Original Document
Original Document
Mrs. Anne Strode, Recollections of civil defense and rationing during World War II, 1992.

ANNE STRODE: During the civil-defense movement, I was a telephone operator underneath the courthouse. At that time they would have a warning sign before they had an air raid. When the air raid wardens were informed that there would be a raid–this was just a trial, when we were getting ready for whatever might happen–the air raid warden would get a telephone call: Report to your post. And I would get a phone call: Report to your post underneath the courthouse. And that was like the command station there. There was a large map of Chester County, and we had facilities to know where the fire engines were, where the ambulances were located, where the first aid people, in case there was a bomb dropped, I should say, or there was a fire, or there was a bad accident, and they needed assistance, they would call into the main command there. And it was up to us to say, "The nearest fire engine available is, I'll say, downtown, and we will send it out to you." And that was like the hub of the civil-defense industry, right under the courthouse. It looks like the catacombs of Rome underneath there: old stone pillars and stone foundations underneath there, dirt floor. I mean, it was spooky! But that's where they had the phone lines; that's where they had everything safely underground there.

TIMOTHY MASON: Did you have your own job when you were to report there?

AS: Yes, I sat at the telephone, and if any telephone calls came in, I would report to my boss that there was a–let's say a bomb had been dropped in Concordville, and he needed assistance down there. And then he would get his chalk out, and then mark it on the map, and look up, find out what was available for help in that area. And then I would relay that message back to the, by the telephone to them. It was a little job, believe me! It really wasn't anything, but we didn't know if it might turn into something. You know, we didn't know what to expect. So this was a training for us, to be on the alert if anything did happen.

TM: Did people believe that we could actually be invaded, like for instance, because of the air raid drills? Were people scared?

AS: Yes, I think they were, because we were told to put black blankets over our windows when we had an air raid. Nobody was allowed to smoke a cigarette on the street. And if you had your curtain open, there was a little bit of light shining through, the air raid warden would knock on your door and say, "Please take care of that." And there wasn't any monkey business. We were fighting. Because the Japanese took us by surprise, and they were on top. They were winning! … No, it was for real. We really were concerned that there might be sabotage. You just don't know what to expect. So these were drills that we were going through just in case. Of course, they were having rationing of fuel, rationing of sugar, and shoes, and food. So it was a daily thing, but you really were concerned. …

TM: What types of things can you remember that were rationed?

AS: Well, I definitely remember sugar rationing. And shoes, that was always tough when you had kids. They needed shoes, but you gave the shoes to them, and got shoes for them, because their little feet were growing. And you did without for yourself. And the meat. Of course, that wasn't too bad. I could save those stamps, and my husband [a farmer] would bring the pork home, and use it for something else if they needed it. I don't remember whether coffee was rationed or not. But sugar was the one that really hurt, and the fuel, the gas for the car. [We] never had enough for that, it seemed. But people learned to share. If your family had enough sugar, you'd give your stamps to somebody else, help them out. Then maybe they might help you out with something that you needed later on. Or if you didn't need the shoe stamps, you'd give them to your friend, and then she could use them. So, it was a lot of talking things over, and helping each other out.

TM: How did the system work?

AS: I think each month we went to a rationing office, and each family was issued their monthly–if you had two children, you got so much; if there were three adults in the family, you got so much. And that was your allotment for the month. … When I was married, we lived in West Chester, and my husband had to go out here to the butcher shop and the farm to do his work. So he had a nice car! But I got me a little–I can remember that car. It had to have a cinder block under the front seat to push it up high enough so I could see out over the hood. And I remember being in line, getting the little gas that I needed. My mother had no car, and my family had no car, so I used to be the chauffeur for the people that stayed home. …

And I do also remember when the store would get in sugar, got a shipment in, the word would go around like fire! "They've got sugar down at Johnny Bayer's. You better get there!" And you would go, and the sugar would be gone by the next day. So, even though you had your stamps, it wasn't always available. You had to pace yourself and make sure that it lasted until you were able to get more. So we didn't make a lot of cakes and we didn't make a lot of fancy desserts. You saved it for your coffee or your cereal–basic things–rather than making a lot of fancy cakes and sweet things.

Credit: Anne Strode, interviewed by West Chester University student Timothy Mason, on May 8, 1992. Chester County Homefront Oral History Project, Chester County Historical Society
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