I was born in 1935 and so I was still only ten years old when the war ended. This meant that I, like most other kids my age, looked on it as an event designed to provide us with fun and excitement, especially as we were never directly involved by being bombed or shot at! It’s only now, as I sit writing this, that it occurs to me there must have been millions of children for whom the war provided only terror and anguish. It makes me feel guilty now, but of course a young boy is hardly able to imagine what is going on outside his own circle. When I think of the bombs, V1’s and V2’s that were chucked at places like London, especially during the later years of the conflict, I can well imagine what it must have been like. But as I say, I was much younger then, without the imagination or experience to consider such things!
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So, for us in the suburbs of Bristol, life didn’t provide too many hardships, apart from the rationing of sweets and chocolate, the impossibility of obtaining luxuries like bananas and oranges, and the fact that we had to learn to enjoy dietary delights such as dried eggs, margarine, (very different from today’s tasty product), and whale meat! In fact, rationing was so well worked out that the population of the UK was most likely fitter than it had been for years! Obesity disappeared, transport was less available so people walked to where they wanted to go, nobody worried so much about ‘being in fashion’ though the young things of the day still did all they could to look their best, with rationing and ‘Utility’ clothing. But this is a subject I have little experience of, so I’ll leave it for someone else to cover that!
We developed many games, that were played in the street, like cricket against a lamp post, ‘kick The Can’, Hide and Seek, Knock Up Ginger’ and many others. For the uninitiated ‘Knock Up Ginger’ was a rather naughty game, still played today on occasion, all over the world. It simply involved creeping up to someone’s front door, ringing the bell or banging the knocker and running away. We all thought that was real fun, stupid as it seems when you’ve grown up!
I remember my pals and I developed a hobby that entailed going round all the back lanes and nearby streets after an air raid, looking for pieces of schrapnel. These were the jagged lumps of metal that were the result of shells bursting around enemy planes, designed to randomly hit the target, causing massive injuries to the occupants and terminal damage to the aircraft itself. Ninety nine percent of these jagged metal pieces would miss the plane and fall back to earth, where they could sometimes do as much damage as the enemy bombs themselves. But all we were concerned with was to find pieces larger than our friends, so that we had a better collection. A real prize was to find an actual shell nose cone, a solid hunk of metal, sometimes with a screw on the front and various bits connected to the fuse that made the thing explode. There was only one of those to each shell, whereas there could be a hundred pieces of schrapnel, so the value was much greater!
As I said above, because of where we lived, we had a rather distorted idea of what the war was all about and we missed the worst of it, thank goodness. I don’t feel I need to defend myself though; we were in, to coin a phrase, something we were totally unaware of – we just didn’t know any different!
photo credit: Darwin Bell via photopin cc