Some Wartime Stories: Memories from Childhood
Collected by Mr Naish from his father Michael Naish
When the Second World War began in September 1939, I was just 5 years old. When it ended, I was almost eleven. I lived in a small village in Hampshire called Pamber Heath with my father, mother and elder brother David. David and I were pupils at Silchester Church of England Primary School, a small village school on the edge of the green. We walked the mile to school and the mile back home each day. One of my earliest memories was watching Nazi aeroplanes above us during these daily walks. David and I became vary interested in spotting the British and Nazi planes and we had recognition charts on our bedroom walls and made several models of the Spitfires, Hurricanes, Messerschmidts and Heinkels.
ST. GEORGE’S DAY 1940
When I was a boy everybody celebrated St. George’s Day much more fully than we do today. This was because St. George is the patron saint of England and we all wanted England to win the war so we gave St. George a lot of attention. We always held a parade in the school playground and sang ‘I Vow to Thee My Country’, ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and the National Anthem while we raised the Union Jack to the top of the school flagpole. On St. George’s Day 1940, we were in the middle of our annual parade ceremony when some Messerschmitts flew over and were attacked by two Spitfires. This was called a dogfight and this one was taking place right over our heads. It was very exciting.
“DIG FOR VICTORY”
During the war, the government was always coming up with slogans like “CARELESS TALK COSTS LIVES” and “DIG FOR VICTORY”. This was meant to keep everyone trying their very best to help with “the war effort” – making an effort to help win the war. A very common saying was, “There is a war on you know!”
As part of our effort to dig for Britain, my family tried to grow all its own food. We dug for vegetables, planted fruit tress and made the best of the old Victoria plum tree we already had. More exciting than that we kept chickens for their eggs – and to provide meat. Dad always hated having to kill a chicken, and, at 5 and 6 years old, I could not imagine how he did it. Mum was very good at cooking chicken.
Even more exciting than that, we kept pigs! Smelly, hairy, noisy – delicious – pigs! Luckily Dad did not have to kill these himself, as there was a skilled pig butcher who travelled round dealing with this. It was always a dreadful day for us boys when the pig butcher came. We hated losing one of our lovely pigs and they always squealed so loudly. But Mum was just as good at cooking pork as she was at chickens. She made the most delicious faggots and we cured a side of bacon with salt and it hung all winter at the side of the chimney breast in our living room.
We never went really hungry. Our Uncle Frank was a gamekeeper and from time to time he would deliver a fresh rabbit or, more rarely a pheasant or, very rarely a piece of venison. “Must feed those growing lads, Nora”, he would call to our mother as he departed after his flying visit. He was a man of a few words, Uncle Frank, but by his deeds we knew him.
Food, including sweets, was all rationed during the war. We were issued with ration books and these contained coupons for our ration of everything – sugar, meat, flour, bread, butter. We had no fruit from tropical or sub-tropical countries at all. Can you think why? As the war went on and I became older and wiser, I was allowed to be a big boy with the ration books and take them to the village shop to buy food and sweets.
One day I set off on my bike for the shop with the ration books to buy some sweets. On the way I had to post some letters. Unfortunately when I came to the post box, I posted the ration books. I thought the world had come to an end and we would all starve. Luckily the village shop was also the Post Office and the next day we had our ration books returned by the post mistress, who knew us well.
As the war was drawing to a close, I was sent pedalling furiously across the common one day. There was a rumour that the village shop had received a delivery of bananas! What could they be? I had no memory at all of what they might taste like. I returned in triumph with a bunch of bananas and I cannot describe how wonderful this new taste was – well it was like heaven!
Living deep in the country, we thought we were safe from the bombing, but the Nazi bombers had a bad habit of returning to the north of France or to Germany before they had completed their bombing missions. They would then let their bombs drop anywhere so that the planes would be lighter on their flight home and less dangerous for the flyers. Some of these bombs would land in and near our village. One fell very near our house on one occasion. It blew out the stained glass window in our front door. Later we found large pieces of shrapnel (pieces of angular and sharp shell or bomb casing) on the common at the front of our house. A lady in a cottage not too far away was less lucky. One of the bombs fell on her cottage and she was killed.
My Dad was not called up into the army as he was not medically fit enough. Instead, together with all the men in the village in a similar situation, he joined the Home Guard – Dad’s Army. Dad had to do a lot of training with the Home Guard and from time to time they would hold ‘exercises’ on the common. This meant that they practised what they would do if the Nazis invaded England. This was great fun for my brother and I and all the other children, because we knew the common better than any grown-ups and we could act as spies and tell one side where the others were hiding.
The Nazis began to attack Britain with bombs dropped from aircraft in late 1939 and early 1940. It became necessary to do something to protect children from the bombs and it was decided that they would be moved from the most dangerous areas such as the big cities, ports and industrial areas. They were sent into the countryside to stay with people in small towns and villages.
Our first evacuees, as the children became known, arrived in our village in 1940. First we looked after two young boys from Portsmouth. They lived in a poor part of this great port city and they were skilled at diving into the muddy waters of the port at low tide to pick up coins which people would throw in for them. They were known as ‘mudlarks’. Our mudlarks did not stay with us for very long but were quickly replaced by a baby girl called Pamela, whose family lived in Battersea, one of the worst bombed parts of London.
Pamela was a baby aged about one year when she arrived to live with our family. When she left she was about three and a half years old. My mother and father were delighted to be looking after a little girl because until Pam arrived, they only had myself and my older brother David. She was made a very welcome new member of the family by us all, but she was a typical girl and she put David and me to shame. We all suffered from a condition known as impetigo in the war. This meant that if you had any sort of a scratch it would quickly go bad. You had to treat this by pulling off the scab – ugh! – and painting the area with a purple medicine. Of course David and I made a real fuss about this and screamed as loud as we could. Pam, on the other hand made no fuss at all and was praised by our Mum, “Look at Pam, she doesn’t make any fuss like you two big babies!”
Pam’s Mum and Dad came to see her from time to time. Of course our Mum made a real effort to welcome them and offered them some lovely home made country style strawberry jam. “Coo”, they said, “it tastes as good as shop!”
After the war, when I was eleven, I was lucky enough to visit Pam’s family in Battersea and I went with their church on the parish holiday – a week in Bournemouth. It was absolutely lovely! The age range was about 1 to 80 and we all stayed in a great big guest house. The whole party migrated to the beach every day – the wonderful sandy beach at Bournemouth, and there we encamped until it was time to go home for dinner. There were some very clever young men in the party and they made the most spectacular models in the sand. This was my first real holiday and it remains in my memory as a very happy time.
In later years we lost touch with Pamela and her parents, but I still remember her with love and cherish happy memories of that war-time experience.
Obeyed the Last Command
Memories of staff member Mrs Wheately's Parents - Roland and Mary Brown
When I asked Dad what he did in the war his reply was "obeyed the last command" most of the time! He did what was asked of him and did it the best he could, like so many others. As I grew older speaking to Dad one Remembrance Day he said to me, "two days before I was twenty-one I was called up and I was past twenty-five when I was de-mobbed". That statement really made me think (at that time of my life I was out three or four nights a week without a care or worry and yet my Dad and lots like him gave all their young lives to their country and came home almost old men). I always wear a poppy and after that statement from my Dad I always will.
Mum once told me about when the air raid siren went and it meant down to the cellar again (sirens always seemed to sound through the night). All the neighbours were down in their own cellars and if it sounded as a bomb had dropped near to them, the bottom house of the row knocked on the joining wall and slowly the knocking went to the top and then returned back down. That way everyone knew all was well. This was in the Winfield Mount, Blackman Lane, area of Leeds.