Tweeting through the Blackout

Four people and the story of a generation

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William (Billy) Allen

Billy is 14 years old, he has just returned to London after four years in the countryside as an evacuee. He missed his life and friends in London so much he kept coming back only to be sent away by his mother. In his own words he’s a “big lad now” and he wants to play his part in the war effort. He decides to work for the National Fire Service as a part-time messenger boy. Billy was ready to lie about his age, but he was lucky they didn’t even ask him about it and he was immediately given a job. At the beginning he’s more excited than scared, but he’s soon forced to grow up.

People like Billy were the secret heroes of wartime, hardened by battle and wise beyond their years. They were too young to fight in the war but that didn’t stop them from being of service. They signed up as messenger boys - for the fire or postal service. The fire service boys carried messages of fire between stations and locations, they were often exposed to ghastly bombing scenes. The telegraph messenger mostly delivered news of death or injury to relatives, people often shrieked when they saw them wandering up the garden path. These would be hard jobs for anyone, but most of these boys were barely teenagers. While the official age was 16, boys as young as 11 are known to have worked.