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One child's war part two 1941-44

by bedfordmuseum

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
People in story: 
John Daniels & family, 'Chuck' Yeager
Location of story: 
Leiston, East Suffolk
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
25 November 2005

Following our release from the Isolation Hospital and return to Leiston, we re-commenced our schooling in the spring term of 1941, I to the “Junior” school, but Jean, (now being 11 years old) to the “Senior” school.

Although the immediate danger of invasion had passed by the spring of 1941 history shows that the fate of the British Isles was still balanced on a knife edge, but this was beyond the understanding of a
young child, and my general memories of those times are of how “normal” things seemed. It was many years later that I was to learn that Government policy aimed to keep things looking that way, and in any case, young children had no basis on which to make comparisons. Austerity, shortages, few sweets, toys, books were accepted as “normal”, and I don’t think we children were ever frightened or discontented.

All over the country a “Black-out” policy was strictly enforced, with “Air Raid Wardens” patrolling in case anyone allowed light to leak from their houses after dark, thus giving clues to attacking aircraft. Even so a stray German bomber would sometimes appear in the sky over Leiston, and bombs were dropped, apparently at random. (Leiston could hardly be regarded as a target of prime strategic significance, and this fact probably saved the little town from an organised attack). On just one occasion the air-raid alarm siren sounded during school hours & we children had to put our “air-raid shelter drill” into practice, when I’m sure we were more excited than fearful! Bombs actually fell less than half a mile away on Richard Garrett’s Engineering Works but failed to explode. “Garrett’s” was where my father worked, together with most of the local adult male population. Another time, bombs fell and exploded harmlessly on common land to the East of the town. The craters resulting from the explosions were eagerly sought out by the local boys in order to collect metal fragments (“shrapnel”) as souvenirs. If the alarm sounded at night when we were at home I sheltered in an “Anderson Table Shelter” which Dad had installed in the front room of our home; it was a sort of stout metal cage, which occupied most of the space in the small room.

Our childish games and activities were almost inevitably war orientated, and we avidly collected soldiers cap badges, insignia, spent cartridge cases, shrapnel and all manner of like items. Greatly prized were the tail fins of incendiary (fire) bombs, which usually remained intact after detonation. In spite of, or perhaps because of the war conditions, we country children enjoyed far more freedom at eight or nine years old than would a child of similar age today. Our war games extended far and wide, although the beaches at nearby Sizewell were definitely a no-go area being fenced off because of anti-invasion defences including mine fields. During the war years daylight saving time was introduced in the form of permanent “Summer Time & “Double Summer Time”. My parents were never great enforcers of early-to-bed policies, and in summer I remember happily playing outside until well after 9PM during the school holidays.

At school our lessons continued as normal, and the years passed by, and by the time I was seven I was reading simple books. With very little children’s new material being published, the choice was very restricted and mostly on war topics about the aircraft, ships and guns. I still have one of these; the paper quality is just awful. One Christmas I received a “Rupert” annual which I treasured greatly, and must have nearly read the print off the pages!

In June 1941 the Germans ill advisedly attacked Russia, thus opening a new war zone, while in December of that year the Japanese attacked the USA at Pearl Harbour, (even more ill advised). Even at seven years old, the significance of these events was not lost on me.

By 1942 the tide of war was beginning to change, and two of my elder brothers were in the forces on active service. “The Nine O’clock News” on the BBC was most eagerly listened to on the radio (“Wireless”) by just about everyone as they sought to gain authoritative reports on the wars progress. At eight years old I was just about able to understand what was going on. The newspapers carried maps illustrating the various campaigns, and I followed these with the sort of interest a child of today might apply to a sporting event, but without grasping their true significance.

The BBC also broadcast “Children’s Hour” daily, which I greatly enjoyed, and “Monday Night At Eight” was listened to by all the family. Leiston Cinema (“The Picture House”) remained open throughout the war and as I grew older I was allowed to go to see “suitable” films.

In late 1943 the USAAF 357th Fighter Group started operations from a newly built airfield just outside Leiston and their presence added new excitement to our lives. I had long been used to seeing aircraft of all kinds flying over, but now the P51 Mustangs were to be seen every day, and much closer! The Americans were very friendly to the local children, and, in December 1944 gave the only Christmas party I was to attend in the war years. Among the pilots to fly from Leiston was “Chuck” Yeager, later to become the first man to fly an aircraft at above the speed of sound. In his autobiography he tells how he found the local males surly and introspective. Not surprising, really, as he and they were literally from different worlds. We children had a most profound admiration for the Americans!

John Daniels, November 2005.

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