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A Quiet War

by jollyJeanmar

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Jean M O'Rourke
Location of story: 
Oswaldtwistle Lancashire
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
11 August 2004

The Quiet War

In 1939, I was seven years old and lived in Broadfield, Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire. I thought the war would be very exciting and was delighted when we were given gas masks. We ran through the field into the town screaming with laughter as we chased each other. However, we were careful to put them into their boxes before we reached school. After some months the gas masks were hung under the stairs until the end of the war. Oswaldtwistle was obviously not very high on Hitler's hit list. The activities of the rag and bone man attracted our attention. During the war, the ringing of church bells was forbidden. Bells were to be rung only when the invasion of Britain started. Our rag and bone man, patriotic to the end, gave up his hand bell for the greater good and found himself a bugle to announce his presence to the housewives. The instrument was ancient, battered and green with neglect. He never did learn to play the same note twice and it emitted the most appalling screech. We children called him 'Little Boy Blue' or 'Gabriel'. The men working night shifts at the munitions factory had more colourful names for him when he disturbed their sleep on Monday mornings. It was suggested he should be sent to the fornt line where he could put the fear of God into the enemy. The boys used to follow the cart shouting 'Come on Gabriel blow your horn before Hitler gets you,' hoping to be chased.

In the war everything was rationed. I remember my mother not knowing whether to be pleased or mad when my father used all the sugar ration to make blackberry jam. No food was ever wasted. If food was occasionally left, it was put into the pig bins. I can never remember disliking anything I was given. In the unlikely event of food being refused, nothing would be offered as an alternative. It was that meal or nothing. There were also programmes on the wireless about how to save and prepare food and how to 'make-do and mend'. The women who gave these talks were obviously from the upper middle class and thought they were doing their bit for the war effort. They took themselves very seriously indeed, much to the amusement of my mother and father , who, like all working class people of that time had been 'make-do and mending' all their lives. My mother enjoyed these programmes, which she regarded as not so much informative as entertaining and would roar with laughter at the solemnity of the broadcasters.

Sweets and chocolate were rationed too and regarded as luxuries. One day an American airman arrived at school. He was a distant relative of one of the staff. He came unannounced and, he claimed, unofficially. He gave us chocolates and chewing gum. He said he had landed his plane on Oswaldtwistle moors and we were thrilled. We thought he was Errol Flynn, or at least, a near relation.

Toffee rations were saved a few weeks before Christmas so we could celebrate properly. One year an uncle arrived from down south at the beginning of December. He gave us all a half crown each, which was a great treat, but best of all, he gave us a big parcel which contained chocolate biscuits. We children couldn't wait for Christmas to come. The gifts of the wise men were not received with more delight. My sisters and I still laugh about those Christmas biscuits.

At school, we were taught patriotic songs. We were all girls but I remember singing 'Come cheer up my lads 'tis to glory we steer' and 'Who were the bowmen of England?' We were taught an English version of the French National anthem too. We all sang with great enthusiasm and thoroughly enjoyed it. We sang other songs too, songs learnt from the wireless.
'When the Fuhrer says 'this is the master race' we just Heil Heil right in the Fuhrer's face.
Not to love the Fuhrer is a great disgrace so we 'Heil, Heil' right in the Fuhrer's face.
There was a song about Mussolini, early in the war:
'Oh what a surprise for the Duce, the Duce, he can't get it over the Greeks,
Oh what a surprise for the Duce they do say he's had no spaghetti for weeks.
His troubadors advance with roars, 'La Viva, La Viva'
In armoured cars they strum guitars
While frilly white skirts play the duce with black shirts.
Oh what a surprise for the Duce,' etc.
That was when the Italians were fighting the Greeks.

The highlights of the year remained unchanged for us children thanks to the efforts of our parents. The first Sunday in May was always celebrated by procession. White frocks were handed down from older sisters to younger and the ladies who spoke of 'make-do and mend' would have approved of my mother who produced an under skirt from two pillow slips. Hitler in fact seemed rather a comical figure to us. One boy achieved hero status by going into the pulpit at church and shouting 'Heil Hitler'. He then decided to be Lord Haw Haw, a German who somehow could some times interrupt the BBC broadcast and give German propaganda over the air. The young boy held his nose and bellowed in a nasal accent 'Germany calling, Germany calling' until the priest heard the laughter came in and soundly clouted him before chasing him away. Having no knowledge of political correctness in those days, the clouting was accepted as fair exchange for such marvellous entertainment. Nobody needed counselling.

On the other side of Oswaldtwistle, was a prisoner of war camp. Initially, there were Italian prisoners and they would march down the main road to a small cinema. There seemed to be no desire to escape on their part and no fear of them fleeing on the part of the guards. Later in the war, the camp held Germans, but they did not seem quite so exotic.

Now I realise how lucky we were to live in such a quiet backwater. The war seemed a long way off. We did have evacuees and we all played together, but the interesting thing about them for us was that they did not know what tadpoles were. These children might have come from another planet for all we knew. They came from Coventry. We were aware of some sadness. The girl next door spent weeks red eyed and weeping when her fiance was killed. We were told not to upset her and be quiet, to be respectful and pray for the dead soldier. Then a cousin's plane was shot down over Germany and all crew members were killed. We were aware too of the men in the street who carried huge kitbags. They seemed to be very heroic to us, and we bribed one boy to let us look through his kitchen window to see his uncle who had been wounded.
The blackout which was a nusiance toall adults was an adventurous for us. in the winter evenings we played cowboys and indians and war games where the girls had always to be the German enemy, so allowing the boys to win. It seems strange now to think we ran about dark fields and street and never thought of any real personal danger. At the end of the war there was big bonfire at the top end of the street.A couple of neighbours, full of patriatism and stout threw their backyard gates onto the fire to make a good blaze, giving a new meaning to the phrase,'Keep the home fires burning'. Peace may have come to England but there were some very war like sounds coming from two houses in the days that followed.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - A Quiet War

Posted on: 12 August 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

A Quiet War? <huh> It certainly wasn't with you around, Jean <devil>

<magic> A superb story - magic stuff <magic>

Peter <ok>

Message 1 - Breath of fresh air.

Posted on: 13 August 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Hello Jean,
Thank you for that story it was a breath of fresh air. I laughed at the songs remembering them well. Lord Haw Haw was the highlight of our week, we all laughed and mocked him but we had a shiver down our backs when he told us things about the area that the papers or news did not tell us, we all wondered how he got that news so quickly.
Children found the war exciting and it also meant we got more freedom to do as we wished within reason.
My parents too laughed at those toffy nosed women and their advice. The "kitchen Front" with Fredddy Grisewood telling us how to cook the same weekly ration different ways that all still tasted the same. Mr Wooltons pie! I wonder if he ever ate it?
The make do and fiddle, the swopping around that some called The Black Market but Mum called expediency.
We had bacon with our own pigs, Mrs So and So had sugar because her husband worked on the docks so do a swap. Mother always had enough to make jam when it was time to go and collect the hedgerow fruits.
Sweet Caporal cigarette's from Mum's war work at Goosepool Aerodrome where the Canadian's were stationed, they could be swapped for butter flour or other rationed goods, clothes coupons came in handy.
The British public were brilliant at managing to survive and as lots of us are still around it did not do us any harm.
Thanks lets have more.
regards Frank.


Message 2 - Breath of fresh air.

Posted on: 16 August 2004 by jollyJeanmar

Dear Frank,
Thank you for telling me you enjoyed my contribution. Have you written one? You should, you obviously remeber all kinds of things. I've only recently bought a computer so that was my first effort. Your mother'sExpediency was wonderful, I like her style.
Best wishes


Message 3 - Breath of fresh air.

Posted on: 16 August 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Dear Jean,
I enjoy reading peoples accounts of those years they are all so similar but each so different in how we felt and reacted to the war.
Black market was a dirty word and the black marketeers should be hung but who among us was not guilty.
I could get sweets without coupons on occassion from the shop on Norton Green by taking the lady an egg fresh from the nest, we had our own hens too.
I often ran to Mrs so and so with a piece of bacon wrapped in paper and returned with something Mum wanted also wrapped in paper. What was wrong in that? as Mum said it was expediency, black market was what others did.
We lived for the day and did what was needed to live, human nature will prevail Jean.
To read other things on these pages click on to the names of posters. You will see my name on this mail is in a different colour to the rest. Put your mouse arrow on my name and my personal page comes up. I have some twenty odd stories on here some with pictures.
If you want easy access to any one go to the right of the personal page of that person and in a small box with that persons name and number there will be at the bottom (ADD TO MY FRIENDS) just press that button with your mouse and it will go to your own personal page automatically. All you have to do then is click on that name if you want it.
Computers are wonderful but like children you need to train them, just clip its ear when you are having bother it works for me.
If you do have trouble write to me If I dont know the answer I know a man who does.
Regards Frank. @->--

Message 1 - Not such a quiet war.

Posted on: 13 August 2004 by elviraberyl

Dear Jean,
Loved your story. It brought the atmosphere of those days back and I was delighted to hear the words of The Fuhrer's song again. You have an amazing memory. One short comic song sung in Swansea at that time, to the tune Whistle while you work, was:
Whistle while you work,
Mussolini wore a shirt.
Hitler wore it,
Churchill tore it,
Whistle while you work.
Keep up the writing, you have such a lovely style. <:)>
Best wishes


Message 2 - Not such a quiet war.

Posted on: 16 August 2004 by jollyJeanmar

Dear Elviraberyl,

I'm glad you enjoyed my contribution. Thankyou for the encouragement. I've only had a computer for three weeks, and I can't type and so to coin a phrase it's 'blood sweat and tears' at the moment. I hope to improve with practice. Thank you again. with all good wishes Jean
Have you made a contribution yet/


Message 3 - Not such a quiet war.

Posted on: 18 August 2004 by elviraberyl

Dear Jean,
Thank for your reply, lovely to hear from you. I am amazed that you have only had your computer three weeks. I've had mine a year and thought I wasn't doing too badly, for a wrinkly (76) but I take my hat off to you.
We are having a few problems with losing things on here at the moment, hope everything is OK with you.
You have a lovely natural style and great sense of humour and I know others have said so too.
I have made a contribution of a story of the three night blitz of Swansea in 1941, titled "A starry night in Swansea 1941." Parts 1, 2 and 3. Hope you can find them, under 'Blitz', I think.
This site is great for making friends as well as encouraging each other with our efforts.
Get in touch if you would like to.
Best wishes, Elvira. <:)>, now I'm showing off!

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Childhood and Evacuation Category
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International Friendships Category
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