would sound, requiring everyone in London to descend to a nearby shelter because German bombings often occurred at night. Doris’ shelter was concrete and built partially underground. It had bunks for sleeping. The children of three families would sit upon the steps leading out and watch searchlights scanning the sky for planes. If one was spotted, all lights would turn toward that plane and focus on it. Anti-aircraft guns shot incendiary shells. The military attempted to shoot down enemy aircraft outside London’s city limits preventing further civilian damage.
Blackout was strictly enforced. Doris recalls, “A local warden would pound on your door if any chinks of light showed through. Almost all fathers and older brothers went off to fight.”
Strict rationing of foods was typical in Britain. Each person had a ration book containing coupons. Doris received special allowances because of her poor health—three eggs a week instead of one.
Before the end of the war, Doris became very sick. A doctor came to the house and decided she needed to be taken to the hospital. Because there were no phones, the doctor himself left to go and bring an ambulance. Doris had developed pleurisy and pneumonia in both lungs. The British government sent her to a convent on the Isle of Wight to convalesce.
Run by Episcopal nuns, Doris first learned about Jesus there. She returned home after a year and two Christmases at the age of 13. The war was almost finished.
Evacuation of children was very traumatic because of the separation from their parents. In many cases, living through bombings was less traumatizing than evacuation. Doris Edmunds states, “For me, we made the bombings fun, making up games. War games. Boys were fighter pilots, girls were nurses.”
There was great celebration with VE Day, Victory in Europe, May 8, 1945. It’s been more than 70 years, but Doris recalls the happiness: enormous block parties, conga lines, bonfires, and the return home of her father.
In 1952, Doris met her first husband in London. An American Army serviceman, he brought her to the United States. The week of her departure from London, Queen Elizabeth was crowned. Doris saw the coronation parade from her workplace in the capitol. She has made the United States her home since 1953 and at 86 years old is a great grandmother. Doris Edmunds resides in Port St. Lucie.
© 2017 "Hometown Heroes" Kelly Jadon