Friday, 17 February 2012

the war heats up

Volume 1 – chapter 9 – Part 2
Returning to my memories of Derby; my Aunt and Uncle were very proud of their new semi-detached house, which was part of a new suburb on the outskirts of the city. The area was neat and pleasant, and had the additional advantage of being only a short distance from the Rolls Royce factory. It is likely that the rapidly growing factory was the reason for the new housing development. At the end of the avenue in which the house stood, was an open expanse formed by the junction of a number of roads. It is strange how the most unimportant details can be retained in the memory of a child. For example, I can see quite clearly in my mind’s eye the tram lines which reminded the observer that the main road to town was before them. If I were to go back today I am sure I would be able to recognize the large public house which stood on this road junction, it was called 'The Blue Peter', and was at the time a new and modern establishment. It also occurs to me that I must have been told the name because I was not yet able to read.
I did not realize it at the time, but this new location must have been quite an improvement for my Aunt, who would have compared it with the grimy terraced houses she had left behind in the Potteries. This would not have been the case for my Uncle who had lived at Trentham, which was on the edge of the Potteries, and still more or less a country setting. The war was changing many people’s lives, and for some it proved to be for the better. Even my mother seemed reasonably happy with our new situation, and as far as I was aware we were all pleased to be together. I now know that this most satisfactory state of affairs could not have lasted for too long. For relationships supported by the most amenable of personalities, living together can be difficult, and as they say - Visitors and fish stink after a few days. - In this instance the personalities could not be described as compatible. My mother and my Aunt often spent time together over the years, but on every occasion they parted company before the allotted time was up; they were so different that friction was inevitable.
I was to discover later that my aunt considered my mother unreliable, and I have to confess that there is some justification for such an opinion. Even so, the fact of the matter was that my Aunt was strong willed, but my mother, having found freedom, and was no longer willing to bow to the authority of others. If one wanted to be charitable, it could be said that my aunt did not mean to be dictatorial, it was just her nature. I make these observations in hindsight, because for me life was one long happy adventure, and naturally, at the time I was completely oblivious to the differences that existed between the adults around me.
For children ignorance is bliss. I was approaching my seventh birthday and I still had no idea that such a thing as school existed; and no one mentioned the subject to me. It may have been discussed by the adults in my life, but I remained in a state of happy ignorance. In the midst of the excitement of war no young boy was going to think of such things as education. Under normal circumstances it would have been unsettling for a child to be uprooted so often. Add to that the arrival of the war, the unstable sort of life we had been living, and it becomes apparent that important matters were presently in limbo. For me the situation was not a worry, I was used to change and instability. When you add the influence of my mother, her inclination to chafe against routine and any sort of controlling influence, you can see how circumstances were shaping and changing me. I may be like my father in many ways, but my environment was having an effect, and my father was not around to counteract its effects.
It is easy now to look back and see how things were shaping, but at the time, I am sure that everyone thought we were sorting our lives out quite well. During the summer of 1940 my father managed some leave, and we all went for picnics and boating trips on the rivers in and around Derby. I did not enjoy the discipline which was the inevitable result of my father’s appearance, but I do know that I felt some pride in finding that he was now an officer. He looked very smart in his uniform, complete with Sam Brown, and the much envied brown shoes. (Not allowing other ranks to wear brown shoes, or boots, was one of those petty little rules used to remind other ranks that officers were a privileged class.)
It was very noticeable even to me as a child that our standing in society had changed, and life was improving as a consequence. I have to admit that I was impressed by the civility and respect that was shown to my father, and this feeling of superiority reminded me of our time in India, brief though it had been. Perhaps a better way of describing my feelings at this time would be to say that I was beginning to feel a sense of confidence and security growing around me. If change and instability had undermined my confidence, these other factors were having the opposite effect. At an earlier time I had taken for granted that the whole world had been created exclusively for my benefit. As time passed, and the instability of my life confronted me with new and seemingly dangerous situations, I had begun to lose my natural resilience and self confidence. If life becomes unpleasant children often resort to a retreat into a world of dreams and make believe. I believe I did this and still do, maybe not all the time, but it was part of my life, this world of make believe which was a refuge.
Being so young I did not notice a change in our quality of life when we returned from India. What I can remember is that when our social and material position improved I was aware of the effect it had. Even at a tender age one can appreciate courtesy and good manners. In India I had been treated like royalty, at Whittington Barracks I had discovered that there was another class of person in the world that behaved very differently. At Derby the situation improved again, and with my father now an officer, I experienced much better treatment from the society around me. In later life I learned to adjust to my changing circumstances, but in my formative years it was not easy to adapt to the sudden shifts in our fortunes.
Over a period of some months my father managed to get leave two or three times; this was while he was stationed in the South of England. In 1942 he was part of the landings in North Africa, and it was not until the war ended in 1945 that I saw him again. Until my father retired from the army after the war had ended I had seen very little of him. My mother provided very little discipline in his absence, which contrasted greatly with his strictness and the discipline which he meted out when he was at home. In retrospect I can see that my father meant well, and his ways would have been good for me, had they been a constant in my life. I know now that my mother’s softness was not good for me, though I enjoyed it at the time.
In contrast I found Uncle Bill easy-going and tolerant; he was a male version of my mother. He was the only man with whom I had any sort of close relationship until my father returned. With no discipline and mostly good times when I was with him, it was natural that I liked him, and enjoyed his company. I never consciously thought about it, but I am sure that if the question had been put to me, I would have said that Uncle Bill would have been my preferred choice for a parent. If you were to ask me the same question today, the opposite would apply.
My Uncle was great company for a young boy. He never gave orders, and allowed a degree of discussion when it came to making decisions. He seemed to enjoy spending time with me, and I am sure I became his excuse for doing all sorts of fun things. It was my impression that my Aunt Nin was almost as hard a taskmaster as my father appeared to be. I now believe that her husband was always glad of a chance to escape her iron hand. He took me to the baths and gave me my first swimming lessons, we went to the local lakes and rivers and he taught me to fish. Another very important thing that he did for me was to encourage my interest in music; perhaps I should mention that my father was tone deaf and had no interest in music what so ever. My uncle had played the violin for many years, though he never showed any great talent for it. He loved music and enjoyed many happy hours listening to me play over the following years.
Another thing he did was to give me a portable wind up gramophone which provided me with many happy hours. I can still recall sitting on the lawn behind his house, playing the records he gave me. During that summer of 1940 I played over and over again the small number of 78 rpm records he had owned for years. I grew to love the melodies on those records; I can hear them now, the hollow distant sound of the music wafting out of the horn and hanging on the summer air. --- “There ain't no sense, sitting on a fence, all by yourself in the moonlight." --- There was some Gilbert & Sullivan, with 'Tit Willow' being a favourite, and I loved the melodious sound of ' Bells across the Meadow '. Though I have to say that my very special favourite, which was played constantly, was a recording which I vaguely recall was entitled something like 'Christmas Day with the Orphans'. Maybe I enjoyed this record so much because it began with the group of musicians apparently boarding a vehicle. Starting up the engine they began to play, once the motor was chugging away they commenced to play in time with its beat; and this sounded all very jolly to me.
Memories are a precious thing when they are happy ones; not so enjoyable when they are unpleasant. Why is it that I can recall so vividly the smell of the honeysuckle that grew round the French windows that opened onto the back lawn at the house in Derby? Whenever I smell that sweet perfume, I am transported back to that place and that time. Why is it that I can remember the smell of wood smoke when I discovered that I could make wood burn with the rays of a magnifying glass, on a hot summer’s day? Why is it that I can recall with such clarity the sight of a dead boy who had drowned in the river, when Uncle Bill took me on one of his fishing trips?
I suppose it is understandable that I remember the dead boy; he was the first dead person I had ever seen. We were on our way along the bank of a river on our way to fish, and we saw a small group of people who were looking at something on the ground. We were going that way and so soon joined the people who were looking at a police man trying to revive a teenager who had fallen in the river. The details are so clear in my mind’s eye, as if it happened yesterday. The young lad was on his stomach with his head turned to the left, and the police man was astride his back in his shirt sleeves, and without his helmet. In those days the method to resuscitate was to place the hands on each side of the rib cage and to throw the weight forward which forced the air out of the lungs. It seemed to be an effective method because from time to time a stream of water gushed from the poor lad’s mouth, and so did some of the food from his stomach. How long this attempt to save him had gone on for I do not know. However, shortly after we arrived on the scene an ambulance appeared across the field. The body of the youth was placed on a stretcher, and taken away.
A more pleasant memory I have is of fishing trips with Uncle Bill. So often we were successful catching fish from time to time. I think our best trip was to an island in the middle of a lake in one of the parks in or near to Derby. We had a rowing boat and landed on an island, which was a popular spot known to the local anglers. We had a rod each and a good supply of small red worms, and our prey was the gudgeon and perch that lived in the lake. For a while we had no luck, and then a sudden burst of rain came down which was quite heavy, and we left our rods and ran for cover under the weeping willows which grew all over the island. Almost immediately the floats on our lines jumped about and then sank from sight, so we dashed back to our rods and pulled in two nice fat fish. The rain did not matter now, we were in the action and soon we were pulling in more fish, until we had a bag full. I was so proud when I was allowed to present our catch to Aunty Nin; though what she did with them I shall never know. They were coarse fish and not ones that were usually eaten, so in spite of the food rationing I suppose they were consigned to the dust bin.
Little did I realize that this idyllic period was only a lull before the storm, and I suppose most of the adults around me had no idea what was to descend on them either. The appearance of an ever increasing number of barrage balloons and anti-aircraft guns must have given the grownups an uneasy feeling, though few would have known what the blitz would be like when it started. Then there were odd looking dust bins that appeared at regular intervals along the roads, whatever could they be for? When they were eventually put to use we discovered that they were in fact oil burners which when lit filled the sky with a thick cloud of smoke, designed to hide the town and the nearby factories from enemy air attack. Such things added some interest to everyday life, but to me they held no threat, no subtle hint of menace.
The spring moved on into summer, and although the war had been on for almost a year, very little had happened to remind us that it existed at all. I suppose there were many things that should have warned me that life was not going to settle down. Even when the war arrived in a stark and vivid form, to me it was still just an adventure. The possibility of death or injury never occurred to me, as it probably never occurred to any other child of my age. How was I to know for example, that it wasn't usual to meet a rogue barrage balloon on the way to the shops? My Uncle and I had walked up the road to the junction with the main road, and were standing outside the pub called the 'Blue Peter', when we saw the balloon which had managed to escape its crew. It had a rather soft floppy look about, and I suppose must have had a leak, which is why it had not climbed higher into the sky. It was drifting low and showing a tendency to settle. We watched in fascination as a slight breeze made it drift across open ground by the main road. After passing over a fence we watched it glide at a fast walking pace into the middle of the wide road junction a short distance from where we were standing. This rather harmless looking scene was then to change in an instant, as the poor old balloon settled onto the live tram wires. After giving off some bright sparks and loud cracks it burst into flames, and in a very short time it had collapsed to the ground in a roaring mass of fire. In what seemed to be only a few short seconds it had almost disappeared leaving only a small amount of smouldering fabric to prove it had ever existed. How fortunate it was that this happened in the middle of an open road junction, no people or property being involved. So we might have thought at the time, but then we had no idea how much of the locality was to be blown to smithereens in the not too distant future.
My seventh birthday arrived and went on its way; life continued one long happy holiday. I remained blissfully ignorant of the existence of grim institutions such as schools, and never had to face such a sobering thought during my sojourn at Derby. There is no doubt that something should have been done to start me along the path of education. Such an action should have been taken several years before. In defence of my parents it must be said that our life had been of a transient nature, and the arrival of the war meant that the whole country was now in a state of alarm and turmoil. The education of many children was disrupted, but for a proportion of those it made little difference to the teaching they would receive. The situation explains why I was to remain uneducated, but could it be said that enough had been done? If presented with this question, even today, I doubt that my parents would acknowledge any failure? It’s ironic to think that those around me were so willing to teach me other things. My Uncle taught me to fish, to swim, even to row a boat, and my father was giving me boxing lessons on the few occasions that he came on leave. Dad even gave me boxing gloves for my birthday. Why no books? But then I couldn't read could I. No I am mistaken, there was one book I received every year, the 'Rupert Bear Annual', but of course it had pictures in it.
Until I did go to school I spent little time in the company of other children. My memories of my early years are full of time alone, or in the company of adults. I grew to like mature company, and to prefer it. When I did find myself with other children, it seemed to me that so often they behaved with mindless aggression. I considered them immature and I found their silly arguments and disputes distasteful. Would I have seen them differently if my childhood had been more normal? It is doubtful; I believe my character made me the way I was, regardless of circumstances and environment. I was, and probably would always have been, what is described as a 'Lone Wolf. I had a well developed imagination and had no trouble devising all sorts of games to play, and fantasies in which I occupied the major roll.
We are all a mixture of our parents, and I can see much of my mother in me, though I am told there is much of my father in me as well. A characteristic of his that I can claim is my acceptance of discipline, and my natural inclination to organize. The logic of it and the advantages derived from it were always so apparent to me. I could not understand why others seemed to lack these qualities, but I was too young to realise that we all have different talents. (Allowing for our differences, I can see that all those undisciplined and disorganized children became adults with the same failings, and our communities suffering as a consequence. We may have fought the Germans, but there is much I admire in their character; their discipline, organisation, self discipline, and single minded purpose.) These thoughts and observations are intended to outline the sort of child I was, and the sort of person I was to become.
The reader may have already recognised my character, may have identified my personality, without the assistance I am trying to provide. This is a history of me so casting conceit aside, I see talking about myself as a necessary part of what I have to tell. I suppose I need hardly say that I obviously have a serious nature, and a highly developed sense of right and wrong. I am neither boasting nor am I being critical when I say that I was a well behaved child, who rarely got into trouble. I was not a ‘Goody Two Shoes’ you understand, but I never found it difficult to follow the rules, or to obey orders. Is the picture becoming clear? Can you see me as I see myself? Let us assume that my assessment of the child I believed myself to be is accurate. Accepting that it is not just a natural bias in my own favour, I can claim with all honesty that I rarely got into mischief when alone. I made mistakes due to ignorance as all children do, but when I did get into trouble I was usually with others, and they usually instigated the bad behaviour. I am not trying to avoid blame for my own misdemeanours, but doing wrong never occurred to me when I was alone.
After a few weeks at Derby I made the acquaintance of a boy who lived next door. His parents were friends of my Aunt and Uncle, so it was natural that I would find myself in his company. He was about my age and his name was Terence, he was the only child which is why most discerning adults might have identified him as a typical 'Spoilt Brat'. Being an only child may have also been the reason he was so happy to join me in the games, which sprang from my fertile and well developed imagination. We would be firemen for example, lighting the rubbish at the bottom of the garden, and then bravely fighting the blaze with my Uncles garden sprayer. Then we would be trappers, rigging up a device with the garden sieve and a stick, to which we attached a long piece of twine. With a few bread crumbs as bait we successfully caught numerous sparrows, and this little game kept us happy and occupied on many occasions. Terence was not available during the week though it never seemed to occur to me that this was because he had to go to school. School never seemed to cross my mind, from what I can remember. The absence of school from my life had become normal; it had become an accepted thing that I was never going to be obliged to attend a place of learning.
Returning to our boyish games; it was usually Terence who became bored with them. It was usually on his instigation, though I have to confess, sometimes with my connivance, that we did get into mischief. There was the day for example that we picked and ate most of my Uncles prized blackberries. He had gone to great pains to cultivate a domestic bramble on the fence at the bottom of the garden. This project had been very successful, producing a good crop of large sweet and tasty berries. When we stole this delicious fruit we never gave any thought to the pies and the jam it was meant to provide, nor were we aware of the onset of rationing and how important such things had become.
Two boys enjoying some harmless fun that was the way we must have seen it. I can recall that at no time did we ever feel a sense of guilt. In our ignorance we never realized that we were doing something that might be considered serious by the adults around us. Later I became aware that food and the restrictions placed upon it were a vital and serious matter. As the war progressed, finding enough to eat became the most dominant thought that occupied our thoughts; especially for children who were starved of that supply of energy derived from sweets and toffees, chocolate and all those pleasurable treats that are part of a growing child’s life. We were not starving, and did not consciously imagine that we were desperate for something to eat, yet our every day actions often proved that we had food very much on our minds.
My Uncle had a well kept garden, and he enjoyed it, his skill apparent for all to see. He had what is called: ‘Green Fingers’ a talent that becomes even more fruitful when enhanced with knowledge. His adoptive father also had this ability, plus many years of experience, much of which he passed on to Uncle Bill. I suppose, in such circumstances, it was to be expected that this veritable Garden of Eden would be the focus for our temptations. There was the day for example when Terence and I discovered a bed of carrots fast approaching maturity. Still young, sweet and juicy, they were too much of a temptation, and once we had tasted them, it became impossible to resist. One or two might not have been missed, but we soon realised that the number we had taken would catch the attention of a gardener as meticulous as my Uncle. What could we do to hide our crime? Our young and fertile imaginations were not long in finding a solution to this problem. We still had the tops so why not put them back in the ground, and this is what we did.
I shall never know how long our subterfuge hid our offence, because nothing was ever said to me about it. The time would have arrived when Uncle Bill discovered what we had done, but being the kind man that he was, he must have kept it to himself. Had he told my mother or my aunt there would certainly have been repercussions. It is likely that we took into account what we knew of my Uncle, his easy going nature and soft approach to things. With that shrewd understanding of human nature that seems to be instinctive in most children, we took advantage. Had my father been the owner of this garden, I have no doubt that our punishment would have more than fitted the crime. The idea to steal the produce of the garden came from Terence, and I knew that there was no great danger in it and so agreed. If we had been dealing with my father our transgression would have been out of the question, and my well developed sense of self preservation would have ensured my refusal to get involved.
The summer that year was a good one, long hot sunny days. Without the worries and troubles of an adult world, life was good for me. Consider my situation, no school, no army barracks, no strict father to impose discipline, just an easy going Uncle, and an Aunt who also spoiled me. She was of course a chip off the old block, the block being my grandfather Tom Jones. Her husband knew all about the harder more belligerent side of her nature, but I usually escaped it. She played the piano, which earned her top marks in my book, and she could be very sociable. Her preference was for musical evenings, and this preference remained with her all her life. Usually she provided much of the music, and in later year’s she handed over that duty to me, but there were times when our visitors were talented, and then we were provided with a treat. There were times when we combined and made music together, but that came mostly in later years. There was one such evening at Derby when a lady played for us a difficult piece of music called ‘The Rustle of Spring’. Her performance was impressive, and I have never forgotten how beautiful the music, and what an impression it made on me.
My aunt was an intelligent woman, though given to emotional outbursts from time to time. It would be true to say she had an unstable temperament, and this could make life difficult for those around her, especially poor old Uncle Bill. I can recall one occasion when I sampled her temper, and this experience was so unexpected I have never forgotten it. My brother Paul was born on 8th August 1940, and we were given a special ration for him, which included Nestles condensed sweetened milk. With rationing getting ever tighter there were no sweets or chocolate for me, and I had not yet got used to the feel of hunger. One day, in this constantly hungry condition, I wandered through the house and on coming to the pantry, found myself unable to resist the temptation to look inside. The first thing I saw was the tin of condensed milk, and before I knew what I was doing I had my finger in it. The taste was pure delight to me, and in went my finger again for more. At that moment Aunt Nin caught me in the act, and without a word about the seriousness of my offence, she boxed me soundly round the ears. It was the only time that she ever struck me, and the shock of it branded it forever in my memory. Shades of ‘Pavlov’s’ dogs you might say.
When the air attack began there were some daylight raids, but they were soon replaced by night attacks. The Germans were efficient, with a well organized air force, but even they were not able to hit their targets with pin point accuracy, especially at night. Though they showed great skill in finding the same target area time after time, when it came to the raids on Derby. The results of their raids until now had been the same, whether they attacked London, or any other target. Methods at the time meant that bombs were scattered over a large area around the main aiming point. Night bombing was mostly a hit and miss affair on both sides, which meant that the civilian population suffered as much if not more than the intended targets. After the first few months of their bombing campaign it became clear that the destruction of non combatants was unavoidable, and soon it became deliberate. The world would see such actions as ruthless and uncivilized, so both sides blamed the other for doing it first. Now we know that both sides in the war tried to reduce the enemies will to fight by attacking the civilian population. Such conduct was never admitted at the time, but today we know that both sides were willing to do whatever it took to win. The concept of total war had been recognized and applied throughout history, and though abhorred by many, it was accepted that there was no way of avoiding it.
During the early daylight raids, the enemy appeared to search for and attempt to hit their specific targets using bold and reckless methods. Uncle Bill described to me how they would get a warning siren, which let them know that bombers had been seen approaching. Work would continue, though the men would be ready to run for cover should the need arise. The procedure was for a further siren to sound when bombs were about to fall, and everyone would then take cover. Some of these attacks were made at quite low levels in an effort to ensure direct hits, and when this occurred it left little time to reach the shelters. My Uncle came home one day with a dramatic description of seeing an enemy bomber coming in low to drop its load. It must have looked as though the plane was intending to attack him personally, it was so close. He was with others as they ran across an open space to the shelters, and everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. It seemed certain that this time he and the factory were about to be blown to pieces, how could they miss. He still thinks of that occasion with total amazement, when what could only be described as a miracle occurred. At that moment the pilot saw ahead of him a tall factory chimney, and his reaction must have been a pure reflex. He banked his bomber away from it and then had no option but to release his bombs. My uncle told us that the pilot had banked the wrong way, and his stick of bombs fell into empty fields alongside the factory. Had he banked the other way the bombs would have fallen on the factory and the men running for cover?
Every day the defences increased, and improved. The smoke pots which produced a dense blanket of thick smoke would be lit and a screen would across the city and the vital factories when a raid was in progress. The number of guns and barrage balloons multiplied, making attacks a very risky business. What with all this and the considerable losses the enemy incurred from fighter defences, in was to be expected that the daylight raids would not last. Some might have hoped that maybe they would give up altogether, but war is not a game of cricket, and the Germans were a brave and determined enemy. Their response was to reduce daylight raids and commence night attacks. Larger and more determined flights of the enemy arrived nightly with nerve shattering regularity. Now there was no attempt to aim at a particular target; it was uncanny how they could find our locality day or night. When they were overhead they just unloaded their deadly cargo; bombs came down all over the place.
The nightly raids, the lack of sleep, the continuous feeling of danger, it must have been a nightmare for the adults, but for me it was all a great adventure. Life had been improving, and I felt more comfortable with the quality of my new existence. The constant changes were unsettling but hardly exciting, but now the war and the Germans had changed all that. The rules and the discipline had disappeared, and the prospects indicated that it would continue. What more could a boy ask for? Had I thought about it I am sure I would have offered up my thanks to Hitler for doing me such a favour. - In recent years I saw a film in which a boy about the age I was at this time, and in similar circumstances, did that very thing. Finding his school bombed he raises his face to the sky and shouts: “Thank you Adolph.” - The memories I have of this scene always bring a smile to my face.
Some aspects of the war may have been pleasing to children, but there were others that were not. For example it was not much fun, being awakened in the night, and made to walk to an air raid shelter. The nearest public shelter was several hundred yards from where we lived, but it was all we had during the first few months. It was always crowded, badly lit, smoky and grimy, and noisy with the crying of children, and the babble of conversation, which never stopped. With no comfort, it was impossible to sleep, and the sound of the siren at the end of a raid was always music to the ears. This experience was not one any of us wanted to repeat, and it was not long before we decided to risk the dangers of the blitz and stay in our warm beds. Some nights the bombing fell very close, often falling all around us, or so it seemed. On these occasions it was impossible to sleep, and the decision was usually made to take refuge under the stairs, or sometimes under the dining table.
We all became expert in recognizing the sound of the aircraft engines, the enemy planes all seem to drone with an undulating sound which was easy to identify. It was even possible to judge to some degree, what height the attack was coming in at, and we knew at what point the anti aircraft guns would open fire. Firstly the more distant guns would fire, and then the local batteries would join in, the nearest sounding so loud that one would have thought they were located in the back garden. Next, came the bursting of the bombs and when they came close, the shriek of their descent could be heard quite clearly. Usually explosive bombs dropped in sticks, and it was always frightening to hear the explosions coming at regular intervals, as the line of bombs progressed either towards you, or sometimes in another direction. When incendiaries were dropped they came down in a shower; the aircraft carried them in what they call baskets which were released like a single bomb. Most of the population soon became expert in putting out incendiaries, which were about 18 inches long, and maybe 3 inches in diameter. It was not always a safe thing to do however, the Germans sometimes put an explosive charge in them to catch the fire fighter. They also made things dangerous by including anti-personnel devices which would explode if touched. I can remember the pamphlets circulated by the authorities with pictures of some of these explosives. One was called a butterfly bomb, having an outer case which opened to form wings. Another looked similar to a bottle, and of course there were others.
The larger part of the bomb loads, and the most dangerous, were the explosives; which came in various sizes. Sometimes they came close to our house, and it was usually a very exciting part of my day, when after a raid, I went out to find just how close that nearest bomb had landed. From memory I would say that the nearest Hitler ever came to hitting me was about a couple of hundred yards.
The efforts of the enemy were a danger to both life and property, but almost as dangerous were the effects of our own defences. The guns fired a considerable quantity of ammunition into the sky during a raid, and naturally after the shells had exploded, down came all the shattered pieces of metal, called shrapnel. They were a very popular collector’s item among small boys such as me. Searching for bits of bombs and shells became a very important part of enjoying the war for many children. For the grownups it was a different matter, the flying metal not only caused damage to property, it also injured and killed people as well.
Venturing out in the open during a raid was certainly not recommended, and very few were foolhardy enough to do it. For some there was no option, when duty called, and one such person was the local doctor. On the night that my brother was born, the doctor came very close to becoming a victim of shrapnel, which our own guns rained down on us. It was the early hours of the morning of the 8th of August, and my mother was trying hard to bring another little soul into this dangerous world. If ever there was a night when peace and tranquillity was needed, this was the night. My Aunt and I were sitting at the foot of the stairs, my mother was in her bed waging her own personal battle, and probably totally indifferent to the noise of the war which raged around us. The doctor had been sent for by the midwife in attendance, and in due course he arrived at the front door. It was a little while before he was able to collect himself and go up to attend to my mother. Firstly a hasty cup of tea was required, and while he drank it he told us how close he had come to becoming a casualty.
The doctor had mistaken the house, going to the house next door where he was greeted by our neighbour. In the brief moment as they stood at the door talking, there was a swish and a bang. A large piece of shrapnel had come slashing down at an angle and cut deep into the doorframe next to the two men. There was no further encouragement needed to persuade them that this was no time to stand having a chat, and so they both departed the scene in some haste. Needless to say the important part of this story from my point of view was the golden opportunity I had to add to my collection. The next morning I wasted no time getting next door to examine the scene, and sure enough, there was the shrapnel, which had caused such a drama. It was an ugly, jagged, piece of a shell, and it was going to take some removing from that doorframe. I must have been very eager to have this souvenir and the understanding neighbour agreed that I could have it. This incident remains one of those personal events permanently imprinted on my memory. For me adding to my collection was a matter of great importance; I was after all just a little boy with no understanding of real events. I gave no thought to the death and destruction happening around me; after all was this not the way life was? I did not think how lucky we were that the doctor survived, and played his part in the birth of my brother Paul. If that doctor was still alive today, would he remember that night as vividly as I do I wonder?
I believe my aunt had wanted my mother to live nearby, but it is not surprising when all is considered, that my mother thought it best to return to her hometown. The problem was that though she had family in and around the Potteries, she did not have the means of setting up a home; no chattels, no money. Difficult though it was, anything would be better than living near the place the Germans most wanted to destroy. - It was not long before the authorities came to the same conclusion, and they began to expand and disperse the work that Rolls Royce was doing at Derby. - For us it was logical that we should return to the place from where our travels had begun. Her older sister my aunt Jin, managed the public baths at Longton, and still had influence with the city council; thanks to her father. A council house would always be available for a daughter of Tom Jones, though it would take some time to arrange. At the time I knew nothing of these arrangements, and hardly noticed my mother's absence, when she departed. The fact that she had to leave me in the care of my Aunt and Uncle suited me just fine. I had no restraints, and there was the on-going entertainment which the Luftwaffe was so thoughtfully providing for what seemed to be my exclusive pleasure.
My shrapnel collection was growing quite rapidly, though the hazards of our existence were becoming more than the neighbours could stand. A conference was held and it was decided that all should contribute an equal share of finance, and where necessary labour, to build a large private bunker. This would be located at a central point at the bottom of the various gardens, which came together like the spokes of a wheel. It was to be well appointed, providing warmth, light, and any other comforts that might improve the comfort of the occupants. Needs must be when the devil drives, and it was soon ready for occupation. Getting together in the bunker became almost an enjoyable experience, and there were even nights when the group gathered before the sirens had sounded. We knew they would come, so we would go to ground when it was convenient, and not wait for a siren in the middle of the night.
The private bunker made life tolerable, but the perils of air attack were still present. One night it was our turn to become casualties, or almost. The siren had gone and we were making our way to our shelter; the guns were firing, and the searchlights were adding their illumination to an already bright moonlit night. Our back garden had a path of stone slabs, with a lawn to one side, and a row of Uncle’s fine roses along the other. My aunt was a few paces in front of me, when suddenly I saw one of the roses jump from its stem and drop to the ground. Another piece of shrapnel had passed between us decapitating the rose, and burying itself in the lawn. It happened so quickly that I had no time to feel in danger, and my Aunt saw nothing. At the time, I gave no thought to adding to my collection, but a couple of days later the missile became mine. I was instructed to cut the back lawn with a push mower, and while doing this job, I found the shrapnel.
The German air force never managed to destroy Rolls Royce, though they did considerable damage. More damage was done to homes and property in the locality, which proved that even with their radio directional beams; indiscriminate bombing was all they could achieve. The defences had become strong, and the smoke pots must have made it impossible to aim with any accuracy. In the end their main achievement was to make life a misery for the population; just as they did in London, Coventry, and other places. Eventually I learned of these things, but at the time, I was oblivious. I was enjoying the war, and continued to do so, until the bombing stopped, and all that remained was rationing, and very few pleasures in life. For the time being there were adventures galore, and exciting things to do.
One of these things was the regular tours of inspection to see how well the enemy were doing. Often a young man who lived nearby would take me on the crossbar of his bike to view the sights. I suppose he would have been a boy of 15 or 16 years of age, but to me he was a grown up. Why he befriended a boy of 7 I shall never know, but looking back it is possible he saw me as a lonely figure. Certainly, I spent most of my time alone, and without realizing it, maybe this had been noticed. Could it have been that this young man had seen what others had missed, and decided I needed a friend.
Volume 1 – chapter 9 – we move to derby – (15 pages 96 to 110) - Part 2 of 12 pages from 104 to 115 – the war heats up - revised on Wednesday, August 24th, 2011 - post 21 to Linda on 11/02/12 – Loaded on ?
From the best of my recollection, I would say that we must have spent at least a year with my aunt and uncle in Derby. My mother was with me most of the time, though there were times when she was absent. I cannot recall feeling concern when she was not around, which suggests that I was quite happy with my Aunt and Uncle. All I knew was that life was easy, with no rules, no discipline, and lots of exciting things happening. It was one long holiday, though I did not realise that it could not last. My life so far had been a transient one, I had no roots, and the feeling of not belonging had remained with me always.
I may have had no roots, but my mother did, and it was natural that she would want to return to them. Her parents were now dead, but she still had family in the Potteries, and in particular, she had her older sister Jane. She had tried pastures new, but they had not been to her liking, and she was never to venture forth again. When she returned to the world she knew and a life where she felt safe, she must have decided this was where she belonged. For my father it was a different matter; for him every change had been for the better, and he had no desire to return to his roots. For the rest of his life he tried to escape, to find something better, and even when he was not able to do so, I am sure he never stopped thinking about it. My father had learned to make the best of things, and did not appear dissatisfied so it seemed. My thoughts leap ahead of my story, and I must leave my father to his own fate for the time being. For the present, the war was shaping our lives, and my mother and I would have to paddle our own canoe for the next six years.
If my father was able to write home, my mother never told me about it, and I never enquired. I know he served in North Africa, then Italy, returning home when the war ended, but he did not share that experience with us. We had our own lives to live, but until the war ended our lives were to all intents and purposes on hold.

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