Standing on the platform at Highams Park Station, Janet Gibbs and her mother dreaded going to the countryside with all the other evacuees.

Two weeks later their fears were proven – they hated it – and they decided to go back to London where bombs landed on the streets of Waltham Forest.

This week reporter Zoie O’Brien finds out about life for the children in the borough, in Janet Mackinnon-Pattinson’s memoir of life as a ‘blackout kid’.


Janet Gibbs was supposed to have an ordinary childhood.

Living on the edge of Epping Forest her family would enjoy picnics and the slow paced life on the traffic free streets.

However, in 1939, just after she had turned four, Britain went to war.

Highams Park was a quiet “suburban area” with tree-lined streets where life was very simple, according to Janet.

“Life was lazy, content and peaceful. The women would chat on the corners of the street probably discussing what to have for dinner or how their children were progressing at school,” she said.

“Hardly and cars in those days, buses and trains were the most used transport.”

After the outbreak of war Janet’s house in Selwyn Avenue was transformed into a ‘war proof’ area with blacked out windows.

Morrison table shelters were handed out for free unless a family earned too much money.

However, Janet’s father was a city worker who was unfit for war.

The family had to wait for weeks for their shelter and took to the cupboard under the stairs with blankets, two torches and three stools.

“We kept three sides down and one up for easy access or departure, there was always the thought of entombment,” Janet remembered.

“I could appreciate if we were involved in a near-miss bombing raid we could be trapped with gas belching out to finish us off. I put this thought, like many others of horror, to the back of my mind.

“On one occasion the siren had barley finished its last warning note when the bombing started. I was just climbing onto the bed, suddenly there was a terrific bang and I was hurled across the room and landed in a heap against the wall.”

Soon, the bombing was too much for Mrs Gibbs, who made the tough decision to take Janet away from Highams Park.


East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Young Janet lived in Highams Park with her mother and father during the Second World War


Describing her journey from Highams Park Station, Janet remembered it as a fun time.

“The atmosphere was electric, anyone would have thought we were going on holiday,” she said.

“Dad kissed us both goodbye and mum was very tearful, but put on a brave face.

“Piling onto the train with our mums we kids must have looked a heart-rendering sight – name tags on our coats, gas marks hanging from a string from our necks and cases firmly gripped with grubby little fingers.”

However, two weeks in the countryside was too much for Mrs Gibbs who had now gone deaf in one ear.

She could not get to grips with “communal life” and her and Janet returned to London – and the Blitz.

However, her home had changed and the streets of Waltham Forest were dark and quiet.

“The road signs, railway station names, any form of identification of places had been removed. Identity cards were carried in case any Germans managed to ‘drop in’” she remembered.

“Blocks of cement were placed at different points in the road to act as defence against enemy tanks.

“Our local sweet shop began to make ice cubes – a cube of ice with a drop of lemon which we sucked until the lemon disappeared. We called them ice creams because we thought they were.”

Janet also remembers her neighbours who said goodbye to each other every evening before heading to separate shelters – they would not sleep in the same one in case one was hit and their sons were left without parents.

One day, when Mrs Gibbs and her daughter were out shopping the sirens began to wail and they took to an Anderson shelter with many other people.

Janet wrote proudly of how they sang until it was over –refusing to give in to their fear.

When the war was over Janet as ten and life slowly began to return to normal Janet was ten.

Mrs Gibbs was given an NHS hearing aid and the ‘blackout kids’ were finally allowed to return to school.

Janet Gibbs moved to Southend on Sea in Essex where she met Matt Mackinnon-Pattinson who she married in 1978.

The couple moved to Appleby in Cumbria in 1984 where they lived until she died, after writing down her memories, in 2013.


East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

The Gibbs family had to pay for their own Morrison shelter