Children of War

Submitted into Contest #80 in response to: Write about a child witnessing a major historical event.... view prompt

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Drama Suspense Sad

Every day as a result of conflict, thousands of civilians are killed or injured. More than half of these victims are children. The days when the captain of a sinking ship ordered women and children first onto lifeboats are just a fading notion. The Second World War was a watershed when the amount of civilian victims was as high as the amount of brave soldiers and combat leaders who had lost their lives as a result of fighting on the frontline. It was near the end of August 1939, and my family and I were on holiday near Swanage in Dorset. War seemed imminent; we had to cut short our holiday in order to return home and buy blackout material for all the windows in our house — a government decree. I had just had my eighth birthday. It was quite a scary thing to hear that we had to be evacuated for our own safety due to the bombs that would be bellowing down on London. Being as young as I was, I still didn't quite fully understand the situation and the thought of being away from home for so long terrified me. I had to keep being reassured that everything would be okay eventually. Panic washed inside me like a wave crashing onto the beach. Questions began racing through my mind on a loop, Where am I gonna go? What's gonna happen to mum? When will it be safe to return? Only time will tell I guess. After war was declared on September 3rd we all had to say goodbye to our parents every single day until finally the day of departure was decided and we were put on to a train bound for Brighton. Each of us carried a gas mask and a small tin of “iron rations” which contained chocolate and raisins. The train got as far as Haywards Heath and then, because of a supposed bomb on the railway line, we all had to get off. We hung around on the platform for what seemed like forever before eventually continuing on our journey and arriving after dark, tired, bewildered and homesick. My sister and I were placed with a couple known as Mr. & Mrs. Archer, they lived at number 40 Tilbury Crescent, Hove. Mr. Archer was a brother of our family doctor but he and his wife were complete strangers to us. An invasion by the enemy was anticipated at any minute, especially after the fall of France, so what the logic was behind the decision to send us to the south coast I shall never know. We used to sit outside oblivious to the danger until we saw people gesturing madly at us and shouting aggressively above the windy conditions that the air raid warning siren had gone off and enemy bombers were heading for the English coast, which meant we had to take shelter immediately. Eventually we were brought back home just before Christmas 1939 and we went back to school, despite the war still ongoing, it remained open. At one point there were only 22 pupils attending classes. My sister and I were among them. Many of our lessons were held in the basement deep below the main structure of the school. They did this to ensure our safety.

Despite the disruptions, we were still able to pass our classes.

As a family we tried to carry on as normal a life as possible. My mother refused to let the war get in the way. During the school holidays we went on bike rides to the country and had picnics. If there was an air raid warning we just went into the nearest air raid shelter and waited for the “all clear” siren. Early on, during the war, we children were warned of the dangers of anti-personnel bombs. These were innocent looking objects lying in the road in the form of cigarette packets or matchboxes which contained enough explosive to mutilate or blow a hand off. We were told never to pick up anything in the street.

The A.R.P. (Air Raid Precautions) organization gave instruction to the population on how to deal with incendiary bombs. Every family was supplied with a sand bucket and a stirrup pump to douse any fire with water.

My mother queued every day for anything that was off-ration such as sausages or fish. She met people in the queue who were happy to exchange tea coupons for sugar coupons or visa versa depending on what you were short of. We were allowed (6 pence) worth of meat per person per week which did not amount to much and 2 ounces of butter each which was later increased to 4 ounces. Offal, such as liver, was off-ration but a notice on the butcher’s door nearly always said “No offal”. Sometimes we were able to buy whale meat which was tough and lacked flavour. But despite this, I was relieved we were getting anything to eat at all. Throughout the Blitz our family stayed in South East London despite the nightly bombing and the windows being blown out on many occasions. We had no air raid shelter at that time, neither an indoor “Morrison Shelter” which was like a reinforced steel table, nor an “Anderson Shelter” dug into the ground outside. My mum was worried about our safety so my sister and I were sent to stay with a cousin who lived in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire to escape the relentless nightly bombing. I kept a diary in 1944 and on Thursday 15th June I mentioned pilot-less planes for the first time. These would have been the first flying bombs later known as Doodlebugs. They began coming over night after night, in fact the area where we lived was the worst hit. The Doodlebugs exploded all around us causing much loss of life. On Saturday 17th June I noted that we had five air raid warnings in the morning alone. We brought our beds downstairs as it was too dangerous to go to bed upstairs. On Wednesday 21st June we spent all day in a nearby air raid shelter. Our house windows were blown out time after time. On Wednesday night 28th June a bomb exploded nearly opposite our house killing five of our neighbours. Some other neighbours who survived came and stayed the night with us. They arrived on our doorstep coughing, bedraggled, covered in dust and deeply shocked. On July 7th my school broke up early because of the bombing. The bombing continued nearly every night all through the month of July 1944 and into August. However by the 2nd September I wrote in my diary that we spent our first night upstairs in our own beds for the first time for eleven weeks. On September 7th it was officially announced that the Flying Bomb War in London was over and the blackout was partially lifted. Little did we know that there was even worse in store for us in the form of the V2 Rockets which came out of the blue, silently with no noise or advance warning. Luckily there were no fatalities. As far as I know this was the only Rocket to explode in the air over Britain, if it had not done so I would not be here many years later to tell the tale.

February 12, 2021 13:07

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