Monday, January 15
Dad, what was it like as a kid in the war?
Well, each house was given an Anderson air raid shelter. Men from the council came round and dug into the garden, erecting the shed sized shelter made from corrugated metal. We would climb down into it, protected by wall of earth. Inside we put in some boards to sit on and some old blankets. We didn’t have much else. When the air raid siren went off at night we would wake up and go in until the all clear siren. When it rained the shelter filled up with water. A year or so later a brick shed was built with a protective blast wall, just outside the kitchen door. There was a metal handle inside to pull if you got trapped inside. We slept in it often, sharing it with the next door neighbours. The nearest bombs fell 100m away, 4 houses got hit. Lots of incendiary (firebombs) bombs got dropped. We would pick up the burnt out bits on our way to school and swap pieces of shrapnel between us. Everywhere we went we had a gas mask in a cardboard box over our shoulders.
Grandad was at sea until the early 40’s when the ship he was on was chased out of Genoa harbour by the Germans. After that he worked in London docks in the ship repair yards which were also heavily bombed throughout the war. He often couldn’t get home for 3 or 4 nights due to bombings and lack of transport.
Occasionally food parcels would arrive from relatives in New Zealand. Inside we would find a rich fruit cake, chocolate bars, dried fruit and jam. Sugar was rationed; we only had 2oz (50g) per person per week, so the chocolate was pure luxury. They arrived once or twice a year. Sometimes we knew one was on the way as we kept in contact by aerogram but it never arrived. Everything travelled by sea and sometimes the ships never arrived in England.
Because food was rationed a lot of what we ate was home produced, even milk and bread were rationed. Pubs would often close because they had no beer. A normal meal would include lots of vegetables and occasionally there was a piece of meat of fish.
From the age of 8 I used to earn money helping the milkman with his deliveries from his hand cart on the weekends and school holidays. One Sunday morning in 1944 in the middle of a very busy period of doodlebugs (V1’s) falling in the area, delivering milk, I heard a doodlebug coming down. (These bombs made an awful throaty roar as they fell from the sky, then the engine would cut out and there was a terrible silence and you knew it was about to come down somewhere). I looked up and I heard the engine cut out above me, I saw the bomb falling away, spiralling down and watched as it hit some houses at the end of a field about 600 yards away. As it exploded the blast was so strong that it blew me straight through a plate glass window of the shop that I was standing by. I found my way out from the broken glass, miraculously uncut. Every shop in that street lost its windows from the force of the blast
By July 1944 the area where I lived had been struck by about 60 doodlebugs and it was decided that the women and children should be evacuated. So along with most of my school friends and their mothers, we were sent off. Collection days were arranged where we had to be ready with our gas masks and our meagre belongings at a local evacuation point. We didn’t know where we were to be sent to. We were taken by coach to the local train station were we were boarded a crowded train. The journey took about seven hours, passing through many stations without names. The authorities had decided to cover up all the station names in case the Germans arrived so they would not know where they were. Eventually we arrived at a station in North Devon where coaches took us nearby towns. With my brother, sister and mum we were one of 60 families taken to the village of Chulmleigh. We were all given beds in the hall of the local school. There wasn’t much privacy. Eventually our family was assigned a small council house on the edge of the village were we stayed for 3 months.
Next door there was an Italian prisoner of war camp with about 200 Italian prisoners guarded by one British Army sergeant. It was an open prison and the prisoners free to walk in and out, but were trusted not to escape. My brother who was about 5 at the time would go in there and wander around making friends with the Italians. They made their own pasta which hung drying in the window frames. They sat outside weaving baskets and teaching us Italian words. My brother would stay and eat with the Italians every day, I would join them sometimes too. In return for a meal I would bring them a drink from the local pub, because they were not allowed inside.
After three months in the country, the doodlebug attacks back in London seemed to die down. We were sent back home, but the day that we arrived a bomb fell on our school, at the end of the road, killing 40 people. The bombs continued to fall for a few weeks and were then superseded by the V2 rockets. These rockets went so fast that you couldn’t hear them coming. You just heard the explosion when they hit something. Within a few months May 8th 1945 the war in Europe ended.
Basically that was it and we all went about our normal lives, as best as anybody could.
at 2:57 PM