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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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The build-up to war

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

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BBC Southern Counties Radio
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David Bell
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03 August 2005

My first inkling that something strange and unusual was afoot was in 1939 when, at the grand old age of three-and-a-half years, my mother called me into the kitchen of our family home, where I lived with my father and mother in Canterbury, and offered me a banana. She told me to enjoy it and make the most of it because I was unlikely to see another for a very long time. She was right; seven years were to pass before I ate another banana. The occasion, like so many others in those extraordinary times, became etched on my memory.

All adults of that era feared the prospect of another war. My father had served in the artillery at the tail end of the First World War in 1918 and was partially deaf as a result. The huge carnage of that terrible War only twenty years earlier had left an indelible impression on the population. Many wanted no more war at any price. At 11.00 a.m. on Sunday, 3rd September 1939 people gathered around wireless sets (not everybody had one) for a special announcement by the Prime Minister. I was present when a group of friends and neighbours gathered in my parents' living room to hear the announcement. Everyone knew what was coming and the announcement by Neville Chamberlain that the United Kingdom and France were once again at war with Germany was greeted in stony silence. Everyone was in deep shock. I had no idea what it was all about but we were all stirred out of our reverie by the wailing of an air raid warning siren. Incredibly, some bright spark had decided to test the air raid warning system nationwide at that particular moment but had omitted to inform the public. It was the first of many fiascos but everyone assumed that the warning was for real. My parents' party and I ran in panic for the new air raid shelter only to be informed later by an air raid warden that it was only a practice. The whole nation had been fooled. What a start!

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