Tommy was the only pet I had ever known. He didn`t belong to us, but to the lady next door but one. It was late 1942 and few people had pets, there was little enough to feed the human population and so pets were something of a luxury. However Tommy`s dietary requirements were modest.On my way home from nurseryschool Iknocked n "Mrs. Tommy`s" door with a bunch of wilting dandelions. They seemed to grow all year round on the bomb sites, and there were plenty of THOSE in Portsmouth in 1942! Mrs. Tommy always welcomed me, my satchel and my gas mask. Tommy always welcomed me too nibbling away at the flowers until every petal was gone.
One night around 2am I suspect, the air raid siren sounded, not an unusual occurence. My mother picked up my baby brother, Grandpa wrapped me up in a blanket, Nan quickly collected the ever ready thermos, eiderdowns, sandwiches and bucket and down we all went into the Anderson shelter in the back garden. The bombs came close that night. Too close. There was a bang, a whoosh, silence.Then A crash like the end of the world.A direct hit on the house next door but one.Our house caved in, the shelter was full of dust We stayed put until the All Clear sounded. Then our neighbours rushed in to see if we were safe. My brother andI were carried into the street. My Nan made sure we were all safe and sound and then she made Grandpa go back inside to get the two eggs she had managed to get from the Co-op. He crawled in over the rubble and emerged with the eggs miraculously intact. We had to go to Auntiev Ivy`s already overcrowded house until we were allocated somewhere to live.
And Tommy the Tortoise? Well, Mrs. Tommy was out that night and so came to no harm. But poor old Tommy disappeared under the collapsed building, and I cried buckets, and gave my dandelions to Auntie Flo for her "pet" rabbits. (No one disillusioned me!!)
But that is not quite the end of the story. Because in the spring when the demolition team moved in to clear the site. guess who came staggering out from under the rubble after a rather sudden enforced hibernation? Yes, it was Tommy himself, slightly dusty and scratched, but eager for as many dandelions as I could pick. And for all I know he tells this true story to his grandchildren.
POST SCRIPT On VE Day in 1995 I went back to Portsmouth, and my four year old memories proved correct. Two doors along from our house the architecture changes where the bombed houses were rebuilt. We missed death by a very few yards that night in the autumn of 1942.