Teenager who tackled Bristol Blitz turns 100

A teenager who volunteered to be a fire watcher during the Bristol Blitz talked of her experiences - as she celebrated her 100th birthday.

Joyce Weaver was 15 when the Second World War broke out and just 16 when, in the winter of spring of 1940-41, Bristol experienced 548 alerts and 77 air raids which killed 1,299 people, seriously injured around the same number and destroyed more than 80,000 homes.

For the teenage Joyce, it meant long nights armed with a bucket of water and a pump, trying to put out the incendiary bombs the Luftwaffe rained down on her part of South Bristol.

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She worked during the day in the Robinson’s paper bag factory just off East Street in Bedminster - and now lives just around the corner at the St Monica Trust Retirement Village off West Street - but the nights when fascist aircraft bombed Bristol will live long in the memory.

“I remember coming along Coronation Road in the bus early in the morning and the whole of the Bristol Docks were on fire,” she said. “Another time I was walking to work after a bomb had been dropped on the White Horse Pub in the night and there was a tram on top of the roof.

The aftermath of a Luftwaffe air raid on Bedminster, in which a bomb hit a tram travelling along West Street, outside the White Horse pub
The aftermath of a Luftwaffe air raid on Bedminster, in which a bomb hit a tram travelling along West Street, outside the White Horse pub -Credit:Bristol Archives

The war brought a dramatic end to what she described as a ‘very happy’ childhood. She was born at home in Beauley Road in Southville - her dad was a qualified engineer - and when she was four, the family moved out to what was then the village of Bishopsworth, where new development in the 1930s eventually made it part of Bristol.

She went to the new Cheddar Grove School in Bedminster Down and then down to Marksbury Road School in Bedminster, but admitted she ‘wasn’t a very good scholar’, and struggled with geometry in particular - she once got just four marks out of 40 in a geometry exam - much to the consternation of her engineer father.

But she said her childhood was ‘very happy’, and ‘we always seemed to have everything we wanted’.

After leaving school, she went to work for Robinsons - the factory building is still there with the Robinson’s name on the top, although it has been turned into flats since. She earned ten shillings for what was a long, 48-hour working week. “That worked out at tuppence an hour, but I enjoyed it,” she said.

“My Aunt was forewoman there and any dirty jobs she’d always give them to me. They put in new accounting machines when the firm moved due to bomb damage and they asked if I’d like to learn, so that’s what I did,” she added.

She met her husband Bert while she was babysitting for his sister. He was a merchant seaman who took part in the Normandy Landings, taking supplies across after D-Day to support the troops as they invaded France.

After the war, the couple bought a house in Southville and raised three daughters there and stayed for 65 years. She lost Bert in 1980, and stayed in her home in Southville until she was turning 90, when she moved to Monica Wills House.

Her 100th birthday, on June 2, was marked with a surprise birthday party attended by family, friends and staff at her West Street home.

“I never indulged in anything and just sort of toddled along. I think it’s all in the genes and keeping active,” she said. “My Grandfather was 90 when he got killed riding his bike home after playing whist.

“Bert died in 1980 and I’ve been fending for myself ever since. I only have a carer come in twice a week and our girls are ever so good. Whoever comes in puts the vacuum round before they go home. It’s a wonder I’ve got any tuft left on the carpet!” she added.

The Monica Wills Village manager, Claire Chambers, said Joyce had been a much-loved member of the community there for the past ten years.

Joyce Weaver, celebrating her 100th birthday
Robinsons Paper Bag factory, Bedminster

“Joyce was one of the very first people to put her name down when Monica Wills House was being built and it’s amazing to think that she can see her old home, where she went to school and where she worked from the balcony of her apartment,” she said.

“Joyce has been a much-loved part of our community for the last ten years and it was wonderful to be able to throw a surprise party in her honour and celebrate her long-life with her many friends and St Monica Trust colleagues here at Monica Wills House,” she added.