Sonia Baker, of Great Abington in Cambridgeshire, remembers being at home in Wandsworth Common, south London, with a friend when she heard the news on the radio that World War Two was over. She was 15 at the time and had just started to work.
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“I celebrated with my friend,” she recalls. “We didn’t have to worry about being bombed any more. We went to a little dance hall. Looking back, I do feel that there was not really reason to celebrate, but I was young then. Now, I think of all the people who were grieving who had lost husbands, sons and homes. In war, I have discovered, there are no winners. It’s just one side losing more heavily than the other.”
When she was about 10 years old, Mrs Baker and her family were bombed out of their home during the Blitz. They went to stay with relatives on the other side of London for a while but returned home before the end of the war. “I lived in a road that had 70 houses and it had a V-1 (flying bomb) come down in the middle,” she says. “There was a lot of damage and sadness in a small area but you got used to it. There was an awful lot of bombing in that area.”
At first, she says, the end of the war did not seem real. “It took a little while to sink in that I did not need a gas mask any more and rationing just carried on,” she adds. “I got married in 1950 and there was still rationing then. I don’t know what it was like for people older than me but for me the war had become a normal way of life.”
Now 85, Mrs Baker, a retired bank secretary, lives with her husband, Anthony, 86, an ex-Royal Marine who was responsible for commando training during World War Two. While originally both from London, they have lived in Cambridgeshire for more than 50 years.
SSAFA recently supported the couple after they sought help from another charity, the Royal Marines Association. Mrs Baker was experiencing increasing difficulties with her health and mobility and we helped her to take ownership of a £20,000 electric wheelchair recommended by her occupational therapist.
“All the charities involved have been so generous and I would particularly like to thank my SSAFA caseworker, Stephen Coleman, for his sterling efforts in co-ordinating the fundraising,” she says. “Before I owned this marvellous machine, I regularly had to stand for up to 10 hours to eat and sleep as sitting upright is so painful – I felt like a lamp post! Now with my Balder, I can sit in a reclining position that gives me such relief.”