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Your Cambridge history

A former resident remembers Cambridge during World War II

An old photo of Barbara Yeoman as a child living in Cambridge.
By Barbara Yeoman
December 28, 2010

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During World War II, all Americans were very aware that they were at war. Every neighborhood changed. The absence of young men who were now fighting overseas was noticed in every family. The daily routine of every home was affected. War awareness was intense. We had globes and maps out to identify the places in Europe or Asia where loved ones were serving. My teenage cousin, John H. White, who had joined the Navy, wrote to us from strange sounding places in the Pacific theatre. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a familiar voice on the radio, calming fears and cheering the efforts of all Americans by his Fireside Chats.

There were blackouts in preparation for possible enemy bombing attacks. I feared planes bombing our homes but learned later that blackouts were also needed so that city lights would not silhouette our ships in the harbor for the prowling U-boats. No lights were allowed, not even the tiny radio dial light. Blackout curtains were in every window. Air raid wardens patrolled the streets with their white helmets and arm bands. When the Air Raid sirens screeched warnings, the wardens would tell everyone to get off the streets and go into their homes. A cheer would go up when the ``all clear'' sounded.

Many now think that recycling is a new idea. Not so! Recycling of all cans, bottles, and newspapers was mandated for every family during WWII. Rationing of food meant that money could not get you more food. You could only get what you had rations enough to buy. Unavailable butter was substituted by a substance like margarine that you would squeeze to turn it yellow like butter.

In my family, every member had a job to do with the war. My uncle, Thomas P. Doherty, who was an air raid warden, worked at the Mount Auburn Cemetery in the 1940s. A small plot of land was given to each employee to raise his own vegetables in what was called a Victory Garden. This practice was to help the servicemen and women by getting more food to the troops.

I was only four years old but I was allowed to go with my uncle to the Victory Garden. I was to plant it, weed it, water it and pick the vegetables when ripe enough. It was such a source of pride to know which leaf signaled which vegetable, to pull it from the ground and be sure it was ripe then to wash off the vegetable in the spout at the cemetery, put them in a basket and bring them home to the family to eat for dinner. When I arrived with a full basket everyone cheered. My aunt, Rita Young, took my picture to show what patriotism looked like on the face of a child.

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