Britain On The Homefront 1939-45
Posted 13 April 2004 - 10:45 AM
Note that Frances's father had already done his time in Mesopotamia in the first one, but went back in for the second one. That's a point I would like to make: the nature of World War II being an all-encompassing struggle resulted in people voluntarily going back in or being drafted back in.
The lack of fresh fruits until after V-J Day also reminds me of Mom's story: she didn't see a banana from 1939 until 1946.
Posted 27 April 2004 - 06:52 PM
Please do use this story - I'd be delighted for you to do that. I'm pleased you liked it.
My Dad's War
23rd August, 1940
Alice maud Garvey and her daughter Alice were stunned by the message over the wireless. Lord Haw Haw's gleeful voice saying:-
'I have sunk the Severn Leigh with all hands on deck.'
The two Alices looked at each other in disbelief.
'Our Bill's on that ship!' they gasped.
For fourteen days they didn't hear a thing, all was silent and they feared the worst. On the fifteenth day there was a knock on the door. It was the local chaplain.
'Your son has been found alive in an open boat which drifted into the Isle of Harris.'
When I was a little girl my dad used to tell me the story of the time he was in the war. He was torpedoed and ended up in an open boat for fourteen days. he was one of ten survivors of a crew of 42 men. Being young I didn't take much in. All I can really remember is that they had been starving and my dad said they had been sucking fishes' eyes to get moisture. How true this was I do not know, but the vision to my child'd mind was ghastly, and I really didn't want to think about it. My dad told me the story a few times, but then suddenly stopped talking about it. I know that my dad never fully recovered from fourteen days in an open boat and the sights he saw and what he had to endure at such a young age. It would turn the strongest man's head, let alone a nineteen year old merchant seaman.
I don't know what it was, but something kept nagging at the back of my mind to ask about my dad's ship and what exactly had happened. Unfortunately, I lost all this information when my dad died at fifty nine of cancer in 1980, when i was twenty one years old, and I regretted not listening more carefully to what he had been saying.
Aunt Alice was very helpful. She sent a lovely letter detailing all the family and send photographs of my grandmother and great grandmother. There was a separate letter entitled Bill.
'The ship your dad was on was called the Severn Leigh. I will never forget it, it came through on the wireless with Lord Haw Haw saying, 'I have sunk the Severn Leigh with all hands on deck,' but we never believed all he said, but for fourteen days we never heard anything. We were all very upset and beginning to fear the worst when a chaplain came to our house and said they had dfited into the Isle of Harris, and your dad was one of seven survivors. He had a terrible time in an open boat for 14 days and was in hospital on the Isle of Harris for weeks. He had sea boils all over his body and he was in a terrible state. All they lived on was condensed milk and sea biscuits. He always looked very smart in his navy suit. It was a terrible ordeal for him. I don't think he ever got over it, but thank God he married you mam and had a lovely family, so he was well rewarded.'
The letter whetted my appetite to know more. Would people on the Isle of Harris remember the incident? It must have been quite something to see an open boat drift onto their shores. What exactly happened? I was itching to find out.
A few days later I wrote a letter. I didn't know where I was sending it to. On the envelope I wrote, to the library, information centre/newspaper, Isle of Harris, Scotland.
The letter I received back from the Isle of Harris was beyond my expectations. I was absolutely amazed. I received a copy of an eye witness account of what happened and the name and address of someone who had actually seen the life boat drifting to shore, and he was eleven years old at the time, wee Finlay Macaskill.
Following is an account by John Morrision of Northton who is now deceased. He tells the story of shipwreck survivors who came ashore at Northton.
A ship was torpedoed 40 miles off St. Kilda in the Atlantic. The boat was torpedoed and she was sinking so they lowered the lifeboats. They lowered three lifeboats and she was sinking fast so the crew crowded into the lifeboats. The submarine submerged and then surfaced quite close to the lifeboats and the gunmen started riddling the lifeboats with machind gun bullets. Two of the lifeboats sank and a number of the crew were killed as well. Those that were still alive crowded into one lifeboat.
They had not had time to get as much rations as they would have liked into the lifeboats. There were plenty hard biscuits but there was not much water. The captain was rationing the water for each man and some of the poor souls with thirst and after eating the hard biscuits began to drink salt water. That was fatal as they went off their heads and the poor captain had to shoot some of them. It was hard for the poor man to shoot some of his own crew. After 14 days they came ashore behind the doctor's house in Northton. They only had a few days rations of water left. They had a sial on the boat and at night they had been spreading the sail over the boat so that as the dew fell at night it was collected in the water containers. When they came to the beach the sail was up but there was no one in the lifeboat who could stand up and take the sail down. They were in a poor way.
Malcolm MacAskill and Willie MacKay saw the boat coming to the sands. The news went through the village in a flash and every able bodied man that was there went down to the sands and they took the crew out. They took them to John MacKay's house - Seonnaidh Dubh as they called him - Finlay MacAskill's and the Martings. There were 14 survivors in all. They were given warm clothes and they wrapped them in blankets round the fire so they would thaw out and regain a bit of their strength.
They were all given warm drinks of hot tea. Now things were rationed at the time but there was no scarcity of food here, but of whisky! Colonel Thomson Rye, who stayed at the Terrace in Leverburgh came with two bottles of whisky. MacCallum, Rodel, sent another bottle. The doctor at the time was Dr. MacIntosh - he liked a drop of whisky himself.
There was a coloured man in the crew and he was very poorly. His religion was that as he believed he was going to die, he must not eat or drink. So Doctor MacIntosh made a good toddy for him, opened his mouth and poured it right down. The man survived very well too!
A crowd were gathered. There was a dentist in Leverburgh at the time attending the school, and he was there. I was there and Katie Ann was there too. She was a nurse and she was able to give some help.
A naval ambulance and a doctor came from Stornoway. I would say that the Naval doctor was what I would term in Gaelic 'nyaff de dhuine!' (An idiot of a man). He was ordering the poor souls about as if they were men that had been training for a fight. Now the dentist swept the floor with him! Anyway, the ambulance took those that were very ill and I took the rest in my bus. Doctor MacIntosh went as well. I believe that one died in the ambulance on the way to Stornoway but the rest survived.
The captain, who had stayed at the MacKay's house, wrote to Mary MacKay after that but then the strain and stress that he had suffered with having to 'do away with' some of his crew took effect. He ended up in a mental home. The lifeboat was given to the township and it was sold to John MacCallum, proprietor of Rodel Hotel. The proceeds went to the township. It was later sold to someone in North Harris.
Another eye-witness that day was wee Finlay Macaskill, then eleven years old and just returning from school for lunch. He writes:-
I was 11 years old at this time and was at home from school for lunch 1-2pm. My father raised the alarm that a strange boat was heading for the beach, under sail. The 'grapevine'soon had all the near neighbours converging at the sands. There appeared to be no sign of life on board and no attempt was made to lower the sail as the boat approached. It was a beautiful sunny day with a light breeze blowing so the boat grounded on the sands in a few inches of water. I recall being a bit apprehensive about going too near, initially, as one did not know what to expect, but when the older people went on board and called for all possible aid, as every one was alive, I became bold and ventured closer. The scene there was unforgetable - living dead is the onhly description. The captain had been lashed to the thwarts in a delirious state, owing to drinking sea water, and to prevent him consuming any more. Everyone was in a state of dehydration to almost a point of no return. All were helped, some carried, to the nearest houses and by this time the local doctor had arrived and began treatment as was available. We had three of them at our house and I remember my mother remarking on a young lad of such tender age, maybe eighteen, being subjected to such an ordeal. This was probably your dad as the rest were of an older class. An older one of this three was in a bad state of delirium and did not recover despite all efforts to bring him round - he died the same evening on the way to hospital.
There were two lascars in the company one of whom came ashore clutching his Koran - his only possession. They only had a smattering of English and communication with them was not easy. However, it was decided by the doctor to transfere them all to hospital, much against the wishes of the locals who were prepared to let them stay and recover more fully before sending them on a 60 mile tortuous road to Stornoway hospital. Two small coaches were converted as make-shift ambulances and the transfer was carried out late the same evening. I don't think anyone in the village slept that night. My mother went to the hospital to visit them and found an unbelieveable transformation in everyone after a week.
The reason they were so dehydrated, it emerged, was that the lifeboat had been shelled at by the submarine as they tried to get away from the sinking ship, bursting two of the fresh water tanks. An intereting article appeared in the press some time after this incident - a raft from the Severn Leigh landed at Halifax, Nova Scotia with only one survivor on it.
The submarine that torpedoed the Severn Leigh was manned by Kapitanleutnant Viktor Oehrn, captain of U-37. Oehrn stalked convoy OA200 in mid-Atlantic on 23rd August. He waited to select his target 5,242-ton Severn Leigh, owned by the kelston Steamship Co. When the men took to their lifeboats they were sprayed with maching-gun bullets. Oehrn said later that his men had thought that the merchantsman's crew were going for their gun, which had been reported to him, and that was why he had ordered them to fire.
Hull, March 2004
Posted 27 April 2004 - 06:52 PM
NOW YOU SEE THEM - NOW YOU DON'T.
Something funny is going on. I haven't seen Chuck and Joe, my Yank friends for over a week. I told my mother that I thought I might have said something bad, as they don't pick me up to play with anymore. My mother said they were very busy being soldiers at the moment, and didn't have time to see me. I hope that she is correct. I like Chuck and Joe and, besides, I've run out of Hershey bars.
Another funny thing that’s happened is all the soldiers who live opposite have left. This morning, all of them paraded as usual, but they had big khaki sacks with them as well as their rifles. Before they turned together toward the road, they heaved the sacks onto their shoulders, and instead of marching down the road, they marched up.
When my father came home for his dinner, he was very excited. "It's on Rose," he kept saying, "we're going for sure. Take a walk up London Road this afternoon. Take the nipper. This is history in the making." Even my mother was smiling. "It will soon be over," she kept saying.
After my father had ridden his bicycle back to work and my mother had washed the dishes, she helped me put on my shoes and socks. We didn't need coats, as it was quite warm, in spite of it being cloudy. We walked together up the road. All of the women seemed to be outside their houses, talking to each other. They were passing lumps of chalk to each other, making a 'V' mark alongside their front doors. I asked my mother why they were doing it, she told me it stood for 'victory'. I asked her what 'victory' was; she said it was to help us beat Mr. Hitler. I shall put one on our doorpost when we get back, if someone will lend me some chalk.
By the time we got to the top of our road we could hear a continuous roaring sound. There were lots of people going the same way as us and some were carrying little flags on sticks. Everybody was talking, even to people they didn't know. Some even spoke to my mother. "Good news, missus. We're going." "Yes", my mother would reply, "it would seem so. I hope it is not just an exercise though." "Not this time, missus," another man replied, "I heard that the docks are full of boats. Full of them. Three and four deep at each berth. It's on for sure."
What's on? Nobody would tell me. Something big and beautiful was happening it seemed. Everyone walking around had big smiles on their faces, but nobody would tell me why. "What's on, mother?" I asked. "The invasion. Our soldiers are going to invade France and drive the Germans back to their own country. It will be peace soon. No more war." No more war? Why ever not? War is normal. What are we going to do if there is no more war? All of the soldiers will be unemployed. They'll have nothing to do.
We walked from Bedford Place to London Road and what a sight met our eyes. The roaring had been getting louder and louder - then we saw what was causing it. Two continuous lines of trucks, roaring down the road towards the town, and the docks. Some trucks had tarpaulins covering huge piles of boxes and crates, but most had soldiers, standing up smiling and waving at us. A lot of trucks had Americans but lots had Tommies. These are our soldiers. Their uniforms are not as nice as the Americans but their buttons are shinier. They also have different metal hats to the “ Yanks”. Ours looks more like Uncle Ern's bowler hat.
My father explained why we called our soldiers 'Tommies' and why I should be proud we did. He said that during the last war, (crikey, just how many have we had?) a poster aimed at getting men to join the army had a sample form on it. It said 'Surname' followed by a written 'Atkins', then First Name followed by 'Thomas'. Since then all soldiers have been called Tommies, short for Thomas. My grandfather who is really named Thomas Atkins, has suffered greatly from ribald remarks every time he has to state his name.
No other traffic except that of the army is being allowed onto London Road. At every junction there are men in uniform with armbands and white helmets, they stop every car and make it turn around and go back, unless they are army. A lot of jeeps, full of officers, join the trucks from the side streets. The officers are smiling and waving as well, a bit undignified really.
Occasionally, one of the Americans throws some Hershey bars, and the people around me go wild, almost fighting each other to pick one up. I miss out every time as they are bigger than me, until a nice man says to one of the fat women who has three in her hand, "give the boy one. Don't be greedy. You've already got enough." She doesn't want to but the people around us are all agreeing with the man, so she holds one out for me. It's a good job they don't know about my friends, Hank and Joe, and that I am a Hershey bar expert. "Say ‘thank you’," says my mother, once again, before I can open my mouth. If they gave prizes for a quick-draw mouth, my mother would come first every time.
We stand there for over an hour, the trucks and jeeps still keep coming. Some of the trucks have a large gun towed from their rear. "This is no bloody exercise," says a man, "this is the real bloody thing." Then he puts his hands to his mouth and shouts at a passing truck of soldiers, "Give them bloody hell, mates." The soldiers are pleased and stick their thumbs up at him.
"Come on," says my mother, "we've seen enough. Let's go home and have a nice cup of tea." I can't believe my ears. Here we are watching history and my mother wants a 'nice cup of tea'. What a way to win a war.
"There was nothing on the news," said my mother as soon as my father came home. "What do you expect?" asked my father. "Do you think that we want Hitler to know we are coming? Oh, by the way Adolph, we are going to try and land at Cherbourg tomorrow. Put the kettle on." My father can be cutting at times.
My father rushes through his tea and has his wash. He is going out early tonight to visit other pubs and see what news he can gather. My father would have made a good spy, but then, I expect he is a better painter; otherwise Mr. Churchill would have given him a job.
The next morning, it was on the news. Our troops had invaded France at a place called Normandy. Everybody was happy. My mother thought we should go and visit grandmother. Goodness me, not twice in a week.
After my father had gone back to work, in the afternoon, we set off. It was quite a long walk, and every step was strange. There were no uniforms. Nobody left. The parks we walked through were empty of soldiers, not one around. The barracks in the cricket park was empty, nobody to be seen. Just one door banging in the wind. A strange silence had settled over the whole town. No sound of trucks or jeeps. No shouting out. No laughter. Really, one doesn't appreciate just how noisy armies are - until they're gone
Posted 27 April 2004 - 06:53 PM
He wrote this book about growing up in Cornwall, this is his story about the Americans coming to town. I thought it very funny, it made my morning reading this. I hope non British people will be able to understand the West country accent, I think I struggled myself on some of it.
“Ere, Mrs Davy?”
“Yes, my dear.”
We were sitting outside Lewis’s house for a change, Lewis, Bobby and me . Lewis’s mother stood in her doorway, in her floral pinny, leaning against the frame with her arms folded. Lewis’s mother always seemed older than my Mother, although I don’t think she was.
It was a beautiful summer day, but Lewis’s side of the street always seemed to be in shadow.
“You know that black banana what Bobby’s eating?”
“I don’t like they.”
“Ow come, David. They’re good for ‘ee, they are.”
“I like ‘em alright.” Said Bobby, biting into the hard black grainy stick. I could hear it crack as he bit into it.
“They taste ‘orrible, and they look like a bit of dog turd.” I said.
“Oh David, you maze bugger.” Laughed Mrs Davy.
Bobby turned his nose up at the black banana and put it into his pocket.
“Well, what I do reckon, is this ‘ere. I do reckon that the Germans ab sent they things over ‘ere, an they ‘ave put poison in them so that all we English are going to eat them and then we’re all going to die in agony and they are going to come over and then take over the country an that, and kill us an all, and then they’ll ave won the war.”
Bobby took the black dried banana out of his pocket and threw it in the gutter.
“Do you think that the Germans ‘ave poisoned them Missis Davy?”
“Mebbe so, my dear,” said Lewis’s mother. “Mebbe so.”
The three of us moved across the street to sit in the sun.
“Lewis, don’t sit on that pavement.” Said his mother. “You’ll get piles!”
“Anyhow, what we goin to do?” said Bobby.
“Le’s go up and see the Yanks.” Said Lewy.
“Wha’s that?” I asked.
“You know,” said Lewy. “The Yanks. They’re soldiers and they come from America.”
“Gessoutofit! There aren’t no yan …… what you just said.
“There bleddy are” said Lewy “Arent there, Bob?”
“Yeah.” Said Bobby “They’re up Albert Tce. An they’re soldiers an they got guns an they give you sweets and chewing gum an that. My brother told me.”
“Yeah stacks of it. Come on Whito le’s go!”
Lewis and Bobby were already running up the street. I ran to catch them up.
Just as they were turning the corner by the chipshop, Bobby bent down to the pavement.
“Ay look, ‘eres some chewing gum ‘ere.”
He bent down to pick up a piece of sticky stuff that had been trodden into the stone. As he pulled it up it stretched up in his hand like a bowstring. He rolled it between his dirty fingers and then put it in his mouth.
“Is it sposed to be black like that ?” I asked.
“Was it like?” asked Lewy.
“Great. Want some?”
He pulled a long string of it from his mouth, and then gave me and Lewy a piece each, and we continued around the corner, three gum chewers, and walked into Albert Tce.
We were met by the sight of Goblin, one of the gang, who was three years older than us, sitting in the driving seat of a strange looking vehicle, like a car with the roof cut off. It was khaki coloured with numbers painted on the side in white.
“Yew. Lewy, Whito. ‘Ere look at what I’n doing of.”
“Wha’s that?” asked Bobby.
“It’s a JEEEP! “ said Goblin. “These ‘ere Yanks are going to take it to Germany and kill ‘undreds of Germans with it. They’re going to put a tommy gun on the front and then they can mow ‘em dead. This bloke ‘ere said I can fire the gun when they get it. P’raps we can take it over Newlyn and kill the Newlyn gang.”
We saw, standing beside the funny looking car, the strangest looking man I had ever seen. He seemed as tall as a giant. His face was big and brown, and he had freckles all over his face. His eyes were the brightest blue I had ever seen, and his blonde hair was cropped short on his head . It was like no other haircut I had seen before. He was so clean that he seemed to sparkle. And his uniform was made of a shiny material that didn’t look anything like the rough uniforms that we had seen on English soldiers.
He smiled at us.
“Well howdy, you all.”
We looked at him, mouths open.
“How you good old boys doin?”
He could have been speaking Serbo –Croat for all we understood of him.
“You American are ‘ee mister?”
“What’s that you say boy?”
“I couldn’t make out your limey lingo.”
“Wha’s he saying, Whito?”
Eventually, after much mis-communication, and gifts of sweets and chewing gum, that was actually white in colour and not the dirty black that we had picked off the street, we tuned into each others’ speech sufficiently to make a fair stab at what we each were saying.
He turned to Lewy.
“You want another stick of gum, boy?”
“Yeah” said Lewy.
As he handed over the gum the giant said,
“You gotta sister, boy.”
“Yeah, she’s called Hilda.”
“Hilda ay? Well you tell Hilda to come up and see Jerry, the Texan. And I’ll make sur e she’ll get some nylons. How old is she?”
“Six.” Said Lewy.
The blond giant coughed and said ,
“Yeah, well , you know….”
“Where you come from, mister?”
“Well, boy, I come from Texas. We call it God’s own country. It’s the greenest most beautiful place on this earth. The corn grows as high as a tree and the skyscrapers reach up to the sky.”
“Is it bigger than Truro?” said Bobby.
“Why, hell boy. Its bigger than this whole country put together. my Daddy’s ranch stretches out as far as the horizon out there.” He pointed out to Mounts Bay. “And when you think you got to the end, it goes on as far again.”
We knew he was just bragging now, cos nothing could be bigger than Mounts Bay.
By now some other soldiers had come out of the house to join him. They were all shiny clean crew cutted giants as well.
“Do you know any film stars, mister?” asked Bobby.
“Why sure, Clark Gable’s my uncle. “
“Who’s ‘ee?” asked Bobby
“Why hell boy. Don’t you know Clark Gable. He’s the King of Hollywood. Aint that so, Gus?” the Texan said to one of the newcomers.
“Well, he aint as good as our king.” Said Bobby.
“Do you know Hopalong Cassidy?” I asked him.
“I sure do. In fact I taught him how do ride a horse and tote a gun. Aint that so Gus?”
We looked at each other in disbelief.
“Yah. I bet. Well wha’s his horse called then?”
“Why, Hoppies horse is called Trigger. Aint that so Gus?”
“Wahhh! Ya lyin, bugger. Trigger is Roy Rogers horse.”
Suddenly, one of the Americans yelled out.
“Hey there, boy. What the hell you think you’re doing?”
Followed by the others he started running towards the jeep, where Goblin was sitting behind the driving wheel, and the jeep was careering down the hill.
“That kid has only let the handbrake off!!”
The jeep was now travelling at quite a speed, and Goblin steered into the top of Adelaide St and disappeared around the corner.
Me and Lewy and Bobby ran after the Americans ,who were running after the jeep driven by Goblin, with his unruly hair flying back in the wind. We watched him come to the junction between Adelaide St and Penwith St, where he threw his hands up in the air and the jeep crashed into the corner house. A couple of seconds later Mr Tonkin came running out of his house and started cursing the Americans. Goblin jumped out of the jeep and made to run down to Camberwell St, but one of the giant Americans caught him by the scruff of the neck saying
“Not so fast, young ‘un.”
Another American got into the jeep and reversed it up the street back to Albert Tce.
“You aint going to tell the police are you mister?” I pleaded with the Texan.
“Or his Ma.” Said Bobby. “She’ll kill him
“I don’t rightly know what we’re gonna do.” Said the giant. “We cant just let him go. He’s gotta realise that he cant just drive off other peoples property.”
“Why don’t you just beat the doo doo out of him?” said Bobby, who always had a practical solution.
“Ive got myself an idea of what to do. “ said the Texan. “You boys had better get on home now. Before any more damage is done.”
And so we went home.
The next time we saw Goblin we could hardly recognise him. His unruly shock of dirty hair was gone. Instead his head looked practically bald. The Americans had shaved his hair to about an eighth of an inch of his head. His mother never said anything, probably she never noticed, but from then on his name in the gang would forever be “Baldnut”.
The next day we were up at Albert Tce again, but I’ll tell you about that later.
Alien Visitation Part Two
The Americans had been in Penzance for about two months now, and their presence was really being felt in the town. Wherever you went you would see groups of laughing giants acting as if they owned the town. And the most common sight was to see a local girl or woman, married or otherwise, clinging on tightly to her American beau, the seams on her newly acquired nylon stockings perfectly straight , and somehow shouting out what she had done to get them.
I had overheard my Mum admonishing my Auntie.
“Did I see you out with a Yank, last night, Winnie?”
“Oh Bena. Don’t be so. Everyone’s got an American!”
The gang was up at Albert Tce practically every day now and we had eaten more sweets and chewing gum, and sometimes even chocolate, than we were likely to eat for the rest of our childhood.
One particular hot summer’s day at the end of May, I remember vividly.
We were hanging around outside their billet hoping to cadge some more chewing gum, when a jeep drove up, and inside was one of the blonde giants and sitting beside him was the freshly shorn Baldnut, who had been adopted by the Yanks as a sort of mascot. We could see his scalp shining in the sunlight. We all envied him because he had access to all sorts of information about the Yanks, and his brother Whippet told us that very often he slept up Albert Tce all night.
“Yew!” shouted Baldnut as he and the American clambered out of the jeep loaded up with boxes and brown carrier bags.
“Me an Jake bin to the PX for supplies.” He boasted proudly.
The boxes contained exotic things like tins of coffee and packets of butter and scores of packets of something called Lucky Strikes.
By now several American giants had come out of the house, to help unload the Jeep.
Gus, the Texan, shouted to us.
“Howdy, boys, how you all going?”
“You wha,” said Bobby.
Gus ignored him and started distributing the long boxes of Lucky Strikes to the rest of the Americans who promptly tore open the packs and started to light up their cigarettes.
“Ay mister,” shouted Whippet “Gis a fag!”
“You’re too young to smoke, nipper.” Said one of them.
“I aint!” said Whippet. “I smoke my Ma’s all the time. And if she aint got any, we all smoke mugger from the hedges. Don’t us gang?”
We all concurred, although I never liked the roll-ups we made from mugger and San Izal lavatory paper.
The Americans started laughing amongst themselves and one of them threw Whippet a whole packet of Lucky Strikes!
We all crowded around him and lit upthese strange American cigarettes. They were awful! Lewy, Bobby and I started coughing and tears came to our eyes, much to the amusement of the Americans. Although Whippet was very good at it and he swaggered around the road waving the hand with the cigarette very elaborately. He smoked two one after the other, but he did begin to look a pale shade of green, and he wandered off down the street.
I saw one of the Americans open one of the big cardboard boxes from the jeep and say,
“Great. Frenchies. Now that’s what I call supplies, Jake!”
He picked out a handful of gold coloured circular objects about the size of a milktop.
“Wha’s they, mister?” asked Bobby.
All the Americans started to laugh.
“Well, boy. These are for our R&R.”
The American pushed his thumb into the gold milk top and extracted a long , powdery ,whitish, rubbery thing with a teat at one end.
“Hey, look.” Said Lewy “They’re balloons!!”
The Americans found this very funny, and they all started laughing.
“Yup.” Said Gus “That’s what they are, boy. They’re American balloons. And they sure give us some pleasure , what do you say, Jake.”
“Yup.” Said Jake.
“Can we have some, mister?” I pleaded.
“Why sure boy, here help yourself.” And he handed us about half a dozen each.
“Hey, Whito. Le’s go down Camberwell St and blow them up. C’mon Bob.”
Bobby had sneaked his way to the jeep, and when we left for Camberwell St I noticed he had taken a cardboard box from out of the jeep. As soon as he saw Lewy and me leaving he ran off down Adelaide St in front of us.
We arrived at Camberwell St, which was situated between Adelaide St and Mount St. Penzance Council had started pulling the houses down a few years before but had stopped when war broke out, probably hoping that the Germans would finish the job off for them, but of all the 800 or so bombs that fell on Penzance, not one of them fell on Camberwell St.
They had neglected to turn off the gas from some of the houses, and this was our destination now to blow up the American balloons.
“Hey, Lewy, Whito. Look what I pinched.!”
Bobby opened the cardboard box and revealed layer upon layer of the golden milktops.
“Crikey, there’s millions of ‘em!”
“Yeah c’mon gang le’s blow them up.
We ran to the gas tap that was sticking out of the ground, rolled the white balloon neck over the tap and turned on the gas.
The white powdery balloon expanded to about twelve inches in length, and we knotted them at the ends. When we released them the sky was filled with hundreds of white condoms floating upwards over the chimney tops with the teats uppermost. They looked like vertical barrage balloons. I had never seen so many balloons in the sky at one time.
“Ay, le’s get our bows and see if we can shoot them down.” I cried.
Still holding on to one of the American balloons I ran into my house, trailing my prize possession in the air behind me.
My father, who must have been on leave, and my mother were sitting down to tea with my brother who was eight years older than me. When he saw me running in trailing the blown up condom behind me, he almost choked on his baked beans, and they spluttered over the tablecloth.
“What the hell is that you’ve got there, Dai?” my father asked, desperately trying not to laugh.
“It’s an American balloon, and there are hundreds flying in the sky and In going to get my bow and we’re going to shoot em down from the sky!”
By now I had got my bow and several arrows and I was running out the door still with my balloon clutched in my hand.
By the time I got back to Camberwell St, the hundreds of balloons in the sky had almost disappeared from view.
I released the one in my hand and immediately strung an arrow into my bow and shot it into the air. It fell miserably short of its target and about twenty yards to the left of it.
I looked at Lewy and Bobby, and said,
“Well, you all, I reckon I missed that darned balloon by a mile.”
They both looked at me and in unison said
.Mysteriously, the Americans disappeared from Penzance as suddenly as they had arrived. One day they just weren’t there anymore. I realise now that those blond giants who gave us such exotic gifts , and who spoke such a strange language, were probably aged about 18 or 19. Hundreds of them were killed in a surprise raid by the Germans at Slapton Sands near Dartmouth, and others were killed at Omaha Beach on D_Day. I don’t know whether Gus or Jake survived ,or if they did whether they remembered the pleasure and education they gave to a group of raggedy-arsed kids from Adelaide St., in a little Cornish town called Penzance.
Posted 30 April 2004 - 01:18 PM
Our daughter was born 9 months later, he never knew he was going to be a father.
His parents came over after the war, Max was thier only child and they wanted to take my daughter back with them, but thet didnt want me. I didnt marry again, not until Gillian (my daughter) was married with a family of her own.
I never went to see Max's grave, I couldnt face it. Then 50 years later we were returning to England by coach and there had been a hold up on the main road. We were diverted to a village for coffee. Everyone got off but I couldnt move. "where did you say we are?" I asked the driver and then I told him, "my husbands buried here", I found his grave and wept. Id never been able to weep before. The coach driver must have told the others. They bought all the flowers in the florists and covered Max's grave.
That was when I said goodbye.
Posted 30 April 2004 - 02:17 PM
It always saddens me to hear the stories of the young men who were never to see their children born, Den Brotheridge being the obvious example. Being a father myself I know the joys (and pains) that they forfeited in the service of their country.
And to lose a loved one in such a manner, shot on the way down in cold blood. This must've left very bitter toward the Germans.
Posted 06 May 2004 - 10:03 AM
On the 25th November 1944 a V2 rocket hit the shop Woolworths, which was packed with shoppers. It caused a massive explosion, witnesses say that the Woolworths building exploded outwards then imploded in a blinding flash. Smoke and dust were evrywhere, people standing several hundred yards away felt the warm blast on thier faces, some were pushed back by the force of the blast.
The bomb caused 160 people to die and 120 were seriously injured, the shop was packed with women and children. The Co Op shop next door also collapsed killing many people inside.
Bodies of people passing outside were thrown great distances, an army lorry was turned upside down kiling the the occupants. A double decker bus was spun round also killing people and causing injuries. Witnesses said the people inside the bus were seen sitting in thier seats covered in dust.
Masonry and bits of bodies lay all around the area, and where the shop once stood there was now a huge gap. It took workers 3 days to clear the site of debris and the dead.
This V2 rocket caused the most carnage out of all the V rockets to ever hit London.
Posted 06 May 2004 - 09:17 PM
They don't hand out medals for what the British populace endured for six relentlessly precarious years. But they should.
Thanks, Andy. BK
Posted 07 May 2004 - 08:34 AM
With the V1's or doodlebugs you atleast could hear them coming over, well until the engines cut out. But with the V2's the first thing you heard was the explosion, then the engine rocket noise as this sound travelled slower than the missle. Then this would be followed by the sonic boom from high up in the sky. 10 tons of expolsive travelling at 3000mph :D .
Officially the missles were not talked about, Churchill didnt admit to them until November, even though thankfully the last one fell on London about the 18th September. This was because the missle launch sites had to pull back because of operation MG. They did continue to be launched at Britain but they were now out of range of London and they could only hit parts of East Anglia which is the very most East part of the UK.
The press when reporting on these V2 rockets were only allowed to refer to them as exploding gas mains, as the government didnt want to upset the wave of optomism that was sweeping the country with events in Europe with the Germans falling back.
East London was the worst to suffer at the hands of the V2's, Ilford had 35 drop on the borough, as well as 33 V1's. Woolich was next with 33 V2's, and ive always found amazingly that 77 V1's fell there also.
The worst borough of London to be in for V1 rockets was Wandsworth with 122 hitting there, and with just 3 V2's.
A great site on info concerning the V2's http://www.v2rocket....tart/start.html
Posted 17 May 2004 - 03:59 PM
"A GI's Trip To London, 1944," EyeWitness - history through the eyes of those who lived it, www.ibiscom.com (1998).
Germany's and Italy's declaration of war after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the conflict in Europe and began an invasion of England by American GIs. The first to step foot on English soil were the airmen of the Eighth Air Force conducting the bomber assault on Europe. The buildup for the D-day invasion brought millions more to the tiny island. The majority of these were young citizen-soldiers experiencing a foreign country for the first time. With them they brought a gregarious American perspective and lifestyle previously unknown to the typical British citizen. Overall this was an amicable clash of cultures, although many an Englishman ruefully referred to the GIs as "overpaid, overfed, oversexed and over here!"
At age 31, Walter Davis was older than the average GI but otherwise typical. He left a draft-exempt job to volunteer for military service. Shortly after his arrival in England in early 1944, he learned his young wife had borne him a son. In February, he wrote her describing a trip he and three buddies had made to London:
Exploring The City
"We arrived in London around noon Wednesday and immediately took the underground up to the Red Cross Club at which we were to stay. We arrived at the Club and found a line of fellows already trying to get in. We finally got to the desk and engaged our rooms and found them to be on about the seventh floor of an adjoining building, we had to walk up and down here and it was quite a lot of steps to take every time we wanted to get down to the street or back up.
The first thing we wanted to do was look the town over so we walked down to Oxford Circus then to Piccadilly Circus which was about like Times Square only smaller. Of course, we then went down to Pall Mall and looked for Downing Street, Scotland Yards and House of Parliament which we found."
The crew continues their tour seeking out Big Ben, No. 10 Downing Street and Westminster Abbey. After a couple of hours of sightseeing, they take a bus back to the Red Cross Club:
"We got back around six and went out to dinner, this time to a restaurant because they were supposed to have venison, but of course didn't. I had liver (chicken) and some of the boys ordered rabbit. They had fish, a kind of hamburger loaf, a vegetable plate and the two we ordered on the menu. You can't imagine what food conditions are like and I guess I shouldn't go into it. Just remind me sometime to tell you all about it.
After eating we went outside and tried to locate a Pub. It was pitch black and the only way we could tell where to go was to walk until we found a Bobbie then ask him where the nearest one was. We found a policeman and he told us where to go in the next block but we couldn't tell where the door of the place was until we heard people coming out of the place. Some fun - we had a glass of bitters, or I did.
There was a dance up to the Columbia RC (Red Cross) Club so we went up there and found the place full of GIs with only a few girls so we listened to the orchestra for quite some time then went back to our RC and bed. And did we sleep. I didn't wake up until ten Thursday morning."
After breakfast, Davis and a buddy decide to take a taxi tour of the city while their two friends (saying the tour was a waste of time) go shopping. The taxi tour costs ten schillings ($2.00) and takes them all over central London:
"We started our trip in a taxi and went down to Oxford Circus, the department stores were pointed out to us on the way as well as Bond Street noted for its fashions, Park Lane the London equivalent to Riverside Drive with the money and Apartment Houses. The first thing we saw was the Old Antique Shop that Dickens lived in and where he wrote his novels, etc. The place was damaged some from the bombs but stood fairly much the same as it did when Dickens lived there.
It was near here that we saw the German Bomb that had been dug up and put on display, having a slot in the side in which to drop coins. The thing didn't go off so the charge was removed and was an excellent place in which to collect the coins.
We rode on through a lot of bombed areas, some blocks completely gone, at times a building now and then was completely leveled. Not a pretty sight and it left one with no love for the Jerries or any sympathy for what he is getting now. …We were driven through the Buckingham Palace grounds. One entire wing of the Palace was leveled by bombs.
We got back to the RC about five thirty, had a shower and meet the guys for supper at a restaurant down the Avenue. The meal cost two and six (50 cents) but we only got beans on toast with coffee."
Out On The Town
The four buddies head to Oxford Circus and a pub for a few beers and then on to Piccadilly Circus:
I think all of the GIs in England were down there, there were a lot of uniforms of all kinds wandering about. Remind me to tell you about the Piccadilly Commandos sometime. Gordon wanted to meet some English girls so he and Leonard started to find them, I of course went along. Two girls came along on their way to Charing Cross (railroad station) and I talked with them and as we caught up with those two other fellows, all of us went along to the Station. The girls lived in Kent and were on their way home and as the train wasn't in for a couple of hours they took us around to see Big Ben again and we got all the information we could about schools, etc.
One girl was going for a Masters in chemistry and attended Cambridge. The other one was majoring in English. I think Gordon asked too many questions because the girls tired of us and decided they should get their train. We took the Underground back to the RC, picked up our gas masks and headed for our railroad station. We got back here to town early in the morning and had to walk into camp, getting there just in time for breakfast."
Posted 17 May 2004 - 04:02 PM
Johnson, David, The London Blitz : The City Ablaze, December 29, 1940 (1981); Pyle Ernie, Ernie Pyle in England (1941), Reprinted in Commager, Henry Steele, The Story of the Second World War (1945).
Ernie Pyle was one of World War Two's most popular correspondents. His journalism was characterized by a focus on the common soldier interspersed with sympathy, sensitivity and humor. He witnessed the war in Europe from the Battle of Britain through the invasion of France. In 1945 he accepted assignment to the Pacific Theater and was killed during the battle for Okinawa. Here, he describes a night raid on London in 1940.
It was a night when London was ringed and stabbed with fire.
They came just after dark, and somehow you could sense from the quick, bitter firing of the guns that there was to be no monkey business this night.
Shortly after the sirens wailed you could hear the Germans grinding overhead. In my room, with its black curtains drawn across the windows, you could feel the shake from the guns. You could hear the boom, crump, crump, crump, of heavy bombs at their work of tearing buildings apart. They were not too far away.
Half an hour after the firing started I gathered a couple of friends and went to a high, darkened balcony that gave us a view of a third of the entire circle of London. As we stepped out onto the balcony a vast inner excitement came over all of us-an excitement that had neither fear nor horror in it, because it was too full of awe.
You have all seen big fires, but I doubt if you have ever seen the whole horizon of a city lined with great fires - scores of them, perhaps hundreds.
There was something inspiring just in the awful savagery of it.
The closest fires were near enough for us to hear the crackling flames and the yells of firemen. Little fires grew into big ones even as we watched. Big ones died down under the firemen's valor, only to break out again later.
About every two minutes a new wave of planes would be over. The motors seemed to grind rather than roar, and to have an angry pulsation, like a bee buzzing in blind fury.
The guns did not make a constant overwhelming din as in those terrible days of September. They were intermittent - sometimes a few seconds apart, sometimes a minute or more. Their sound was sharp, near by; and soft and muffled, far away. They were everywhere over London.
Into the dark shadowed spaces below us, while we watched, whole batches of incendiary bombs fell. We saw two dozen go off in two seconds. They flashed terrifically, then quickly simmered down to pin points of dazzling white, burning ferociously. These white pin points would go out one by one, as the unseen heroes of the moment smothered them with sand. But also, while we watched, other pin points would burn on, and soon a yellow flame would leap up from the white center. They had done their work - another building was on fire.
The greatest of all the fires was directly in front of us. Flames seemed to whip hundreds of feet into the air. Pinkish-white smoke ballooned upward in a great cloud, and out of this cloud there gradually took shape - so faintly at first that we weren't sure we saw correctly - the gigantic dome of St. Paul's Cathedral.
St. Paul's was surrounded by fire, but it came through. It stood there in its enormous proportions - growing slowly clearer and clearer, the way objects take shape at dawn. It was like a picture of some miraculous figure that appears before peace-hungry soldiers on a battlefield.
The streets below us were semi-illuminated from the glow. Immediately above the fires the sky was red and angry, and overhead, making a ceiling in the vast heavens, there was a cloud of smoke all in pink. Up in that pink shrouding there were tiny, brilliant specks of flashing light-antiaircraft shells bursting. After the flash you could hear the sound.
Up there, too, the barrage balloons were standing out as clearly as if it were daytime, but now they were pink instead of silver. And now and then through a hole in that pink shroud there twinkled incongruously a permanent, genuine star - the old - fashioned kind that has always been there.
Below us the Thames grew lighter, and all around below were the shadows - the dark shadows of buildings and bridges that formed the base of this dreadful masterpiece.
Later on I borrowed a tin hat and went out among the fires. That was exciting too; but the thing I shall always remember above all the other things in my life is the monstrous loveliness of that one single view of London on a holiday night - London stabbed with great fires, shaken by explosions, its dark regions along the Thames sparkling with the pin points of white-hot bombs, all of it roofed over with a ceiling of pink that held bursting shells, balloons, flares and the grind of vicious engines. And in yourself the excitement and anticipation and wonder in your soul that this could be happening at all.
These things all went together to make the most hateful, most beautiful single scene I have ever known."
"The London Blitz, 1940," EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com
Posted 18 May 2004 - 05:00 PM
Posted 18 May 2004 - 05:04 PM
I cant imagine this stuff happening in my own country, seems impossible these events occured 60-64 years ago right on my doorstep :D. It shows you what a nation can indure during times of horror and devastation.
Posted 19 May 2004 - 11:39 AM
Mine was the newsreel footage of London under German bombs. My exact reaction to the World Trade Center just before it came down was the same thing a London firefighter said when St. Paul's was menaced by fire on December 29, 1940, "Please God, don't let it go!"
It didn't for St. Paul's.
It did for the World Trade Center.
But thinking about the Blitz helped me cope with 9/11. It was so similar, it was frightening, down to flags waving in the rubble.