By popular request

and on your own heads be it: here’s a first instalment of the wartime memoir of which I posted a
snippet last week. Please don’t be too critical: it’s one of the first things I ever wrote, apart from
childhood school stories in emulation of Enid Blyton; and it was written for an 8-year-old.

What was it like in the War, Grandma? Chapter One: Sleeping under the Stairs

They tell me I couldn’t possibly remember this, but I can, vividly: the sky, blue to shame ink;
the garden with flowers round the edges, lupins and phlox, all taller than I was then, aged
two and a half, the lawn gone – sacrificed to the need for potatoes; the only grass a
foot-wide path surrounding the mound of roughly dug earth. And me – photos show a small
plump girl with ringlets bunched in satin bows, eyes screwed up against the sun, mouth hidden
behind a large doll.

I remember the buzzing of bees in the buddleia by the French windows. But no, it’s louder
than that. Look up: the sky so far above me contains a whirling swarm of insects, chasing
each other, swooping, curling upwards and away only to drop down to resume the senseless
circus. I did not know it then, but those loud insects were Spitfires and Heinkels, Hurricanes
and Junkers, their young pilots desperately trying to shoot each other out of the sky.
It was the summer of 1940 in South-West London.

Home was a paradigm of semi-detached suburban respectability, pebble-dashed with
rounded bay windows downstairs and up and a little window cantilevered out from the wall
(my room in peace-time) over the arched porch and oak studded front door with inset bullion
glass. A sloping roof covered the integral garage approached by twin cement paths. The
car – a Morris 8 – had been laid up on piles of bricks at the beginning of the war, for lack of
petrol, but it was later sold to an optimist who thought the war would be over by Christmas.
It was another 15 years before Dad was to be able to buy another car – one of the very
first split-screen Morris Minors, black of course.

The front garden was crazy-paved, with creeping Jenny growing in the cracks. A healthy
young sycamore tree grew behind the wooden fence and beautifully cut privet hedge.
Many years after we had moved away that sycamore had to be cut down because the roots
had broken the fence and the pavement outside and threatened to break the house down as
well, something the bombs weren’t able to do.

Inside was to be found the fashionable art deco décor of the 1930’s, with brown and orange
geometric pattern carpet atop brown mottled lino in the front dining room, sturdy dark oak
square furniture. Pride of place went to the big Bakelite radio with a rising sun pattern on the
front and big dials to find exotic stations like Hilversum and Luxembourg as well as the familiar
(and only) BBC Home Service.

The radio stood on a small table with crossed supports underneath, and that was where I
used to crouch to listen to Children’s Hour at 5 o’clock every afternoon: Larry the Lamb from
Toytown with Mr Growser – I think he was the policeman and very stern; Jennings at School
took us to the strange world of boys’ boarding school. and there were some marvellous stories:
much better than television (which had been suspended for the duration of the war) because
the pictures were better.

We were allowed to sit up until 8 o’clock on Saturdays specially to listen to the classic
serials, and that was my introduction to Dickens, not a favourite author of mine now, but much
loved then – I suspect because of the extra hour before bedtime!

Dad was in the ARP (air raid patrol) then. After a day’s work at the bank he would have
a short snooze in the chair and then it was off to the air raid post at the end of the road –
a hideous concrete bunker smelling of pee – to spend the night patrolling the area in case of fire
and sometimes rescuing people from bombed houses. He also had to look out for people
showing a light from their homes. The thought was that if the enemy could see the lights
from houses and factories they would know where to drop their bombs; so before we could
switch a light on in the evening Mum had to go round all the windows fixing wooden frames
stretched over with blackout material. The front door had to have a curtain over it.
If anyone came to the door, the light in the hall had to be switched off before you could
open it. As there were, of course, no streetlights, you had a job to see who it was at the door.
Cars, lorries and buses had their headlights covered with black tape with a slit in the middle
allowing just a sliver of light so that the driver could see where to go.

But at night the almost total darkness was broken by the beautiful patterns made by the
searchlight beams, so called because they swung about searching for enemy aircraft during
the raids. I saw these because Mum was fascinated by them and she would sometimes put
all the lights out and open the blackout to watch. When the searchlights were on, so would
the ack-ack (anti-aircraft) guns boom away in nearby Nonesuch Park.

(to be continued)


All poetry, prose and pictures posted here, except where otherwise stated, is my own, and may only be used elsewhere with my expressed permission. Please don't be inhibited from correcting my bloopers and making suggestions: Most of what I post here is instant, ill-considered and off-the-cuff, in serious need of editing.
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12 Responses to By popular request

  1. Viv, this is terrific writing. I entered your world completely. You have a great gift for transporting readers into the scene of the action. I felt like I was THERE. I really hope you continue with this and possibly enlarge it into a memoir. So many people who lived in that time are going or gone.

    I was in grade school then and had an English pen-pal Joan S. of Stone… Glos. 2, England. I wish we had continued to keep in touch. I can remember Dec. 7 when we heard about Pearl Harbor. I had come home from the hospital the day before & my Aunt, Uncle & cousins were visiting. I remember my teen=age cousin Tom’s reaction “Oh, I hope it doen’t end before I get over there!” It didn’t, he fought in Europe, came home safe.


  2. Rebecca says:

    Your writing is very nice. While I can’t relate to these events, I’m sure my grandmother who was a very young mother at the time in Pennsylvania could relate to the tragedies of World War II. It’s just too bad she’s not around to ask anymore. I would suggest putting snippets of your posts on twitter. There’s just not enough blogs out there concentrating on what was.


  3. Mary says:

    Amazing writing, Viv. I feel like I am right there!


  4. Pingback: Of This ‘n’ That « The Laughing Housewife

  5. pamela says:

    Viv looking forward to reading more. Fascinating piece!


  6. jinksy says:

    Oh, my Ugly Bug Ball and Puff the Magic Dragon! You started something with the comment you left on my blog! How about finding my email address on the profile page, and we could compare notes direct, rather than through blogs? Could be fun…
    Love, Pen x


  7. jinksy says:

    I was born in 1941, so my memories begin a little later, but there are enough things in your story to catapault me back to a life of sirens and Anderson shelters, bangs and bombs. Didn’t we do well to survive?! LOL 🙂


  8. tillybud says:

    Viv, I’m so glad you’ve done this. It was a fascinating read and it left me wanting more. The best bit for me was you watching the insects that were really dogfights in the sky.

    I like the new look, by the way.


  9. Stan Ski says:

    Such vivid memories – excellent piece. Looking forward to more…


  10. derrick2 says:

    You’ve definitely created a world of fascination for a small child, Viv, and it will be interesting to see how close the horror of reality encroached.


  11. Rallentanda says:

    Oh Viv this leaves me spellbound. I was there. Now that’s good writing.Love all the details. What a memory you have! Can’t wait for the next installment. Thank you for this. Lucky grandkids. Incidentally I am an Enid Blyton child.
    I owe her a great deal. I would have been very lonely without her.


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