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In 1940 running to the shelter during the Blitz, by Thelma Henshall

In 1940 running to the shelter during the Blitz, I tripped and fell on my daughter and broke her leg. We took her to Putney hospital (in London). We were told that because of the bombing, patients were being evacuated. Along with others, I found myself leaving Paddington station, on a casualty train heading for south Wales with my daughter. My husband stayed in London and shortly after was called up. He served with the Royal Artillery.

My daughter was treated at Cardiff Infirmary. We then went to a place called Fleur- de-Lis, about twenty miles from Cardiff, where my mother lived. We remained there for the rest of the war years.

After a few weeks, a friend in the village told me workers were needed at the aircraft factory, called Northern Aluminum at Rogerstone, near Newport. I applied and was taken on.

At first I worked on a press, pulling hot metal along in dyes. I found it very difficult to get used to the noise level, which was appalling.

I had been working for about three months, when I was asked if I would like to train as a crane driver. I said I would try. I was given about a months training to pass and receive my licence.

I had to climb up a special staircase to get to the cab. The crane had an asbestos sling, in which hot metal was carried. I was guided by a man on the factory floor. I had to follow his instructions implicitly, as the load was obviously very dangerous.

If there was an air raid, because of the dreadful noise level, we were unable to hear the warning siren, so the factory lights would flash on and off. I had to put the harness on and jump from the cab of the crane, to get clear of any shrapnel coming through the roof. The harness would tighten, as I jumped, to slow my fall. Firemen came onto the factory floor and would catch me as I came down.

There was a union, although I cannot remember which one. The union representative was called Violet. She brought our wages around each week, we would pay her just a few pence union dues.

I was paid 2/6d an hour (12.5p). We did an eight hour shift, with a half hour break for food. We had to take our own food because of rationing. There was no food to buy in the canteen. When we were losing large numbers of aircraft and there was an urgent need for replacements most workers did a double shift. The factory worked seven days a week around the clock.

We did not have holidays, as people do now. If my husband came home on leave from the army, I was allowed a few days off. I could never be late to work, because of the difficulty in getting to the factory. I had to walk to a meeting point, where a coach hired by the factory would wait. If you were late the coach would have left. There was no public transport.

On the early shift, I would start at 6am. This meant leaving home at 4.30am. The walk to the coach was difficult in winter, because of the blackout. It was also horrible getting up in the middle of the night. It was very cold. We had only a coal fire in the main living room. The bedroom was cold, we did not have a bathroom or running hot water. Fleur-de- Lis was a mining village. Most people lived in the same conditions. There were no pit head baths. The miners would come home covered in coal dust, and would have to try and get clean, by heating water and using a tin bath in front of the fire.

There were a lot of accidents in the factory. Health and safety was not as it is today. One friend lost a finger when cleaning her machine. Another friend used to drive a fork lift truck, picking up metal waste in bins and taking them to the furnace. One day the brakes failed on the truck and my friend was pushed into the side of the furnace. Her injuries were so bad, that her leg had to be amputated. I do not remember anyone getting compensation. Workers at a nearby munitions factory always had yellow hair and faces. This must have damaged their health.

The day the war finished, the factory reverted back to making window frames and ladders, but alas not for most of the women. The union rep came around and told us our jobs were finished.

I asked if I could stay on. My husband was in the army and still in Germany. I had no home of my own and a young child. The answer was no- no job. That was our reward for our war effort !