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NEWS > Alumnae News > Peggy Benson (Ridge) 1928 -2023

Peggy Benson (Ridge) 1928 -2023

We were sad to hear that Peggy Benson, Class of 1946, passed away last month, aged 95. She was a pupil here during the war with vivid memories of rationing, gas masks, air raids and even being bombed.

The Holles favourite hymn, Jerusalem, always held a special place in her heart and was sung at her funeral. Her favourite subject at LEH was sport and she particularly enjoyed lacrosse, badminton, and tennis. She formed close friendships and kept in touch with many of them throughout her life.

After leaving school Peggy got a job at the National Physical Laboratory here her father also worked. She met her husband Roy while on holiday in Scarborough and they married, moved to Edinburgh and had three sons. It was there that she helped set up and run a successful Kindergarten before landing a role with the Scottish Development Agency.

Peggy was a devoted grandmother and great grandmother with a passion for yoga, bowling, musical theatre and her pet cocker spaniels. Her family describe her as always young at heart, sociable, fashionable and fun with a cheery disposition.

Peggy wrote such a vibrant and lively account of her wartime experiences in Hampton that we’re very pleased to share it here.  It was originally written for the children at her grand daughter’s primary school to mark Remembrance Sunday. “I was 11 when the war started but nothing much happened until the bombings in 1940 and then living in London and many other big cities became very dangerous. Many parents, especially those living near the docks and industrial areas, sent their children to stay in the countryside to keep them safe but it was entirely parental choice. I didn't want to go and stay with people I didn't know so I stayed in London throughout the war, as did most of my friends.

“We continued to go to school as normal, although sometimes the term stopped earlier than expected. You had to have your gas mask with you at all times. If the siren went off as you cycled to school, you had to get off your bike and lie on the road.

“The corridors were our bomb shelter and there were a lot of sandbags to protect us. All the windows had blackout curtains so that the lights couldn't be seen, and they were also a shield for the windows if there was a blast and the glass shattered. If the siren went off during a lesson we had to go to our specific station in the corridor and sit cross legged there while the lesson continued, although if an attack was very close the teachers tried to keep us calm by getting us to sing. When we were doing exams, our desks were in the corridors and you had to crawl underneath them if necessary.

“Bombing came in waves, maybe with six to eight weeks between attacks. Our shelter in the garden was always prepared. We kept food there and slept there very often, sometimes every night for a month at a time. Sometimes we had to run to the shelter as shrapnel fell all around us. It was terrifying! Our street was hit by two aerial mines.

“One bomb destroyed 8-10 houses, but the second bomb got caught in a tree and they managed to dismantle it. When the mine hit, my father was given five minutes to go into the house to collect whatever valuables he wanted to save and then we had to go and stay with relatives for three days until we were allowed to return.

“Food was rationed but we never went hungry because we grew fruit, vegetables and kept chickens. You didn't have to register to supply other people with eggs, but my mother supplied five other people because she felt it was her way of contributing to the war effort. I didn't like having to come home after school to feed the chickens. I wanted to stay and chat with my friends, although there weren't many school clubs. The school had had a large sports field, but they ploughed the ground up and put large holes in it so that enemy planes couldn't land there.

“Sweets and chocolates were rationed but you got used to it. There was very little butter, but you gradually didn't think about it. There were no fruits from abroad of course such as bananas and oranges but we had plenty of apples and cherries. The only other thing that you might find strange was that we kept our eggs in a bucket of preservatives to extend their life over the non- laying period in the winter.

“As the war progressed, we were called upon to open our doors to accommodate Belgian refugees or the military. Every house was inspected to check what accommodation you could provide. We had airmen for most of the war. There was a large American camp in one of the nearby parks but there were too many soldiers to accommodate there and so we were notified that we were to have an airman stay with us. During an air raid one of these airmen was standing at the bus stop when the sirens went off. He decided to return to our house to stay with my mother since she was on her own. He had almost reached the house when he was decapitated by a doodle bug. Our family has never forgotten him; indeed my nephew still places a memorial plaque on the gate on November 11th every year.

“My father didn't go to war because he didn't pass the medical. He had been a physics and maths teacher before the war, so he was put on war work. He worked at the National Physical Laboratory, testing the safety of military equipment. Like so many people, he never spoke about his work - he had taken the official secrets act. He was very busy the whole time for he was also on duty in air raid shelters. We never knew exactly where he was so when we heard one night that one of the shelters had been bombed, we were so relieved when he came home.

“It has been a pleasure to recount some of my war memories to you and I hope you have found them of interest. It is so important that you learn about the horrors of war for we certainly don't want another one.”
 

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Lady Eleanor Holles School
Hanworth Road
Hampton, TW13 3HF

0208 979 1601
alumnae@lehs.org.uk

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