Joan provided some of her wartime memories to the Epsom and Ewell Local and Family History Centre, and they in turn included them on the BBC's "People's War" collection. Through the history centre I managed to contact Joan, who provided me with a lot more information which I reproduce here.
Joan's Own Words
I was originally working in London, and very soon after the war was declared, I was transferred to Bath, along with the others I was working with.
We were allocated a building in Queen Square for our offices when we arrived. This had previously been a museum, and in one large room there were numerous more-than-life-sized statues of naked Greek Gods hurling dinner plates. We had to push these to one end of the room to get our desks in, and we concealed them behind temporary screening. This was OK in September, but when winter came we found that the central heating radiators were at that end too, and with Greek gods and screening in the way, we were not getting much heat. So the screening was taken down and the Greek Gods were brought out to stand around the office overlooking our desks. Luckily, this was not an office that was open to the public. Goodness knows what visitors must have thought of our unconventional office decorations!
Later, I was being trained to drive an ARP ambulance. They called it an ambulance, but actually it was an old laundry van that had been converted for use as an ambulance, and it had seen better days. The clutch used to stick down, so that to drive off you didn't take your foot off the clutch, you put your toe under the pedal and pulled it up. As you can imagine, this was not the easiest manoeuvre for a learner driver in such a hilly city as Bath.
Later, I was transferred to another office, in what used to be the Empire Hotel, and I had to take my turn fire watching. Firewatchers were provided with camp beds to sleep on, in the basement between the racks holding ship's ledgers. We were also provided with heavy garden spades, so that we could dig ourselves out if it became necessary because the building got damaged. The firewatchers were instructed to answer the phone, if it rang, with "Ship's Book Room here". Try saying that in a hurry when woken in these strange surroundings in the middle of the night, trying to use the phone above the noise of the air raid sirens blasting forth.
One night when the siren sounded, one of the other girls who was fire watching leapt out of bed, with a cheery "Right, this is what we are here for!". But she hadn't remembered which bunk she was in, got out the wrong side in the dark, and walked straight into the wall.
The Empire was damaged during the blitz. Not badly, but a lot of the windows at the front were blown out. For a long time after that, we had white cloth on wooden frames where the windows used to be, which made the offices gloomy and cold. Sometimes on windy days, these temporary windows would blow out into the street, and someone would have to go down and try to find them.
I had been billeted in a house in Batheaston, near the church. After fire watching at the office during one of the Baedeker air raids on Bath, I returned to my billet the following morning, and found that a bomb had landed in the corner of the garden during the night. The bomb had uprooted an apple tree which had been blown into the air, coming down through the roof of a single-storey extension at the back of the house. The tree, which was fully grown and a fair size, had remained upright, with its roots resting on a bed (which happily had been unoccupied that night) and its branches were sticking out through a jagged hole in the roof. I remember throughout the morning, a stream of local residents, who we didn't know, were coming in the front garden and round to the back of the house, to gaze at our indoor tree in the wrong type of bed. We must have removed the tree somehow, but I can't remember now how we did it.
While I was preparing this page for the web site, I received a message from the Epsom and Ewell Local and Family History Centre informing me that Joan died mid-December 2006.
Rest in peace Joan, and thank you for giving your permission to share your memories.
It is probable that two sides of the Empire Hotel had broken windows. The South side, where Joan worked would have suffered from the blast of the bomb that landed on St John's Church presbytery, and the East side would have received some blast from the bomb that landed on the rugby stands. Unfortunately, when the City Engineer surveyed the bomb damage, those buildings which had been taken over by the Admiralty were excluded from his report (probably in the interests of National Security), so there is now no information on exactly what damage the Empire Hotel suffered.
Joan couldn't describe exactly where in Queen Square the museum was, but it was probably the Royal Literary and Scientific Institution which occupied Numbers 16 to 18. I imagine what Joan described as Greek gods were actually Greek statues of sportsmen throwing the discus.
WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar.
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