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- George Murphy
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- 28 October 2003
I heard the sombre pronouncement by Neville Chamberlain on September 3rd 1939 that England was at war with Germany. I was 14 years old and viewed this news with mixed feelings of anxiety and excited anticipation. This was something different in my safe, peaceful and secure life. On that day I did`nt know how different that was going to be.The tragedies of neighbourhood war deaths either in combat in British military service or the result of the bombing blitz of British cities,the frustrations of queuing, rationing and curfews will form part of this personal story. The comic events that occurred in our efforts to make our nation secure against enemy attack make "Dad`s Army" positively professional.
Both my parents were alive at that time and I had a 12year old brother,and 7year and 5year old sisters in my family.My 19 year old sister was a nurse in a London hospital at the outbreak of war. In recollection,I don`t think the war began to show effects in Wexford until early in 1940 when rationing, curfews and blackouts began to be introduced. Rationing was controlled by a similar system of stamps to that of Britain and covered everything from food, clothing, footwear, sweets, chocolate. We were forced to eat what was described as "black bread", that is white bread was illegal.The bread was actually a very dark brown colour, of a rough texture and not being allowed butter we had to use margarine. That for an Irishman was analogous to a pilot trying to fly a plane with only one wing!!! I was a smoker then (something I`m stupidly paying for now) and tobacconists introduced their own system of rationing. To be allowed five John Player medium cigarettes one had to purchase ten Turkish Pasha cigarettes, the most foul smelling smoke on earth.The odour represented that which would occur by locking ten cats in a small room for about a week.In the 1940`s we began to feel like the British people in all except the horrific bombing. Since Wexford is only a very short sea journey to Cardiff and the West coast of England and when these areas were being attacked on clear nights with the wind from the east I was wakened on many occasions by the night bombing.
The throbbibg noise of the German bombers engines were an immediate recognition for me and the the noise of heavy explositions was frightening. Following the noise of a heavy night of west coast bombing which many people in Wexford heard and talked about the following day, rumours abounded that Germany was going to invade Ireland very shortly. This was the most frightening experience for me and my family exacerbated by the concerns for my sister in London which was at the very heart of the Blitz.Throughout 1940 and 1941 these rumours became more prevalent and the government introduced the Local Defence Force and the ARP and at 16 I did not fancy "square-bashing" and became a member of the ARP. Eventhough "Lord Haw Haw" announced that Hitler wanted oil wells and not holy wells these initiatives were taken very seriously,at least by the group leaders!!.For the rest of us our feelings were that if Hitler wanted to take Ireland at 13.00 hours it would be his by 16.00 hours. This difference of approaches to"defending" our nation introduced the comedic effect in our defensive training.This later.
There was personal tragedy in my neighbourhood. My next door neighbours daughter and her two twin six year old children were killed in a bombing raid in Coventry.Mrs Gaul alerted the whole street by her tragic screaming whist running up and down the street.Her daughter was her only child and she was understandibly and publicly delirious having lost all her family in one fell swoop until a doctor heavily sedated her.Another family in my community suffered the trauma of being informed much later in the war that their son had died in the battle of El Alamein. Yes death did visit Wexford at the hands of the nazi regime.I am not sure of the year but on a Sunday mid-day I saw about six bombers travel due west up my street(Thomas Street).I recognised them as German by the engine sounds.Shortly after the planes had gone due west a number of military vehicles raced up Thomas Street going in the direction of the planes.The news broke afterwards that Campile was bombed and that the Co-Operative Dairy factory was flattened with 10 deaths and one man killed in his field. The local reason for this bombing was that the CO-Op were supplying butter and other such foodstuffs to England through Belfast,whilst the German reason was that the planes became separate from the main group and were jettisoning their bombs over an uninhabited area. This was precision bombing on the factory with only one bomb dropping in a field nearby.I remember the German Anbassador fro Dublin attending the funerals of the dead fully dress suited with tall silk black hat and red sasch emblazoned with the swastika. His escort of Irish military and civil police saved him from serious assault or even death such was the anger of the Wexford people.Yes indeed Hitler brought death to Wexford.There was unconfirmed rumours that Germany bombed the Strand in Dublin, a predominantly Jewish area of the city.
My memories of my area during my ARP "career" bring back the chaotic and comedic activity during training.I will recall three such incidences. The procedure was to notify our command centre that a bombing raid will take place in our area,no date or time being given.Our casuality list included six dead and one who lost a leg. The alert eventually came and we were supposed to alert the fire services,the ambulance service and the local hospital and the police to maintain order. We had to use public telephones and the guy delegated to carry this out forgot to notify the fire service, hospital or police. On the way to the scene of the"carnage" the ambulance had a front wheel blow out,which caused delays until a replacement wheel and jack could be found. In the meantime Martin(correct name)was lying in his house with one leg blown off.When the ambulance filled with nurses eventually arrived the found anote pinned to the kitchen cabinet whic read"Bled to death.Gone to the Pub". That is not fiction it is pure fact.On another such occasion we had to take a very badly injured man from his bedroom "very seriously shrapnel injured". We got Sean(correct name) on the stretcher and gently brought him downstairs to the waiting ambulance.A first triumph!!! Not likely,the stairs we used was bombed out and we had to stretcher him upstairs again to lower him and stretcher through his top floor front window.Somehow he showed very little trust in us because he discarded his bandages and vanished into the night. Finally my commander at a public demonstration was showing me how to hold a very powerful fire service hose in the event of a fire. I was standing a few feet from him holding the hose when someone switched the water on and he shot into the air saturated with water in public. It did`nt help that I could not stop laughing. I was not promoted.
These are some of my memories of WWW2 in Wexford,but the abiding memory for me is at the end of the war when my mother sent my youngest sister who would have been eleven for a pound of bananas I could not understand her asking mother what a banana was.
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