- Contributed by
- People in story:
- J M Wilson
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- Contributed on:
- 09 November 2004
People who survived World War Two all have memories, some memories became scars for some survivors. We all remember food rationing, one ounce of this,one ounce of that etc, per week, so we went out gathering, stinging nettles, which we washed, chopped up and made into soup which we had with a slice of dry bread. There was food in our hedgerows which was not rationed! We remember clothes rationing, the blackout, all the signposts being removed, lengths of telegraph pole being set at intervals in the farmer's fields to prevent an airborne invasion, the iron railings being removed from around our gardens to melt down for the war effort etc. One memory that I will not forget was being woken up on numerous freezing winter nights by the air raid sirens, climbing out of a snug warm bed, grabbing my gas mask and going down the garden path and into a cold damp air raid shelter. After only minutes the drone of the German bombers could be heard on their way to bomb Sheffield, just up the road from where we lived. Although our country was completely blacked out during the war the German pilots would look for the glint of the railway track which ran out of Derby, through Chesterfield and then into Sheffield. Next would start the pounding of the anti aircraft guns then all hell would be let loose as the raiders dropped off tons of bombs onto the city. The ground would shake and on several occasions, I was blown off my top bunk onto the air raid shelter floor.
Being young and inquisitive at that time I would steal apeek out of the shelter door (whilst Dad was out on firewatch duty - to see what was happening. The sky and clouds were glowing orange reflecting the fires which burned in the city and searchlights were combing the skies. Once a searchlight caught a bomber in its beam the other searchlights would swing round and "cone" the aircraft, the guns would then concentrate on the stricken plane and in mintes the aircraft would burst into flames. I would wonder what it must be like for those on the ground and for those in that burning coffin spiralling down out of the sky. By chance I was to find out what it was like for those on the ground. Dad had to find out what it was like for those on the ground. Dad had taken me with him to a teacher's meeting in Sheffield, no one was to know that Sheffield would be the target for the German bombers on the night prior to the meeting. On arriving in the city the sight that met our eyes was almost indescribable. There was fallen masonry everywhere, buildings were burning and smouldering, hosepipes criss crossed the road and the emergency services were bringing out the dead and injured from the smouldering rubble. The dead,some of which had been dismembered, were being placed in rows on the footpath.
Those who had not had their clothing blown off by the force of the blast of the German bombers had remnants of clothing left on them which was still smouldering. At this point in time Dad must have realized that it had been a mistake taking me with him that morning.
My worst scar of World War Two was when the telegram boy brought us the buff coloured telegram with the letters O.H.M.S. stamped across the top. During the war years this telegram was known as "the dreaded telegram", the recipients knew what was inside it before they had even opened it! i.e. it was to notify them that a member of their family had been killed in action or was missing. The one which we received was to notify us that my brother had failed to return from a mission over Germany. I still have the telegram, the follow up letters from the Officer Commanding 78 Squadron, letters from the Casualty Branch and the letters that passed between my parents and the parents of the other missing crew members of the aircraft etc. My brother was eventually listed as having no known grave.
When World War Two ended in 1945 the Ministry of Defence imposed a 30 year rule which prevented any research being undertaken into missions flown by the RAF over enemy territory during the conflict. This meant that the wartime missions were not declassified until 1975 by which time my mother and father had gone to their graves not knowing what had happened to my brother. I started to research and eventually found out how my brother and his crew had died and also about the tragic incident which had led to the loss of their aircraft.
Later ex RAF personnel who had borrowed my research documents and letters suggested that they should be turned into a small book to record for future generations what it was like for a family to receive the so called "dreaded telegram" in World War Two - I explained that I did not have a typewriter or computer and had no experience in the field of writing whatsoever. They replied that as the book would be small and partly compiled I should be able to write the manuscript.
My book was eventually printed in the "old fashioned way" with an elderly typesetter making mistakes faster than I could correct them which proved disastrous for me with a deadline to meet! However, the little charity book went all over England and turned up in Canada, America, Australia and the Netherlands. I received letters from people who had read it, some of which were asking for advice on how to start a declassified research.
Maybe one day in the future people will still be reading what I have written and it will help them to understand, like we who survived World War Two with scars, understand that war is a bad thing, war is no good to anyone and should be avoided if possible. The only time that I would advocate going to war, would be if our country was being threatened or attacked by another nation like it was in 1939-1945 when it was attacked by that mad dictator Adolph Hitler.
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