- Contributed by
- CSV Action Desk/BBC Radio Lincolnshire
- People in story:
- John Chappell
- Location of story:
- Morley, Yorkshire
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 10 July 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by a volunteer from Lincolnshire CSV Action Desk on behalf of John Chappell and has been added to the site with his permission. Mr Chappell fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.
Hitler’s Germany had, of course, been building up a store of arms and fighting service for many years and his weapons of war, as his victim nations were now discovering, were therefore far superior to those being used by others, for instance the French and British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in Northern Europe. The British were thrown on to the sands of Dunkirk in a very short time. My father purchased a Daily Express War Map which was in folds and showed the German Siegfried Line and the French Maginot Line, which was supposed to stop any German attack from the west but of course the Germans just went round it. They also introduced the form of attack known as ‘blitzkrieg’, or lightning war.
My two sisters and I began to see and meet soldiers from our neighbourhood home on leave or wounded from Dunkirk. The news outside our local newspaper shop was quite often very bad and a possible German invasion of Britain was being discussed everywhere you went.
Some of the young men from our neighbourhood who seemed to us to have mysteriously vanished now began to reappear wearing military uniforms. Our tall young Harold Matthews, for instance came home on leave wearing the uniform of the Argyll and Sutherland Regiment, while my good friend “Sonny” Bennett’s open face appeared so youthful I had often believed him to be only a few years older than I was. Sonny had, I remembered, taken me about in peaceful times in the sidecar of his Triumph motorcycle. Now he was wearing the khaki uniform. Arthur Peel, one of those returned from Dunkirk badly wounded, was now to spend some considerable time here at his home on Troy Hill before going back to his unit. His daughter Marlene was a close friend of my sister Jean, and about the same age. Another local man, happy Alan Dawson was known to be a sailor of the Royal Navy serving on a battleship.
The Borough’s schools and town hall and other public buildings, including the Education Office, as I recall, were wrapped about at their lower levels in numerous bags of sand in expectation of bomb blast, while much window glass was already taped up with abroad, sticky brown paper in the event of the same. By night there existed a total blackout. No light, either house light or street light, could be visible. Wardens walked the Borough’s streets, roads and avenues with powers to exact fines for blackout infringements. Cars were permitted headlights to show but only through narrowly-slitted metal cases. In the meantime small air raid shelter had been installed in small private gardens, while larger communal air raid shelters were already in place at various strategic points about the Borough.
One night, numerous soldiers poured in under the cover of darkness, all of them aboard khaki painted army lorries. It was a shock to the people of our Borough. They proved to be a large detachment of the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC). The first sight we children had of these soldiers on the following morning stirred powerful, indescribable feelings among us. Here they were, these many soldiers, cooking stews, or soups in great vats or cauldrons, on a piece of ground adjoining the stone-gated Lewisham Park, very close to our Peel Street Primary School. Their large khaki tents were set up behind them in alien, clothy pyramids. Many of these soldiers were wearing khaki coloured vests and trousers only while shaving their rough faces with cut-throat razors with as much aplomb and familiarity as if there were occupying their own homes, wherever they might be.
We children stood idly by, watching these newly arrived beings until we were called into school with the usual bell, having tried to answer some of their questions about the Borough in which they now found themselves by daylight.
The strange soldiers appeared quite friendly, winking their eyes at we children and asking yet more questions of us. Quite suddenly, however, just as I was beginning to trust them, they robbed us of our school. We arrived there one Monday morning to find ourselves, along with our teachers, standing on the pavement outside the familiar building, the soldiers within it preventing our entry. The following lines make an attempt to express my feelings about this theft of our school:
THE SOLDIERS IN THE BOROUGH
The soldiers had no known consciences:
They seized our school, and they carved
Our desks and our walls; they waved
Unfeelingly when they met us.
Liking all they’d won. We, meanwhile,
Schooled out in halls and clubs, chalking
Slates, smelling beered, and walking
Long walks to walk free of the trial
Of a borough roomed down to a war.
We walked, sometimes in soft rain,
Far beyond the town, again
And again, and quite often too far,
Turning, at last, for our homes, with jars
Of tadpoles and wafers of birch bark,
Our child eyes now tired from the dark
Indictment of a woodland’s own wars.
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