Lest We Forget
Remembrance Day November 11, 2015
On the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month we will Remember You.
J.T. McVeigh The Enterprise-Bulletin When 91-year-old Zeno Rolph was 17 she was launching barrage balloons in southern London against the bombing raids of the German airforce and trying not get killed. Barrage balloons was an ingenious defensive devise that had been utilized since World War One. Then several balloons were used to lift a length of barrage net, metal cables that were raised to the hight comparable to the limits of airplanes of the day. By the Second World War, the British Balloon Command was established to protect key locations in England. The balloons were attached to the ground by 5,000 to 10,000 feet of cable, raised relatively close together providing a staggered line defence to bombers moving drop their payload. Initially the balloons, or blimps, were filled with hydrogen, which would had the potential to burst into flames if the balloon was damaged. They were replaced later by helium, a much more stable gas. Once the danger of attack was over the balloons were winched back down and stored until the next threat of attack. There were actually two lines of balloons. The first line were tethered to ships just off of the English coast and the second on land handled by crews such as Rolph?s. ?This ships would actually see the bombers coming over and radio us telling us what height to launch our balloons.? said Rolph. Born in 1924 in Reading in Berkshire, England, Rolph?s father was already a wing commander so Zena? route was already chosen. ?I wanted to get in when I was 17, but rules were that you had to be 17 and half,? said Rolph still bristling over the situation. I had to wait from November until May of the next year to get in.? The war was into it?s fourth year by the time Zena got the call, and she was all in. Times were different, and the roles of women in England were different at that time. Zena recalls that come women were mechanics, while others drove tanks about. ?I went to the barrage balloons because I got to go from place to place to place,? said Rolph. ?If you got bombed out you would go to another place, bombed out go to another one.? The women were always on their guard, you were lucky if you got to stay in one place before you got bombed out according to Rolph. ?You were too busy to worry about it,? said Rolph. ? I only got directly hit on one site in Peckham Park in London. there used to be six of us on a balloon site and one night I was on duty when at 2 in morning we took a direct hit and I lost all of the other five girls, they were all killed. I heard the sound the V2 rocket made as it went over my head but there wasn?t anything I could do about it.? ?But it was the war, you didn?t have time to think about it, they just transferred me to another site the next day.? This was a young teenager and these are the circumstances that she found herself in, as did everyone else then. There was a strange black humour and then carry on attitude that moved them through the war until the surrender she said. Even going home on weekends came with its dangers. ?One night I was heading home for the weekend travelling near Arsenal when one of the buildings holding weapons was hit,? said Rolph, ?I was about a quarter of a mile away and I dove to the ground. The suction from the explosion was so strong it took my hat and I never saw it again.? By 1945 Zena met her husband, a seaman who spent more than 20 years serving his nation. ?I had to save coupons so that I could afford the materials for my wedding dress,? Rolph said. ?You could be the material and the ribbons, but you couldn?t find a dress.? After a brief honeymoon, her husband Dennis went back to the ships and she back to the balloons. ?I loved every minute of that time, you really felt alive, ? Rolph said ?You were serving your country, you were fighting the enemy.?
We Will Never Forget
Royal Canadian Legion
Branch 63, Collingwood