Muriel Simkin

Muriel Simkin

Muriel Hughes was born in Hackney on 29th July 1914. She was the eldest daughter of Thomas Griffiths Hughes, a haberdasher's assistant from Stoke Newington, and Elizabeth Ellen Kershaw, a lady's maid from Bethnal Green. They also had two other children, Jack Hughes and Stella Hughes.

Muriel was educated at Rams Episcopal Primary School and Hackney Parochial School and left school in 1928 at the age of fourteen. Her first job was working at Barlow's Metal Box Company for 5s 6d a week.

Muriel also worked as an examiner and finisher for Horne Brothers Tailoring in Hackney before marrying John Edward Simkin, a porter at Billingsgate Fish Market on 26 August 1939 at West Hackney Church, Stoke Newington. While on their honeymoon Neville Chamberlain announced that Britain was at war with Germany. Muriel later recalled: "We had planned to have a fortnight's holiday but we had to come home after a week. It was not a very good start to our married life."

While on their honeymoon Neville Chamberlain announced that Britain was at war with Germany. Muriel later recalled: "We had planned to have a fortnight's holiday but we had to come home after a week. It was not a very good start to our married life."

When they returned John Simkin joined the Royal Artillery and she was conscripted to work at the Briggs munitions factory in Dagenham. During the Blitz her factory was bombed. "We had to wait until the second alarm before we were allowed to go to the shelter. The first bell was a warning they were coming. The second was when they were overhead. They did not want any time wasted. The planes might have gone straight past and the factory would have stopped for nothing. Sometimes the Germans would drop their bombs before the second bell went. On one occasion a bomb hit the factory before we were given permission to go to the shelter. The paint department went up. I saw several people flying through the air and I just ran home. I was suffering from shock. I was suspended for six weeks without pay."

Muriel had an Anderson Shelter in the garden of her house in Becontree. "You were supposed to go into the shelter every night. I used to take my knitting. I used to knit all night. I was too frightened to go to sleep. You got into the habit of not sleeping. I've never slept properly since. It was just a bunk bed. I did not bother to get undressed. It was cold and damp in the shelter. I was all on my own because my husband was in the army. You would go nights and nights and nothing happened."

She did not always use the shelter. "On one occasion when my husband was on leave, I think it was a weekend, we decided we would spend the night in bed instead of in the shelter. I heard the noise and woke up and I would see the sky. They had dropped a basket of incendiary bombs and we had got the lot. Luckily not one went off. Next morning the bombs were standing up in the garden as if they had grown in the night."

Muriel Simkin left work in 1942 when she gave birth to her first child Patricia. "People on the whole were more friendly during the war than they are today - happier even. People helped you out. You had to have a sense of humour. You couldn't get through it without that. The worst part was having you husband and brothers away from you." She was extremely worried about her brother, Jack Hughes. "We never heard from Jack, my brother, for five months. He couldn't communicate at all because he was involved in important battles in North Africa. It was very worrying. We knew a lot of his regiment had been killed. Then we saw his picture in the Daily Express newspaper. He was being inspected by General Montgomery. It was not until then that we knew he was alive."

Muriel and John Simkin with Patricia in 1944.
Muriel and John Simkin with Patricia in 1944.

After the death of John Edward Simkin in 1956, Muriel Simkin found work in a factory in Barking. Later she worked at the Electric Windings factory in Romford. Living in Harold Hill she continued working until breaking her leg at the age of 70. Muriel Simkin retired to Basildon but moved to Rayleigh after the death of her second husband, William Simkin, the brother of her former husband.

Muriel Simkin died in Southend Hospital on 10th February 2010.

Primary Sources

(1) The Second World War was declared when Muriel Simkin and her husband, John Simkin, were on their honeymoon.

We were on our honeymoon when war was declared. We had planned to have a fortnight's holiday but we had to come home after a week. It was not a very good start to our married life.

I went with my parents to London to see off my husband and brother. They had both been called up by the army. After we left them at the railway station we got caught in an air-raid. We had to get off the bus after it caught fire. We ran for shelter. While wee were running I looked at my dad and he appeared to be on fire. I said: "Dad, you're alight." He nearly had a heart attack and I was not very popular when he discovered that I was mistaken and that it was only the torch in his pocket that had been accidentally turned on while he was running.

(2) Muriel Simkin worked in a munitions factory in Dagenham during the Second World War.

We had to wait until the second alarm before we were allowed to go to the shelter. The first bell was a warning they were coming. The second was when they were overhead. They did not want any time wasted. The planes might have gone straight past and the factory would have stopped for nothing.

Sometimes the Germans would drop their bombs before the second bell went. On one occasion a bomb hit the factory before we were given permission to go to the shelter. The paint department went up. I saw several people flying through the air and I just ran home. I was suffering from shock. I was suspended for six weeks without pay.

They would have been saved if they had been allowed to go after the first alarm. It was a terrible job but we had no option. We all had to do war work. We were risking our lives in the same way as the soldiers were.

(3) While her husband was away in the army Muriel Simkin was forced to live on her own.

We had an Anderson shelter in the garden. You were supposed to go into the shelter every night. I used to take my knitting. I used to knit all night. I was too frightened to go to sleep. You got into the habit of not sleeping. I've never slept properly since. It was just a bunk bed. I did not bother to get undressed. It was cold and damp in the shelter. I was all on my own because my husband was in the army.

You would go nights and nights and nothing happened. On one occasion when my husband was on leave, I think it was a weekend, we decided we would spend the night in bed instead of in the shelter. I heard the noise and woke up and I would see the sky. They had dropped a basket of incendiary bombs and we had got the lot. Luckily not one went off. Next morning the bombs were standing up in the garden as if they had grown in the night.

Rosie, my mum's sister, had to go to hospital to have a baby. Her mother-in-law looked after her three-year-old son. There was a bombing raid and Rosie's son and mother-in-law rushed to Bethnal Green underground station. Going down the stairs somebody fell. People panicked and Rosie's son was trampled to death.

(4) Muriel Simkin admits that she enjoyed some aspects of the Second World War.

People on the whole were more friendly during the war than they are today - happier even. People helped you out. You had to have a sense of humour. You couldn't get through it without that.

The worst part was having you husband and brothers away from you. We never heard from Jack, my brother, for five months. He couldn't communicate at all because he was involved in important battles in North Africa. It was very worrying. We knew a lot of his regiment had been killed. Then we saw his picture in the Daily Express newspaper. He was being inspected by General Montgomery. It was not until then that we knew he was alive.