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Without Dad

by Bigrover

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Michael John Davies, Reginals George Davies, Doris Harriet Davies
Location of story: 
Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire.
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
03 August 2004

My recollections of the war years are scant yet vivid. I was born in 1937, in Beaconsfield (some twenty-five miles west from the centre of London). I don’t remember having a father until after the war. Dad enlisted as a Territorial in 1938. My mother brother and me moved in with her parents once dad went away. We stayed with them throughout the war years excepting for a short interlude in Wales. In Wales, in a house on a hill near Mold, we had a clear view of the searchlights as they swept the night skies for the enemy over Liverpool. I don’t know which year that was, but I do remember how thrilling it was for a very young boy who knew no better.
Though living largely in the country the war was never far away. I remember distinctly the sound of the air raid siren, the panic to blackout the windows and the haste to take cover. We boys were instilled with dread for the idea of doodlebugs over head. ‘When the red light goes out at the back then the bomb drops’, we were told, regularly. We saw only one red light go out, but fortunately it was way over toward the capital. We were also warned about butterfly bombs, but thankfully they didn’t arrive on our patch. When the air raid siren wailed we were either shoved under the dining room table or wedged between a wall and the back of the sofa, from where we waited anxiously for the all clear to sound. If the alert happened whilst we were at school, where most of us forgot to take our horrifying gas masks, we had to hurry out to one of the shelters. There was a row of six tube-like structures in a niche of the playground. They were dark inside and dank and cold, we sung Ten Green Bottles and One Man Went to Mow.
There was very little paper to be had during the war. Don’t remember writing on anything or reading anything at junior school. However, the lodger in the house where we lived worked at a paper mill and oft brought home odd pieces of paper rescued from the salvage heap — naughty. I remember he once brought home a big bag full of stiff, light blue, lined paper that had clearly come from important old ledgers — I can see and feel it now, in my mind. We boys were shown how to make castles with the paper, cutting it up and gluing it with weak flour paste and sometimes with what we knew as treacle. Mother meanwhile would be up at the local tailors, sewing insignia onto a variety of uniforms, including American.
Outside we boys, with others from the street, would play among the roadside stocks of concrete mushrooms, which were ready to be rolled out across the A 40 road, beside a pill box there, I suppose, to thwart any German advance.
Sometimes, we would venture into a nearby field and throw stones into the pond. I remember seeing one day a French sailor, with a red bobble in the centre of his sailors cap (there was French military hospital in town). He was balancing a live snake on the end of a stick he was carrying, and indicating that the snake was destined to become a belt for his trousers. On other occasions we would wonder around the field looking for aeroplane bits that may have been shot off during a dog fight or something — we did find a nearly whole cockpit cover once.
Nearly every day in one week once, probably just before D-Day, endless platoons of GIs came marching up the road, from West to East, toward the capital. It was not unusual for them to stop and take a rest on the grass bank opposite the Prince of Wales pub. They would sit smoking or lie in quiet contemplation, and some of them would toss us kids a pack of chewing gum or two. We really didn’t know what to do with it.
From the time of Dunkirk until late in the war my father was a prisoner of war, in Poland and in Germany. Occasionally he would get a letter through to my mother. At the end of each letter he would draw an outline sketch of a train, chuffing and steaming along. But that is all I knew of him during that period. We never did get to know each other. Even when he came home we never struck up rapport.
On VE day and VJ day we had a street party, out in the middle of the main road, the A40. After that I remember being encouraged to place an ear up against the wireless so as to hear soldiers singing of Roll Out The Barrel. I think that was on the occasion of a ship’s return to England, full of ex British POWs, including my father.

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