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Lily's war effort as cable girl and cook

PUBLISHED: 13:21 23 June 2009 | UPDATED: 09:13 11 August 2010

Lily (centre) as an army cook with Gladys and Olive

Lily (centre) as an army cook with Gladys and Olive

A DARING river rescue, secret wartime messages, and cooking for the troops – Lily Martin experienced a lot in the first twenty years of her life. One of six children, Lily was born in Stepney in 1925 to a dockworker and his wife. As the family grew in n

A DARING river rescue, secret wartime messages, and cooking for the troops - Lily Martin experienced a lot in the first twenty years of her life.

One of six children, Lily was born in Stepney in 1925 to a dockworker and his wife. As the family grew in numbers her parents decided to make the move to the open spaces of Dagenham, and settled in Rogers Gardens.

Lily, who went to Arnold School and Goresbrook School, recalls a happy childhood filled with long walks, family picnics, and getting up to mischief with her brothers and sisters.

She said: "Dagenham was quite different in those days, with fields and farms. It wasn't unusual to see cows walking down the street. It was a great place to play - you could go anywhere really and always feel pretty safe."

But the area had a few hazards even then. One day when she was nine-years-old, Lily and her older sisters Maisie and Edith decided to walk to Rainham Beach. Their father had repeatedly told them not to go swimming in the water because of the dangerous tides, but Edith was an adventurous 13-year-old and wasn't one to be put off .

"We were sitting on the jetty and a boat was moored quite a way from the shore. Edith said she was going to swim over to it, and suddenly jumped in.

"We watched her head towards the boat and after a while she put her arm up. Maisie thought she was waving at us, but then she disappeared under the water, before coming back up again a few moments later.

"It was clear she was in trouble, and I started screaming.

"Thankfully a fellow sitting in a nearby café, dived in, swam out to Edith and rescued her. She had swallowed a fair bit of water but luckily was ok."

A few years later Edith and Maisie caused a bit of a stir by joining a girl's football team.

"It was quite unusual for girls to play football in those days" said Lily, "but they didn't care, they loved it. Edith was a goalie and Maisie a left back. They were actually very good and beat the Dagenham boys' team a few times."

In the summer of 1939 aged 14, Lily left school, and a few months later war descended on Europe.

Her first job was at the Woolworths store, in Dagenham Heathway, engraving soldiers' identification tags.

Around a year later she started work at the telecommunications company, Cable and Wireless, based at Charing Cross in London.

"I was a messenger girl, which was a very important job then. I'd take telegrams to all kinds of people. But being wartime it was all very hush hush. I didn't know who the messages were from or who I was giving them to. I wasn't even allowed to speak to anyone."

Shortly after the war began the family got a telegram informing them that Lily's oldest brother Charlie, who had been drafted to Africa, was reported missing.

"I remember I burst out crying when I heard that. It was terrible."

A couple of years later news came through that Charlie was alive, and being held at a prisoner of war camp. He was to remain captive for the rest of the conflict.

Ivy carried on working for Cable and Wireless until her father passed away in 1942, when she quit.

Then shortly afterwards, Ivy decided to join the army, despite the fact she was too young.

"You had to be 18 to join and I was only 17 so I lied about my age. I got away with it at first and was put in the Royal Artillery, working with the anti-aircraft guns.

"They found out the truth, but as I wasn't far off 18 they decided I could stay in the army. However I was put to work as a cook instead. I was really disappointed, but in the end I actually enjoyed my time in the kitchens."

Ivy was stationed at a number of camps across the country, first with the Royal Artillery, then with the Medical Corps.

She stayed with the forces until 1946, and left shortly after getting married to Frank, a fellow army cook.

Ivy is now 84-years-old and lives in Beam Road, Dagenham. She has two sons and two grandchildren. Her younger brother and sister both live in Essex. Her three oldest siblings, Charlie, Edith, and Maisie have passed away.

If you recognise any of the girls in the football team, or have any more information about the group call the POST on 020 8477 3893.


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