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Children of War: In Salford, Lancashire

by ged_burns

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Ged Burns (Narrator)
Location of story: 
Salford, Lancashire
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
17 June 2004

A self-portrait of the time and place where as a boy I could dream and live the moment of adversity in youthful bliss.

Children Of War

The Manchester ship canal and docks’ my playground of serene peace on Sunday’s when lying on my back in deep wild grass, the warm sun on my face as I look at a blue sky where larks hover in full song as I drink in a cocktail of aromatic perfumes from a profusion of wild flowers and grass in pleasured peace, my eyelids heavy, head moving to one side ready to slip into euphoric sleep.
A perfect peace stolen when I was jolted back to reality by loud harsh military commands from army sergeants ordering a rehearsal of silver barrage balloons to be released and dot the sky, there steel retaining hawsers a veritable spider’s web protecting the docks, river and locks from low level German bombers.
The barrage balloons ascent and noisy N.C.O’s barked orders in distinct contrast to the attendant anti aircraft batteries, their gunners sunning themselves on the sand bag barricade of their gun emplacements. Young men, some no more than boys not much older than I, at one with the world in that peaceful moment dreaming of home, wives, family and girlfriends.
While my communion with nature was shattered further by the sound of a ship’s propellers one-third out of the water lazily swishing and churning slow ahead, intermingled with sirens from the M.S.C tugs Irlam and Cadishead fussing around her fore and aft signalling their intentions for going to starboard, port, ahead or astern, along with clanging telegraphs ringing instructions to the engine rooms.
These intruders from my prone position seeming to sail on a sea of grass which until that moment had been my sanctuary, interlopers trespassing on my private world ignoring my look of scorn as they guided ten thousand tons of camouflaged rusting freighter majestically along the canal
An old lady scarred by time and her many battles with the sea and U-boat wolf packs of the north Atlantic, her attendant tugs ten feet below my eye line of the canal, their funnel tops seeming to poke just above the height of the wild grass blasting smoke and steam that hissed vehemently from a pressure relief valve set high on the funnel stack above the wheelhouse, steam and smoke blending with a stench dragged from the depths of the canal by the churning propellers of the vessels on their journey to the dock for loading.
Sounds and smells that invaded the fifty square yard oasis of grassy area where I lay, all that was left of hundreds of acres of dockland now covered by machines of war. Guns, tanks, trucks and all the trappings of destruction awaiting ships to transport those obscene monstrosities to all parts of the globe to kill maim and annihilate anything that came before them, even children like me and my friends who wanted nothing more than to play mischievous pranks, to sing, laugh and fish for tiddlers in nearby ponds, then lie in deep wild grass whiling away time in childish dreams.
But this was June nineteen forty and Armageddon was on the horizon for England and its children beginning their four-week school holidays, playing in all innocence on the camouflaged thirty-ton monsters of death and fully aware these few precious moments could soon be gone forever.
For we were well versed in deaths finality having lived through the blitz and daily bombing, our nurseries bomb shelters where we were lulled to sleep at night by the warning sirens lullaby wail, its lullaby also a farewell to many children of war, victims who would never again enjoy the warmth of the sun or the song of the lark on high when lying in deep wild grass and flowers as ghost ship intruders glide majestically by.


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