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Saltwater Portrait

Adventures with Angela Neal

Milton resident grew up in war-torn England
April 10, 2018

Sitting in her home, surrounded by family heirlooms, Angela Neal tells her story. She grew up during World War II, in Derbyshire, England.

Neal said she lived about four miles from Derby, the town that made Rolls-Royce engines. "The war lasted most of my childhood; I was almost 17 when it ended," she said.

"When I was about 10, my mother put me on the list to be evacuated to Canada. So I needed a warm coat," she said. By this time all clothing was on ration. A winter coat cost 18 coupons, and a family only got 20 for six months. Before she could get ready to go, the Germans bombed a ship carrying children who were being evacuated to the states. "So that cancelled that! I stayed at home for the rest of the war," she said.

She and her mother lived with her grandparents. Her grandfather had retired with about 15 acres, and ground had to be productive during the war effort, so he grew Brussels sprouts. "Guess who had to pick those before school? Oh! all those big leaves holding icy water," she recalled.

All women had to work. Many worked in factories, but her mother was fortunate; she found work in a grocery. She didn't get more than her ration, but Neal said, "She was on the spot when things came in.”

"We were pretty lucky where we were," she said.

The air raid sirens didn't go off often, and the town didn't get flattened. They used barrage balloons to deter enemy airplanes. "We never had to use our gas masks, although we had them; even children had ones made to look like Mickey Mouse," Neal said.

One of Neal's contributions to the war effort was making gloves for mine sweepers. "They were thick leather, and we had to use an awl to poke a hole to get the thread through." She remembers thinking what an awful job it must have been for the people who wore those gloves.

As a young woman, she trained as a nurse in London. "My training hospital was in East End, which had quite a bit of damage from the war, and the hospital had a lot of injured soldiers." The day the war ended, she was on Westminster Bridge, and it was packed with people. "All the service people had their country written on their sleeve. Lights were on for the first time. It was an unforgettable time. People were out on the streets, and I never got back to the railway station," she said.

After the war, she created tours to keep the troops busy, arranging dances and inviting female factory workers to attend. She met her husband, Jim Neal, while he was stationed in the U.S. Air Force in Great Britain. They married in England in 1955, and in 1957 they moved to America with two children.

Life in America

Her husband was a farmer from Iowa, and they visited there, but being a city girl, Neal was not interested in living there. Jim pursued his career in the Air Force, and she continued nursing when they moved to Omaha, Neb. "He had a private pilot's license so he could pop over and visit Iowa when he wanted," she said.

As military family members, her children started school in Nebraska and finished in Virginia. "I remember moving, because we traveled with a cat in the car, to Gaithersburg, Md. When we stopped for a break at a motel, the cat got out. The children couldn't believe it. We looked everywhere, and finally, we went into the motel office to leave our number in case anyone found it, and he was sitting right there on the counter!"

"Now Louisiana I liked; I even had a radio show," Neal said, called Questions and Solutions. "It was an hour show. I tried to find people of interest to come and talk for half the time." With topics such as how to get a stain out, "I invited anyone to call in who had any good ideas on how to get that stain out!" One of her famous guests was Dan Blocker who played Hoss on "Bonanza." "He was the most fun; he came and chitchatted for half an hour," she said.

Finally the family settled in Virginia, and she became a nurse in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. "Jim was a farmer at heart – he always had to have a few cows." They had about 12 acres in Virginia, but when her husband died, she decided it was too much to handle. "It was decided that I would move to be near my daughter," who lives across the street in Milton.

Traveling is her big love

She and her husband travelled often after their kids were grown. She has been to India, South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand, to name a few. Although her husband wasn't very adventurous, "I once took a balloon safari. You got in the basket that held 16 people by lying on your back, and as the balloon inflated it lifted you up, of course, and you could see all the animals from above," she said. She kept photo albums and diaries on all of her trips, writing in them daily. She remembers seeing wildebeest crossing the river in the Serengeti when they arrived at a camp.

"I swam in the The Great Barrier Reef, and whenever I hear about it, the picture of it flashes in my brain," she said. She enjoys getting National Geographic magazine to keep her updated on places she has visited or is interested in. She remembers New Zealand was a favorite; her husband said if he had to live anywhere else, he would live there. "It's farm country, you know," she said as she laughed. Her trips are now with her daughter and son-in-law, and she travels to locations of their choice.

Raised Episcopalian, she attended a Presbyterian church with her husband, and now she has gone back to her roots, attending The Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist in Milton. "The Lord and his teachings are the main thing, so why fight about the small stuff," she said. When asked how she stays in such good shape for her age, she said she is a healthy eater, and doesn't binge on unhealthy things. And she walks. "But mostly, I think it's in the genes."

Her talk about being a child in Great Britain in World War II can be found at http://www.saintjohnsmilton.org/adults.html.