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- Jean Frier
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- 30 January 2006
GLORY IN WAR! I This I repeat for the benefit of any child who may read or listen to what I have to tell, for in today's society and with all the technology of 'computer games' and 'play stations' and so much violence shown in films and comics, children grow thinking that when the shooting stops, the game begins all over again.
Real war is not like that! Real war is parting and sadness, fear and dread, darkness and death! But there is always a good side too and there are times of lighter moments, great friendships and extreme bravery, for as in every situation in peoples lives, good and bad are brought to the surface in extreme moments in time. Now I'll get off my 'soapbox' and tell you about 'my war'.
September 3rd 1939 was a bright, crisp Sunday morning and my Uncle Ted was paying his usual Sunday visit. He arrived minutes before the announcement on the wireless by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to tell the country that 'we were now at war with Germany'.
My dad and uncle, (both having served in the 1914 -18 Great War) solemnly shook hands and my mother burst into tears and 1, at ten years old, didn't understand.
When School sent home a letter encouraging my parents to have me evacuated, my mother flatly refused, saying as a lot of mothers did 'that we would all stay together, whatever happened!
I found all the changes that started to happen were exciting!
My parents were Caretakers and we lived at 'The Markets and Fairs Department in Moat Lane, part of the old Smithfield Wholesale Fruit and Vegetable Market, a big Victorian building that stood immediately behind St Martins Church in the Bull Ring.
School routine was upset, for so many of my classmates were suddenly missing! They were gone to be evacuees! I didn't have 'playmates' at home for there were no other children in our lane, so home life wasn't so disrupted, but the pace quickened. We hurriedly prepared for possible 'Air Raids' and we were issued with Gas Masks which fitted into a small Cardboard Box complete with a string loop so that it could be put over your shoulder and carried at all times. Soon they were being covered in smarter looking covers made by enterprising firms or nifty needlewomen.
We went through the war without any 'Gas Raids' but we had frequent rehearsals in class wearing these masks during lessons, in and out. They were very hot and uncomfortable, made of smelly rubber with a clear visor that steamed up and they made very rude noises as you breathed. (Wearing them during a French phonetic lesson was hilarious!).
Everything seemed to be happening at a great pace, and everyone working with a will to protect life and limb and property as much as possible and this was the excitement, all the changes that took place in hours rather than months.
Public Air Raid Shelters were hurriedly built to protect people and in the suburbs homes were issued with Anderson Shelters, made of sheets of corrugated iron, that had to be assembled in a pit built at the top of each garden, and later Morrison 'Table Top' Shelters were provided for homes without gardens. Windowpanes were criss-crossed with brown sticky tape to help prevent the danger of flying glass and walls of sandbags protected entrances to public buildings.
Then the raids began, 'Sirens' gave that 'bloodcurdling wail' and the excitement - changed to endurance and exhaustion and tearful emotion as night followed night, sitting in shelters. Hours spent listening to the drone of planes, trying to distinguish the engine sounds, reassuring each other, it's alright it's one of ours or fearfully saying' this is it, get ready!' then the waiting for the whoosh of the bombs as they hurtled to the ground, then a moment of breath-held silence before the deafening roar of the explosion, followed by the sound of debris and glass falling and shouts.
Our shelter was a private one, beneath the Market, a disused basement kitchen to the old living premises of the Chief Accountant when the Market was firs-. built and now reinforced according to regulations to provide our shelter. This was to be our 'other home' for the next four years, for each nigh(, after tea. As soon as we (My Mom and myself) had finished the nightly cleaning of the Offices, down the shelter we went until the next morning or the final 'All Clear' sounded whichever was first. My Dad had joined the local Air Raid Wardens Group so each night he patrolled the streets checking for any lights that might be revealed. While the raids went on and the incendiary bombs dropped all around he hurried to extinguish any fires that started before they had time to spread. Many men and women, did this duty night after night after a full day at work and often going to work next day without a night's rest at all and times of facing great danger, injury and sadly for many death.
At the' All Clear~ we used to emerge from the shelter often to face a changed view, spaces where there had always been shops or churches or schools and houses with walls gone and furniture hanging precariously in mid-air on floors open to the sky. My Mom and J mostly came out to fires blazing everywhere along Edgbaston St and up the Bull Ring, Moor St. and Digbeth and chaos wherever we looked. Provided we still had water and gas in our flat, we straightway made huge jugs full of cocoa and loaded these into my granddads old allotment 'box on wheels' and took it round the streets to the Firemen as far as we could go. J never realized until then how cold and wet firemen could become thinking only of the heat of the flames they were fighting. Then, they had no waterproof clothing for protection and they too were often volunteers who would then go on to do their 'normal' day's work at the end of the raid.
Likewise, daily life continued for children too, and school attendance went on regardless, and often children after an air raid might fall asleep at their desk, but not going to school was unthinkable. My school, Moseley Rd. (J and 1) was bombed, fortunately not during school time. My classroom had a direct hi(, so each morning J went to school and was given work to do at home to take back the next morning for marking and pick up the next batch of 'homework'. Never was there any thought of not going to collect or not doing the work either. This happened for only a short time, as by then J was to start at King Edward's Grammar School at the original Camp Hill at the start of Stratford Rd. Many pupils from here were evacuated to Litchfield and those left later were loaned a schoolroom at College Road, Sparkhill when Camp Hill suffered bomb damage.
My mother had queued for hours at Lewis's sale to buy me a tennis racquet but couldn't afford a hockey stick as well, however as J started at the school so the tennis courts in Kyotts Lake Road were bombed, hence the racquet was unused and J had to hire a hockey stick for each game, at a cost of threepence (old money). For safety reasons and in later years, because of the attraction of the American - G.l.'s the City was out of bounds (as was the Boys School, next door) for all girls. Living in the town centre, I was repeatedly getting stopped by the prefects on duty at the bus stop and eventually after many delays and reprimands the Headmistress. issued me with a permit to travel home to have my lunch.
Ration Books and Clothing Coupon Books were issued and food and clothes were carefully used. The slogan was 'Make Do and Mend' and people discovered their hidden talents for improvising in so many ways. Day after day mothers struggled to get the best use out of food rations to make each meal more inviting. 016 woollens were unpicked and re-knitted; women used old buttons and bows to make old clothes more attractive. Stockings were a luxury and only for special occasions and women and girls coloured their bare legs with a solution of gravy browning or sand in water, caked on to dry and rub off to leave the sand colour and then carefully a friend would draw a mock seamline down the length of your legs before you went out to a dance or 'on a date'!
For life was to be lived in spite of the enemy and with a determination that we were not going to be defeated by any bombs that Hitler might shower upon us, and men and women worked tirelessly night and day to keep up the supply of equipment to our Forces facing other dangers and they too needed to know that we were there for them, supporting them all the way.
I was very fortunate, for I was blessed to survive without any loss of family, my relatives and friends in the Forces returned unharmed and my home stayed secure and untouched apart from shattered glass in the windows.
My Mother never showed her fear to me and so I was secure in her care. Her expertise in stretching the food rations was nothing short of miraculous and although, as all children today still do, my cry forever was 'I'm starving' thanks to the ingenuity of mothers everywhere and the fairness of the rationing system imposed by the Government, I never did go hungry! Fish and Chip shops were allowed to open three times a week for a few hours, dependant upon their allocated ration of cooking fat!
Yes, people endured the daily closeness of having to live huddled together in shelters, breathing the same stale air night after night, desperate to find ways of improvising anything to entertain and while away the long hours while the planes came, the guns roared and the bombs dropped on our city. All these things we endured and were grateful to survive and face each new dawn!
And forever, we knitted for the troops, scarves, pullovers, balaclavas, socks, socks and more socks!
As a sixteen-year-old, I came out of the war no longer a child but with a sense of responsibility for other people and their property and values that have sustained me throughout my life. Values that I know are shared by most people of my generation who endured and even though battered and bruised, scarred and bereaved, still picked up the pieces and got on with living.
Maybe in this achievement lies the sole 'glory in war!'
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Anastasia Travers a volunteer with WM CSV Actiondesk on behalf of Jean Frier and has been added to the site with his permission. Jean Frier fully understands the sites terms and conditions.
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