There was little warning on the night the incendiary bombs fell. We were woken by the air raid siren, but barely out of our beds when fire lit the sky. One bomb landed just below our window. There was a mad scramble to smother the blaze in soil and water. It was then we heard the horses and saw the stables were ablaze. The horses were trapped inside. The sound of their panic-stricken screams is something I can never forget!
The war had been on for two years by then and the nightly air raids had become routine to everyone living in Kent on the south-east coast of England. Kent was positioned between the enemy and the capital city of London, their main target. Consequently, there was a heavy presence of the armed forces in our area. Their main aim was to prevent the enemy planes reaching London and the many airfields also. This of course, made us a target. A thorn in the enemy’s side and was the reason for the day and night raids. They became a way of life for us.
The stables belonged to the local bakery, the main entrance right opposite our house. We visited the horses daily they became our friends. My sisters and I used to help feed them and sometimes we were even allowed to brush their beautiful coats. We talked to them and they would greet us when we entered the stables. I would always take a treat in my pocket for my favourite, Snowy. He soon learned and would nudge my pocket as if to say, “What have you got for me today”. Most of all he loved me singing to him. I am sure ‘You Are My Sunshine’ was his favourite song and many times we had everyone singing it as they worked. I spent many happy hours with the horse, or watching them coming and going, pulling the baker’s carts.
That night I could only stand and watch as they tried to rescue some of the horses. They held me back as I tried to get to Snowy. The fire brigade trained their hoses on the worst section of the blaze as others led the horses out slowly with large sacks covering their heads. Horses don’t like fire and they panic easily. One by one they led them out, but where was Snowy? I paced up and down to stop the gnawing fear inside me. It was then I noticed all the cake decorations floating down into the gutter. Rolling and tumbling along in the water. I remember thinking how odd it was to see the Christmas decorations in the middle of summer. I was still watching them being swept along by the water when my sister jean shouted to me.
“They have got Snowy, Violet.”
Sure enough Snowy was being led out of the yard his head covered completely in a sack. It was not enough to calm him though and the man was tugging at him to try to get him away from the flames. That was when I began to sing, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine”. Snowy stopped fighting the man holding him and stood still listening. He recognised my voice and the song. Everyone in the crowd noticed too and started to sing with me. Snowy walked to safety and a few more followed. Two horses died that day and one more had to be put down later because the burns were too bad. To the child I was, it just did not seem fair, after all horses do not know a war is on do they? I never saw Snowy, or any of the other horses again, but to this day I remember that horse whenever I see the Christmas cake decorations.