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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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by Isle of Wight Libraries

Contributed by 
Isle of Wight Libraries
People in story: 
Margaret Tapster
Location of story: 
London, Regency Square
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
20 September 2005

"This story was submitted to the People's War site by Lois Cooper and has been added to the website on behalf of Mrs Margaret Tapster with her permission and she fully understands the site's terms and conditions".


We used to dance under the open sky in the warm, perfumed dusk, dreamily anaesthetized by the hypnotic heat of the Big Bands, high on the heady scent dripping from the lime blossom in the communal garden.

A new element of magic had transformed our lives, with the sparkle and glamour of pink
champagne. Over-paid, over-sexed and over-here, were those exotic creatures from another planet- the Yanks. Bitterly resented by their British counterparts for their comparatively affluent lifestyle, vastly superior uniforms and seemingly unlimited access to nylons, perfume and chewing gum; the keys to a girl's heart. They were light years away from their natural environment and the comfort food of Mom's pumpkin pie, baffled by the cool response of the Brits. Had they not travelled all those thousands of miles to snatch quaint little England from the jaws of the predatory Hun?

For the most part lonely and eager for the brief solace of warm human contact, they would hold a girl close, dancing cheek to cheek, smelling excitingly of expensive aftershave and French cigarettes, murmuring sweet inanities. 'You have the cutest little ears honey, like pink seashells.'

The beguiling southern drawl of Sergeant Kurt Wagner Jn. would pluck endearingly at my heart strings, as his long curling lashes fluttered against my cheeks in playful butterfly kisses. 'Your hair smells like the jasmine flowers on our back porch.' 'When we have won this little old War, I will take you home to see my Mom and Pop.'

The stuff of dreams is a kind of self defence against the stark brutality of real life - for inevitably the mythical song of the nightingale is doomed to be drowned in the banshee wail of the siren - time to abandon the dancing shoes for the tin hat and medical bag, as death drones overhead, accompanied by the staccato tattoo of anti-aircraft fire. Dazzling searchlights sweep the sky, dimming the brilliance of the stars, and the serenely floating moon, trapping in their beams tiny toy
aeroplanes engaged in vicious dog fights. Soon the night is made hideous by the high-pitched screech of incendiary bombs, the crump of landmines, the crash of falling masonry, the crackling blue lightning of fractured power lines. A cacophony of police whistles, clanging bells, frenzied
motor horns, bellowed commands, heralds a scene of organised mayhem, against a lurid
background of leaping flames. We go about our allotted tasks like trained automatons, all feeling suspended, unaware of the passage of time. Towards daybreak an eerie peace prevails. In a mercifully empty sky, pink and gold dawn clouds cluster over the smoking, blackened rubble and the naked, jagged ruins of what was, only yesterday, a gracious Regency Square.

We learn it has been a night of heavy casualties, among them Sergeant Kurt Wagner In. was found with a shard of shrapnel embedded in his heart, still protecting the live body of the injured ARP Warden he had carried from a blazing block of flats, with blithe and fatal disregard for his own safety. Oh, the mixed emotions and crazy values of those traumatic times; for even as we weep unrestrainedly for Kurt, we are childishly disproportionately thankful for a small miracle — our canteen's gas and water supply is still working! Gratefully we clutch our steaming mugs of tea, while on the one surviving branch of a stricken plane tree, a thrush pours forth a glorious cascade of song. We watch the sun rise on a new day, and glad as always, are vaguely surprised to be alive!

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