Betty Bicker-Robinson: memories of WW2

At the beginning of the war I was in my early teens, and each year we used to go hop picking on My Pye’s farm for about seven weeks. Whenever the air raid siren went off, and the German planes came over, we used to have to run into the woods for shelter in case the airmen might see us and use a machine gun.

Mum would give us ‘hop pocks’ (big yellow sacks) to put over our heads. It made is feel safe but I don’t think they were much good except perhaps for camouflage.

As soon as I left school Mum found a job for me down at Cobham Hall, where I noticed a good looking boy, Ernie Bicker, who also worked there. He was the son of the head gardener. However, Mum soon disapproved of our friendship so she sent me away to work in the Land Army, eventually ending up in Gloucestershire, driving Fordson tractors.

I was stationed at Bishops Cleeve, near the well known as Cleeve Hill (the highest point in the Cotswolds) and billeted in a former Priory. The entrance hall had a rather grand, wide marble staircase, however we slept in bunks six to a room, giving a rather different impression.

Each day we had to cycle about 10 miles to work at 7am and, of course, the same distance back again to the billet in the evening. We were given a small packed lunch but didn’t have any opportunity for a drink of water all day until we arrived back.

After about a year I returned to Kent (rather to Mum’s disapproval) working then on the farm of Mr Lawrence, a much respected man in the village, and after whom Lawrence Drive was named.

Mr Lawrence had hired a large field in Thong, not far from the airfield, in order to grow potatoes. One day while a small number of us were working in this field, one of our planes was in trouble while stuggling to reach the aerodrome, coming down so low that tragically it hit two of our women workers and killed them. It was awful.

One was my friend Florrie Vousden’s mother and the other was Mrs Redsell’s sister.

On another occasion a plane came down at night hitting a house at Henhurst in which Mrs Dines was sleeping, and sadly killed her. The whole house was very badly damaged. She left two sons, Frank and Dickie.

During the later stages of the war ‘Doodle Bugs’ (flying bombs) were really frightening. For as long as you could hear the sound of their rapid, loud pulse you knew they were still flying, but as soon as the engine cut-out they fell from the sky and exploded on hitting the ground with a massive bang. It was the poor Londoners who bore the brunt of it. We were the lucky ones.

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