- Contributed by
- DAVID WARNER
- People in story:
- david warner
- Location of story:
- stirchley, birmingham,Gretton in the Cotswolds, Coventry and Stratford.
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 18 November 2003
Some great animal opened its maw to emit an amazing switchback of sound, rising and falling in a slow, all-consuming rhythm which captivated me. I had been sleeping, but was now sitting up in my twin bed, only half aware that my big brother was sobbing with fear, cold fear.
We were bundled into our dressing gowns, chivvied downstairs and into the garden with "Go to the shelter - I'll fetch Mom." I still seemed in a trance, and while Michael my brother scurried round the corner to the Anderson shelter I stopped in the middle of the grass patch to stare up into a sky that was blindingly lit by many coloured flashes; I was buffeted by freak bursts of hot, reeking air and as my father emerged from the house, I began to sway and pirouette to the heady cacophony of explosions asnd ack-ack gunfire.
Leaving his wife's side, Dad ran forward to scoop up me, his waltzing son, just as an enfilade of flying schrapnel sang overhead to bury itself in the wooden hoarding fixed to the side of the house.
"My God!" screamed Mom, "we're all going to be killed! Where's David?"
Once in the shelter a disappointed boy kept asking why his brother was crying, and asking to go out and see the bombs again. I didn't like the very dark and damp interior of the shelter but brightened up when the biscuit tin was extricated from underneath the bed bunks, and richly howled with enjoyment when Dad was violently flung on top of us all, with the door of the shelter on his chest, contemplating the bent steel blastproof door-bar with surprise and dismay.
To be good and ready for the gas attacks that the nasty Germans were promising to mount, I went into the white tiled bathroom, filled the washbasin with warm soapy water and gave my MickeyMouse gas mask a thoroughly good scrub in the comforting suds which eventually dripped from my elbows into a pool at my feet. So that I could pass muster with full citizenship, and not be confused with German spies of my own age (four and a half), I proudly copied my father's signature in pencil at the relevant place on my identity card.
Perhaps Hitler adapted his chemical warfare plans as a result of my preparedness, for both I and my brother were put out of action by the dreaded mumps virus. Confined to our single beds, we presented a strangely unnerving sight, the definition of our heads being blurred, not only by hugely enlarged parotid glands, but also by the wearing of big furry ear muffs, bought to protect Michael in particular from the terrifying sounds of war. When grapes for the sick were brought from somewhere illegal by our fond Auntie Joyce, and we dutifully crammed our mouths to overflowing, our Mom was finally convinced that she had all this time been nurturing a pair of overgrown hamsters. Absurdly, I wore my ear muffs all day, only to remove them at night so as to enjoy the symphonic variations of the air-raids. With Michael it was sadly different; he needed to wear them even for the many band parades that military times require. . .
With the War so aggressively entrenched in our own back garden, it was decision time for my parents. Number 4 round the corner had been bombed flat, and our own tiled roof now had a gratuitous skylight, courtesy of Claus Schmitt, a nervous bomb-aimer in a Heinkel who always pressed the release button too early. According to Germman reconnaissance maps, part of the Austin Motor Company had an armaments store along the Pershore Road opposite our house, which accounted for this regular bombardment, and the disappearance of a whole row of houses nearby. What a pity for everyone concerned that the large square building targetted was in fact the Pavilion Picture House, still standing proud today as a bowling alley.
Now, what to do with us boys? Mom and Dad had to stay to look after the shop; even though there were no customers for wallpaper and paint - no point in decorating when your efforts could end in rubble - it was their livelihood, and sales of window supports, tape and blackout material were booming, so to say.
Well, Michael hates explosions but likes animals, so he can go and stay at Uncle Harry Claridge's farm in the Cotswolds; David likes the War but is frightened of all animals, and birds, so he can go and stay with Nana and Grandad on the outskirts of Birmingham and watch the barrage balloons go up and down. The plan worked well for Michael who ended up driving Harry's herd, airily tapping the sloping behind of the stud bull with his slender switch, down the main street of Gretton village . . .
But poor me found myself shut in my grandmother's living room with a loose budgerigar zooming down on my vulnerable head - a much more daunting sight than a Stuka. Oh, please let me return to my midnight garden, and shine my torch up to my friends, the German bombers! I screamed, I kicked the polish off the door, and for my efforts I was placed in the coalhouse, because Nana had read 'Silas Marner', and Grandad was deaf, painting his seascapes from memory in the studio bathroom upstairs.
In revenge I wet the bed every night, so I was reunited with Michael at our false Auntie Doris's cottage in Gretton, whose son ate the chocolate biscuit ration, a whole pound, one night in his sleep, and whose sister ate both Michael's and my egg-and-bacon ration without consulting us.
Fear stalked this household, in the form of Father Christmas, who threatened to come down the chimney just when all the grown-ups were down at the village pub, when the gas light went out for the want of a shilling and when Michael had gone down the road with the Biscuit Kid in search of some shilling coins. Toys weren't being made any more, anyway, so what could I expect?
After the joys of Christmas, I was sent to school. Because I was only four, I couldn't accompany Michael to the council school, so I went to the Dame School in the village, whose only clients were girls. I had the choice between playing with a doll, or the dolls' house. Unfortunately my preference (the dolls' house) was vetoed by all the young amazons assembed, so I identified the ringleader, a tousle-haired child whose knickers drooped unattractively, and fought up and down the blue-brick steps of the playground. I don't recall the outcome . . .
The Law was overzealous in that part of the Cotswolds. First, Mom and Dad on a week-end ramble were prosecuted for trespassing by an unreasonable farmer who didn't like townies, even though they were keeping to the path; luckily the magistrate was just, and acqjuitted them, as no damage had been done. Then Grandad, a patent Brummie if ever there was one, got himself arrested as a German spy for sketching in the countryside. He was released by the police on showing them evidence of his membership of the Birmingham Watercolour Society. and reciting the names of all the committee members in a convincing Birmingham
Even the real pigs took exception to Grandad's large trilby and silk scarf: the family were staying in Dad's homebuilt caravan, parked in Harry Claridge's orchard. Mom had gone to get groceries in Winchcombe when the boar escaped from his sty, saw this alien structure with two wheels and triangular windows, became aggressively interested and charged, circling the 'van and snorting in anger. He knocked over the water pail, chomped at some potatoes in a bag and resumed his encircling action, effectively besieging us two boys who were on our own inside.
Comes Grandad to the rescue, but the boar saw his flying scarf from afar and diverted his run towards this new target, caught him up and bowled him over on to a pile of windfall apples. More illicit grub! So Grandad made his escape and joined the boys sans trilby, which the boar also ate.
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