I was born in 1937 so by the time the second world war began I was not old enough to understand what was happening.
I suppose I must have been about four or five years old before I was able to begin to understand that life was not necessarily the same as it had always been. However my parents and those of my friends made a very good job of hiding the realities of war from us.
My father had his own Joiner’s business and began to find it difficult to obtain timber so of course our income was greatly reduced. Food began to be in short supply but everyone was in the same situation so we made the best of it. It was made more difficult when the local butcher decided that because we were a small family we did not have enough coupons to buy meat, so obtaining enough nourishment was difficult. Week after week my mother would go to the butchers shop and stand in the queue only to be told “There is no meat for YOU this week Mrs H.” We have often wondered where it went! Perhaps the man and his wife who used to visit certain houses after dark with bulging overcoats could have told us.
Many families had very little to eat for Christmas Dinner. My friend’s family were going to sit down to egg and chips one year. Fortunately my Father was able to help them out. He happened to be a very good chess player and every Christmas the local Chess Club held a competition with a Turkey as first prize. So that was Christmas Dinner taken care of!
One night there was a knock on the door and a neighbour was standing there. He was home on leave and had managed to get hold of a bunch of grapes. He had carefully cut the bunch into smaller parts enough to give one little ‘bunch’ to every child in the street. I had never seen a grape before. Fruit has never tasted so sweet. Thank you Bob for your kindness.
Toys were in short supply so every Christmas my dad would make sets of bricks for all the neighbours’ children and distribute them on Christmas Eve.
My schooldays were happy ones. The teachers appealed to parents and the general public to let them have any spare paper for us to work on, but I was blissfully unaware that it wasn’t usual to write on squares of wallpaper. It doesn’t seem to have done my education any harm though!
We had few evacuees in our area, but I remember one shy little girl arriving at our school and not receiving a very kind welcome from some of the local children. She was a Londoner and they had never heard her accent before so several of them decided to bully her. However a number of us decided to befriend this child and as we outnumbered the bullies they soon slunk away. ‘Twas ever thus!!
Living in a fairly quiet part of the North we didn’t have the horror of the bombings taking place in cities all over the country. I vividly remember my mother taking me to visit her cousin in Manchester in about 1942 and being taken by my half cousins to their favourite playground. A heap of rubble opposite their house which had once been someone’s home.
Dark nights were the norm. No street lights, absolutely no lights shining from windows and only the tiniest amount of light allowed from hand torches which had paper stuck over them with only a tiny slit for the light to shine through.
We would sometimes go to the Cinema with some neighbours and their daughter. Coming home in the pitch dark seemed a great adventure to us as we happily skipped along singing ‘Who’s afraid of the dark?” One night we left the cinema to discover it had been snowing and the ground and rooftops were white. There was a full moon which made everything look as bright as day………..We couldn’t understand why we were shepherded home as fast as possible. We would have loved to play snowballs.
In common with every town in the land there was a possibility of air raids. My mother decided that the safest place to shelter from any bombs was in the understairs pantry, where she provided cushions to sit on. As she also left all the tins, glass jars and bottles on the shelves, it was probably not the safest choice!
None of these things had much impact upon me as I grew up until at the end of the war I was taken to the cinema by my parents. There they showed a newsreel of the first soldiers entering Belsen and finding people in the late stages of starvation, literally living skeletons waiting to die and heaps of bodies piled up to rot. The result of Nazi hatred and inhumanity. I can remember it still.
I pray that the present threat of Fascism in defeated so that never again will people be persecuted because they are perceived to be ‘different’.
Let us embrace and rejoice in our differences and stand firm against such oppressors. For then our world will be a richer and more peaceful place.
When you buy your poppy this year, wear it proudly in honour of all those parents who never made it back to help their children grow up.
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