- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Richard Harris
- Location of story:
- Wells, Somerset
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 10 November 2003
A Little Lad’s War
I was born on 25th October 1931, so I was 7 when the war began. It was memorable for being a lousy war as I was too old for oranges but too young for cigarettes!
For me the years 1939-1945 were the most exciting of my life. At that age, living in Wells, one felt "protected" from the horrors of war.
One could not imagine the countryside being of any interest to an enemy (bombing being stressed at the time). Wells was a civil backwater where Victorian attitudes were prevalent. As I tell prospective tourists when visiting Wells, the first thing to do is to turn your watch back 50 years!.
I remember having an enormous wall chart, by kind permission of the Daily Express, stuck on a corkboard showing a map of Europe and having little flags to put in to it to de-mark the Front Line, thus improving my geography no end.
One of my memories was the issue of gas marks (just before 3/9/39 I believe) and the issue of identity cards, my number being WOSA 68/3 (Dad’s, Mother’s and Charles’ were 1, 2, 4 respectively). There was also the provision of ration books, with bewildering coloured and numbered coupons for everything under the sun, but alas only 3 ounces for sweets!!! However, I survived even under the purgatory of Peanut Butter, which I have loathed to this day.
There were food parcels from America and Australia, which we shared with an Evacuee family across the road. In those early days we had two evacuee boys forcibly lodged with us by a lady from the WVS. I can see her now., she came up the drive like a galleon in full sail, and like an offer from the KGB she was impossible to refuse. These little lads from the Isle of Dogs (Millwall) just stood there looking pathetic, but cheered up when Mother gave them something to eat but were quite astonished when she put them in the bath! She gave them our spare clothes, and I believe burnt theirs, including their labels, just like Eliza’s in ‘Pygmalion’. After a few weeks their respective parents arrived and we bade them a fond farewell.
Dad in the mean time had joined the NFS having been released from the obligation of Guerilla Warfare based on forays from the Mendip Caves, to harry the occupying German forces. This idea was generated by the fertile imagination of the author Dennis Wheatley. He fought the fires in Bristol, Southampton, Plymouth and of course London. In 1942 he joined the Army.
Dad’s army job, being a solicitor, was to train ex civil dignitaries in the administration of captured German cities, but I’m getting ahead of myself as this was 1943/44, V1’s and V2’s permitting.
I went to St Christopher’s school (now King Edward’s school) in North road, Bath. The headmaster and his wife (Mr and Mrs Prior) kept us all in line, but allowed us into the headmaster’s sitting room to hear the inspirational speeches of Winston Churchill. I shall never forget Nurse and Vimaltol malt extract (both delicious!).
Prior to this, I saw the Bath blitz from my garden in Wells, but it was only when I joined St Christopher’s that I learnt the history of the blitz from my school mates; unexploded bombs in the gutter in Milsom St, machine gunning still seen in Avon St, fires everywhere, bodies stored in garages, etc. This brought home to me and caused some anxiety when D-day dawned (6th June 1944). Dad’s job subsequently was to enter a German town as soon as it had been captured, grab Gestapo records to be sent back for analysis prior to criminal war trials, and to ensure that no Nazi was employed in Civil Administration.
In case one should think that we didn’t do much for the war effort, we had many fruit trees in out garden, and it was my job to fill a bucket daily with excess fruit to be given free to all and sundry. I, as a Boy Scout (Cub), was a runner for the Home Guard and even picked apples f from a local farm for sale to the locality. Cider and Ploughman’s Lunch never tasted so good.
We also subscribed to ‘Spitfire Week’, which was our principle fighter, which in those days cost five thousand pounds.
Mother being Mother made jam, preserved fruit, dug for Victory, (with intermittent help from myself)
and queued up for groceries like everybody else
Wells was, as far as the Luftwaffe were concerned, was always covered in mist, as cold air from the Mendips descended into the valley in which Wells was situated, thus obscuring the City, so we only had two bombs in the whole war. The first was a landmine, which landed in St Cuthbert’s wood, making a socking great hole, and felling three massive oak trees. The other, a ‘Goering’s Bread Basket’, a canister containing a large number of incendiaries, which were disgorged from a specific height over the ‘target’. The night it fell from a German bomber hightailing it back from a raid on Bristol, and probably let go to lighten the aircraft to increase the speed for escape, the incendiaries fell over the local lunatic asylum (now mental hospital), several penetrating the roof of the inmates’ dormitories. The nurse (male) was sitting at a table, and seeing the bombs doing their thing on the floor, screamed and fled down the stairs to the air raid shelter. The inmates who had woken up at the noise got out of bed and wrapped the bombs up in their blankets and threw them out of the windows, and then got back into bed. Who’s crazy now! The bulldog spirit rides again!!
In 1946, Dad took us all to live in Berlin. The damage everywhere was horrendous, but that’s another story.
Beaufort Lodge East
Bath BA1 6RP
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