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15 October 2014
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Missing lessons to help with the war effort

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
George Pither
Location of story: 
Odiham, Hampshire
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
18 August 2005

I was nine years old at the outbreak of the second World War and remember well the declaration by Neville Chamberlain. Our family, my Father, my Mother, Sister and Brother lived in Odiham, a small town in North East Hampshire, a mile from Odiham Air Field. Two brick and concrete shelters were built on the recreation ground just in front of our row of houses. Some families used them when the air raid warning sounded, but they were dark, damp and claustrophobic. Dad and I dug a hole in the back garden, boarded it out, then covered it with corrugated iron and about two feet of earth. It was a complete failure and we never used it. Instead, we often took shelter under the stairs when the siren sounded.

Air raid shelters were built at the school into which we filed when a warning sounded. This could be several times a day. The older boys over about nine were asked to fill sand bags to protect the local hospital. We did this over several weeks and were rewarded with bags of apples. As this meant missing lessons, there was no shortage of volunteers. A large plot of land at the rear of the school was dug and divided into smaller plots and each one was worked by a few boys and the resulting crops of vegetables shared. Older boys were given extended holidays to help with the harvest, potato picking and planting. We also did hop picking and acorn gathering. Day release cards were also given out to do extra days work on local farms. These had to be signed by the farmer but sometimes we were naughty and signed each others and went fishing.

One morning we were told that half a dozen boys were needed to act as casualties in a gas decontamination exercise. Another day off school? My hand was first up ... Big mistake! We reported to an ARP building and then we were told to take our clothes off, where upon we were hosed down for several minutes with freezing cold water, thus becoming decontaminated. Drying off with chattering teeth and blue fingers, I resolved never to volunteer for anything ever again!

This story was entered on the People’s War website by Charlie Sever on behalf of George Pither. George fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

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