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15 October 2014
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My Fourth Birthday

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
STEVE PIPER
Location of story: 
Newdigate, Surrey
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A3873800
Contributed on: 
08 April 2005

Sunday September 3, 1939 was my fourth birthday, and at that early age I remember members of the family gathering around the wireless that morning waiting for the news at 11am to say that we were at war with Germany. Later in the day, the sirens sounded. I lived in the village of Newdigate in Surrey. Life for a small boy went on as normal -- memories of having gas masks fitted, and family making sure that you could not see a light from outside the house.

In late spring and early summer of 1940, after Dunkirk, I recall dog fights overheard with the fighter planes. I remember my uncle taking me to see a German ‘plane that was shot down and crashed at the bottom of Henfold Hill. Several bombs were dropped in the area, of which a few had a delayed time action charge. These were cordoned off with UXB signs.

Autumn 1940 — and it’s school for me, gas masks and all. When there was a raid we had to get under the table. The school had big wooden beams in the roof, and even at that early age I wondered what good a table would be if one of those came crashing down.

After the Americans came into the war, we had some of them billeted in the village in what was called The Red House. They would go to the pub, The Surrey Oaks, at Parkgate. During the summer evenings, one or two of us boys would ask them for cigarette cards they got with their sweet caporal cigarettes they smoked.

I recall convoys of troops going past our road on the run up to D Day. On a few occasions some would encamp in a wood near us for a night — then move on again. We saw the masses of bombers going out on raids, and heard some of them limping back in the early hours.

D-Day, and the expectation and concern that all would go well in the massive invasion. Then a week later, the VIs (doodlebugs) started to arrive. One crashed in Broad Lane, just past Parkgate, damaging houses, one on the corner of Hogs Pudding Lane caused damage to property, and one in Cudworth Drive. When you heard one coming, one would hope it would keep going, but if it started to splutter and cut out, you had to take cover. The V2 Rockets you could not hear coming, but we were spared these, as none of these fell on our village.

September 1944: The Arnham raid on a Sunday morning — lots of planes and gliders in the sky, which ended up a Bridge Too Far. The winter, and the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes — the Germans’ last push to try to get to Antwerp. Early 1945, and he push over the Rhine advances from the East. The over-running of the horror camps in early spring. It was now that all the atrocities of the NAZI regime came to light.

May 8: VE Day — much rejoicing — street parties across the country. The war in Europe was over — but it was not until August that the Americans dropped the Atom Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that Japan surrendered to end it all.

This is my account as a young boy through my infant years of the memories that have stayed with me of the war time years.

This story was added by John Young, with the permission of the author Steve Piper, who understands the terms and conditions of adding his story to the website.

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