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Wartime Memories: London Blitz

by Herts Libraries

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Herts Libraries
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Contributed on: 
19 January 2005

This is Mrs S Gaylor's story; it has been added by Herts Libraries, with permission from the author, who understands the terms and conditions of adding her story to the website.

Wartime Memories

Declaration of War

My mother had suffered several nervous breakdowns during my early childhood, and in the summer of 1939 when I was eight years old, she was once again suddenly removed from our home in Kenton, Middlesex, to spend the rest of her life in a psychiatric hospital. Could the anxieties and preparations for war during 1938 have precipitated her major breakdown? I lived with relatives in Beckenham, Kent until the evening of the 2nd September, when my father arrived to take me to a new temporary home. My Uncle was a teacher, and unbeknown to me he had been preparing for immediate evacuation to Devon with his school if war was declared. These relatives could no longer look after me, and so I bade farewell to my Aunt and Uncle, and my Father drove us to North London through the darkened streets.

We arrived quite late that night at the home of other distant, elderly relatives, who lived in a large detached house in Mill Hill. Some old friends were staying for the weekend, and these guests occupied the spare bedrooms, so a camp bed was made up for me on the floor. After breakfast the following morning the group of adults sat around with solemn faces, anticipating the grave announcement shortly to be broadcast on the wireless. I can still recall the sense of doom and anxiety that was apparent on every face — my Father, my Auntie and Uncle Connell, the neighbours who had joined the group, and the elderly friends who had all lived through the First World War. One had been in the trenches and had been gassed; he had a bad chest and breathing difficulties, a quiet voice, and seemed weak physically. ‘Auntie’ Alice had lost her sweetheart, still wore her engagement ring, but had never married. They were all too aware of what the nation was about to go through again. The atmosphere was strained — and smoky, as it always was at my Uncle Connell’s. He was an habitual pipe smoker, and nearly everyone was smoking cigarettes.

They all listened intently to the wireless as Mr Chamberlain made the announcement that ‘this country is now at War with Germany’. I hovered quietly somewhere around a large black lacquered screen that was usually placed across a draughty corner of the room, and I can still visualise all the adults seated in easy chairs and around the table. Children were ‘seen and not heard’ in that household. It was then frightening to hear the wail of the first air raid siren shortly after the end of the broadcast, blasting out its warning of an imminent air raid. My Uncle hustled us all to the staircase that was built against the main inner wall of the house. We thought we were going to be bombed or gassed right away.

As we sat on the stairs, a person on each stair, one above another, and close to the wall, my Aunt handed round a box of Rowntree’s Black Magic chocolates, to distract us all, no doubt, from the fear of our imminent annihilation! I remember the one I chose — the triangular shaped cream one — and I always associate these chocolates with the outbreak of World War II. Eventually the haunting sound of the long, single tone of the ‘All Clear’ was heard; nothing terrible had occurred. It turned out to be a false alarm, but everyone had been very apprehensive, as almost immediate invasion was anticipated. Both the ‘Alert’ and the ‘All Clear’ were new sounds and rather weird and unnerving at the time. We all descended from our various perches on individual stairs, lunch was prepared and eaten in a rather subdued manner. It was all very bewildering.

The neighbours went home, and the visitors left after our Sunday lunch. At bedtime I slept in a proper bedroom of my own, with very dark, old-fashioned furniture, a large bed with an iron and brass bed-head and end, and a deep, fluffy feather mattress to snuggle into. The following morning life more or less resumed its usual pattern, but was never the same. There was a quiet, sombre atmosphere surrounding this elderly household of which I had now become a — temporary — part.

Early Days in the War - the ‘Phony War’

A little room next to the kitchen was strengthened and made into an air raid shelter room shortly after this eventful day. Sandbags were stacked up, sticky tape stuck in a diamond pattern over the window, and emergency supplies of staple foods were placed in the room. Everyone anticipated invasion, imminent air raid and gas attacks. I discovered that gas masks had already been issued, horrible, smelly, rubber contraptions that we thankfully never had to use. Food ration cards had been printed, I can recall seeing these official-looking books appearing one day, and placed on top of the sideboard in the dining room, although rationing didn’t come into force until the following year.

My mother remained in a Psychiatric Hospital throughout the war, and I lived at Mill Hill with my elderly Aunt and Uncle until my father managed to employ a housekeeper some months later, who came, with her daughter, to live with us. When I got home I found that our dog, Betty, was no longer around. I think my father had had to have her put down, although I was never told what happened to her. Schools had been closed since the outbreak of war. I had had a continual ‘holiday’ since the beginning of September, but some efforts were made to resume our education in the New Year, when our teachers arranged lessons for small groups of children in various homes in the immediate neighbourhood. I began to have brief lessons with a few of my old classmates once or twice a week in a house not very far from my own home, but we didn’t learn very much. We sat around in chairs in somebody’s cold living room for an hour or two in the morning, with exercise books propped on our knees, trying to do our sums or some written work. It all seemed like a game, too informal, too uncomfortable, so unimportant. Eventually school reopened, but no sooner had we settled in our classes and begun to catch up on reading, arithmetic (not maths in those days!) and other basic subjects, than the Battle of Britain began in the summer and air raids disturbed our days at school and our nights’ rest too.

Primary School Memories — 1941, 1942

Soon after this the Blitz began. As soon as the siren sounded to warn of a daylight raid, all the children were led with much urgency into the long air raid shelters that had been dug in our school field. We carried our gas masks in cardboard boxes hanging over our shoulders, with a little tin of emergency ‘rations’ inside, only to be consumed in a serious crisis. We sat back-to-back on the rough wooden benches that had been fixed along the middle of the tunnel of the shelter, and spent hours playing noughts and crosses, ‘hangman’, or ‘boxes’ on little scraps of paper in very dim light, using up every inch of space with our pencil and paper games. ‘Boxes’ took up the longest time, with the preliminary marking out of a rectangle of equally spaced doors, followed by each player joining up two dots, and eventually completing a square — or ‘box’ — which was marked with the appropriate initial. Often, if one was perceptive, it was possible to gain a good number of ‘boxes’, and the simple game did help to while away the long, boring, sometimes chilly hours in the shelter. ‘Cat’s cradle’ was another game we played with a length of wool or string. It was another way of passing the time. We also sang ‘counting’ songs such as ‘Ten Green Bottles’, and ‘This Ol’ Man, He Played One’, which helped to raise our spirits.

If an air raid went on for a very long time, the teachers passed boiled sweets around, but little or no teaching was possible in the shelters. It was not light enough to read a book. The facilities were very basic and unpleasant if anyone wanted to go to the toilet, just a bucket and some disinfectant. I don’t remember using it. I guess I just ‘held it’. Normal lessons were very irregular and infrequent during these months.

Annual School Reports for 1940 and 1942 were printed on very small pieces of paper, each measuring only 10cm x 14cm. No Report was given in 1941, the year of the Blitz.

My primary school education came to an end in the summer of 1942, when my Report shows no marks for any tests, only comments of Very Good, Good or Fairly Good for Progress, Attendance, Conduct and five subjects — English Oral, English Written, Reading, Arithmetic and Handicraft. The number of pupils in the class is omitted, there is no individual position in class shown, and absences and lateness are not indicated, as in the 1939 Report. I presume that this insignificant report was due to shortage of paper. Paper of all kinds was very scarce, paper for exercise books was of inferior quality, and I guess that there was little available for school reports. We must also have been far behind in our basic subjects because of the time lost in the classroom because of the War. Our core curriculum was very much ‘core’ and little else!

Memories of the Blitz

At the start of the Blitz our household of four used to lie on the floor of our drawing room, close to the chimney breast and covered ourselves with the eiderdowns we had brought down from our beds upstairs. That was considered to be the strongest, and so the safest, part of the house and the least likely to be demolished if there was a direct hit. The ominous sound of the siren blaring out its warning tones of approaching enemy aircraft brought fear to my heart, although, thankfully, we did not sustain any damage to our house, but we heard the German bombers coming over, and the ‘ack, ack’ fire from the anti-aircraft guns soon joined the throbbing noise of the approaching bombers, as the gunners sought to bring them down. The sound of the firing seemed to be everywhere, but it grew more frightening when the sound of the bombers’ engines was overhead; sometimes followed by the awful heart-stopping fear when the whine or whistling sound was heard as a bomb hurtled down, with the sudden ground-shaking thud of the ensuing explosion.

Sometimes there were long quiet periods during a raid when we tried to doze off for a while. If the ‘All Clear’ blasted out during the night, there was then the possibility of a few hours’ sleep before going to work or school next morning, but we remained in our makeshift sleeping places. However, the likelihood of sleep was reduced in our household, as I was a very heavy tooth grinder. I started another kind of ordeal for the family as soon as I had dozed off to sleep, and kept everybody else awake with the grinding of my teeth as we lay on the floor in our drawing room.

The Anderson Shelter

Part of the lawn in our back garden that had been lovingly sown and nurtured by my parents a few years before the start of the war was dug up to make a proper air raid shelter, and give us a safe haven in the event of a bomb falling nearby or on the house. I can recall nothing of the removal of the turf, or the deep hole that was dug into the clay soil of our lawn. Somehow or other the curved, corrugated iron panels of this semi-underground shelter were fixed into position. I recall him heaping up the earth over the semi-circular hump showing above the ground. He tried to grow marrows on it, but without much success. My father fixed rough wooden bunks inside, and made a little door that was shut behind us after we had stepped down into the ‘dungeon’ at the start of an air raid. This small shelter, the size of a very small greenhouse, was supposed to accommodate up to six people ! I understand the cost of the prefabricated kit was £7, but that it was offered free to those householders who earned less than £250 a year. I have no idea what my father’s income was as the manager of a menswear shop.

As soon as we heard the whine of the siren we tumbled out of our beds, grabbed something warm, and trailed down the garden path to the Anderson shelter. We were squashed close together on the hard bunks in the dark, but it was impossible to sleep. When the ‘All Clear’ sounded hours later, we crawled out of the tiny door of our dugout, thankful to see our home still standing. The sky was very bright one night, following a big incendiary raid, reflecting the fires from the incendiary bombs dropped on the Docks in London over twenty miles away. We could also see the blaze of various local fires as we scrambled out one by one. Rose, the housekeeper’s daughter, and I pranced around the garden in our nightdresses in the middle of the night, before dancing up the garden path to the kitchen door, excited by the strange atmosphere, but not understanding the danger and loss of life and home that many had suffered. We seemed to behave as if it was some kind of Guy Fawkes celebration. Maybe we both were over-reacting to the atmosphere of this extraordinary night. We had been squashed together in fear in the dark, damp semi- underground shelter for hours, before being suddenly let loose into the brightness created by the light of incendiary bomb flames and the reflections against the night sky. We had no understanding of the damage to the London Docks that night.

I don’t recall how we spent our nights in the shelter, but the remembrance of the dampness, the darkness, the chill and the dank air remain with me still. It was awful. Shortly after this we abandoned it, and remained in our own beds throughout the night raids. As time went on we became almost immune to the raids that continued for some time, and the Anderson shelter gradually filled with water and became quite uninhabitable.

Children had a rather curious pastime on the mornings after a bad air raid. As we walked to school we peered at the pavement, crept into people’s driveways, looked in the gutters and along the grass verges, searching for bits of shrapnel from a bomb or shell case that had exploded in the night. I kept a large collection of these pieces of contorted metal in a drawer for many years as a rather odd souvenir. With hindsight it appears to have been a very bizarre kind of interest, but it was a fascinating hobby for young school children at the time, and our shrapnel collections were much prized.

We remained indoors in our own beds rather than use the alternative communal brick shelters in many streets. At times I crept out of bed during an air raid, and stood on the lino looking out of my window to watch the searchlights making patterns, as their beams of bright light darted and sometimes criss-crossed in the dark sky, endeavouring to pinpoint an enemy plane. One night we all stood in our nightclothes at the back bedroom window during one of the major air attacks on London, gazing almost awe-struck at the huge red glow of the distant flames, watching with disbelief as London burned. The conflagration was so great from the incendiaries and high explosives, and it was really horrifying to see the sky glowing ominously so far away in the City of London.

I had a recurrent bad dream during these months and at subsequent times during the War that I have been unable to forget. I never experienced any machine-guns firing from low-flying enemy aircraft, but I had probably seen pictures on the newsreel at the cinema, perhaps at the time of the evacuation of Dunkirk, when there was continual strafing, and the sight of the low-flying planes and the sound of the machine-gun fire may have been impressed on my mind. In my nightmare I had come out of my house, shut the front door, only to hear the sound of very low-flying aeroplanes in the distance where the barrage balloons were often seen. As I looked up the road, I saw in my dream three large, dark aircraft zooming low, fast and very loud, just above the rooftops. I stood in the little recess on our open-fronted porch, where the milkman used to place our bottles of milk. I tried to conceal myself in this small space, kicking the bottles out of the way, but realising that I was unable to hide, and was still facing up the road with the planes flying towards me, their machine guns firing rapidly. As they flew by I woke up with a mixture of fear and relief. This brief nightmare recurred many times, but the fear seemed to linger for much longer. Perhaps in my sleep I was hearing the local anti-aircraft guns firing, and this was turned into a bad dream. My little bedroom was over the hall and above the porch, and the corner where my bed was placed was in a similar position to the alcove in the porch beneath. This may have accounted for some of the extreme reality of this oft-repeated dream. I never told anyone about it, and can recall no other dream that I had in my childhood.

A Wartime Christmas

We listened attentively to the King’s speech on the radio after our Christmas dinner. A special ‘Forces Favourites’ was broadcast on Christmas Day, relaying messages and music chosen by relatives of those serving in the Forces. We sometimes played Lexicon (a card game that was superseded by Kan-U-Go and then Scrabble some years after the War ended). There was no television to watch, but, far far better, was our own entertainment after tea, when my father played some of his old 1920s waltz and fox-trot records on his wind-up gramophone, and we danced around in the extra space our opened glass doors provided. I loved dancing the waltz and the foxtrot with my father. He had enjoyed ballroom dancing with my mother when they were younger, had taught me the correct steps for these old fashioned dances.

We also played an improvised game of table tennis, propping up two or three cardboard box lids across the centre of our extended dining room table. An ashtray or some other small weighty object was positioned at each side of the cardboard to keep the lids upright. This formed a makeshift table tennis ‘net’, which enabled us to play a kind of table tennis. I don’t know where my father procured the two bats and one or two balls from, or why we did not have a proper net, but I guess that new ones were unobtainable during the war. It was ‘make do and play’ as well as ‘make do and mend’. It was only possible for two people to play at one time, as neither the table nor the room were wide enough for us to play doubles, but I really enjoyed this somewhat cramped and unorthodox form of table tennis after our Christmas tea. My father was a good player, with a very tricky left-handed serve. Despite the limitations of wartime, and the absence of my mother, I look back on our Christmas festivities with much pleasure, and we always seemed to have a very jolly time together.

A knock at the front door after the blackout curtains had been drawn was a rare occurrence at any time, but even more so at Christmas. It was more than a little disconcerting to hear a loud bang, bang, bang, at our front door, interrupting our dancing late one Christmas evening. My father, rather hesitantly, went to the door and was greeted by a slightly tipsy Canadian soldier standing on our porch doorstep. This stranger explained that he was walking down the road from the local public house after closing time, he felt very homesick. He was missing his relatives in Canada, wanted to be part of a family, and also wished to see the inside of an English home, and to know how the English spent Christmas. So he had wandered up our drive and knocked on our door. Perhaps he had heard our music or our laughter? After a little conversation, my father asked him in, and explained to us why this unknown Canadian soldier was joining us. I think we were a little puzzled for a few moments by this unexpected guest, but our visitor seemed cheered by our welcome, pleased to have some company, and to share in a little refreshment. After a while he left us and went on his way in the dark to his billet. I wonder what he thought of our low-key, homespun, improvised entertainment? I hope he had not been drawn to our house by a glimpse of light through our blackout curtains.

The ‘Doodlebugs’ — 1944

We spent the best part of the summer term at my Senior School — Chandos School — in 1944 sitting in very dim light on the backless wooden benches of the school air raid shelters. The sun was shining outside, but once again we had to occupy ourselves with our pencil and paper games in the gloomy underground. It was impossible for the staff to do any teaching, as their voices did not carry clearly through the long tunnel of the dugout shelter. There was no space in which to move around; we could not hear the day-to-day sounds of the wind or the birds in the outside world, and could not see daylight, blue sky or the summer sunshine. It was certainly not a place for anyone who suffered from claustrophobia.

When at last the single-toned note of the ‘All Clear’ sounded, we were released into the playground for fifteen minutes of fresh air and exercise to ‘let off steam’. No doubt our teachers hoped to enjoy a cup of tea in the staff room, and the opportunity for some brief relaxation before returning to their classrooms. However, during those last weeks of the summer term, the whine of the air raid warning often sounded once again before we had even had time to settle down to a lesson. Back to the shelters we scuttled. I don’t remember any bad behaviour or lack of co-operation from any of my schoolmates during those days. We were all fed up with the life we had to lead, frightened by the bombing, and probably tired through lack of sleep. Our teachers had a stressful time too, with a tunnel full of youngsters cooped up for hours, with loads of bottled-up energy, together with their concerns that the syllabus was not being completed, and their pupils’ education and future prospects were being jeopardised.

One hot Saturday afternoon in 1944 I went to the local open-air, unheated, swimming baths at Wealdstone. I was contentedly swimming up and down the open air pool when the air-raid siren blared out its’ warning of an approaching ‘doodlebug’. Whistles were blown, and the attendants hustled everyone out of the water, out of the changing cubicles, and off the sun terraces. They hurriedly jostled us through a previously unnoticed emergency exit, and hastily shepherded us across to the adjacent park. We had no time to collect our clothes, and everyone ran barefoot across the grass in their swimming costumes, and into the municipal air raid shelters in the park. There I huddled with all these strangers on the rough benches, damp and dismayed, feeling unhappy, cold, and squashed in uncomfortable, unfamiliar surroundings, not even knowing exactly where I was. I felt safe in the shelter, but I didn’t know the people around me, and I remember sitting there worrying about the safety of my home. I knew there was nobody indoors, but I felt afraid that a V1 might drop on our house, and that it would be a pile of rubble when I arrived home. After some time the ‘All Clear’ sounded, and with great relief I ran back across the park to the pool, and queued up to exchange the numbered disc that was pinned on my bathing costume for the metal basket containing my clothes. All I wanted to do was to get dressed and go home as quickly as possible. Despite my anxiety my fears were unfounded; the house was still standing !

I was at the sink washing up the breakfast dishes before setting off for school one morning after everyone else had left for work, when I grew aware of the irregular drone of a doodlebug engine throbbing in the distance, and knew that something nasty was rapidly getting louder and nearer. Our larder was built under the staircase; we stored our potatoes and kept the shopping basket beneath the deep tiled shelf that went from the back of the larder almost to the door. The space under the shelf was too small for all the family to take shelter in, but I had been told to use it in an emergency if I was alone in the house. As the ‘buzz bomb’ drew nearer and the noise increased, my fear increased too, and I ran to the larder, bobbed down into my safe place, and pulled the larder door almost — but not quite — closed.

The drone of the flying bomb grew ever closer, and I crouched low in this dark cramped spaced beside the basket of King Edward potatoes (which cost 6d for 7lb then I remember). I waited, heart in my mouth, hoping that the engine would not cut out, but fearing that the bomb was about to drop. As the engine sound increased I grew really scared, until it suddenly stopped, and all was quiet for a few moments, with a silence that could almost be felt. Then there was a tremendous crash. I had no idea where the bomb had fallen. It had seemed so near, but there was no sound of falling debris, so I knew that our house was safe.

When I emerged from my little refuge, I discovered that the surrounding houses were still standing, and the flying bomb had fallen some distance away. It has seemed overhead to my ears, but it had not flown right over our house, and had exploded before it reached my road. My first thought was for my father. I knew he was cycling to work in the same direction that the noise of the flying bomb had appeared to be coming from. That evening I learned that after the explosion he had turned around and cycled back towards home to see if I was all right. He came near to the area where the bomb had fallen, and was not allowed to pass through to reach our home. He then knew that I was not involved, as the site of the explosion was not in the immediate vicinity of our home. The bomb had dropped midway between us. I had no such assurance about my father’s safety. When I saw that I was in no immediate danger I went off to school, and was sent straight to the shelters. I didn’t know until he came home from work that evening that he was alive and well. Such was life in those days. Oh, for a mobile ‘phone then.

The return of nightly air raids had made my father consider the need for us all to sleep in the air raid shelter again, but our Anderson shelter in the garden was now uninhabitable. The raids were so frightening and dangerous that he decided we should make use of the street shelters at bedtime. We were joined by some of our neighbours who were of the same mind. The public, brick, aboveground shelters (fun to bounce balls against, but not pleasant to sleep in) were built at the sides of many minor roads. We took our bedclothes with us each evening; each family chose a separate part of the shelter, and we spread out our blankets and pillows on the hard, slatted, wooden bunks and tried to get to sleep. There was no privacy and it was very uncomfortable. One of our neighbours snored very heavily and the sound seemed to reverberate around the brick walls of the shelter, so we had little sleep. It was almost (but not quite) like the sound of an approaching doodlebug!

We were also disturbed during the night by what we thought was the sound of a hedgehog that had made its home somewhere in the shelter, and resented our intrusion. In spite of our nightly searches with the aid of a torch and a stick, we could not locate or remove it. We only spent a few nights there before abandoning the street shelter, just as we has forsaken our garden Anderson shelter during the blitz. The continual discomforts and irritations of communal sleeping and the small permanent resident of the shelter appeared greater than the intermittent fear of the sound of an occasional doodlebug or of being victims of a direct hit. The hedgehog kept its territory and we returned to our own home and tried to sleep through the raids in our own beds.

End of War Celebrations — 8th May 1945

Peace was declared in Europe and the country could celebrate. Mr Churchill ordered the next two days were to be a national holiday — many street parties were arranged, bunting was hung up from house to house, and Union Jack flags draped from windows, but there was no street party in my part of Kenton Lane, a rather wide road where people tended to ‘keep themselves to themselves’. There didn’t appear to be the same sense of neighbourliness as in the smaller roads. We didn’t hang bunting or flags from our windows, and I don’t recall seeing, and certainly never attended, one of these famous street parties.

My father decided that we would go up to London and join in the national celebrations in the capital. We travelled to Trafalgar Square on a crowded underground train, arriving at the top of the escalator to join the ecstatic crowd in the street, moving en masse in a swaying sea around Nelson’s column, filling the entire square, waving their flags, dancing and cheering continuously. We were part of this excited throng and surged down Whitehall, shouting and singing, holding hands with strangers. We stood on the pavement amongst the cheering, euphoric crowds at the end of this famous street, shouting in unison “We want Winnie” — “We want Winnie”. Everyone was hoping — and expecting - Mr Winston Churchill to appear on the balcony of the Ministry of Health building. When he eventually came out and stood before us, waving his cigar and giving us his V-for victory sign the crowd roared and cheered. A sailor climbed up a lamppost near me, throwing his uniform hat into the air in exuberant jubilation. The spirit of celebration and the excitement of the crowd were irrepressible and indescribable, so ecstatic and yet so meaningful.

We moved on to the Thames Embankment, irresistibly caught up in the surge of the crowd, where we waited until it grew dark enough for the anticipated firework display to begin on the River. It was a wonderful spectacle, with various set pieces and an abundance of colour erupting from the boats and then cascading down from the sky into the water — a sight I had never seen before — but with none of the frighteningly loud bangs that we hear nowadays during most of November and December. We had all had more than enough loud bangs to last us for the rest of our lives, and it was sparkle, joy and colour we needed.

At the end of the fireworks’ display the crowd streamed on as a huge wave to Buckingham Palace, and my father and I eventually found ourselves standing among this solid mass of humanity that covered the space around the base of the Victoria Memorial, where the flowerbeds now display their seasonal blooms. There were no neatly laid out flowerbeds in 1945. Suddenly the lights came on in all the rooms of the Palace; the blackout curtains had been taken down and it was an extraordinary sight to see the light streaming out from the windows when every building had been in darkness at night for so many years. Thousands upon thousands of thankful people shouted out “We want the King — we want the King”. Time and time again King George and Queen Elizabeth (the last Queen Mother) appeared on the floodlit balcony together with the two Princesses, and everyone roared and cheered even more heartily. I don’t know how many hours we spent celebrating in London that night, or at what time we arrived home in the small hours of the morning, but we were part of the throng on this memorable occasion. I shall always remember this experience, and am so glad that my father took me up to London on Victory Night.

I had not understood much of the progress of the war, and certainly did not appreciate the unspeakable horror and suffering that it brought to countless people. I didn’t know anyone who had been killed or injured in the bombing, killed in action in the Forces, or who was a prisoner-of-war. My few relatives were all too old to be called up. Participating in the VE Day celebrations may have helped me to understand a little of the reasons for the elation and general rejoicing of all those who had lived through these six long years of war.

But this was a night of celebration, a night never to be forgotten, a night of joy. I didn’t give a thought about how my mother had spent the war years locked in a Mental Hospital Ward, probably not understanding what was happening in the world outside, or possibly haunted by the memories of the First World War that had so closely preceded this one. I had more or less forgotten all about her, apart from my half embarrassed message and subsequent question on each of my father’s visits to Shenley Hospital.

We went up to London later on in the year to watch the official Victory Parade, and stood on the pavement as the contingents of the Armed Forces marched by with their bands playing. It was very impressive; I had never seen a big procession before, but my strongest memory is not of this, but of the spontaneous joy of the crowds on the streets immediately after peace was declared.

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