Portsmouth Blitz baby reveals how the devastation of war affected her upbringing
THE Blitz wreaked utter devastation in Portsmouth leaving 930 people killed and 2,837 injured.
The city was transformed into a smouldering rubble as Nazis unleashed thousands of bombs over the city as over 6,000 properties were destroyed between 1940-1941.
But the impact of the Blitz was not just seen in the bleak desolation and casualties killed or injured. It also had life-long lasting effects on people’s lives even to this day now.
Cowplain pensioner Priscilla Breakspear, now 79, was a ‘war baby’ born in May 1941 who was evacuated out of Portsmouth after being born in a refuge for servicemen’s wives.
Amid the horror unfolding on the city, Priscilla was evacuated to a couple who lived in Fair Oak, near Eastleigh.
Priscilla’s mum - who it is thought to have called herself Mrs Robert Little - visited her again in 1942/43 but that would be the last time she would ever see her daughter.
It means Priscilla would grow up never knowing her mother or father and always struggling with her identity. ‘I’ve gone for years not really knowing who I was, you feel you never belong,’ she said.
‘I’m sure I wasn’t the only baby born during that time. Was my dad a serviceman who got killed in the war? It would be good to know whether he had other children.
‘Being born during the Blitz had a big impact on me and I’m sure others who were evacuated out of the city to live with people who weren’t their parents.
‘Families were split up. Women did not know when they would see their husbands again. It was terrible.
‘I remember being in an air raid shelter and there were planes flying over and dropping bombs. You could hear them coming, then wait, before they were dropped.
‘It was dreadful, absolutely dreadful devastation. Pompey was practically flattened.’
But fate also dealt Priscilla a cruel hand with the couple entrusted to keep her safe after she was evacuated from the city.
‘I think the woman may have been a schizophrenic or at least had severe mental issues,’ Priscilla said.
‘She used to lock me in the bedroom for hours and in a cupboard. The husband was very frightened of her but he didn’t know half of what was going on.
‘She made all sorts of accusations against me.’
Priscilla was formally adopted by the couple in 1947 but did not find out she was adopted until she was 18. ‘No one told me,’ she said.
She ended up living with the couple until she was 14 before she was sent away to a remand home after being summoned to court having been reported by her school for taking a skirt from her needlework class.
‘During the court hearing (the female guardian) said she did not want me,’ Priscilla recalled. ‘I couldn’t understand what I had done. I was then taken to a remand home and was taken backwards and forwards to court because they did not know what to do with me.’
She finally ended up at a live-in school in Wiltshire that was ‘like a prison’ with its tough regime. ‘We were made to get up early and then would have to work all day. We only got any free time on a Sunday,’ she said.
Priscilla left there in 1958 before getting a farming job and finding different lodgings to stay in. She went on to have two doomed marriages and was on the receiving end of domestic violence.
But despite her tough times she was still determined to make the most of things. ‘It was tough but I never expected people to feel sorry for me,’ she said.
‘What I have gone through has made me the person I am. I was determined I would do something.’
Priscilla put herself through agriculture college before ‘bluffing’ her way through jobs where she went on to land an accounts position for Shell BP, among others, in order to pay exorbitant rent arrears left to her by her second husband.
She then went on to become a teacher after receiving a diploma before retiring in 2006 and married for a third time in 1995.
And while she has found happiness and peace now, Priscilla feels the impact of the Blitz nearly 80 years on still hangs around her neck. ‘I feel like a lot of my life has been wasted,’ she said.
‘I missed out on a lot of my childhood and should never have been allowed to go and live with that couple by Hampshire County Council.
‘I am envious of other people’s parents when they are nice. Parents are so important to a child.
‘I would love to know who my dad was and would have loved to have had a dad.’