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Childhood Memories

by littletom_brown

Contributed by 
Location of story: 
Neath,West Glamorgan
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
24 November 2005

During World War 2 I was a schoolboy in Neath's Gnoll School. From the age of 2 to the age of 11 I had TB, which needed hospital attendance mostly as an outpatient of Cimla hospital. I lived not far from the sanatorium and I needed to attend the hospital 3 or 4 times a week for periods lasting from one and a half hours to half a day. So I was always able to attend school except for the nine months stay at the sanatorium near Cardiff, when I had no education, but I have many memories of the war years and how it affected my life.
At the start, Anderson shelters were distributed to homes.My home backed onto Gnoll woods. My father, a police sergeant in the local borough police force was in a reserved occupation because of his skill as a motor mechanic and driver for the fire engine and two ambulances. He decided to keep the maximum garden space to grow crops for the 'Dig for Victory' campaign by siting our air-raid shelter in the earth and rubble boundary edge of the woods.He dug a hole approximately 6fy square by 4ft deep. The shelter,made from zinc plated corrugated iron sheets bolted onto a simple anled iron frame,was built in the hole.I,as a little boy,was encouraged to dig turfs from an underdeveloped field opposite our home and carry them home in a "gambo"-a tiny handcart on two wheels,which my father had made for my brother and myself as a useful toy.The turfs which he also dug were used to build walls around the shelter.The space between the turf walls and the shelter were filled in with soil until about 10 or 12 inches of soil covered the whole shelter.He then made blast doors from two flat steel sheets which overlapped and were backed with two pieces of pit boards from our garage about one and a quarter inched thick and about 12 inches wide, these formed hinged doors in the top half of the shelter.A step stairs of about two or three treads gave us access into the shelter.My father furnished it with two bunk beds(no fabric was kept in the shelter but siren suits,a coverall which could be buttoned up and had pixie hoods made by my mother from an old blanket, home-made sleeping bags and a matress made by my mother from pads of old blankets would be taken down when necessary).A candle,matches and a torch were also kept there.A bench seat was provided for my mother and any neighbours who felt the need to join us.All our neighbours has similar shelters but some people were not so handy with tools and constructed their shelters on the surface of their gardens.My father finished off the the shelter with three steel sheets,which had been garage petrol adverts,to form a blast wall in front of the shelter access doors.To bind the soil my father planted strawberry plants and encouraged them to spread all over the shelter.The crop was not good because the woods deprived the site of most of the sunlight.
Community shelters were built in many places from brickwork with blast walls and flat reinforced concrete roofs,but throughout the war I was only once directed into a public shelter.It was in the town park and was a smelly place used by drunks for inappropriate reasons.No facilities of any description were provided in them and they were dark smelly places.In the middle of a sunny day I was in town with my mother when an air raid siren sounded.I looked up at the clear blue sky and saw a silvery coloured aeroplane flying very high.It was probably a photo reconnaisance aircraft on a daylight raid. I could see it clearly.my mother took me to a policeman who was nearby and he asked me where it was.I pointed it out but he couldn't see it.I thought at the time that if only he could see it the war would be over!He was the policeman who herded us into the shelter.

Our garden was duly planted with potatoes,runnerbeans,beetroot,carrots,cabbage,sprouts,peas,onions,rhubarb,lettuce,tomatoes,cooking apple trees,gooseberries,raspberries,a few clumps of herbs and on one occasion even mushrooms.Despite my parent's efforts there was one occasion when my mother was short of food so she took me to a "British Restaurant"located on the ground floor of Neath Wesleyan chapel.
Gas masks had to be collected from an appointed local centre.Masks for children of less than one year were chambers into which the baby was placed.Children of up to 4 years had an exhaling valve which resembled a flat protruding nose and were commonly known as Mickey Mouse masks.Soldiers,policemen and firemen etc had masks made of heavier duty material with two seperate eye glass piecesand a corrugated flexible hose linked to a more robust filter housed in a haversack.The rest of the community had effective masks of a simpler nature i.e.a sngle celluloid type with flexible eyepiece nad smaller filters.Occasionally the filters either had to be renewed because of age or have extra filters added to cater for newer gases that the government thought might be used against us.

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