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A Young Boy's War: Chapter 6

by Graeme Sorley

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Graeme Sorley
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Graeme Sorley
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12 December 2003


During these years my sister, armed with her gas mask, went by bus each day to a school beyond Streatley. She had to change at Streatley having to run the gauntlet of the shouts and whistles of Italian prisoners of war going to work in the fields in their open top lorries. At age eight, she started at a boarding school on the other side of the village and was there on VE Day, May 8th, 1945. They all had the day off and went in a convoy of ponies and traps for a picnic. She remembers it as a very beautiful day.

A few weeks after VE day we went off to Ireland for a summer holiday at a cottage which my uncle rented at Ballyconeely, County Galway. It was a happy time. The sun shone, we rode the semi-wild donkeys, swam, played on the beach, watched the wild Connemara ponies, learnt to cut peat and went fishing for pollack with the crofter who lived next door using eels as bait. We were there on VJ Day, after the atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My mother was with us for a part of the time but she and my aunt had to go back early to their respective jobs in London.

I kept a diary from 1946 onwards for several years. On average, there was just about one reference to food every day. Oranges were the most often mentioned. There was one obviously red-lettered day, February 13, 1946 when the word banana appears. This was the first banana we had had since the beginning of the war.

Towards the end of January 1946, my mother wrote to tell me that she and John Dove, were going to get married in London. At St. Piran’s, the headmaster’s wife called me in and talked to me about this. I suppose my mother had been concerned as to how this news might affect me. He turned out to be a truly wonderful stepfather. He had had an incredibly interesting life in the Royal Navy having been awarded a Military OBE for design work on naval gunnery during WW1, when he was in his early twenties. Between the wars, he worked with Commander Norway (Nevil Shute) at Airspeed Ltd. After WW2 started, they both joined up with the Miscellaneous Weapons and Development Department at the Admiralty in London – the “Wheezers and Dodgers”, as it became known. He knew Barnes Wallis, Robert Watson-Watt, Peter Fleming, Blondie Hasler and many other interesting characters. Step-father John was on the beach at Dunkirk flying his “anti-Stuka” kites and at Normandy on the morning of D-Day. That is a story in itself.

The Victory Parade in June 1946 was very exciting. My diary says that we started early and arrived at Northumberland Avenue after much pushing and shoving and losing each other in the throng. John had rented a first floor balcony so that we would get a good view. We sat outside on chairs, with John in his naval uniform. It was an exciting and proud moment. People in the crowd on the street immediately below us started fainting. More and more people poured down the alley way from the nearest tube station. A crush started. John stood up and immediately took things in hand ordering the crowd to behave so that the two lonely policemen could sort things out. Both crowd and policemen obediently followed his orders and calm was restored. The Royal Family appeared in a landau followed by Churchill, Montgomery and rank upon rank from the various regiments, naval and air force units, British, Commonwealth and Allied. I do not remember if de Gaulle was in the parade - he probably was. After the parade there was a fly past and later that night, fireworks and more exuberant crowds. John drove us through the crowds in his little green “Standard Nine” car. I was a little alarmed that the crowd, amply fuelled by beer, would rock the car in their natural excitement.

My sister and I both received a message from Buckingham Palace under the Royal Crest which read:

8th June, 1946

I send this personal message to you and
all other boys and girls at school. For
you have shared in the hardships and
dangers of a total war and you have
Shared no less in the triumph of the
Allied Nations.

I know you will always feel proud to
belong to a country which was capable
of such supreme effort, proud, too of
parents and elder brothers and sisters
who by their courage, endurance and
enterprise brought victory. May these
qualities be yours as you grow up and
join in the common effort to establish
among the nations of the world unity
and peace.

George R.I.

On the back the “Important War Dates” were printed. Significantly, the Battle of Matapan in which my father fought in H.M.S Barham on March 28th 1941, was listed as one of the twelve important war dates of that year, along with the Lease-Lend Bill, Germany invading Greece and Russia, Agreement on the terms of the Atlantic Charter and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Matapan was the largest naval battle since Jutland in 1916. It ended any Italian claim to the Mediterranean being “Mare Nostrum”.

As a family, along with so many other British families, we had survived the war and a very personal tragedy. My sister and I will never forget the trip from Singapore back to an England in the throes of the bitterly cold winter of 1940 and a childhood in the years that followed.

Graëme Sorley, November 25th, 2003

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