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15 October 2014
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Leslie Chambers
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01 June 2005

[This story was submitted to the People’s War site by a volunteer from BBC Radio Cambridgeshire on behalf of Leslie Chambers and has been added to the site with his permission. Mr Chambers fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.]

I came into the world in 1936. By the time I was four Father had gone in the army and was fighting Rommel in North Africa. The years he was away were very… there was just my mother and me. I used to sometimes go to my grandfather and grandmother, the other side of Cambridge. They used to have dried egg, and cocoa and coffee in tins. There was a picture of a man — I only knew him as Uncle Porky — he used to have a uniform that buttoned up to the neck, and wore a white cap. He had got trapped in a barn and run out of ammunition and the SS shot him. Every time Gran saw the picture she burst into ears. Eventually, my grandfather turned it round, to the wall.

One night, I was going over to my Grandmother’s and an air raid siren went; a policeman took me into his little hut on Histon Road until the all-clear sounded.

My grandmother used to darn socks and that, because we had ration books. Christmases weren’t very good. We hung up a stocking and got an apple, and a book or something. Presents were things like a board with hooks and you had to throw rings on them [quoits], or a board with ball-bearings [bagatelle/pinball]. My Grandad made toffee apples. We used to have a lot of malt at school. We were told not to pick up things we found — fountain pens, even — in case they would explode

Some Americans used to come and stay with Grandma and Grandad, and they would sing songs — Grandad had a piano. One day they came but one of them wasn’t there. They said he wouldn’t be coming again. They were pilots. They used to bring me badges. Being in the air force they would tell me tales. One day, I went upstairs, opened an umbrella and jumped out. I ended up in hospital with a sprained ankle — it was old Addenbrookes, down by the Fitzwilliam Museum.

My mother got a letter one day to say my father was missing. The she got another letter to say he was OK, just two days later.

My grandad had a switch on the front door and when you opened it, the light went off so it would be dark in the blackout. My grandad had a table, a big metal table, and when the siren went off, he used to put me under it with a drink and a pile of sandwiches. He used to say that if I heard a bang I wasn’t to worry.

My Grandad used to go and collect mushrooms. He grew some of his own stuff. My Grandma and Grandad carried us through those six years. They tried not to tell me everything. There was a bolt on the gate so I couldn’t get out and wander - I didn’t see much of my friends. The siren went off night after night so I couldn’t sleep and I was too tired to go to school next day. War messed up my childhood for learning, and that. Schooling was very bad.

The German planes were after the aerodromes near Cambridge but then the bombing switched to London. You could see the sky lit up, London burning, even all that distance.
I remember the Home Guard on top of Newmarket Road bridge — that was where the military trains went under.

No one really knew what was going to be next. Things were very difficult. I remember standing at the railway station and saying goodbye to my father but he wanted to spend time with my mother.

After the war, Mr Churchill — I think it was him — came to the Square in Cambridge — where they sell the vegetables [Market Square]. He was speaking and people were just collapsing, fainting I suppose, because they had lost someone.

When my father came home, I didn’t know him. My mum said, “That’s alright, Leslie, it’s your Dad.” It took a long time for me to fit in. He was a nice man, a good man.

My Dad told me they were bombed day and night but he was so tired he slept through it.
My father didn’t talk much about the war when he came back. If someone was talking about it on the radio, he would switch it off. He used to say about flies, and maggots, and that. He said he’d run away from Germans - and also run after them. When his medals came through the door, he said, “Throw that box in the dustbin.” My mother said, “You can’t do that." She went and took the medals and kept them in a cupboard. She said it was six years of her life gone, six years without her husband. When my father was born, his own father was killed in the First War.

I’ve never been abroad. People have said to me, “Where would you go if you went abroad for holidays?” When I reply, they look at me: the place I would like to have gone is to pay respect to the Jews who were in those camps. A friend said, “Call that a holiday?”

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