Someone asked me recently how I had coped with the war years. My reply was that I didn’t, I was too young - at least at the beginning.
1939! I was five so the outbreak of World War Two didn’t mean much to me. I remember my Dad picking me up and telling me we were going to spend some time in another place, the other place being an air raid shelter. It was very exciting but I worried about my dolls, thinking they would be lonely without me there to play with them. My Dad reassured me, though, saying I could take the dolls with me.
|typical Anderson Shelter|
Dad used to go out fire watching which I thought was very strange. I mean, he didn’t watch our fire at home, he just sat there and read newspapers. We did have a man come round yelling ‘Put that light out’ which I thought was a bit silly when I didn’t have a light on. I didn’t understand but realisation came in later years when we had to change our pretty curtains for blackout material.
I forget how old I was when I was evacuated, short term. It really meant that when Mom and Dad were working I had to go and stay with a pseudo aunt. She was a friend really, but kids always called other adults aunt or uncle. Mom was a bus conductress simply because all the men were doing war work and women had to take over their jobs. Dad didn’t go to war, but the firm he worked for was commissioned to make parts for the fighter planes... did I say my father was a carpenter and joiner? Making plane parts was very much war work so my Dad did his bit for the country even though it often meant working late into the night.
Since Mom didn’t want to go in a factory she opted to go on the buses which meant early starts. Often she would start out for work while an air raid was still on ... I still have a souvenir of those days, a piece of shrapnel that fell at her feet when she was walking to work. She was lucky it fell at her feet, imagine the harm it could have done flying down from a great height.
1940. I was six. By this time I was at school and eligible to be shipped off to Canada. I would have been in the next batch but something terrible happened to stop the whole thing. The ship (City of Benares) was torpedoed and 77 children lost their lives. The tragedy ended that particular evacuation programme. Disappointing to the youngsters who were geared-up to go, but it gave me something to brag about, as kids do. My young mind couldn’t absorb such horrifying news. Childlike logic made me brag that not everyone could say they missed being killed on a boat to Canada.
The house where I spent most of the war years belonged to ‘Auntie’ Carrie and ‘Uncle’ Fred. They had a son, Gordon, who was a few years older than me. His age gave him the right to boss me about and play nasty tricks and blame me for them. I remember one thing he did and that was to fill the toilet with toilet paper (the whole roll) and tell his mother I did it. Another hiding! I got more there than I did at my real home, and that’s saying something!
Gordon was fun when there was an air-raid and we had to shoot off to the air-raid shelter. He would look after me then because he was older and in charge. I think initially he had resented my presence in his home. Unlike my Dad’s garden shelter, this one was a large enough to accommodate several families. As the years went by we had parties in the shelter. Gordon and I became friends and would spent hours planning and arranging in advance so that the shelter would be ready for us and neighbours to have a whale of a time singing and laughing and making the best of the upheavals of war.
These days people ask me about the war years and I tell them it was fun. For me, it was, sadly not for others. But then, I was young; five when the whole thing started, eleven when it finished. I still remember Churchill’s announcement that we were at war and never want to hear those words again. If there is a next time it won’t be fun even for kids, of that I am quite, quite certain.