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- 19 September 2005
In 1939 when I was five years old, Daddy and the man next door dug a very deep rectangular hole at the bottom of the garden. It was lined with sheets of corrugated iron held in place by wooden beams and the whole thing lined with plywood. The floor was made of planks covered with old pieces of carpet.
At the far end was a bunk and deckchairs were propped against one wall. There was a small partitioned off area with a bucket! Oil lanterns hung from the ceiling and there was a shelf for mugs, thermos flasks, comics and books. There were several air vents. The soil removed was piled on top and eventually planted with vegetables.
I was intrigued by the whole thing-whatever was it? Was it a big playhouse? Daddy said we might have to hide one day to be safe but at five I did not understand and was too young to be told the truth. Dad believed no child should be frightened by what the future might hold.
On the 3rd Sept 1939 I sat on Daddy’s knee and heard a very sad man saying that we were at war with Germany. I had no concept of the meaning of war and had no idea where Germany was. I remember Daddy pulling me close in his arms saying “Dear God not again”. He was born in 1882, had served in WW1 and was therefore too old to enlist in 1939. He was always there for me except when he was on warden duty in Manchester twice a week.
After hearing that broadcast on September 3rd I was only allowed to listen to Children’s hour. I was not allowed to see newspapers and visitors to our home were asked not to discuss current affairs in my presence. Naturally I heard snippets of things but Dad felt that I was too young to absorb the horror and evil that was tearing the world apart.
Mother bought me an extraordinary garment which she said was a siren suit. A lovely cosy dark brown all-in-one garment from hood to slippers with a large flap at the back fastened with three huge buttons. She explained the purpose of the flap and I was thrilled by this unusual addition to my wardrobe. Mum said I looked like the biggest fluffy teddy bear she had ever seen. I had no idea what it was for.
Then the time came when the bombing of our island commenced. Mum took the bedding down in the late afternoon. I was put into my pyjamas and my lovely siren suit and taken to the shelter and tucked into my bunk. I was cosy and warm and mum stayed until I was asleep. Knowing I would not wake she returned to the house for a couple of hours and then returned with Dad and the neighbours. One night I left my teddy in my bedroom but Mum said he would be fine and would come down later with her. He wore blue silk pyjamas and she made him a siren suit to match mine. This routine continued for a long time.
Then came the blitz of the city of Manchester (I lived in Sale only 5 miles away). One morning as we returned to the house I could see the terrible flames and smoke filling the sky. A plane came over, lower and lower over the houses, its engines on fire. Mum said it was German and seconds later there was an awful crashing noise with more smoke and flames.
At that point it dawned on me that Daddy was on duty in Manchester. Mum must have been very worried but she hide her feelings to comfort me. When I was older she told me that from being a quiet calm little girl I became totally hysterical and out of control screaming “I want my Daddy, I want my Daddy”. Apparently I fought and kicked in my absolute terror.
She gave me something to make me sleep after she eventually managed to get me to bed. After a few hours she came to get me ready for school, but when she said Dad was not home I refused to go anywhere and she gave me something to make me sleep again.
Dad arrived home at lunchtime and had had to walk as there were no buses or trains. He just collapsed on the bed and slept for hours. Mum let me go and give him a kiss. I then got dressed and collected my satchel and gas mask case. Mum asked where I was going and I replied that now Dad was home I could go to school.
After that I was not taken to the city to see Father Christmas — Dad’s reason being that bombed out cities were not for the eyes of a child. He was not being over protective but believed that the age of innocence is short enough.
And so the years passed, I learnt all about saving water, not wasting food and how kittens were born!! I went into hospital to have my appendix out and the hospital cat chose to have her kittens under the cot in the corner. This was really fascinating, I found it much more interesting than the mysteries of clothing coupons, ration books or the fact that the Americans had arrived at Burtonwood!
Four times a year we received large boxes of goodies from our Canadian relatives. They used clothes as packaging as they were not supposed to be sending them. Only one box was lost during those years when men of courage risked or lost their lives to bring supplies through the dangerous shipping lanes of the Atlantic.
Some times on a nice Sunday Mum and Dad would take me on a bus to Altrincham and we would walk up to the gate of Dunham Park. German P.O.W.s were housed there and near to the gate they had built a mountain, carved trees, houses, animals and even a tiny railway line and trains. They were conscripted soldiers, no Officers and certainly no Nazis or S.S. Mum got mad with Dad when he tried to communicate with them. He hoped that somewhere in Germany an elderly German would have the compassion to speak to our young men.
Peace came at last but I do not remember any special celebration. I certainly never went to any street parties. My parents were just relieved that we were safe. The shelter was filled in and any future archaeologist will find three gasmasks, Dad’s tin hat plus a few more items we never wished to see again.
Later, when I was sixteen my father said I was old enough to learn and understand all that had taken place between 1933 and 1945. He had thought hard and long whether to forget about it all or to tell me the truth. He was a gentle man and a gentleman. He loved his God, his Sovereign, and his country. He valued the Democracy our country enjoyed and which was nearly lost.
He told me everything and pulled no punches. I was numb with shock. As I grew older I was glad he considered me able to take the truth. He felt it was his duty to make his daughter aware of the courage and sacrifices made to save our island from the pain and misery inflicted on mainland Europe.
He asked me to make a promise. I was not to let what he had told me darken the peace of life that now surrounded me. I was not to dwell on what he had related but neither must I forget. For the rest of my life I should keep a place in my heart and remember with Christian love and gratitude all those who faced an evil and vicious enemy — those who died and those who came back, for if it were not for them, life would have changed forever.
From that day I took as my own the words of the American poet, Robert Frost — “For I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep”.
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