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15 October 2014
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The Blackout

by derbycsv

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

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E.M Morley
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12 January 2006

When war broke out, in 1939, I was fourteen years old. I was the elder daughter of a miner in one of those scruffy nondescript towns which sprawl northwards through the Erewash valley, plotting the path of the Industrial Revolution through the area. We lived on a council estate surrounded by kindly women and hard-drinking men, in a close community with no comprehension of the upheaval which was to come.

Some six years earlier my mother had died leaving my father the unenviable task of bringing up two young girls alone. He was ill-prepared for the role which had been cast for him. He was a quiet uncomplicated man, face to face with the problem of survival. He did his best and we did survive in a rough and ready way.

We grew up fast in that first long winter of the war. We grew accustomed to change, to food shortages, to queues and the blackout; above all to the misery of the blackout.

The government had decreed that a total blackout would take place over the entire country during the hours of darkness. Not a chink of light was to be seen from any building or any other source; visually the country disappeared each night, hidden from the searching eyes of enemy aircraft crews. Air-raid wardens were appointed to ensure that all obeyed the decree ‘put that light out’ became a national catchphrase.

Feverish activity took place as blackout curtains were hurriedly made for every window in every house. The more adventurous fitted removal shutters made of wooden laths and roofing felt. Street lighting was extinguished for the duration of the war and factory windows and skylights were daubed with a coat of matt black paint.

With the descent of night the blackness was pervasive. Cocooned in its mystery we relied more on sound and memory than on sight. Shrouded vehicle lights cast an eerie beam from their slotted cowls peering just a few feet ahead in the darkness. Few ventured out without good reason; the unwilling night shift on their way to work, the eager dayshift in search of a pub that might have some beer or cigarettes. Both beer and cigarettes were in short supply as was good humour on those dark nights with people stumbling on their way, cursing in frustration as they went, banging and barging into lamp-posts and slithering from the edge of pavements.

The days passed, the war dragged on until one fateful night some years later I was met on the doorstep by a nervous neighbour. Ill at ease, he explained to me that my father had been taken to hospital following an accident. I was visit him without delay.

He had been struck down by a bus in the centre of town. Being somewhat deaf, he neither heard nor saw the bus in the darkness another victim of the blackout.

That same night he died and so did my familiar world. I felt alone and afraid. My journey into a certain future had begun.

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