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- 01 September 2004
This is the story of my father and his brother and my mother.
During the war, my father and mother were not married - in fact, they didn't even know each other - but this is the story of their (and my uncle's) war.
My family come from Shildon in County Durham in the North East of England and at the outbreak of war, my father would have been 30 years of age; his brother 32 years of age. Both were administrators - wages clerks really - working in the wage offices of the local colliery.
They were both, therefore, in protected occupations and had no need to join the forces. They were also rather older than their compatriots and, I guess, would only be required to join up later in the war.
As soon as he was able, my uncle rushed to join the RAF - he took a day's holiday from work and went to Durham to join up - his boss at the colliery was most displeased - what his mother (my grandmother) thought when he went home to break the news - heaven alone knows.
Within a fortnight, my father joined the RAF and within the month, they were both off to fight Jerry.
Both were in the RAF, but they had dramatically different wars - my uncle spent his war as a RAF clerk - having said that he travelled the world - he was in Iraq (one of the original Desert Rats), he was in Burma (and awarded a Burma Star), he was in Rangoon, he was all over - he even took part in the landings in Tripoli - he said that was the worst part of the war - waiting on the ships to land with mortars going off all round him.
He tells the story of travelling through the desert - in Iraq or somewhere like that, he was stationed on top of a tank and told to look out for enemy aircraft - he said he wouldn't have known an enemy aircraft from a British aircraft - he said he would've known the difference if an aircraft had come over dropping bombs, he would've known the difference then all right.
My father, on the other hand, never left Britain - he spent his war manning the balloons at Blyth in Northumberland - learning how to knock out lobsters by hitting them over the head and then boling them for his tea.
The furtherst he got was the Isle of Hoy in the Orkneys.
My uncle said that he was away from home, practically all of the war - my father was home every two to three weeks or so. My uncle tells the story of how he came home on a very rare visit and alighted from Shildon railway station to be met by an older resident of Shildon - "By gum, lad." he said, "You're never away from home." - He thought that my uncle was his younger brother, my father.
My uncle said he never talked much about the war at home - he didn't want my father to feel left out, because he really had had quite a dull war.
They both came back from war well equipped to look after themselves - my father, particularly - he learnt to sew on buttons, darn his socks etc - he even came home a whizz at cooking - all to stand him in good stead when he became a widower in later life.
My mother, on the other hand, did not join the forces - she was a good deal younger than my father - she was 22. She came from a very staunch Methodist family - she was an only child, very cossetted and protected, I would guess - she worked at a large Department Store in Darlington, the nearest big town to Shildon, prior to the war and returned to work there after the war too.
Her war effort involved her going to work in the local munitions factory at a place called Aycliffe.
I live now with my husband and family at the new town which was built close to the munitions factory, that new town being Newton Aycliffe. My house looks out over fields at the back and is very close to the railway line she travelled on every day on her way to work in the munitions factory. It is also just over the fields to my home town of Shildon.
She tells the story of how, one day, her best friend (and later bridesmaid), Evelyn, lost her shoe onto the railway lines at Shildon Station - the train reversed out of the station so that Evelyn could go down on the track to retrieve it.
My mother hated working in the munitions factory - she was horrified she was going to pass dud amunition that would fire backwards and kill one of our boys in the field - she came from a very closeted background and was very intimidated by the rough humour of some of the men (and women, too) with whom she worked.
She did tell the story of how thrilled she was, however, on the day of her 23rd birthday, to get a Smarties tube with 23 threepenny bits in it - it had been collected for her by the men who worked on the site.
She was one of the "Aycliffe Angels", one of those women (and men) who were poured scorn on by Lord Haw Haw.
My mother and father later met each other and got married - they, like everyone else, during the war, had to survive as best they could on rations and had to make do with what they had.
They had a comfortable married life, money was never a problem, but they were never ones to squander their money - I think that a lot of their generation were like that.
I can spend money, but there is some of that thriftiness left in me, instilled in me by my mother and father, I guess.
My children love to spend money and I try to reign them in as best I can - I hope that they will become more sensible with money and more like their grandparents as they get older - but in this modern world, who will know what future they will have to face.
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