- Contributed by
- Location of story:
- West Cumbria
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 01 October 2005
We had moved to West Cumberland (as it was then known ) two years before war was declared. I was nearly four. In such a remote corner we were scarcely aware that a war was taking place. The sirens were heard for real only once, reputedly when a stray bomber got lost looking for Liverpool docks, so we retreated to our ‘shelter’ — the cupboard under the stairs. It was here that my father housed his Morse-code machine — at 37 he was too old for active service but he was very involved with the local Home Guard. It fascinated me to see him tapping out and receiving messages so quickly and the end of the war, I, too, was very familiar with the code — after all, one never knew if the Germans might invade the Cumbrian coast!
Our quiet life (I was an only child at that point) came to an end when evacuees arrived. Two young teenage Geordie lads, ‘escaping’ from inner-city Newcastle -on-Tyne ,were billeted with us. I think my mother found the situation quite daunting but for me it was like finding myself with two big brothers who were happy to have me tagging along as they explored the freedom of the countryside. Damming up a tiny stream in a local wood was great fun, especially the bit at the end when we released all the pent-up water and got very wet and muddy, doubtless adding to Mum’s tribulations. For some reason unknown to me, Dick didn’t stay with us long, but Tony quickly became a much-loved addition to the family and remains a family friend to this day.
On the subject of food, living in the country also gave us many advantages. There was plenty of room for dad to grow our fruit and vegetables, while friends at the nearby farm were occasionally generous. A glut of eggs could be preserved in ising-glass (a substance which prevented air from penetrating the shell) in a galvanised bucket with a special metal egg container inside. Eggs seemed to be kept there for some considerable time. Wild rabbit stews put in a regular appearance and were very tasty.
The reality of the war came home to me on a visit to Leamington Spa in 1942 when my grandparents died within a very short time of each other. I remember the complete blackout at all the stations and no station names and being very worried about how we would know where to get off the train. It must have been at the time of the Coventry bombings because we could see intense aerial activity in the distance. My other grandparents received a bomb in their back garden in Kidderminster.
I recall hearing of the end of the war with great clarity. I had a few pennies to spend in a small local shop on my way home from school — a shop with a long dark counter with large glass display cupboards at each end which were nearly always empty. I don’t remember whether there was anything to buy on that day, but I can picture vividly the two shop assistants, wearing aprons and turbans, and several customers all beside themselves with excitement and delight. Seeing my bewilderment they just screamed at me ,“It’s the end of the war!”, and I ran the
rest of the way home to convey the good news.
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