HERS is one of the most familiar faces from the imagery of the Second World War. It sums up the violence and suffering of conflict, but also the compassion and tenacity of ordinary people caught up in the ravages of war.

The photograph in which she appears has come to be an icon of the London Blitz. It appears in hundreds of books about the Second WorldWar, all over the world. As an image of the Blitz, it is second in fame only to the photograph of St Paul’s cathedral, rising defiantly above the smoke, as the City of London burns around it.

The girl is carried in the arms of an ARP warden from the rubble of her home, destroyed just a short time before by a flying bomb.

Many people must have wondered about that girl. Who was she? How badly hurt or traumatised, was she? Did she survive? If so, what happened afterwards?

The answers to all these questions can be found in a bungalow in a pleasant side street in Wickford.

Eileen Alexander, now 83, has lived an uneventful family life since the end of the war – uneventful, except for the steady demand from TV crews, authors and journalists, to tell her story one more time.

That, and the lingering memory. “What happened on Monday July 24 1944, is as fresh in my mind as if it happened last week,” she says.

In 1944, Eileen was living with her family in Leytonstone. They had moved there from Silvertown, where her father worked as a factory foreman at the Knight’s Castile soap factory. Ironically, Eileen’s father, a volunteer air raid warden during the nigh-time hours, thought the family would be safer from bombing if they relocated away from the docks.

Eileen had lived through the first stage of the Blitz, in 1940. As a child, she had learnt all about the effects of war. “Every morning, when you went to school, you never knewwhether some of your mates would be missing,” she says. “There were just so many funerals.”

She remembers the night sky “covered with bombers”, and the routine scenery of war, the barrage balloons, and the antiaircraft batteries in the local parks. There were the hours spent in the damp corrugated iron bomb shelter in the back garden. Every house had one of those, and they provided some protection. But some people preferred to take their chances indoors, rather endure the dank conditions of the shelter.

There had been a lull after 1940, but by 1944, London was under attack again, this time by a new breed of weapon. The V1 pilotless aircraft, nicknamed doodlebugs by their intended victims, droned over southern England. Then the engine stopped, and they plunged to the ground.

“You would hear them coming overhead,” says Eileen. “They made a noise that sounded a bit like a motor-bike engine. If it stopped over your head, you might just have time to take cover.”

On the afternoon of the bombing, Eileen and her sister were alone at the house in Arundel Road. “Mum and dad had gone to the pictures. My sister was indoors. I was outside in the street.”

Eileen heard the sound of the warning siren, and then the engine of the doodlebug overhead. “I called out to my sister, but she didn’t take any notice. I had just reached the shelter door when the engine cut out.”

Then came the explosion. The blast threwEileen from one end of the shelter to the other.

“Everything went black,” Eileen says. “There was just soot, smoke, dirt.”

The rescue services, as usual, arrived quickly. By then, Eileen realised that she had survived intact. “But I wanted to be carried away from the site – I was frightened of treading on any dead bodies.

“My main concern was my sister. But she was alright.”When the flying bomb exploded, a wardrobe had fallen across her, protecting her from the rubble.

“After that, my main concern was for my lovely doll, Topsy.”

Eileen was carried to the cordon, where a crowds had gathered to gawp, “as they always did on those occasions.” Among them, unobserved by Eileen, was a photographer for the Daily Mirror. “We only knew about it when we saw the photo in the paper,” says Eileen.

Echo: Eileen Alexander in the iconic picture, which first appeared in the Daily Mirror, the original of which she still has

The aftershock was delayed. “I was alright for a few days. Then it hit me. If I heard planes, even our own planes, I started screaming.

Even now, I feel uncomfortable with the sound of aircraft overhead.”

Eileen saw the rest of the war out in the peace of Norfolk, where she stayed with an elderly couple. She returned to London for VE Day. She remembers the street parties held to celebrate, but most especially she sense of relief. “We were safe. Nobody was going to attack us from the sky any longer.”

Then, like all the other millions of other Londoners who survived the Blitz, she got on with life. She worked as a book-keeper, married, and started a family. The familymoved to Wickford in 1963.

Eileen’s husband, Charles, who died two year ago, was well known as a steward at Chelmsford County Cricket club.

“The players used to love my bread puddings,” says Eileen.

Sheer normality has defined Eileen’s life for the past 70 years.

Yet this is a woman who was pulled alive from the rubble, and came to embody war’s victims everywhere.

Anyone whomeets the cheerful and buoyant Eileen Alexander will be struck by another phenomenon, the courage and resilience of ordinary Londoners.

They refused to succumb to terror. Whatever the enemy might throw at them, life carried on. Their past lay in war, but they never let that fact blight their future. Seventy years after the end of the war, Eileen remains a shining example of that spirit.

Still, you have to believe this child of the Blitz when she says: “We had to grow up very quickly.”