Stella Hughes

Stella Hughes

Stella Hughes was born in London on 5th June, 1926. She is the daughter of Thomas Griffiths Hughes, a haberdasher's assistant from Stoke Newington, and Elizabeth Ellen Kershaw, a lady's maid from Bethnal Green. They had two other children, Muriel Hughes and Jack Hughes.

Stella attended Wellington Avenue School for Girls in Chingford and was thirteen years old when the Second World War broke out.

During the Blitz Stella, like other children in London, only "attended school on Monday mornings in order to collect books and homework and this was returned to the school on Friday mornings (air raids permitting)".

In 1940, Stella, aged fourteen, began work as a machinist at Rego in Edmonton, making soldiers uniforms. She worked a 48 hour week as a three pence three farthings an hour. Stella also joined the Voluntary Nursing Service and nursed at Whipps Cross Hospital in the evenings and at weekends.

After the Rego factory was hit by a V2 Rocket Stella fund work at the Luxrum the light bulb factory. When the Rego factory reopened Stella returned to making officer's uniforms.

In 1943 Stella met George Hume, a Bombardier in the Royal Artillery S/L Regiment. He took part in the D-Day landings and the liberation of Paris. He also reached Germany and helped free those in Concentration Camps. After arriving back in England they married in 1947.

After the war Stella worked at Standard Telephones before joining George Hume in his business in Harlow. Stella Hughes retired in 1984.

Primary Sources

(1) Stella Hughes, interviewed in June, 2001.

My father, Thomas Griffith Hughes was born in Aberystwyth, Wales in 1880 he was a well educated man and started his school at the early age of two years old. He prided himself on the fact that he never missed a day from school during the whole period of his education, for this he won many prizes for which he was equally proud.

Being Welsh, he was very keen on singing and despite his age developed a fine tenor voice. At the age of fourteen he sang Jerusalem for and in front of Queen Victoria and for this he was awarded the honour of kissing the Queens hand. This was another occasion for which he was very proud.

Shortly after this my father's mother unfortunately died and this resulted in his father bringing the whole family of six sons and one daughter to London to settle in Stoke Newington in North London. All his family was old enough to work and my father went into the Drapery trade working for a company called Rouse in Old Bethnal Green Road East London.

My mother, Elizabeth Ellen Kershaw, was thirteen years younger than my father being born in Bethnal Green in 1893 she attended school in Bethnal Green, East London with her twelve sisters and brothers. Two of these children died in their infancy with seven girls and four boys surviving. Her mother was an extremely strict person and all her children revered her. At the age of thirteen my mother was sent out to work by her mother.

My mother and father met when my father visited the Vicarage for tea with the vicar with whom he had business; the Vicarage was opposite where he worked. My mother was working there as a parlour maid. She was pleased with her job and rose eventually to the position of lady's maid to an actress Sybil Thorndyke who latterly became Dame Sybil Thorndyke.

My mother and father married when my Mother was nineteen and my father was thirty-two. Shortly after this the First World War broke out and my father enlisted into the Royal Medical Corps.

I was the third child of my parents born in 1926, which was the year of the General Strike!

At the age of thirteen the Second World War broke out, although I was aware of the presence of the war initially, it had little effect on me. I attended Wellington Avenue School for Girls in Chingford, North London at the time and I remember the school being some two or so miles from our home and I walked to and from school daily.

When the Germans started their air raids, they progressively got worse and therefore we only attended school on Monday mornings in order to collect books and homework and this was returned to the school on Friday mornings (air raids permitting).

This lack of attendance to school did not effect my education to badly as my father, who was a stickler for good education would help me and my friends with our lessons and I do recall he certainly made sure we worked hard.

I left school at the age of fourteen to start work and my mother escorted me to get suitable work and I recall leaving school on a Thursday and starting work on the Friday. This was literally "being thrown in at the deep end" as I had no time to adjust to this change to my life. I worked forty-eight hours a week as a machinist at an hourly rate of three pence three farthings, (which is less than one and halfpenny nowadays).

All was not gloom and doom at this time especially as a young girl who perhaps was sheltered to a certain extent, not realising the full extent of what was happening. When the air raids got extremely bad we had to go to the air raid shelters, that's where I learned to dance and do the Jitterbug to the sounds of the bombs falling around us. We all made a point of enjoying our lives to the full because we were all aware that each day could be our last. It was really strange on reflection as facing the reality of death at any time no one seemed to moan or complain too much unlike nowadays when such problems are a thing of the past for us in this society.

I had a dog, a Selium named Bob, and I walked him daily and I do recall on one particular day when there was a bad air raid shrapnel was falling all around us. An Air Raid Warden shouted at me to take cover but they would not let me take my dog in the shelter and I was not prepared to abandon him so I ran all the way home, we were very lucky to get home safely.

Quite often the German Bombers would off load their deadly cargo over Chingford if they could not penetrate the Barrage protecting London. One evening my father, mother and myself were just opening the back door to go to the air raid shelter in the garden when there was a terrible explosion and an enormous whooshing sound! The next thing I recall was that we were all blown back through the house to the hall and landed in a heap. We soon learnt that the Bombers had dropped their bombs into the fields at the back of our house it was a miracle that no damage was sustained.

I joined the Voluntary Nursing Service working from the Chingford post most evenings and at weekends in order to do my bit, so to speak, in the war. Five days a week I made soldiers uniforms working for Rego in Edmonton North London and then nursed at Whipps Cross Hospital in East London travelling there by bus. Along with my "indoor and outdoor" uniforms, which I was given I was issued a tin hat (which I had to pay for) but all this made me feel great.

I recall on one occasion our factory where I worked was hit by a V2 rocket and my nursing training came in handy. When I got home I was filthy and dishevelled and I remember my Mother saying to me "why are you home early?" no mention of the state I was in.

Due to this rocket attack I was out of work until such time as a temporary factory was opened so I looked for other work. I found a job at Luxrum the light bulb factory and I stayed there a year until the Rego opened again when I returned to tailoring officer's uniforms.

When I was seventeen I met my husband George he was a Bombardier in the Royal Artillery S/L Regiment and what a fine soldier he was. George was twelve years older than I was; he was born in 1914 and was brought up by his two elder sisters in Hackney, East London as his Mother died when he was very young.

He joined the army immediately after war broke out and he saw a lot of action in Europe.

He went to France shortly after the D-day landings via the Omaha beaches and went through Europe to the Russian borders. His battalion joined forces with the Americans to liberate Paris.

During the campaign, he was involved in the freeing of the poor people held in Nazi concentration camps. He witnessed some terrible sights but would not talk about them at all. He was demobbed from the army after serving six and a half years in 1946 and we were married in 1947.

(2) Ernest Bevin, the Minister of Labour, attempted to persuade women to volunteer for war work. A report of his speech was reported in the Manchester Guardian on 10th March, 1941.

Making an urgent appeal to women to come forward for war work mainly in shell-filling factories, Mr. Bevin said he did not want them to wait for registration to take effect. He wanted a big response now, especially by those who might not have been in employment before. There was a tendency to hang back and wait for instructions. If he could get the first 100,000 women to come forward in the next fortnight it would be priceless.

"I have to tell the women that I cannot offer them a delightful life, " said Mr. Bevin. "They will have to suffer some inconveniences. But I want them to come forward in the spirit of determination to help us through."

In districts where married women had been in the habit of doing the work the Government had decided to assist them so far as the minding of children was concerned. They had arranged for the rapid expansion through local authorities of day nurseries and they were asking local authorities to prepare immediately a register of "minders".

The married woman would pay only what she paid in pre-war days - about sixpence a day - and the Government would pay an additional sixpence a day for looking after the children.