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15 October 2014
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D-Day Preliminaries: A Child in Caterham

by Krystynapolska

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Christine Collins-nee Darby
Location of story: 
caterham, Surrey
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
17 February 2004

As a child living in a Surey village not very far from a Battle of Britain fighter stationI was very well aware of all that the second world war meant to everyone, both adults and children.

Next door to my own homewas a large detached house that had been used at one time to house families who had lost their homes through the bombing.

Not long before what turned out to be D.Day the house was again empty and my parents had been wondering,who would be the next occupants?

Playing in thegarden oneday I was puzzled to see two large army lorries drive slowly down our tree-lined road and finally stop outside the empty house. My Mother was also surprised and we waited to see what would happen next. As I watched several soldiers climbed down from the lorries, checked some papers and then walking towards the front of the house, took out keys and opened the front door and walked in. I rushed to tell my Mother and when my Father returned that evening from his office it was of course a matter of great interest. All that afternoon and evening there had been a great deal of activity, much coming and going; and as anything to do with the war wasof concern to us all we awaited events, with perhaps, a little anxiety.

The following morning there was a knock at the front door, on opening it my Mother found two soldiers in battle dress standing in the porch. They had come to explain that they were members of amall group of soldiers, who were there to "Look after" advance supplies for "Later use" Their main problem, they explained, was that they had no alarm clock; would it be possible for us to make sure that they were up and about at the correct time? As my father always left very early in the morning for his office in London, where he was a civil servant in a reserved occupation, we assured them that this was possible; telling them that if we saw no lights or activity through the garden hedges at the side of the house we would rouse them. In those days that did not mean a quick @phone call, a house used for for the homeless "bombed out" had no telephone installed. A wake up call required a visit to the house and a lot of hammering on the front door. However this only happened on rare occasions.

What did happen was that an invitation for "The little girl and her Mother to come to tea" was issued and I was then initiated into what seemed to me to be an Aladdin's cave of food. In thos edays virtually every item of food was rationed or almost unobtainable, now before my eyes were tins of peaches, fruit salad, jams and meats (especially Spam!) Four soldiers were now permanently in residence and their idea of "tea" was to a wartime child an absolute banquet. It included Spam and chips rarely available since fat or oil was scarce and precious) followed by bowls of fruit and cream and chocolate biscuits.They plied us with all the goodies they had available and obviously took great pleasure in seeing our suprise and especially my enjoyment of all the treats. Three of the soldiers were young privates, the other a sergeant, an older man who was in charge. he was later to use his home throught the bombing.

We returned home replete, but only after I had been shown room after room stacked high with tins of food, emergency rations, which included Horlicks tablets and chococlate bars and strangest of all severall folding bicycles, these could be divided in the middle and fold into a very neat package.

The follwing day Eddies, the sergeant, approached my Mother "We are hopeless cooks" he said, we have all this food but all we can cook are steak and chips and eggs and bacon. Sure enough they had plenty of meat, despite the lack of freezers in those days, but also they had sugar,dried fruit, golden syrup, butter, suet, dried eggs and margarine; all precious commodities in those days but of little use to the men. We did a swap, my Mother made huge trays of spicy bread pudding with lots of fruit, suet and sugar, fruit cakes with more fruit and precious dried eggs. In return we were given what to me looked like a petrol can of golden syrup, dried fruit, dried eggs and sugar and the precious butter or margarine.

Our house had a very deep porch at the side entrance to the kitchen with very high hedges between our garden and that of the house next door. Over the last few years with little attention these hedges had become so overgrown and was so thin in places that you could walk through as between trees. Eddie would take this route and appear, standing in the deep porch apparently empty hsnded, then reach into the depths of his loose battle dress dress jacket and pass to my Mother quantities of precious ingredients, one huge cake for the boys and one family sized for us.

We became good friends and shared with Eddie his worry over the problems for his wife and child when they were bombed out out of their home. I was invited several more times to massive "teas" and then almost as suddenly as they had arrived they left, only able to tell us at the last minute before they were gone. Within a very short time D-Day was upon us! Then, ofcourse, we realised the significanceof the "iron rations" and in particular the folding bicycles!

A small but still vivid memory.

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