ONE CHILD’S WAR
the blitz on London in 1941, a sailor on leave couldnt wait to get back to his
ship. At least there, he said, you can fire back at an enemy, but poor bloody
civilians just have to sit and take it. Throughout the Second World War, some
65,000 English civilians died from German bombing of one type or another. Twice
that number were injured and thousands suffered psychological trauma as a
result of the conflict that lasted six years. This book is a fictionalized
account of the experiences of one young civilian during that period.
author was born in London, England and after two years of undistinguished
service in the RAF, he developed what is sometimes called an inconsistent work
record. In England, Canada, the USA, New Zealand and Australia – where he
currently lives – he has been a proofreader, an actor, a radio announcer, a
television journalist, an award winning script writer and a documentary
filmmaker and producer. He is married to a Canadian-born artist and they have
In Store Price: $29.00
Online Price: $28.00
Number of pages:
BUY FROM AMAZON UK
By the same author:
Hayes over New Zealand
Hugh Hanafi Hayes
Publisher: Poseidon Books
Date Published: 2008
Want a fag? I held out a brand new packet
of De Rezkes to the girl sitting next to me.
Where’d you get those?
Bought them, what d’ya think, down at
Thommo’s. Said they were for my mum as a special celebration present. He didn’t
say a word. Dya want one or not.
What if we get caught?
Wont. Guard’s at the back, en e. No one
gets on the front carriage much. Not for a while, anyway. Not for a few
stations. I come down here sometimes during school lunch break with old Wilkie
and Bronkie Hallett, if we don’t go into one of the shelters by Priory Road, you
know. He steals tons from his mother. We get through about nine or ten just
going up to Clapham Common, then down to Morden and back. No one ever gets on.
No, I might have one when we get out.
I lit up, sucked in a mass of burning
smoke and then blew it out with exaggerated panache. I was thirteen and, dressed
in my best grey flannel long trousers and a cream shirt, I was off to London to
celebrate V.E. day, the official end to the war in Europe. With me was the girl
from next door, Eileen, the only one I could get to go. She was a year or so
older and considered by my mum responsible enough to keep an eye on me. Little
did she know. In fact, had fate not intervened one nervous evening, my
companion on this tube ride from grimly suburban Colliers Wood to the exotic
heart of the capital might well have initiated me into the world of the carnal
at a very early age indeed.
Look out, they can see you! She was
pointing to the line of waiting passengers on the platform at Tooting station as
we roared along its rim.
Won’t be anyone at the front, betcha, I
boasted, at the same time as I cupped my burning cigarette down out of sight. I
was right and when the doors along the carriage all slammed shut, I took an
extra big draw on the cigarette and blew a cloud into Eileen’s face. She was
flustered and furious all at once. Some of the smoke had gone into her eyes and
she had to take her glasses off to wipe away the tears.
You sod, you bloody little sod, she
screamed and then swung a hand at my head which I just managed to dodge.
Youre supposed to be looking after me,
I reminded her as we swept into another station. Oh, all right, I’ll put it
It was just as well that both the
cigarette was out and the fight over, because this time, there were people all
the way along the platform. In fact they must have wondered what I was doing
waving my arms about like mad trying to clear the air of smoke. But when the
doors opened and the mostly young men and girls surged in, no one even gave us a
At the next stop, a soldier and his
girlfriend got on and sat opposite us. Both looked flushed and were sitting as
close as the armrests would allow. They were completely oblivious to everyone
around them and I saw the top of her stockings as they kissed and cuddled their
way up the Northern line. I put my hand over the armrest and held Eileens.
What’s that for?
Just being friendly, sos we can have a
good time together, that’s all. Enjoy ourselves. Be Happy.
Actually she didn’t look too bad when she
took her glasses off. She had long dark hair and brown eyes and today she was
wearing a bright yellow dress that set those features off.
Remember when we nearly got caught in
your living room?
I leaned over close to her ear, just in
case anyone could possibly hear me above the deafening clatter of the train
surging through the bowels of outer London. When we took our clothes off and,
She pulled away. That was years ago, we
were just kids. And she found something really interesting to look at in the
opposite direction from me.
It was two years earlier in fact. My
parents and her parents, along with their lodger, had gone out for an evening to
one or perhaps all of the four or five pubs in Colliers Wood. My brother Davie
had insisted that he wanted to be alone in the house to get on with his
homework, so it was suggested that I should go next door to play with Eileen.
What the parents didn’t know was the kind of games that Eileen liked to play.
Anyway, after we’d had some lemonade and cake and cleared up the crumbs, the coy
little girl in glasses and pigtails suggested we might like to do some
exploring. First it was faces: eyes, ears, nose and teeth, then we started
further down the body. And to overcome my extreme shyness, Eileen suggested that
we both went behind separate armchairs and on a signal, she would call out
“ready, now”, we came out minus one item of clothing each time. Initially this
stage of the game was far more interesting for me than her. She was twelve or so
and her chest was beginning to blossom. No doubt about it, when she came out
without her vest on, there were clearly two distinct swellings there. Next it
was trousers and knickers off and I was stalling like mad, pretending that I
couldn’t get my belt undone. Then, just as we were both about to step out from
our cover and reveal all, there was a knock on the front door. I’d never dressed
so quickly in my life before or since.
Eileen came out from behind her armchair
dragging her dress down her body and called out: Who is it?
Dave, came the reply, Is Stevie there?
I smoothed my hair down and went slowly
down the hallway. Yeah, what? What ja want? Hang on. I opened the door.
What took you so long?
Oh, we had the wireless on. I lied,
looking at the mat. “We didnt hear at first. What?
Where’s my bloody protractor? Have you
had it? I must have it … now!
I don’t know where it is … but I’ll
come and help you look for it. Ta ta Eileen. I’d been saved by the bell… or
Now every station that we pulled into was
full of people waiting… lots of girls and quite a few soldiers, sailors and
airmen slightly tipsy and lifting each other up as the doors opened to let them
in. The celebrations had well and truly started long before we all disgorged at
Charing Cross station and surged up out of the ground and into the warm evening
Which way to Buckingham Palace? There
was no need to ask. Everyone seemed to be going in the same direction. All
laughing and calling out to each other. People who’d never met before and would
never see each other again. Many carried Union Jacks on sticks or coloured
balloons on strings. Some brandished big bottles of beer. Trafalgar Square was
crowded and its great sedate stone lions seemed to be smiling at the revelry
going on all around them. Along the road, cars were hooting their horns and
those that could move carried as many passengers on their running boards and
roofs as inside. But no one seemed to care. There was just a huge release of
good feelings every where.
I held on to Eileen’s hand and as we
pushed through the masses down the Mall, a sailor put his hat on my head and
with a very strong Scottish brogue asked: Woud ye like a wee drink laddie?
before he fell backwards into the arms of a group of sailors and girls dancing
along in a row. One of his mates grabbed his hat back and gave me a chocolate
bar in exchange.
Progress was getting harder and harder as
we approached Buckingham Palace, but every so often the stream of flag-waving
walkers was broken by groups just dancing in great circles, then stopping and
hugging and kissing each other. I tried to give Eileen a hug, but she was too
embarrassed and just dragged me on to our destination. Finally we made it and
along with everyone in London except our parents and my brother Davie, we gazed
up towards the balcony, hoping to see the King.
By now the noise was almost deafening and
I kept having to move as giant after giant chose to stand in front of me. Then
the roar went up and out they came, the King, the Queen, the two princesses and
there was old Winnie, Winston Churchill, the man with the cigar giving his two
finger salute to victory as all the others showed us the palms of their hands.
It all felt unreal. There we were, in the
middle of London cheering away at some figures on a balcony with flags and
balloons everywhere. Soldiers and sailors were throwing their hats in the air
and their discipline and caution to the winds, singing and dancing. For the
first time in more than five years a constant fear had evaporated from all of
our lives. No more bombings, no more Doodlebugs, no more V2s, no more sleeping
in shelters. No more new deaths to mourn.
I was sitting on the loo in the bathroom
upstairs when the war broke out. I mean when it actually started in Colliers
Wood, the south London suburb where I lived. Looking back, I think it was as
good a place as anywhere for a seven-year-old to be at that time. On that day.
Actually, I’d long since finished what I’d initially been motivated to go to the
little green room for. The hard, wooden seat had become warm under my legs and I
was enjoying a little privacy whilst I read another adventure of Pansy Potter.
Pansy Potter, the strong man’s dotter to give her her full title. She was one
of my favourites in the Beano comic, with a personality in complete
contradiction to later connotations given to her first name. In fact she was
almost as strong and courageous as Desperate Dan, the lantern-jawed hero who
featured in another terrific weekly comic adventure. Pansy was also years ahead
of her time in the fashion scene; her hair, for instance, was a crescent of
spikes above her head, like half a cartwheel without the rim or a petrified
starfish. And that was decades before anyone used hair gel.
The sound of the siren seemed so close. I
thought at first it was coming out of the airing cupboard in the corner. So
loud. Slow, at the start, it built from a low growl, higher and higher, to a
whining warning. It was both fascinating and frightening. It meant the enemy was
near. The German swinehund. My dad used to tell us all about them every time
we sat down to eat. How they’d swallowed up big countries faster than we’d eaten
our rice pudding. Now they were coming to England. To our little London suburb.
Might even be goose-stepping up our street right now.
I leapt off the seat, stretched up on my
tiptoes and yanked at the cracked wooden handle at the end of the long chain.
The gushing water from the cistern and the wailing outside almost obliterated
the sound of my name being called from downstairs.
Stevie, my dad’s voice sounded frantic:
Come on, get down here now, come on, quickly.
At the foot of the stairs, the faces were
anxious. And not just for my safety.
Shut that door! What’s the matter with
you? My older brother had been peering outside the front door, hoping to get a
glimpse of the war. But my father didn’t want it in the house. He dragged Davie
away roughly and slammed the door shut. He had enough problems trying to figure
out some safety preparations for us all. We’d been caught on the hop. There had
been talk on the wireless of the possible need for shelters if it ever came to
it. And my dad told us he might have to dig all his vegetable garden up to make
room for one some day. Not yet, though. After all, we’d only just declared war.
I’d seen it on the newsreel when we went to the Granada cinema. Also saw tanks
and planes and buildings being bombed somewhere, when I was buying an ice cream,
but no one believed anything would really happen to us. Mr Tarrant, our next
door neighbour, was certain. He told my dad they wouldn’t dare tackle England:
Christ no, we’ve already given em one bloody hiding this century, they
wouldn’t bloody dare!
Wouldn’t bloody dare, echoed his wife
through thin lips.
I believed every word he said, because my
mother once told me he was a know all.
He was wrong this time, though. And
despite the double brick adjoining walls, I could hear the big man’s fury as he
called through the window at the last strains of the siren’s lament: You dare,
you bloody German bastards, you just dare. Then came an ominous, expectant
Decisions had to be made and made quickly.
My mother, all four feet eleven of her, was struggling to help my father pull
the base of the big, heavy, hallstand out from the wall. It wasn’t easy for
either of them, but especially not for my dad who was bending over precariously,
his one good leg holding his weight whilst the short stump of his lost leg was
wedged into the hand grip of his wooden crutch for balance.
The great cumbersome piece of furniture
wasn’t designed to be moved around and attempts to manoeuvre it weren’t helped
by all the overcoats and hats that cloaked its top and masked its mirror. It was
bottom heavy, with most of its weight in the cupboard part where I stored my
books and lead soldiers along with my brother’s meccano sets.
Take some of those coats off for a start
my father was directing operations as he hung on to both the hallstand and his
crutch. No, not you. Get out of the way… Jesus…
I was standing on the second from bottom
step of the stairs, leaning out at about forty degrees, when my attempt to drag
a big woollen overcoat from a hook, reluctant to give it up, almost pulled the
massive oak piece tottering sideways. Had I not let go, I could have been
crushed there and then and missed the war completely.
My mother leapt up, grabbed the coats from
their hooks and threw them over my brother who was now straining to see out
through the opaque glass in the front door.
Just hang on to them for a minute Dave.
He had no choice. He became the hallstand.
Finally, the great stubborn beast was
succumbing as both parents dragged away at it. They stopped when it was about
two feet clear of the wall.
That’ll do, now, lean it. Lean it at the
What d’ya mean, lean it? Won’t it damage
My mother had done all the wallpapering
herself and there was real hurt in her inquiry.
God, I hope so, I remember thinking. I
hated the yellow and brown leaves that fluttered all over the hall and up the
stairs. Autumn decor’, my mother called it.
Please let it be summer soon, I used to
Steve, give your mother a hand. You too
Dave. Here, give them here.
My brother was totally enshrouded with
coats and he’d made no attempt to clear them from his view. He started to move
forward as my father uncovered him and put the coats back onto their hooks. Now
as the three of us stood in front of the base, from the side, my father slowly
pushed the top back against the wall. If the hallstand had slid, my mother, my
brother and I would all have been pinned against the wall behind us. But
somehow, it didn’t and my father was now ordering us to crouch down and crawl in
behind this dubious, improvised shelter.
My mother led the way, clutching her
handbag as she got down on all fours.
Come on, she called to us and both Dave
and I struggled and fought for what little space remained, practically crushing
her little curled up figure in the process. But we were protected at least. Not
so my dad. There was no room for him. If a bomb had fallen then, I reasoned he
wouldn’t be there when we crawled out. Whereas we were safe. Safe behind a
two-inch thick piece of wood leaning against a wall. I really thought so.
Luckily, our faith wasn’t tested. Nor my
father’s unselfish bravery. Just about a minute after we’d finished creating and
occupying our makeshift shield, the siren started up again. This time, a single
unwavering squeal. The all clear. We had survived. We were still free.
Immediately he got out, Dave tried the
Shut the door, how many times do I have
to tell you?
But the all clear’s gone. My brother was
ten and knew the significance of more things than I did. Or even my father, it
I said shut it. You never know. Dad was
a real worrier.
Are we going to put the hall stand back
again? My mother was not only concerned at the threat to her leaves, but also
about how much room it was taking up in the leaning position.
Better leave it for now, I think, don’t
you. Might need it again. My father was making his way upstairs.
I only hope it stays
there, doesn’t slide or anything, warned my mother, you boys keep away from
it, d’ya hear? Put the wireless on Dave, I’ll make a cup of tea.