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- Location of story:
- Gatley, Cheshire
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 17 January 2005
One summers evening my father was lying in bed with raging toothache after an extraction (no effective lasting pain killers in those days) hardly able to speak. Mum, my sister and I were standing by the wide-open bedroom window watching Ack-ack explosions and tracer bullets but trying to offer some sympathy as well. Then a Doodlebug landed in Styal - approximately ? of a mile away - and the blast and noise sent us skittering across the floor with astonished shouts. Fathers reaction was more expressive - "Who banged that b****y door?"
Our house overlooked Gatley Green which was still a 'Village Green' in those days - a Church, two pubs, a farm, a stream, some local shops and green lawn with flowerbeds. Hardly any traffic until the village festivals brought out floats and the Mayors Car with the Rose Queen. We also had a Dads Army contingent and ARP Wardens of which my few childhood recollections do not differ greatly from the TV series but that is not to decry their bravery and determination when needed. One night an incendiary bomb pierced the roof of a cottage just along the row from us, immediately rousing the commotion of the residents. Fortunately, a soldier (who was to marry my sister later) was on leave staying with us and he dashed round with a bucket of sand and soil, climbed into the cottage loft at considerable risk and smothered the fire. The watching group clapped and cheered. He watched over it until the Fire Brigade appeared quite some time later. They proceeded to put up ladders to the outside of the roof, smashed through the roof tiles and caused far more damage than the incendiary!
It was almost nightly entertainment (until shipped off to bed) to watch the "fireworks" as bombers tried to hit Trafford Park factories, often missing and losing their way. We heard that a pattern of lights had been set out on Cheshire farmland to mimic the roads in Trafford Park and seduce them into wasted journeys. Perhaps the cattle didn't appreciate this subtlety. When the Blitz was particularly violent, many of the Greens residents went down into the basement of the Greengrocers shop where we children were packed into a quiet corner, wrapped in blankets and eiderdowns, to sleep. The adults took beer and snacks chatting, smoking and sometimes singing the night away.
Barnes Hospital - a mile away - became a convalescent home for wounded soldiers. My mother used to visit to chat and give some comfort to those men. She took me a couple of times in School Holiday time giving me lasting memories of the horror that war brings. Lost limbs, scarred, blinded, burned, afraid of the future, their suffering eliminated any idea in my mind of the glamour of fighting. On the other hand, pictures and stories dribbling in from the Concentration Camps in Germany showed me that such a depraved regime could not be ignored. At less than ten years old, the conflict of those two sides of the war was impossible to resolve.
My first and only experiences of bananas (until about 1948) were supplied dehydrated from the USA, about as big as an adult thumb and very brown. Soaking overnight produced something three times as long, thicker, and soggy but still brown. They did taste banana like! In the same dark brown greaseproof box came dried scrambled egg. However most of our food was locally grown with some vegetables that are not seen in today's supermarkets, more fish but meat was rare and a treat.
My parents invited US airmen, stationed at Ringway Airport (now Manchester Airport) for meals. They were quite an experience for a youngster - bringing me occasional treats and being very playful - in contrast to the dourness of most Englishmen of the time. One took my sister, then about sixteen, dancing after promising faithfully to my parents that he would be a gentleman and respect them and her in every way - and he did. However and inevitably my sister fell in love with him, for at least a month, pining for his return. What a pain elder sisters can be! Another one had never seen or tasted rhubarb and he fell in love with my mothers rhubarb pie so he became "Rhubarb" to us and to his mates.
Ordinary memories fade away and yesterdays routines never seem to be memorised at all. But there are memories of atmosphere, of feeling, of people in the War that cannot be expressed in words but which moulded my future actions for ever.
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