'At school we had air raid trenches'

Joyce Harrison remembers the war at home

Joyce Harrison was born in Wellington in 1927. She was at school during the war – but even here she wasn't free from wartime anxieties. Following the distressing news of the Blitz, when Germany had relentlessly bombed British cities, local authorities began looking for places where New Zealand citizens could shelter in air raids. The danger to large groups of children was particularly worrying for the authorities. Before Pearl Harbor, the plan had been to clear schools and send children home if the enemy was on the horizon. After 7 December 1941, however, this policy 'was eroded by visions of bunched children on roads being targets for machine-guns, of stray children, lost and panic stricken, of parents, disobeying orders, hurrying out to look for them'. The solution was to keep children at school during an attack, to build more trenches and to have routine practices in air raid drill.

In this extract Joyce talks about the air raid trenches and practices at her school:


Joyce Harrison: At school we had air raid trenches of course

Interviewer: Tell me about those …

Joyce Harrison: They were dug, we had a bit lot of land – a good area – and there was a part out sort of beyond the hedge somewhere, where I don’t think there was anything much was done. It was really access land. And there were trenches dug all along there. And we had practice – we'd get some sort of whistle or something that we had to rush out. You had to put your rubber between your teeth.

Interviewer: Your rubber between?

Joyce Harrison: You were given a rubber, a little rubber that we had to put between our teeth for shock. But I think we were given an issue of rubbers. I'm sure we were. And you'd put – but, well you didn't do that first. You had your identity badge round your neck with your name stamped on it.

Interviewer: What was that made out of?

Joyce Harrison: Made of something gold – it was a dull goldy material, something fairly soft I think.

Interviewer: And what was it attached with?

Joyce Harrison: A cord round your neck, it had a hole in the top. Rough sort of stamping of your letters of your name on it – rather uneven and it had something else – whether it was your address? Anyway it had your name and the cord round your neck. And you wore that all the time. And then you'd go down in the trench and you'd try not to get the sleeves of your cardigan dirty against the sides of the trench. They were pretty narrow down there. And then when you got in you'd put your rubber between your teeth. To stop in case there was shock and which could break your teeth. And we'd do that for a while and then the whistle, the all clear or so, would go and you'd come back again.

Interviewer: And when the whistle went did you have to run?

Joyce Harrison: Oh yes, you had to go smartly because that meant there was an air raid coming.

Interviewer: And was there laughter and frivolity around this?

Joyce Harrison: Oh no.

Interviewer: It was taken seriously?

Joyce Harrison: Yes we took that quite seriously. I mean we quite enjoyed it because it was a little bit of a break, quite a nice break to go rushing out.

Interviewer: I just have a vision of a whole lot of giggling girls

Joyce Harrison: I don't think so, not for that. There were plenty of giggling girls around doing things, but – at other times.

Interviewer: But not during the air raid practices?

Joyce Harrison: I don't think so. No, I think we were – well, we may have been light hearted about it that we were having a break from maths or something. But we took it quite seriously. And we were quite concerned. It brought it home to us that something might happen to us.

Joyce Harrison

Joyce Harrison, Joyce Harrison at Paekākāriki with her family and spaniel, Chummie, about 1940 and at home in 2007.


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