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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Childhood Memories Of WW2

by glimpy

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Barry Streater
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
01 May 2004

I was born in 1934 and I remember the first day of the war. There was a siren and then an ARP warden cycled along the road blowing a whistle

I was only five years old when the war started. I had heard we were fighting the germs. I didn't know what germs were so I asked my mother. She said they were tiny little creatures that you couldn't see and they make us ill. I noticed some tiny spiders, red in colour and about as big as a pinhead which ran about on our outside red tile windowsills. I concluded that they must be germs. I couldn't see how such small creatures could do all the nasty things that the germs were reported as doing

My mother made us go under the oak dining-room table. Nothing happened so she made us come out again

Later that day, a friend of my father arrived from London with his wife and little girl. He told us we would have to put him up as it was not safe in London

My father refused saying that we hadn't any room. An argument ensued and the little girl, who was playing with my toys, broke my toy monkey which climbed up a pole when you pressed the flap. Then the family left and went back to London

During the Battle of Britain, we children used to look up at the sky and see the Spitfires and Hurricanes slogging it out with the Luftwaffe

The boys used to collect shrapnel and canon shell cases which dropped into the playground. I seem to remember that sometimes they were hot although, looking back, I can't believe that

We also used to look up at the hundreds of German bombers flying on to London. I seem to remember that they flew in formation, although I have since read that they didn't. When they were flying in the other direction, we would cheer if there was a gap in the formation as that meant that one had been shot down

Later, during the time of the V1 flying bombs, (called Doodle Bugs by those who didn't have a Dad in the ARP), we used to look up at the Spitfires trying to shoot them down before they reached London. I saw with my own eyes a Spitfire using his wing tips to tilt the V1 so as to send it back to Germany

The crashed German planes were taken to a rubbish dump near us and we young lads used to go there and steal the magnetic bars used to neutralise the natural magnetism of the planes so that the magnetic compass would be more accurate

One day, the Post Office was bombed about one mile from our house and four people were killed. On my way to school, I found a sheet of postage stamps and lots of blank Post Office forms. I took the stamps to the Police Station

After D-day, each day, at school, we would move glass-headed pins which were stuck into a map on the wall, showing the position of our troops. We got their position from The Daily Telegraph which the teacher bought each day

We couldn't get bananas but that didn't matter as I had never eaten one anyway. We got a ration of one egg each per week. My Mother sent me to get them from the grocer one week. I broke three but managed to get the other two home. I was very proud but my mother was fairly cross

She was also cross with my little sister who let the hot soapy water out of the copper. My mother was planning to use it again

We used to wash for bed using only one bowl of hot water. The schedule was:

Face of little sister, face of little brother, my face, hands of little sister, hands of little brother, my hands, feet of little sister, feet of little brother and, lastly, my feet

My mother used to swap some of our tea ration for part of someone's butter ration

I was not allowed to play in the street as this was said to be "common". But, on VE day, everyone took a table out into the street and we had a street party

Down the road was a Jewish family called the Schwartzes. They had a little son called Rubin. He used to run about in the street naked. The father was a sergeant in the army and was rarely there. They were very hard up. My mother put a 10/- note in an envelope and sent me round with it. I was to say "Here's a note from my mother" and I was to run away before she opened it. However, later Mrs Schwartz sent it back

My father was in a high position in the ARP in London. He had joined in 1936 as he was convinced there would be a war. He worked for Mr Duncan Sandys. He only had one Sunday off every six weeks and would come home to Sussex. We really loved him and looked forward to his visits. One day, he brought some chocolate home but he had had it in his pocket and it was all melted and had tobacco dust in it. My mother threw it on the fire when he had gone back to London. One day, a postage stamp, which was on the mantle piece, was caught by a draught and was blown on the fire. It just burst into flame and was gone in less than a second. I felt so helpless

My father had two jobs. He was an ARP warden in the day and did fire watching at night. His job in the day was to go and inspect properties where the owner had reported an unexploded German bomb. He would look at his drawings to identify the type of bomb and then call the Bomb Disposal team from the Army. If he couldn't recognise the type of bomb, he would take his clothes off in case it was a magnetic fuse. He would keep a notebook about 100 yards from the bomb. Each time he did something he would walk back to his notebook and make a note of it so that he would know it was safe to do that particular thing next time. He would also note what he intended to do next. If one of his colleagues was blown up, he would read his notebook and make a note that he shouldn't do what his colleague had done

As we didn't see much of our Dad, he once took we three kids up to London with him one at a time for a week each. We would sleep in his empty bed, (as he was out fire watching), and would spend next day sitting in his car while he drove around London inspecting unexploded bombs. We would often spend most of the day sitting alone in his car. But, at least, we saw him for a few minutes several times during the day

One day, my Dad came home and left a dummy hand grenade in the house. It was made of cardboard and had a fuse at one end. It kicked around the house for several weeks. One evening, my mother was gosipping over the garden fence. I was bored so I took the dummy and lit the fuse. It fizzed and I got so frightened that I threw it on the fire. There was a terrific bang and the kitchen filled with smoke and I couldn't hear anything. I just kept saying I was sorry. It's a good job I threw it as, otherwise, I might have been killed or could have lost my hand. My father was very cross with my mother when he next came home. He wasn't cross with me but my mother was

One Sunday, my father came home in his car and wanted to take us to the seaside. But, when we got near Brighton, the road was blocked with barbed wire and we had to go home again

One day, it was rumoured that a German airman had parachuted down and hadn't been caught. I went looking for him. I couldn't find him but he was caught later

There was a house where some consciencious objectors lived. My father called them "conchies" and spat into their front garden each time we passed their house

There were often pictures of Heinkels, Messerschmitts, Dorniers and Stukas in the papers. I used to cut them out and put them in a scrapbook. Also English aeroplanes like Lysanders, Wellingtons, Lancasters and Blenheims

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V-1s and V-2s Category
Childhood and Evacuation Category
Family Life Category
Rationing Category
Air Raid Precautions Category
Sussex Category
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