Interview with Nora Hailey


Interview with Nora Hailey


Nora Hailey was born in Portsmouth, and then the family moved to Eastney. Before the German bombing she was evacuated to her Auntie’s in Worthing. After a few weeks nothing happened so they went back to Portsmouth. When the bombing began she and her family had to use the Anderson shelter in the garden. One night her grandmother’s house took a direct hit from an incendiary bomb that set the house on fire. She was found in a street shelter by Nora’s father, an ambulance driver and lived with Nora’s family for a while. Eventually Nora moved back to Worthing where she completed her education. On VE Day the locals had a street party and someone had the idea of burning all the blackout curtains and blinds in the street. After the war she took her Civil Service exam and worked in London for the Ministry of Civil Aviation, eventually moving to Pinner Green to where her office had relocated.




Temporal Coverage





00:24:40 audio recording


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PC: This is Paul Carroll and I’m interviewing Nora Hailey today for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We are at Nora’s Home in Pinner and today’s date is the 1st of April 2018 and it’s ten past ten in the morning. Nora, thank you for agreeing to talk to me today. Also present in the room is Sheila.
SM: Mathison.
PC: Mathison. Nora’s daughter. Nora, we’ve spoken briefly about the format of the interview today. Would you like to tell me about your earliest recollections before the war?
MH: Well, I was born in Commercial Road, Portsmouth. We lived in a flat over the top of a fruit shop. Commercial Road is the main road in Portsmouth and we lived there until I was five and then we moved to the centre of the town near Portsmouth Football Ground, and we lived in there, lived in that house for about two years. And then we moved to Eastney which is right near the sea and we were still living there when war was announced. I was almost nine years old and my birthday being in October and war was announced in the September and I can remember listening to the broadcast on the radio telling everybody we were at war. My father was an ambulance driver for St Mary’s Hospital, Portsmouth and he said straightaway, oh I had a little sister who was only six weeks old and my father said, ‘This is the first place the Germans are going to go for. I think you all ought to get away.’ And I had an aunt who lived in Worthing and my grandparents, my mother’s parents lived with her. And well, we just packed up our things there and then and departed on the train to Worthing that afternoon. Of course, they didn’t know we were coming but they expected us and when we arrived there my aunt had a three bedroomed house about the size of this one, and she had one daughter who was seventeen and when we got there and she had my grandparents living there as well of course and when we got there, there was another family there who also came to, who came from Portsmouth and they were friends of my aunt’s and they’d done exactly what we’d done. Just packed up and, and came to Worthing. I really can’t think how we all managed to cram into that three bedroomed house. I can remember sleeping with my seventeen year old cousin in her single bed in the little box room. Where everybody else slept I can’t imagine, but we did and of course we expected things to happen straight away but they didn’t. But you know we were there a few weeks and nothing happened so we packed up and went back to Portsmouth and so did the other family and, well we were in Portsmouth for a while and no schools were open. All the children had been evacuated, but my parents didn’t let me go because they knew that there was Worthing that we could go to if things got bad. And well, we were back in Portsmouth for a few weeks. No school but apart from that everything just carried on as normal. Then the bombing began. We had an air raid shelter in our back garden and it was called an Anderson shelter. And we used to, when the sirens went we used to go out, out to the shelter. I had, I had to sleep downstairs so that I could go out and open up the shelter doors so that mum could get down there quickly with the baby.
PC: Right.
MH: Yeah. And I was sleeping in a downstairs room which had a big cupboard in the corner where we used to keep the coal. And there were mice in this cupboard. I can remember waking up in the night and you’d feel, well you could hear them when you were in bed scampering around the floor because it was lino and their feet, you could hear their feet you know on the floor. And then one night I was lying there and I felt one of these mice, mouses run, run across my body. Across the bed, you know. Well, that was it. I went upstairs to mum and dad and I said, ‘I’m not sleeping down there anymore.’ and I didn’t. But I still had to go out first to open up the shelter because my dad was an ambulance driver and during the raids he had to go out with the ambulance. And now one time we, we were in the shelter and we had bunk beds in the shelter, and I was asleep and I, I woke up in the middle of the night and I thought, ‘That’s my gran’s voice.’ I wasn’t meaning the grandmother who lived in Worthing. It was my father’s mother who lived in Portsmouth and then thinking, ‘No. It can’t be,’ and going back to sleep. And then when I woke up in the morning she actually was there because her house had taken a direct hit during the night with an incendiary bomb, and she had been in there, in her Anderson shelter in the garden. She lived in the centre of the town and she, she was in the shelter and she actually saw the bomb fall on her roof and so she ran through the house into the street and the roof was burning. And there was a street shelter and she went in there and she had a daughter who lived at the other end of the road and the same thing had happened to her and she was in the street shelter as well with her children. She had five children. You know, one or two of them were almost grown up. And anyway, my dad was out with his ambulance and he heard that the part of the town where his mother lived had taken a direct hit and so he went, went down there and he found her in the street shelter and he brought her out to us, you see. So that was when I’d heard her in the night telling my mother all about what had happened. And, and so she lived with us for a bit and well she’d lost everything. All she had was her nightie and a pair of slippers. And so she had quite large family, my father was one of eight children and everybody clubbed together and bought her something. Like I spent my pocket money on a pair of grey lisle stockings for her. And, and when she went to bed she used to, she had a pair of shoes that somebody had given her with laces, she used to tie them on her wrist because she was afraid of losing them again. And anyway she lived with us for a bit and then she managed to get a little flat to rent in the other end of town. The north end of the town that didn’t get much bombing. We didn’t get much in Eastney because we were right underneath the guns and they couldn’t get in that far. Right near the Marine Barracks it was. And that’s, and that’s another story that we used to get a lot of shrapnel dropping because of, you know from the guns and by this time the schools had started to reopen but only half time because there weren’t many teachers. Some of us went full time. Some of us, no nobody went full time. Some of us went mornings. Some of us went afternoons. And we, we there were no shelters in the school, but it was only in the next road and as you, if the sirens went they used to send us home and we, the idea was that we had to run home and get home before the sirens stopped and quite often the shrapnel was raining down when we were running home. You had to dodge the shrapnel. And this particular day that I was going to tell you about it was a Sunday morning. My father wasn’t there because he was at work because he was driving an ambulance, you know. It was a Reserved Occupation so he didn’t have to join the Army or anything. So he wasn’t there. My mother was ironing and the baby was lying on a rug in front of the fire. It was one of those old [unclear] ranges, you know that we used to have. And all of a sudden there was a bang and the sirens had gone off but we’d got a bit blasé by then and didn’t really take much notice unless the bombs started to drop. And so there was a bang and we thought it was a bomb and, and there was smoke all, all in the room. The room was full of smoke. I was scared. It was the only time I can remember being frightened during the war. I can remember burying my head in the cushions on the chair but my mother soon got me out of that and sent me out in the garden to open up the shelter so she could get down there with the baby. So we all scarpered into the air raid shelter in the garden and waited for the house to go up in flames but it didn’t. Nothing happened. So after a bit mum went back in to see what had occurred if anything and there was the base of a shell, quite large on the mat in front of this fire. Just, just by where the baby had been lying. It had only just have missed her and, and it was hot you see when it came through and that was where all the smoke had come from. We were in the kitchen part of the house that had a flat roof and so it had come straight through you see and there was a big hole in the roof. You could see the day.
PC: Yeah.
MH: You could see the sky through it. And of course my father was at work and you weren’t allowed to have any lights on at night, you know and then there was this hole in the roof. But there was no man who lived nearby and somehow he found out what had happened and he came along and put something up there to temporarily to cover up the hole until my father could do something. Something more substantial with it. So, where had I got to? Well, I’m in Portsmouth.
PC: Yeah.
MH: And the bombing had just begun and a few days after my grandmother came to live with us my grandfather in Worthing was knocking on the front door and saying, ‘I’ve come to collect Nora.’ So he took me back to Worthing and I was there, you know for the best part of the war and it really passed us by in Worthing. There was, you know there was nothing. It was just like normal life. I went to school in Worthing and then it got to the time when I should be taking the eleven plus and so they sent me, I didn’t take the one that the Sussex children took there they sent papers through from Hampshire for me to take. Well, I passed the eleven plus and, and then my mother got special permission from the Education Authority in Portsmouth for me to go to Worthing High School because the school I should have gone to in Portsmouth, the complete school was evacuated to Salisbury. They weren’t in Portsmouth so either I would have either had to go to —
PC: Salisbury.
MH: Salisbury, or not take the place. So I was allowed to go to Worthing High School. So I stayed in Worthing until almost the end of the war. When the, when the children came back from Salisbury to Portsmouth then I had to go back. My grandparents would have liked me to have stayed there until I finished my education but I wasn’t allowed to do that once, once the Portsmouth children had gone home I had to go as well. I don’t know what to talk about next [laughs]
PC: No. It’s, it’s just fascinating.
MH: It is.
PC: That you remember so much.
MH: Is it? Oh.
PC: It is. Yeah.
MH: Well, I was back in Portsmouth for VE Day.
PC: Right.
MH: And I can remember my mother and I dyeing an old sheet and red white and blue and cutting it up to make pennants. Stitching them on a, on a rope to stretch it across the road to the lady opposite’s bedroom window from our bedroom window.
PC: Yeah.
MH: And we had a street party. Lots of other people did it as well. And we had a street party. Everybody contributed six pence for each child to go to the party and they cooked things. I can [pause] One lady collected all the food that was.
PC: Yeah.
MH: That we offered. Everybody contributed something because rationing was still going on and I can remember taking a jelly, and we ate blancmange in those days at parties, taking jelly and blancmange around to this lady who was collecting it all in. And everybody brought out their kitchen table and they were put all down the middle of the road, and we had a street party. And then in the, in the evening when all the children had gone to bed all the grown-ups were in the street dancing. And then somebody thought of the idea of burning all the blackout curtains and so there were bonfires lit in the middle of the road. And we had shutters, wooden shutters that my dad had made so they went out on the bonfire. I can remember walking with a, with a friend up and down all the nearby roads looking at the bonfires because it was dark by then.
PC: November 5th came early.
MH: I was in bed by that hour so that was, that was quite nice. And then I was back at school in Portsmouth. Portsmouth, well it was called Portsmouth Secondary School then and at the end of the war it became Portsmouth Grammar School. The Portsmouth Council wanted to give all the children in Portsmouth a treat because of all the nasty things they’d experienced during the war, and so and Southsea Common there used to be a fair and there was a big open space there where they had roundabouts and donkey rides, and food, you know like sweets and chocolates and things and drinks. And we all, we all got tickets to go and you had so many tickets and you could have those. You know, you used one for a ride. I can remember going on a donkey and on the roundabout. I was lucky to be able to go because by that time I was fifteen and of course most children at fifteen had left school. The school leaving age was fourteen so of course they didn’t get to go but people like me were, were at the Secondary School. We didn’t leave until we were sixteen so of course we got tickets to go to the fair and it was supposed to be so that the Portsmouth children had something nice to remember and of course, I do remember it.
PC: Yes.
MH: What else did we do? Oh, when I was at Worthing we used to have to collect waste paper for recycling. It was, it was operated by the people who owned the cinemas and they, if you had a sack full of waste paper you could take it to the cinema and they would give you a free ticket for a show. And we used to collect jam jars as well. I was in the Girl Guides and we, the Girl Guides used to collect jam jars for recycling and I can remember going out with a friend with an old doll’s pram knocking on doors asking for jam jars.
PC: What did they use the jam jars for?
MH: I think they recycled those.
PC: Ok.
MH: It was glass.
PC: Glass.
MH: Glass yeah. And of course all, all the metal gates had been removed from, anybody who had a metal gate that was removed. All the railings around the parks and of course it was pitch dark at night of course. No street lights. I’ve got a little bit that I forgot. I didn’t stay with, at my aunt’s house for the whole of the war because my grandparents managed to rent a little cottage the other end of the road, and so I went with them and I can, it’s a, it was a long road and we were one end and my aunt’s house was at the other and I can remember walking. Walking up there when it was dark and you could use a torch but you had to direct it at the ground. I can remember walking from, like from the cottage up to my aunt’s house with a torch.
PC: Right.
MH: There was, on halfway up the road there was a place where they kept tanks. Army tanks. And they used to go around the road with these tanks. I can remember watching them. My, my uncle was in the Home Guard and I can remember watching a parade of all the, you know like the civil defence.
PC: Yeah.
MH: Nurses and, you know they all marched through the centre of the town. We all went to watch. He was in the parade. I’ve really got to the end. VJ Day, my mother and I went back to Worthing.
PC: Right.
MH: And they had sing songs in the park. I can remember joining that.
PC: And, and what about after the war?
MH: After the war. Well, when I was seventeen. Well, I left school when I was sixteen and for a little while I was working called Parks of Portsmouth. They were a removal firm and I was assistant cashier. And, and then when I was seventeen I took the Civil Service Entrance Exam and I passed that and the first posting was London. And so I came to London and I lived in a girl’s hostel in Knightsbridge and I worked for the Ministry of Civil Aviation in Stanhope Gate which was off Park Lane. Right opposite the Dorchester Hotel. And so I was there for eighteen months and then they moved the whole office to Pinner Green and for three months I was travelling out from London every day to Pinner Green. Well, I got fed up with that and I was looking for some lodgings near Pinner Green and one of the other people I worked with happened to notice a placard in a newsagents we know.
PC: Yeah.
MH: From an old lady who wanted to let a room. And so I went to see her and she took me in. And so I lived at Northwood Hills and worked at Pinner Green for six or seven years. And the old lady that I lived with she had a friend who lived in the, on the opposite side of the road who had a son and I ended up by marrying him didn’t I? [laughs] And then we bought this house when we got married, and I’ve been here ever since.
PC: And then the family came along.
MH: I have three children. She’s the middle one.
PC: Ok.
MH: My other daughter lives in Bournemouth. She lives in Lincoln. My son lives in Norway. He married a Norwegian girl and they have two sons. One’s twenty one and the other one is eighteen. My daughter in Bournemouth has three girls all grown up. I have three great grandchildren.
PC: Doing very well.
MH: Yeah.
PC: Doing very well.
MH: I think I’ve included everything.
PC: I think so. Yes. Yes. It’s been extremely fascinating. It has. Yeah. Thank you for actually agreeing to —
MH: That’s alright.
PC: To put this on record.



Paul Carroll, “Interview with Nora Hailey,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 24, 2024,

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