Photograph by Lance E. Barker, c.1938
Sylvia Marvell Barker (neé Haworth-Booth), 1906-1992
From my beloved aunt Sylvia’s journals, which include entries on her role in the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) in London in World War II.
These entries were written in 1941 when Sylvia was based at Knightsbridge Fire Station:
I can’t help but think that this diary will be a very interesting document one day – my account of the Blitzes are interesting even now! I hope if I’m deaded someone will find it & treat it with proper respect.
Fire Station 9.3.41
I have just seen Lance [Sylvia married Lance Elliott Barker, a solicitor who also served in the AFS during the war, on 17 July 1937] off into the wet & windy darkness, sending my heart with him, home to our lonely house (Ruth’s flat now). Life is too full of ‘claspt hands & eternal farewells’ – well – not eternal but always farewells – I know I’m lucky to have him by me at all really.
The Blitz came back to London last night. There seemed a lot of them coming over, a nasty sound, & the crump of bombs near & far. Then the most devastating whirling scream, it seemed to be twisting & turning nearer & nearer – for what seemed ages, and my heart clamoured, but there was no sickening thud & Jeffs said it was one of the new ‘Candelabra flares’ – anyway the place was lit up like day. Afterwards my legs started their odious shaking, luckily invisible beneath my baggy pants & soon went, then we got too busy to worry much, the fire watchers did their stuff & tho a lot of incendiaries fell, very few fires developed at all. Jeffs came back with the news that there were two D.A.s & an unexploded land mine only a stone throw from Bucky Palace & later we heard a bomb had gone right into the Café de Paris with horrible results. I knew Lance was at 8 [his fire station] (he’s got 3 months furlough owing to Knight’s illness) but was doing a night at the station yesterday, actually riding the red pump. He didn’t go out at all till 4 a.m. though quite a lot were dropped, then they had quite a job in Prince’s Gate –the All Clear sounded just after midnight & so to bed. We had nothing like the fires but there was enough H.E. [High Explosive – bombs] to make it pretty loathsome & scattered fairly widespreadly. I do not relish the thought of the Blitz starting again. This lull has been so divine – it’s all very well to pretend one’s not afraid, but if it got really bad again there’s always the awful feeling that one might crack – damn – here are the sirens. I’d hoped the rain would keep the bastards off. It’s useless to pretend one does anything but loathe their odious keening – maybe it’s only a spotter; let’s hope.
13th Not a spotter, they droned over all evening but no bombs.
Another ghastly Blitz last Saturday Night (the 11th). [part of this has been cut but will be reinstated in September 2018] The damage was colossal in Westminster but Holborn was frightful (Lance’s new office’s roof burnt through & water everywhere) but I believe the City is ghastly – the one cheering thing being that they brought down 33…. The Abbey was saved, only part of the roof, Parliament is a bad mess as it had 8 H.E. – many more Westminster churches are gone. I expect the death toll will be over a thousand. There were the usual grisly heaps of ruins all over ill-starred Pimlico.