Social Life at Hill End in War time
Hilary Anderson and Jean James remember
By C D
No Curfew at Hill End
‘War had just been declared and it seemed like the end of everything that we, young ladies just starting our second year of training at Bart’s Hospital in London, had hoped and planned for.
A few days previously the nurses had been warned of a possible evacuation to the country and, on the day before the war started, quite a few of us were taken by buses to our new destination at Hill End Hospital in St Albans……….
Once there all the gloom and foreboding disappeared for we found ourselves in the country—fields and woods to explore stretching away in all directions. There were tennis courts and lawns but, best of all to the nursing staff, there was no restriction on our coming and going – no 10pm curfew or late passes.’
A town in darkness
‘On the first free evening after our arrival several of us took the bus into St Albans. The town was in total darkness as blackout precautions were being enforced. Later in the war a minimum of light was allowed from streetlights but at that time the darkness was absolute. It was all very makeshift at first with pubs and shops hanging thick coverings over their doors to block out any light…In a strange town we hadn’t even seen in daylight, it was quite unnerving.
St Albans Cafes
However, we eventually got to know St Albans extremely well, spending much of our free time there. We travelled to town either by bus(if we had the penny or so for the fare) or by walking. There was a marvellous selection of quaint cafes and delightful tearooms, all decorated in polished oak with dear ladies in flowered smocks to serve us. Of course, there was the ever-present Barn Restaurant where one could have a poached egg on toast or welsh rarebit.’
‘Good pubs could always be found in and around St Albans. Some were in the country and for these we plodded across fields and down lanes. God knows how we found them in the darkness; someone must have always known the way.
These pubs were cosy and smoky and most welcome on those bitter cold winter nights. During the war years there were some exceptionally freezing winters but still we found our way around on foot through snow and ice. Summer walks in the lovely country surrounding and even picnics at midnight could be part of the fun. Sometimes there might even be found the occasional tryst in the tennis pavilion (!)’
‘Apart from the trips into St Albans, Saturday night Hops were arranged at the Hospital where we danced to records. Occasionally a full-scale dance or an ENSA Show was put on for our entertainment; for these we really dressed up.’
Extract from LIFE AT HILL END 1940 – THERE IS A WAR ON
By Hilary Anderson (nee Gathercole) and Jean James (nee Mossman)
Published in The Hillender 7 Oct 1982
St Albans Museums