- Contributed by
- CSV Actiondesk at BBC Oxford
- People in story:
- Chris Neville
- Location of story:
- Gilwern, Nr Abergavenny, S. Wales
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 15 July 2005
'This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Gwilym Scourfield of the County Heritage Team on behalf of Chris Neville and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.'
Great Guys, G Is! —
A little boy reflects on wartime introductions to American Soldiers.
I was just an infant when the war began. We lived in Fulham, not far from Monty’s headquarters in Hammersmith; (if you’re flying with the Luftwaffe, that is!) with factories at the end of the street. It was the sort of 1930s built London terrace that became Hitler’s ‘collateral’ damage more often than not. Grandmother had been evacuated to Gilwern near Abergavenny in South Wales. (It is now part of the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park). When the Blitz started my mother and her sisters decided to move us all there.
The cottage was the coach house of the local manor, Glaslyn House. It was way out in the countryside. Can you imagine the contrast between the busy streets of a west London borough and the green, leafy, rain-sodden outback of the Principality? Not only that, but we gave up electricity and gas, flush toilets etc, for an earth closet, and rooms lit by candles and oil lamps at night. The only water was from a stand pipe down the road.
The garden was above the level of the narrow road. When lorries passed en route to the American hospital at Dannie Park, we found ourselves playing in the garden, level to their floor boards. I was out playing with two cousins one day when an American vehicle stopped right alongside us. Like most Americans, they loved kids. They must have wondered at what sort of life we had out there in the sticks. One reached into his kitbag and passed me a really attractive ball. It was a really bright orange colour. To our surprise he had one each for my cousins, too. We must have wondered why it was soft, unlike a cricket or tennis ball. We started to roll them and play catch. In retrospect I realise it must have caused them huge amusement. None of us had ever seen oranges before!
When told to eat it, we got our first disgusting acid shock. Nowadays I do know how to peel them, but that very first orange was one of the great wonders of the war.
My mother and I later moved to a bedsit in Hereford. Dad was in a REME unit nearby. Dad played mandolin and in those days anyone with musical talent was required to entertain. He joined a local concert party and they played at the local American base. That Christmas was ‘Bing Crosby white’ as I remember. The Americans gave all the local children a Christmas party. The proper kid’s party was in the afternoon. I expect I was too young for that. I sat on mum’s knee for the adult entertainment. I’ll never forget those Christmas decorations and the sheer opulence of the feast. What’s more Father Christmas arrived to give out presents! I don’t think I thought it odd at the time that the ‘children’ at the party were all adults! Listening to dad playing and the singers launching into “Somewhere over the Rainbow”, life in the country was very different to those poor souls digging survivors out of the rubble in streets of Fulham. Being the only child at an otherwise all-adult party, I was swamped with gifts — sweets and marbles that swirled with brilliant colours - from the ever generous GIs.
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