Saturday, February 15, 2014

Bobbie Anselmi Talks About Her War

Listen to her interview!

On a chilly Friday afternoon, Mrs. Anselmi greeted us cheerfully in the dining room of the house her daughter, Mrs. Elisabeth Reiss, shares with President Mitchell Reiss on Cannon Street. As we set up our equipment and told her a little bit about how the interview process would go, she chuckled and mentioned that her voice was often recorded reading newspapers for the blind, so she was an old hand at speaking into a microphone. She did indeed prove to be an excellent speaker, introducing herself with a memorable opening--"My name is Bobbie Anselmi, I'm British, and I'm here to tell you about my War"--and heading right into a funny, touching, and detailed account of her years growing up during the Blitz and her service as a wireless operator during the Berlin Airlift.

Mrs. Anselmi, who was 10 and a half years old when the war started for Britain in 1939, grew up in a small village in Staffordshire, about two and a half hours northwest of London. Living in the countryside, she and her family were eligible to receive child evacuees from the areas of England most at risk of bombing. Even though they were at a much lesser risk than those living in these danger zones, her family still had a bomb shelter (6 feet square, 4 feet deep) dug in the garden, lined with sheet metal, where they would pass the nights in "siren suits" (footed pajamas meant to be quickly and easily put on in the middle of the night) as they listened to the bombers droning overhead. Mrs. Anselmi also recalled the rationing that limited families to a few ounces per week of goods like tea, meat, and sugar, and how she learned to make new dresses out of three old ones so that she didn't have to spend the clothes coupons. In fact, one of her sisters got married in a dress made out of silk from the parachute of a German pilot who was shot down near their village!

Mrs. Anselmi later joined Britain's Women's Royal Air Force as a wireless operator, where she met her husband, fellow service-member Peter Anselmi. When in November of 1948 Russia closed the roads around Berlin, blocking Allied supply transports from reaching the troops and civilians trapped in the city, the decision was made that the supplies would be airlifted in. At the beginning of the airlift, Mrs. Anselmi, as a wireless operator, actually received a Top Secret message that put the Air Force on Red Alert; she also contacted air transport stations to notify them to be at the ready. The airlift was ultimately a success, although Mrs. Anselmi also discussed the beginning of the Cold War that came hard on the heels after the end of WWII, and with it the threat of nuclear war.

Aside from the hardships caused during the War--the constant danger of attack, the scarcity of necessary supplies, the shifting political landscape--Mrs. Anselmi also recalls some of the lighter times: meeting the Allied soldiers stationed nearby, dancing and singing in clubs, the entire village enjoying a fresh ration of bacon when a farmer slaughtered a pig and "forgot" to report it. Looking back, Mrs. Anselmi says this is what she chooses to remember about the war: not the fear or the sadness, but the friends she made among evacuees and soldiers, many of whom she remained friends with throughout her life, and whom she would have otherwise never met. "I don't look back on it," she says near the end of the interview. "I look forward if I can...I'm nearly 85 now, I suppose I have to look forward to what years I have left! What happened in the past happened, I can't change it; I just hope my children don't have to go through it."

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