By RONDA GREGORY
News & Journal Staff Writer
Lumberport resident Lorna Howard experienced the ravages of World War II as a teenager growing up in London, England, during one of the darkest times in Great Britain’s history. She recalled what life was like.
But first … some background … according to historical record … London. At around 4 p.m. September 7, 1940, 348 Nazi German bombers, escorted by 617 fighters, relentlessly blasted the city until 6 p.m. Two hours later, the second assault wave of bombings hit, which lasted until 4:30 a.m. the following day. This first attack – the Blitz – killed 2,000 British civilians.
The Blitz, or “Blitzkrieg” (German for “lightning war”) was the period of intense strategic bombing of the United Kingdom by the Nazis during WWII. This attempt by German Fuhrer Adolph Hitler to subdue Great Britain for a future invasion of the island failed. The invasion never took place.
Over a period of 267 days, London was attacked 71 times; 15 other British cities sustained major air raids. At its end on May 21, 1941, the Blitz took the lives of approximately 43,000 British citizens.
Mrs. Howard, president of Lumberport Shinnston Gas Company, is rightfully proud of her beloved British heritage and beamed when she shared her age – 88.
“It’s the same age as the Queen,” she said, speaking about the current British monarch, who was only a princess during the war.
Howard was 13 in 1939 at the outset of WWII, and about 14 when the Blitz began. She lived with her father, stepmother and brothers- one blood, who was a British naval pilot, and one adopted – in Bermondsey, which was a district in south London that received some of the worst of the bombings. (She also had a younger brother Kenny born later.)
“My adopted brother, Ronnie, 7, was our neighbor,” she said. “Both of his parents were killed in the initial bombings.”
She said her father found him “in shock, wandering around London with the dogs and cats.”
Bermondsey was a riverside area, where there were many warehouses, wharves and railway arches. She said the steel arches and remnants of decimated structures provided some shelter.
“No one lived in their homes,” Howard said. “They were either destroyed or too dangerous to live in. You’d see little babies sleeping on platforms. And people sleeping under the arches.”
She said their family stayed in a shelter her father had ruggedly built in the back yard – a dugout of sorts with some roofing. The rain took a toll.
“Sometimes you’d wake up in the morning soaking wet,” Howard said.
Their home’s roof had been blown off and the windows blown out. As for food … there wasn’t much. She said some of their rations included only an ounce of butter, two ounces of margarine, two ounces of meat and some milk per person a week. A treat was candy, but it was wisely rationed for special occasions.
“We got 12 ounces a year,” Howard said. “We saved ours for Christmas.”
But discomforts and hunger were the least of the sufferings, she said. With incessant bombings day and night, death and injury were a daily fact of life. Fires throughout the city were rampant.
Howard said she will never forget the images she saw in the aftermath of a neighborhood family-owned grocery store that was bombed.
“I saw a couple larger caskets carried out – of the mum and dad,” she said. “Then I saw the tiny caskets of the children brought out following behind their parents.”
Howard added that one of her brothers brought home part of a person he found in the debris of a then-recent bombing.
“Look, Mum, it’s a man’s thumb,” he said. Howard said these occurrences and seemingly detached emotions were not to be morbid or callous; they were just a horrid part of their everyday lives.
“You just did what you could to survive,” Howard said about both their physical and emotional endurance.
Howard recounted her own miraculous, narrow escape from death. She was a working woman, even as a teen, when she was getting ready to lunch with her friend. Her coworkers’ prank saved her life.
“The boys in the office knotted my sleeves together,” she said.
The time it took for her to untangle them made her and her friend moments late to arrive at a specific point on the way – right where an explosion hit.
“If we’d have been where we were supposed to when the bombs hit, we’d have been killed,” Howard said.
It was a time of great suffering and challenge for the British people, she said. But the Kingdom survived.
Winston Churchill was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during WWII. His famous quote about those trying times, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference,” was reflected in the British spirit, including Mrs. Howard’s.
When asked how she, her family and all the people of Great Britain were able to be resolute and resilient during this savage time, Howard said, “Attitude – it was all about attitude. You’ll never get us down, no matter what you do. We’ll always keep our chins up and keep going.”
In addition to having honor for all service men and women, especially those – Allied and British alike – who helped save the United Kingdom, Howard said she has special reason to celebrate Veterans Day. All three of her husbands served in branches of the United States military during WWII and survived.
Her first husband, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Thomas McIntyre, a Morgantown native who served as a medic, was with the famed 101st Airborne.
“He was one of the first (of the American allies) to land. He landed the night before D-Day,” Howard said of the man she met at a dance at Covenant Garden in 1944 and married the following year. “He earned three Bronze Stars.”
She came with him to the U.S. following the war and stayed, becoming a citizen.
Her second husband and late owner of Howard’s local gas company was Jim Hill, a captain with the Army Corps of Engineers. The late Rw Howard, her third husband, also served.
Howard said she has a great sense of patriotic awe for both England and for her adopted America, both who represent liberty and freedom.
“You know you have it, because you can just feel it,” she said. “In England, when a flag goes by, you will stand still, just like here in the United States.”
Speaking of America, Howard said, “We may not have it perfect, but we have it better than anywhere else.”
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