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War Memories of John Percival

by Jenni Waugh

Contributed by 
Jenni Waugh
People in story: 
The Percival family
Location of story: 
Northampton & Birmingham
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
15 August 2005

I was 7 years old when the war ended. Although I was born on 7th March 1938 in Northampton and started school there, just before the war ended, my Father went to Birmingham to work at the Rover factory which made aeroplane parts.

Mum, me, my younger brother Roger and my young sister Susan, travelled up a few times by Midland Red bus to see him at weekends until he found rented accommodation in Marston Green. I can’t recall how long we lived there, as memory is a bit clouded and time spent there is rather unclear. I think we lived in Brays Road, I have been back since, but didn’t recognise anywhere.

We lived next door to the Guest family and their son Teddy became my mate. There was a wooden Scout hut opposite on a field, which I had to cross to go to school. I can still see the grey A.R.P lorries which stood in the playground. We were forbidden to play in them, with warnings of dire consequences if we were caught disobeying these rules.

It was quite an upheaval for us kids to move to what seemed the other side of the world from our friends and very close family. I remember I had a fight in the playground with another lad because he sniggered when I pronounced castle as ‘carssle’, not ‘cassle’ as ‘Brummies’ did, in answer to question in class, but we became mates after the scrap.

I recall German P.O.Ws. were made to work on building a new housing estate. There was an Anderson Shelter in our garden that was dank and smelled of dirt and bomb craters over a footpath at the bottom. They were filled with water and had the usual old prams, tricycles, bedsteads, etc., thrown in them, they smelled to high heaven and covered in that green waterweed.

On V.E. Day, the street had a big party and I can still see the effigies of Hitler, Mussolini and probably Goering hanging from gibbets, they were later set on fire. I have a vivid memory of a wooden barrow going round full of apples and they were FREE! We had races of sorts for the kids, I won a colouring set with wax crayons, little wooden ruler and pencils, what a prize, I don’t know how I won it.

My sister was running in a race and was leading, we were cheering her on, she heard us , stopped to ask us what we were shouting and lost the race, she still got a prize. There was a great bonfire on the field in the evening, in the Scout hut. We were entertained by a Cowboy band (I can see them now) dressed in white fringed cowboy costumes, I suppose it was because there was a popular Radio programme called ‘Big Bill Campbell and his Rocky Mountain Rhythm’ and they were following a trend.

Memories are a bit hazy of those days, we always had breakfast to the tune of ‘Lazybones’ on the radio, then advice from the ‘Radio Doctor’ (Dr. Charles Hill ), mostly on keeping our bowels regular with a high prune diet, although he must have given advice on other ailments. The radio was so important in those war years, I particularly remember ‘ITMA’ with Tommy Handley and the multitude of characters in the show, ‘In Town Tonight,’ ‘Workers Playtime’, ‘Variety Bandbox ‘and a few more, all designed to boost moral on the home front.

My friend Teddy Guest had a birthday party outside in the small front garden and during those days of rationing to have TRIFLE was a great treat and I remember we supplemented it with bread with that awful tasting wartime margarine to make it go further. Even now I still like bread and butter with trifle!

One thing that stands out about my time in Birmingham and the end of the war was when we were taken to the old Bullring to see the illuminated bus, studded with glittering with light bulbs all over, to mark the end of the dark days of war and the end of the blackout, it was magical to me and the crowd that had gathered to see it.

We lived with my grandmother in Northampton prior to going to Birmingham and I well remember the process of putting plywood panels in place at dusk, outside on the windows and held in place by wooden swivel pegs, made by my granddad, to comply with the blackout regulations.

The stress of war and the possibility of defeat was kept from us kids, we knew we were going to win, I just thought Hitler and his henchmen were a joke. I could draw a cartoon of ‘Der Fuhrer” as could most kids, I did Churchill and the popular ‘Chad’ character with his “Wot no……..? catchphrase. We drew spitfires, tanks, battleships and Hitler over our schoolbooks.

Dad made wooden ‘Tommy guns’ for us boys, so we were always disposing of Nazis in games my brother tripped over during one chase, fell on the gun barrel gun and knocked his two front teeth out.

The ‘Daily Mirror’ was dad’s paper and I remember following the exploits of “Jane” in the strip cartoon, although not really understanding the saucy nature of it.

The drone of Bombers flying out on missions, the sight of Barrage balloons filling the sky endorsed our confidence of victory. Even today I get quite a comfortable feeling when hearing a propeller plane flying over our home when tucked up in bed at night.

With the clouded memories of childhood, the war, even with the shortages, was a happy time, treats were better appreciated I suppose when you think back to how little a family had with rationing. We were also lucky not to have lost any close relatives or friends in the conflict, although uncles and cousins were serving in all the forces.

This story was added to the website by Jenni Waugh, BBC Outreach Officer, on behalf of John Percival who accepts the site's terms and conditions.

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