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"Oh, What a Lovely War?"

by troglodyte

Contributed by 
troglodyte
People in story: 
Alfred Farnell
Location of story: 
Ilford, Essex
Article ID: 
A2422603
Contributed on: 
14 March 2004

I was born and brought up in Ilford, on the outskirts of London. I was evacuated in September 1939 but returned home in May 1940 and remained there throughout the rest of the war.

On the morning of Saturday 7th September 1940 I was playing with a friend in our local park when the Air Raid Warning sounded. This was at the tail end of the Battle of Britain, during which we had spent many boring hours in the shelters. The reason for our boredom was that practically all the action took place South of the River Thames and we were on the North side. The enemy made occasional excursions to such places as Hornchurch, North Weald and Duxford but most of the time we sat in the shelters with nothing going on over our heads. For that reason we decided to go on playing in the park, rather than seek shelter.

We went into the wooded area where we would not be observed by interfering adults and shortly after heard the sound of aircraft engines. We found a clearing giving us a good view of the sky and saw the enemy bombers approaching. They were only little black specks but their vapour trails showed us where they were. Then some fighters arrived; we heard the crackling of machine guns, saw two aircraft shot down (we naturally assumed they were enemy bombers) and saw an airman descending on a parachute. All this was meat and drink to two 12-year old boys who had practically been weaned on Biggles. We found it thrilling and exciting and the sounding of the All Clear came as something of an anti-climax.

There were fairly clear instructions from our parents about what to do if we were caught out in an air raid. If possible, we should run home at top speed but if that was out of the question we were allowed to go to a friend's house. The third alternative was a public shelter but this must only be a last resort as you could never be sure who or what you might find in one of those. On this occasion, we decided to tell our mothers that we had been at each other's house and when I arrived home I lied with a perfectly straight face. Shortly afterwards, Mother went to our local shops to do some shopping. Unfortunately, my friend's mother had decided to do the same thing and, inevitably, they met. I can only imagine their conversation but I need no imagination to recall what happened when Mother arrived home. I don't think I ever saw her so angry either before or since and she wasted very few words on me. Twelve years old or no twelve years old, I went across her knee and I don't think I sat down again in comfort for the next couple of hours; which, incidentally were spent in the cellar. Not that Mother ever locked me in the cellar as a punishment but my wailing was drowned out by the renewed sound of the siren and the afternoon raid began. This was the raid which virtually destroyed the London Docks and inflicted a great deal of damage on the East End.

When I met my friend at church the next day, I discovered that he had been subjected to the same punishment by his mother as I had from mine, for which he blamed me as he said it was my idea in the first place to stay out during the air raid. I don't think our friendship was ever quite the same again.

Three months later I realised there was rather more to war than exciting thrills when my cousin went down with his ship in the North Atlantic. Three years later, my brother's submarine failed to return from a mission in the Mediterranean and I think that must have been when I really grew up.

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