- Contributed by
- People in story:
- John Smith
- Location of story:
- Bath Somerset
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 02 November 2003
It is 1939,the young man stares from the living room window into the garden beyond,it is but a few days since he returned from his summer holidays and September has brought a return to school and the happy thoughts of those August days are starting to fade.
The living room adjoins the bars of a suburban pub,his father being the landlord,it is a busy Sunday morning and the sounds and smells drift in through the open door.
For some time now talk has been of war,in the home or wherever people gather together the " International Situation" is the main topic.There is tension in the air,a certain excitement and this Sunday morning is no exception.
The pub,if anything is busier than usual as if the locals have gathered together for strength and comfort.
The young man's father comes into the room"switch on the radiogram John," he calls, "it's nearly time for the broadcast"the dial lights up and there is a few moments delay as it warms up."This is the B.B.C. Program,here is an announcement by the Prime Minister,the Right Honourable Mr.Neville Chamberlain" the clatter and hubbub in the bars falls silent and the historic news is broken,we are,in fact,at war with Nazi Germany.
Although very little seems to happen at first, there is a good deal of speculation and as the days and weeks go by,changes began to occur in everyday life, cinemas and theatres are closed,windows are taped up against bomb blast and blackout curtains are made. The blackout causes additional problems for John's father,there has to be a double curtain arrangement for the three doors leading to the street.
Thus began the first part of my war experience,smetimes boring,sometimes exciting and other times very frightening.On the whole Bath was lucky in those early days,the air raid sirens would sound,isolated bombs were dropped,possibly from German aircraft returning from raids on Bristol with ordnance left over,not a great deal of damage was done.
My friends and I would sometimes walk up to Twerton Roundhill,a few miles away to watch the night raids on Bristol,an awe inspiring sight with the flames lighting up the sky,we had quite fright one night when a bomb whistled down and exploded a few fields away.
In those days I was a school in Bristol and would take the train on a daily basis,our recreational area was on the roof of the school and as it was a vantage point overlooking the city,a machine gun post was installed there,similar posts were installed on nearby Brandon Hill,when I told my parents this little gem they decided I should finish my education in Bath,I was 14.
My memories of those train journies are of blacked out windows in the winter evenings and smoke filled compartments in very ancient carriages,presumably the better ones were being used for troop movements.Troops became a common sight everywhere,at Temple Meads station,the army set up an office at the end of the platform to deal with service personel.
I believe it is right to say that my friends and I found those early days of the war exciting and full of interest,the horror,still less the awful obscenity of it had very little impact ,that was to come. We took an avid interest in aircraft recognition,both Allied and German,I remember joining a boys orginisation called the "Air Defence Cadets" later to become the "Air Training Corps" a much more diciplined body,formed with the blessing and help of the R.A.F. I remember we felt we were really in it now since we were obliged to sign alegience to the King.
It became a common occcurence in those days to meet ones friends and talk about the war,as I recall we all had abitions to join the R.A.F.probably because that was the aspect of the war that presented itself to us on a daily basis.We formed an informal club in a garden shed and placed pictures of aircraft on the wall.
As a family we had now become familiar to the almost routine sounding of the air raid siren,it always seemed to go off just as you got to sleep.I remember arranging my clothes across the bedroom floor in order,finishing with my shoes by the door.Whilst these episodes were unerving and gave us many disturbed nights we thought ourselves very lucky compared to our neighbour town of Bristol,until that is the night of Saturday the 25th April 1942.
It had been a busy Saturday night in the pub,closing time in those days was 10.00 p.m. but it was always gone 11.00 before my parents could think about bed.
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