- Contributed by
- Derek Palmer
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- Derek Palmer
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- 21 February 2004
No doubt, for the majority of the contributors, it was our fathers, mothers even, who were in uniform during the 1939-45 war? Nevertheless, for many of us, taking place during our childhood, the Second World War formed an important memory in our formative years. Living close to London, my earliest memory is, when aged around 4-5, seeing the huge glow in the sky, as the London Docks, some 20 miles away, were aflame. However, allow me to relate a little happier memory of the WW2 - and my very first love affair . . .
Besides those unfortunate East Enders, my family had also experienced the Blitz when our former home, west of London, in Twickenham, was flattened in 1941. But moving on, it was now 1942 and the war was still raging. My father was with Monty on the Western Desert. Aged six, I now lived in Isleworth, Middlesex with my mother and, two years my junior, my sister Pam.
Opposite our home was one of the largest hospitals in the country, the West Middlesex, and, with a bedroom to spare; we were compelled to billet two nurses. One was a Scottish lass called Joan, and she was fairly plain. The other nurse was a London girl and her name was Jean. People described her as being petite. She was also dark-haired and extremely pretty.
Luftwaffe permitting, my mother put my sister and me to bed each night at around 7 p.m. Mum kissed us both goodnight - and so did the nurses, if they were not already out for the evening, or on night duty. Oh, how I loved being kissed by Jean. This was not like being kissed by my Mum, or by one of my aunts. This was a real kiss, on the lips, and me with my arms hugging tightly around her neck. Jean was probably about to go out on a date. There were plenty of British uniformed young men around and later the Canadians, with their attractive accents, arrived. The American GIs, with their bubble gum and smart gabardine uniforms, followed these. They were stationed not so far away from us, at General Eisenhower’s headquarters in Bushy Park.
Later my father was invalided out of the Army and it was not long before my two nurse friends had to leave us. Oh, how I cried! Fortunately for me they were only moving into nurses’ quarters within the hospital grounds, right opposite our home.
The war went into another year and, during the following one, the bombing resumed. It was 1944 and the incendiary and other bombs had failed to set London completely afire. Now, Hitler was sending us his latest little package of terror - the terrifying V1 flying bomb (or doodle bug as it was called). The V2 rocket bomb followed this and, of course, there was no warning at all with those. You heard a whoosh and then you were either dead or seriously injured! Samples of both types of weapon were delivered close to our home. A V1 landed three streets away causing considerable damage to the semi. Some weeks later, a V2 landed on a factory about a mile away, which, besides making a deafeningly loud bang, also caused death and devastating destruction.
Most of my school classmates were evacuated to the relative safety of the countryside, some for the second time. However, my father decided that Pam and I were to stay put in the London suburbs. I had no objection whatsoever. I knew my beautiful Jean was just across the road. Occasionally, she came to visit us. Sometimes, after school, I would peer through the hospital hedge, the railings having been removed to make guns or tanks, in the hopes I may catch a glimpse of her.
The following year the war ended. Imitating all the other little streets throughout the land, we had a street party on VE (Victory In Europe) Day. Lovely Jean came across helping the mums serve the kids with sandwiches filled with goodies we could not remember having tasted before. Cakes, jellies, blancmanges and something I did not recall having tasted previously nor, mercifully, since - junket followed these! Our biliousness passed within a day or two but, in any case, I had only feasted my eyes upon the very tasty Jean.
I loved my mother very much but Jean was definitely the first woman with whom, from the age of six and until nine, I was really in love. Or, was it just infatuation? I wonder how she looks now? If still alive, she would have to be approaching 80, but I bet she’s still a great beauty or, at the very least, a very pretty old lady!
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