war memorial at dusk, photographed by Michelle Cooper




Alfred and Martha Abbott

Mrs Jess as a child, courtesy Mrs Jess"A BOMB CHANGED MY LIFE" by Rhys Griffiths

When Iris Jess was living in Dover during the Second World War she had no idea of the battles that were raging around the globe. While most children her age had been evacuated from Hellfire Corner, this seven-year-old was not at school, and she enjoyed long days playing with her friends Donald and David Clark.

But one night the calm of her childhood was shattered by a German bomb which destroyed her family home in Priory Gate Road. Now 72, Iris, of Kitchener Road, Dover, still has vivid memories of the night of April 3, 1942.

the bombed house, courtesy Dover MuseumShe said, "I can remember sitting in the cupboard under the stairs with my mum and Aunt Elsie, my dad and my Aunt Nancy were just stood in the doorway. My grandfather was an ARP warden and he had just come into the house to check that we were all right. When the house collapsed, my mum just told me to shout, and it was Donald and David's dad who pulled us out. I can still remember being lifted out, but that's about all."

The explosion which destroyed the house killed Iris's grandparents Alfred and Martha Abbott, and it left her family homeless.

Before the bombing, Iris had enjoyed a carefree childhood. She was not aware of the war and had only had one day at Mrs Jess by the grave of her grandparents, by Simon Chambersschool before evacuation was ordered. When the order was given to evacuate the town's schoolchildren, Iris' grandmother had insisted that she stay in Dover so the family could remain together.

Iris was free to play her favourite game with her friends, which was emptying out sandbags and building sandcastles. Iris said, "We were free to do as we liked. We had a whale of a time. I don't think we knew what was going on. Having not been to school we just didn't miss it."

Those early years of the war did not seem out of the ordinary for Iris. She had not known anything different. When the war ended and life began slowly to return to normal, there were lots of things that were new to her. She said, "I remember seeing a banana for the first time. When my mum went to peel it I thought she had broken it."

This article first appeared in the Dover Express, p10, 21 June March 2007 - reproduced with permission

Mrs Jess was the seven-year-old child pulled out from the understairs cupboard, mentioned by Roy Humphreys in his book "Dover at War, 1939-1945". We met her when she telephoned after having seen a picture of her bombed house in the newspaper in another article. 

Mrs Jess as a child, courtesy Mrs Jess
Her home in Priory Gate after the bombing, courtesy Dover Museum
Mrs Jess by the grave of her grandparents, in Charlton Cemetery, Dover, photo Simon Chambers

Copyright 2006 Marilyn Stephenson-Knight. All Rights Reserved