- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Keith (Ken) Robinson
- Location of story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 28 October 2003
Even today not many people realise that Great Britain declared war on Germany and not the other way round. We had a treaty with Poland where we would go to their aid if they were attacked, and attacked they were when German troops marched across the border and occupied the country.
I was four years old at the beginning of the war in September 1939 but have no memories of the commencement of hostilities because for the first few months nothing happened of which anyone was aware. However, it was not long before older teenagers were being conscripted into the armed forces followed by men and women in their twenties. Eventually all my uncles were in uniform. Those too old at the beginning of the war were called upon to serve in some form of civil defence organisation.
My father, while doing his normal job during the day, would spend the evenings and nights as a member of the A.R.P. (Air Raid Precautions) and had to patrol the streets with others making sure no house was showing a light. All windows had to be completely sealed after dark with solid shutters of some description. Ordinary curtains – no matter how thick - were not sufficient.
Like most houses our house had a cellar which Dad re-enforced with timber to provide a shelter from any falling debris from exploding bombs. The cellar was equipped with bunk beds so we kids could get some sleep as the German bombers soon began to arrive at night time and normal life during the day meant we still had to go to school.
The Germans attached whistles to their bombs so as they fell the screeching sound would terrorise the civil population. This worried us for a while until dad explained that as bombs fell at a speed faster than sound the ones we heard were falling some distance away and the one falling on us we would not hear at all. Somehow for a reason I was never able to fathom this had a calming affect. Anyway I do not recall being really frightened at any time.
We were aware that the bombers were attempting to destroy the Raleigh Bicycle factory which as I mentioned earlier was manufacturing war materials and was only a mile down the road from where we lived. We learned after the war that most bombs failed to explode although whenever a bomb fell the disruption the next day was quite widespread as roads were closed off and normal traffic diverted by signs saying “Unexploded Bomb”.
My aunt and uncle who lived half a mile away had a bomb fall on their house. It went through the roof into their bedroom where they were sleeping, out through the bedroom window and buried itself in their front garden. We were allowed to visit them once the bomb had been disarmed and removed and even though it did not explode the bomb had created quite a large crater. Like a lot of adults during air raids they never bothered to go to the shelter preferring to stay in the comfort and safety of their bed!
To young children the air raids were quite exciting and were the topic of discussion at school the next day. There was great rivalry to see who could collect the largest piece of shrapnel after an air raid. These were fragments of an exploded bomb and even greater rivalry existed to see who could find a warm piece as this would be significant in it being from a recently exploded bomb. We then discovered that some clever kids were heating old pieces in the oven before coming into school.!
My father was eventually called for service in the Royal Navy. As the supply of younger people was exhausted so older people were called upon.
So the war years 1939 to 1945 were comparatively uneventful to we children in the midlands. We had regular nightly air raids by German bombers during what was called the Blitz – a period of intense activity by the German Airforce – and we occasionally saw German planes high in the sky during the day while on route to more important targets.
Rationing was really the only hardship we had to endure. With the whole country manufacturing war materials everything needed for every day survival was rationed. Every individual was issued with a “Ration Book” consisting of pages of coupons for normal consumer goods and which limited the amount of what you could buy. The books contained coupons for clothes, all food stuffs, sweets and even furniture.
One strong memory was when evacuated children from London began to arrive in the neighbourhood. We youngsters thought they were very peculiar with their southern accents. For instance, when playing in the street they would say, "We are going indoors," and it was some time when we discovered that going indoors was simply going in!
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