Alice Bradshaw was born on January 24, 1922 in Brooklyn, NY. Raised in New Rochelle, NY, her father was an architect who worked in New York City. Alice attended Parson’s School of Design from 1941 through 1942 but ultimately left school to work with her father. Alice served as an Air Raid Warden and also worked for the Red Cross during the war. She has two brothers, one of which worked in an airplane factory during the war and the other was assigned to study at MIT by the Navy. After the war, Alice continued work as an architect and married a World War II Veteran, Winn Bradshaw. Alice, now 96, has two children and a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren whom she enjoys seeing.
In this interview, Mrs. Bradshaw shares her Home Front experiences from World War II. Alice remembers everyone pulling together behind the country and making sacrifices. She recalled working as an Air Raid Warden late at night and shared a complimentary letter she received from the Red Cross for her work designing a poster for them. Mrs. Bradshaw also discusses rationing, victory gardens, USO Dances and her late husband’s time in the Navy.
Reactions to Pearl Harbor
I was in college, and what do you say when you hear your country’s been attacked? You just absolutely shut down. So I think the amazing thing about what happened to the country almost overnight is that everybody came upright and said, “What do we do to win this conflict?” And so overnight we didn’t have all the food we thought we were entitled to, we didn’t have oil in our homes, we didn’t have gasoline. I mean, zip! Now can you picture yourself without a car? But it was a different world. It was quite different and nobody complained. We just wanted to do the very best we could. And I was in school, and the men all of a sudden disappeared from school. And so then, the women started disappearing because they were starting to take the jobs the young men would have been moving into, so everything changed.
Well, there wasn’t any building. There was absolutely no house building at all. That was stopped. Every building material went towards the war effort, and I mean everything. I mean we saved the fat from our cooking, we saved our tin cans. They had to be flattened. That metal was used. The railroad down at the end of our street which was a local wasn’t being used as much so they stopped the railroad, they tore up the tracks and that all went into the war effort. So that meant this wonderful easy access into New York City now was no longer available. I mean, I don’t think you kids can possibly understand what it was like. I would go out during my lunch time, I would go out and stand in line to see if there were any eggs on the market.
Dances and War Contributions
There were so many things we did if you knew how to dance. It’s important to know how to dance because everybody danced. Everybody was giving what we called tea dances, and the service people were invited wherever they were stationed. In the Hotel Commodore, they used to have a beautiful tea dance for the enlisted men, no officers. And then they would invite women to come and be there as hostesses. And you weren’t supposed to give your name. But, you know, we did everything we could. We wrote letters. We wrote letters to everybody, all our friends. And just to hold a letter in your hand from somebody helps. Because we went to dancing school, we learned to dance from our parents and so on. And if you knew how to dance, you could come together in a group not knowing a soul and have a marvelous time. And it kept you out of trouble. You didn’t go in any bars back then to meet a girl. No, you had hostesses around, you had a wonderful time and always there was some eats of some simple food of some kind. And they would have the dances for non-commissioned, and so I went to a lot of them. So, if you knew how to dance, and most of the boys knew how to dance, you could have a wonderful time. You didn’t have to talk, just smile and jiggle. And I think dancing today—if the kids today would let go of their little tools and dance, it’d be wonderful for you. It’s exercise too. So you learned to dance with any boy who asked you to dance. You learned you’ll quickly get his vibrations, and you can dance. Fortunately, my husband was a marvelous dancer.
An MIT Education for Free
Oh, then my younger brother, he had a lucky break because when he graduated from high school, he went on over to the Navy recruitment office and signed up. Well, he was a very smart kid and worked very hard in school, and the next thing he knew, his assignment was to go up to MIT. So he did MIT in three years, and they really worked him! And then by the time he got out, the war was over. So he got his education thanks to Uncle Sam. But then many of the service people coming home too under the GI Bill [got an education]. That was a wonderful thing, unbelievable. I mean, you can’t imagine what that meant to people, changing their lives. And construction was open; it was just amazing.
A not so Victorious Victory Garden
Oh, my father dug up the front lawn. He said, “I’m going to have [a victory garden],” and he was not a gardener. He didn’t have the tools or anything but he tried, and he came in with his crop. I think he had three string beans or something. (laughting) But, no, victory gardens were big if you had the property.
Air Raid Warden
Oh yeah, we were all air raid wardens. And, of course, being lights out, no lights showing at all, period. Everyone knew it, night had to be darkened. So the air raid wardens, (I have my little certificate that I’m approved an air raid warden) we went out with our metal hats and our cane. I have the cane because there were no lights. You try to walk around the campus without any lights. I dare you to. But Long Island, they were in darkness all over because the German subs are out there bombarding all of our supply ships as they came out of New York Harbor or Boston Harbor. So, we lost a lot of shipping because of the subs out there. Someone was out there every single night to check that everybody’s house was darkened. You didn’t have to stay out every night but you want to be sure everybody had dark shades or something.
I remember I was writing to someone who was up in Greenland which seemed like the end of the world to me. And I guess he was so touched by the letters that I got a bouquet from him on Valentine’s Day or something. But, you know, it’s nice because it made him feel good. We were just friends but I can’t explain just how important letters were then. I think anybody you talk to, I should think would mention that.