‘I used to like to go in the Air Raid Shelter, because we used to sing.’ Joyce Forrest, 98, remembers her own personal experience of wartime life in Newcastle. 

‘When the war started, I was 15 years old’ says Forrest, ‘we were all excited, because we didn’t know what it was all about.’ In 1939, Forrest lived in Newcastle with her parents and two older sisters, ‘I lived in a corner house, in Peas Avenue it was called, the house,’ she remembers, ‘and one day the planes came over, and a part dropped off the plane and it fell into our garden.’  

‘I had two sisters, and they both went into the RAF. It was called WAAFS.’ The WAAF was the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, established in 1939, ‘and when I got old enough, I wanted to go, but my Mum said, ‘I’m not losing another one’ and she wouldn’t let me go.’ Instead, Forrest, the youngest daughter, went to work in the local munitions factory, Vicars Armstrong. ‘It was big factory, off Scotswood Road,’ she recalls, ‘I got a job there examining the shells… there had to be no rags on them… I just had to inspect them.’ Forrest remembers being one of many young women working in the factory at the time. ‘They used to take the railings down, that were around the houses, to make ammunition.’ When asked about her sisters lives in the WAAF, Forrest remembers ‘one of them, the oldest one, went to South Africa. I think she sort of looked after this base, in South Africa, while the War was on.’ 

‘They used to have Air Raid Shelters all over,’ Says Forrest, ‘and I used to get wrong with my Mum because I used to like to go into the Air Raid Shelter, because we used to sing.’ Forrest remembers the public shelters to be almost jolly places, where people would sing and dance together, despite the circumstances. ‘They were the public ones, because if you were caught outside when the sirens went, you had to go into a shelter straight away… My Mum said that I should come straight home, because she wouldn’t have known where I was if anything had happened.’ Forrest also remembers her family’s own Air Raid Shelter, ‘We had a shelter, in the garden,’ says Forrest ‘It was called an Anderson Shelter… every household had one and you had to go in there, well if you wanted to.’ Forrest doesn’t remember her city being as severely affected as others during the bombing raids. ‘Newcastle, we didn’t really get it bad,’ she remembers, ‘it was just the frightening thing of the siren.’ 

Forrest’s personal recollections of the war offer a fascinating insight into life during this period of history, not only of her life as a young person living in wartime, but of the experiences of her loved ones as well. Her husband was a Petty Officer in the Fleet Air Army during the war, and his father worked building tanks, but it is Forrest’s recollection of her own experiences that are truly exceptional. These memories are unique in our time, her stories of the plane parts dropping into her garden, the singing in the public shelters as well as her job in the Munitions Factory. Forrest is now 98 and a great-grandmother, and I must thank her for her time and express my admiration of a wonderful woman, and an amazing life.