Rene's War

by Rene Clarke (26 Jun 1926 – 21 Oct 2004)

This was a letter written by Rene on 31 May 1995,
in response to a request from her then 12yo grandson, Russell,
for some information about her experiences in WWII.

I was unaware of this letter until Linda turned up a photocopy in her 'kids memorabilia' box on 9 Dec 2022.

46A Kearns Ave
Kearns 2558


Dear Russell

We received your letter today, which happens to be your Great-Grandfather' [James] Whiteman's birthday, he would have been 102 years.

You must remember that during the war, we knew very little about Australia and what the war meant to the people there.

One thing I can tell you is that my Father (whose birthday it is) met many 'Aussies' during the First World War 1914-1917 and said what wonderful men they were. This inspired my parents to apply to come and live here. They were accepted, but after having to wait so long they decided against the move. [ I don't recall ever knowing that until I read this letter. That was presumably c.1946-47. Elsewhere on the site, I've recounted how, after Hannah died in early 1952, Rene and Tony sought permission c.1952-53 to bring James out to Australia. But the anti-public public servants (some things never change) at first refused, and then relented too late. ]

As for your questions, my answer will refer to my own experience of the war in England, sorry but that is where I was!

Firstly, you ask about food rationing - in the UK it was very severe, England had always had to rely to a great extent on imported food. Bacon from Denmark, Beef from Argentina, Fruit from various countries, Dairy products from Australia and New Zealand. Therefore it meant convoys across the seas and a lot of food went to the bottom of the sea, due to U Boats and Air Strikes on our shipping. There was insufficient grown or reared in UK to feed the enormous population.

Naturally Black Marketeers became rich, but in deep trouble if caught.

Secondly - I lived in a City, but my father grew all our vegetables and berry fruits and my mother was a 'whiz' at making a great meal out of almost anything or nothing. Very hard work it was though. I was a teenager throughout the war years, and at that age I'm afraid fear did not come into it, it was a way of life to me. The air-raids night after night could be alarming but listening to the planes fighting it out overhead - seeing the searchlights criss-crossing the sky - the gun-fire - the earth shaking experience of bombs dropping around you could almost be called exciting - until one lands on your home. Then your opinions change, it has finally caught up with you and the life you knew has gone.

I had no one in the war, and tried desperately to join the Royal Air Force but I was too young. So I took the Civil Service Exam and scored a position in Portsmouth Dockyard, supplying electrical equipment to ships coming into the dockyard for repairs. I achieved one thing, I was one of four people in my department selected to work on 'Special Operations', it was very Hush Hush, and was the forerunner to D-Day. On this big day we watched from our office window, as the buses - converted to ambulances - collected the wounded being brought back from France, my job finished.

Thirdly - Recycling - just about everything was re-used or re-made. We lost our front railings as did the Churches, Parks and Cemeteries, to make munitions for the war effort. Old clothes were unpicked and re-made into something else, knitting unpicked and re-knitted into things mainly for the Navy - being a Naval town.

I was never separated from my family. My school was totally evacuated to the Isle of Wight, but as you were not compelled to go, my parents decided that we would stay together and suffer what 'Hitler' had to offer. A lot of London children were sent overseas, some never arrived as the ships were bombed, others never saw their families again for various reasons - some parents killed in the many raids.

I could go on, but as I am not sure this is going to be any use to you, feel I have said enough and will leave Opa to tell about his war.


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This a page within Roger Clarke's Family Web-Site

Contact: Roger Clarke

Created: 9 Dec 2022; Last Amended: 9 Dec 2022