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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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This is the BBC Home Service: Part Iicon for Recommended story

by Stanley H Jones

Contributed by 
Stanley H Jones
People in story: 
Stanley Jones
Location of story: 
Trowbridge
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A2038259
Contributed on: 
13 November 2003

Whatever shortages there may have been during the war something was always there - the good old BBC. We grew up with it - and it became part of our family life. Memory does of course play tricks and some of the things I mention may have even been after the war. The programmes didn't suddenly change after VE Day - rather the wireless gradully evolved into the radio we know today.

For instance, we had the BBC Home Service - but was the second side always the Light programme? It may have been something like the Forces Network or some combined name. Be that as it may - these are the memories commencing with a small boy just starting school and going on to someone just about to go on to senior school. Eager to know what was happening.

I suppose these memories divide themselves into something like four parts. The famous broadcasts by Winston Churchill and King George VI, the news, children's programmes, and finally entertainment.

In an earlier contribution I told how my dad as caretaker of the chapel next door listened to Neville Chamberlain on that fateful day 3 September 1939, then passed the news to the pastor in the pulpit conducting the morning service. I understand the congregation then retired to the school hall. I was too young to actually remember this, but the story was told and re-told to become part of family history.

Winston Churchill will of course never be forgotten. My memories of his earlier broadcasts are however perhaps remembered for a different reason. When the gentleman spoke there had to be complete silence but one small boy thought differently and on at least one occasion was sent upstairs. I have since read and listened to these famous broadcasts so many times it is difficult to know which ones I missed the first time round!

Next on to the King's Christmas broadcasts - and here grew up another family tradition which is carried on by us to this day. We had a large extending table in our small sitting room cum dining room, but with two families often joining together we almost had to queue for a place and there were at least two sittings. Mum and Dad and our aunties helping to dish out would be last, but the most important thing was that all the pots, pans and dishes had to be washed up before 'The King'. While we played with our presents the washing up was being done over a small sink in the adjoining scullery and then all the grown-ups arrived back just before three o'clock. It was not so long after this that a large tea would be prepared - but that's another story.

The broadcast which I well remember was in 1939 when King George spoke on 'The Gate of the Year'. Again however with this in print and on the BBC archives maybe I didn't hear it then but I like to think so.

Perhaps at this time I ought to describe the wireless. Just a small loudspeaker high up on the wall. Two controls - one for the volume and the second a switch to get one or other of the stations. It was high on the wall because once I tried to climb up to it, resulting in a nasty fall. My swollen lip could just be seen on a studio portrait taken with my sister and brother at the time.

We had Trowbridge Radio Relay - the programmes were fed to each house - and factories - by overhead cables. The town must have been criss-crossed with wires. They never as I recall went off the air - and even kept going when bombs fell all around their building in an early morning air raid. I think we paid the princely sum of 1/6d per week. The man always came round for the money on Saturdays - and shouted 'It's that man again!' He must have been an ITMA fan.

Here is the news read by Frank Philips, John Snagge, Alvar Liddell, even Wilfred Pickles. The names live on. To me these men seemed so austere and remote. Not like the broadcasters of today - particularly on local radio - who became family friends.

I remember one little old lady who used to come to listen to the news - born and brought up in the Victorian era. She just couldn't understand this marvel of modern science and I am sure she used to look round the back of the speaker to try to find the newsreader, thinking he was somewhere in the box.

No television in those days, but on one memorable day I watched events taking place as I listened. On that evening of 6 June 1944, as I played in the back yard, I listened to the six o'clock news through the opened window and at the same time watched as gliders loaded with troops passed over the town on their way to Normandy. Since reading about this I would think these aircraft towed from the nearby Keevil airfield would have crossed the French coast sometime during mid evening, as we were hearing all the reports of the first landings at dawn.

Another news programme was Radio Newsreel - always commencing with a stirring military march which I now know to be Imperial Echoes. This was at seven o'clock and it was one of those broadcasts which went on long after the war. In fact I think the music is still used for a news programme - perhaps of the same name - on the BBC World Service. In the second part, perhaps some more of the news, plus childrens programmes and entertainment.

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