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From my Bedroom Window (1941), a Raid in Tadworth, Surrey

by John Chapman

Contributed by 
John Chapman
People in story: 
John Chapman
Location of story: 
Tadworth, Surrey
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
04 November 2003

From my bedroom window (1941) ...

There was a raid last night. As soon as the siren started to wail, Dad called out: "Come on, children - downstairs!" I put on my dressing gown, without turning on the light, and peaked out between the bedroom curtains. Searchlights were fingering the sky. I hurried downstairs, with my sister Joan close behind.
The bed on the larder floor was already made up. Joan and I snuggled under the eiderdown - like sardines, with our heads at opposite ends. Dad says this is the best place for us, because the larder window has no glass (it's made of that metal with little holes in it) and the ceiling is the smallest in the house, if it should fall.
Mum and Dad have a sort of mattress thing under the kitchen table. Dad keeps his special air-raid tray close by. It has a torch, in case all the lights go out; a candle and some matches, in case the torch doesn't work; four corks, for us to bite on so that we don't bite our tongues off when the bangs come; four little brown envelopes with our ear-plugs in, so that our ear-drums won't burst; and a little bottle of brandy - "just in case", says Dad. Mum says he's a very methodical man.
Soon we heard the throbbing of the bombers overhead. Some of the boys at school reckon they can tell the difference between a Junkers and a Dornier. I just pretend that I can. Now there came the crack of ack-ack guns, and the deeper crump of distant bombs. When the raids first started Joan and I thought it was all rather exciting, but now we just want it to be over so that we can go back to sleep.
Eventually the all-clear sounded and, after a bit, Dad said: "Well, I think that's it for tonight. Might as well all get back to bed." We trailed upstairs again, and Dad came into my bedroom with me. After checking that the door was closed, so that no light would show, he opened the curtains and we looked across the Downs to the north. There was a reddish glow in the sky. "Looks like the City caught it again," said Dad. "Right, lad - back to bed!"
Now it's morning, the sun is shining and I'm looking out across the back garden. I hardly notice the barrage balloons hovering in the distance. My thoughts are all on the big walnut tree that stands in the corner of the lawn. Its trunk forks near the ground. I've been climbing the right-hand side for ages; I know every branch and twig. But the left-hand trunk is different: it's smooth and bare for several feet and quite unclimbable. The only way to get into that side of the tree is to leap, like Tarzan, from a crotch on the other side, catch hold of a horizontal branch and swing yourself up so that you can hook your legs over. I've been thinking about this for days. I wonder if, today, I'll have the courage to do it.....

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