- Contributed by
- John Soame
- People in story:
- John Soame
- Location of story:
- Norwich, Norfolk
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 01 December 2003
1938 - Adults are talking about Hitler, Mr Chamberlain and Munich - all goes literally and metaphorically over Small Boy's head as he plays with Meccano and Hornby Train Set. One day Small Boy (aged 5) is taken to a large building in Norwich where hundreds of people are being fitted with strange black-rubber masks - Small Boy screams in terror when his is put on him (screams muffled by mask so no-one notices!).
1939 - Sunday 3rd September - Neighbour comes round to tell mother that war has been declared - mother has "fit of the vapours". Small Boy (aged 6 1/2)asks "What's War?". From now-on, Small Boy has to carry brown cardboard box, containing the feared black-rubber mask, to and from school every day.
1940 - Adults talk of German invasion - father volunteers for Home Guard but is rejected because he walks with a limp as a result of wound from First World War. Small Boy (aged 7) is fascinated by all the aeroplanes flying overhead, reads "Biggles" books and decides he will be a fighter-pilot when he grows up. Even sights of burning aircraft flying low doesn't deter him - a crashed Dornier 17Z displayed in a local park is his first sight sof "he other side" - to him it's like something from another planet! Father starts going to Church every Sunday - takes Small Boy whose permission isn't sought!
1941 - Small Boy (aged 8) is getting bored with such things as being dfragged from his bed during the night to go to an outside Anderson Shelter "because the siren's gone"! He now plays with the black-rubber mask which is no longer carried to school. He also accidentally finds Lord Haw-Haw on the domestic radio and is fascinated to be listening to the enemy - Mother bans his "listening to such disgusting rubbish".
1942 - Small Boy (aged 9) enjoys listening to "the siren" without having to leave warm bed as adults now ignore "all those false alarms". Then came the night of Monday 27th April - siren ignored. Suddenly all hell is let loose, Small Boy is hauled from his bed a bombs explode all around to the accompaniment of the sound of many aircraft engines - no time to get to the outside shelter, so mother and father and Small Boy dive into cupboard under staircase. More ground shaking explosions then a very close one brings down every plaster-on-lath ceiling in the house - Small Boy is certain the whole house has collapsed, trapping them, and yells in terror. Next morning, Small Boy sees all the destruction of nearby houses and now realises what a thoroughly unpleasant thing war is - he has suddenly grown up and seen it is not a game between British and German aeroplanes - it is death and injury to neighbours.
Tuesday 28th April - no raid and that night Small Boy has a dream of standing at the end of the garden watching German planes fly low along the street dropping bombs, althogh he is aquite safe. Next morning, he goes to that place in the garden and, ON THE VERY SPOT is a huge, jagged piece of bomb shrapnel - he shows it to mother, who hands it to the Air Raid Warden - grrrr!
Wednesday 29th April - Luftwaffe returns to drop mainly incendiary bombs. Family go to the Anderson shelter in good time, but an incendiary bomb lands on top and burns with the brilliance of daylight - they feel they are the only target in Norwich! Raid over, but adults decide there are so many fires it is prudent to walk away into the nearby countryside - they are taken in at a park-keeper's lodge for the rest of the night.
Thursday 30th April - Sunny morning in the countryside - a strange looking twin-engined aircraft flies overhead. Adults are alarmed "Is that a German?" they ask among themselves. Immediate response from Small Boy who informs them "No - it's a Westland Whirlwind" - they all peer down at him in disbelief but father confirms that Small Boy is something of an expert on aircraft recognition!
1943 - The Americans are here and the sky is now full of their four-engined bombers. Small Boy (aged 10) is fascinated once again. Neighbour's daughter is "seeing" an American airman hen, one morning, tragedy - Jeep stops outside for another American to tell her gently that her fiance was shot down the previous day - months later she learns he is a prisoner-of-war. Small Boy is fed up with living in, temporarily repaired, bomb-damaged house.
1944 - one sunny morning in early June many aero-engines are heard overhead. Small Boy (aged 11) looks out to see hundreds of large aircraft towing gliders. Father opines that it's the Allied invasion (of Europe) at last - Small Boy doesn't realise he is watching history being made but, from then on, takes more interest in the progress of the war fom newspapers, radio and cinema newsreels.
One evening in late autumn a huge explosion shakes the City. Next day everyone learns that a V2 rocket (Werner von Braun's early ICBM)struck a golf-course. If it had hit Norwich itself death and destruction would have been immense.
People weren't sure at the time but it was the last war-time Christmas.
1945 - As the Luftwaffe is now unable to raid Britain, street lighting returns - Small Boy (aged 12) is cheered by this first vesige of impending peace.
One Spring morning Small Boy arrives at school to be told "No school today, the war's over" (except of course for the Far East). That evening goes with parents into the City centre to watch celebrations. Father stops going to Church every Sunday.
In early August Britain learns of the very destructive bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese surrender and, months later, everyone hears of the dreadful treatment of British prisoners by the Japanese - there is now a deep-seated hatred of Japan and its people which lasts for many years.
Postscript: Many years later, Small Boy (now a mature adult) reads about the pretty Jewish girl, not much older than he was who spend the war years in an attic just across the North Sea, only to die in a Nazi concentration camp. It brought home to him what a cushy war he had compared to children in occupied countries and even Germany itself - very humbling.
John Soame (that Small Boy)
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