A sea of faces looked up at me as I clung tightly to the cliff face. My screams filled the air. I was stuck! Petrified, I was unable to go up, or down. The sharp precipice below me led only to rocks and certain death, if I let go. My precarious grip on the ledge above me, I knew would soon weaken.
How could this have happened? It was 1940, World War II was raging, and I was seven years old. I had pestered my two big sisters to take me with them when they went climbing the cliffs, while the family picnicked on the beach. They had said no, of course, but I had followed them and watched them, carefully placing my feet where they had. Following the same path, I made it to the top! I was elated. Rose and Joan were furious with me and had stormed off, refusing to be bothered with their pest of a little sister. Undeterred, I had played for a while before making my way back down the cliff face.
I took the wrong path! What I had not realised was the guns from the nearby army base and the shelling by enemy aircraft suffered almost daily in the air raids had weakened the cliff face.
Now here I was, high above the beach, looking down at a group of horrified onlookers, including my own mother and screaming as loud as I could.
Everything seemed surreal, like I was watching a movie screen, as two men raced toward the cliffs and began to climb up toward me. The ocean waves seemed to be growing higher, as if its watery fingers were trying to reach me. The grassy slopes, where people were sunbathing seemed greener, and a crowd was gathering, their faces adding to the surging throng below me.
I could see the white knuckles of my hands, as I held on so tightly, but I knew I was weakening. Suddenly, there was Uncle Richard’s face, just a few feet above me.
“Hang on girl!”, he shouted as he stretched out his hand for me to hold on to.
He was too far away!
The shouting and screaming crowd below me had suddenly become silent and everything, even the sea, seemed still. A moment etched in time.
Uncle Richard edged closer, as the man with him held onto one hand to anchor him. He stretched out his other hand toward me. His face covered in sweat and tears in his eyes.
“Grab my hand Violet”, he said, the urgency in his voice getting through my stupor of fear. “Let go Violet!”, now shouting at me. I responded, as I let go with one hand and stretched out to reach his hand. Our fingers touched and he leant forward precariously that further inch or so to grasp my hand firmly. It was now or never for both of us, as he pulled me up and held me tightly to him.
“Good girl. Good girl”, he said over and over as the other man took our weight and heaved with all his might.
We were at the top and safe!
A big cheer went up from the crowd, now even bigger than before and only then did I see the fire engine pulling in at the base of the cliffs. Uncle Richard just hugged me as he we sat together with the other man, whom I was introduced to as Uncle’s work mate Bob.
I sobbed with relief in my uncle’s arms and only when I had calmed down did we begin the slow climb back to bottom of the cliffs. Where my very anxious mother took me in her arms even as she scolded me for being so silly. That night I wrote in my diary all about the day I would never forget, a day now etched in my memoirs.
What I didn’t realise until the next day was that the photographer and reporters of the local newspaper had been on the scene. The headlines read: “Dramatic cliff top rescue”. Uncle Richard was a hero! There was a picture of my mother hugging me, followed by a story all about little Violet’s escapade. The dizzy heights of Mount Everest it wasn’t, but to a little seven-year-old girl that day, it certainly felt like it.
Do you have a childhood memory like this one? Were you ever in your local newspaper? Tell us your stories below!