Vivid memories of the war years in Acton are brought to life by the men, women and children who survived the Second World War in a new book. JANE HARRISON talks to author Maureen Colledge
WITH many incredible photos, some never before published, Tin Hats, Doodle Bugs and Food Rations is a searing as well as uplifting story of what war was like for those on the 'home front'.
The book was researched by members of the Acton History Group and - backed by a £2,500 Lottery grant - spawned an exhibition which travelled from St Mary's Church, Acton, to Gunnersbury Park Museum, winning universal acclaim across the generations.
Author Maureen Colledge, of Acacia Road, Acton, has been a member of the AHG since the 80s.
She said: "A lot of Acton school children were evacuated to Devon so we had contact from lots of them who went back as adults because they loved it there so much and the families that took them in.
"You are seeing the war through their eyes, which is why young people can relate to the book. There is also a time-line in the back to help young people."
Maureen admitted the evacuation experience was not always so rosy, with little or no screening of families and some children living in squalor, used as cheap labour or worse.
She said: "It wasn't thought through and was a bit like a cattle market. People would walk into a village hall and say: 'I'll have that one'. There was no check on where they went and, poignantly, some kids were abused, used to milk the cows and given hardly anything to eat. They were sent back with malnutrition."
She knew she would get funding for work on the Second World War through her work at the Home Office, and through the history group she knew where to plug into resources such as libraries, Middlesex County Records and the National Archives at Kew.
She said: "I knew, through the group, there would be lots of people who remembered the war. It seemed a great opportunity to tap into their memories. I wanted to cover every facet of life although we had to be selective.
"Those who stayed behind or returned to Acton remember the tragedy of devastated homes lost in night-time bombing. Others remember the camaraderie of the factories and the ingenuity in feeding and clothing that surviving a war took." continued on page xx
THE photos in Maureen Colledge's book Tin Hats, Doodle Bugs and Food Rations range from the heartwarming to the heart-rending, from Acton children sunning themselves in Devon, to workmen repairing a bomb-damaged home.
Maureen said: "We found some amazing stuff such as the bomb which devastated a large part of South Acton estate in 1943, which was secretly investigated by the government because they thought it was a new weapon being developed by Hitler."
What was also fascinating was the social change she saw develop as the war years dragged on.
Maureen said: "The Second World War had so much impact on local areas. It was the first time the civilian population became a mass target.
"There was a political shift in attitudes. We became a much more caring society.
"It was the beginning of women's changing role with so many working in factories. They did a lot of things they had never done before, although a lot went back to being mothers."
She thinks the book is a valuable learning tool and wants to try and get it into schools.
She added: "It is written at a level for children to understand.
"People need to learn from history - the austerity before the war, how people pulled together - not to go back to that.
"History has to be interesting, but you have to have dramatic moments and then you can get children gripped by war."