Experiences in the war 15



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My Dad was called up in early 1941, and although I was seven then, I can’t say I remember much about the occasion. Mum, who was always a very quiet, within-herself kind of person, who only on rare occasions allowed emotion to show, didn’t make a big fuss about it at all, probably so as not to worry me. Consequently, as far as I was concerned, Dad just quietly disappeared one day, possibly while I was at school, with Mum telling me something like, “Oh Daddy’s gone to join the army”, in response to any questions I might have asked when I came home.

I hate to say it, but although Dad was away for about three years before he was invalided out, the period while he was away went on in much the same way as it had when he was there. Looking back from the lofty tower of very ancient adulthood, I would guess that my mother, although quiet, was actually the leader of the household, something I may instinctively have connected to, even though I was very young at the time. I was at school most days of course so I have no idea what she did when I wasn’t there – she may even have spent each lonely day sobbing her heart out for all I knew, but if she did, she never showed it to me. My dinner was always ready for me every evening and afterwards we sat down together to listen to “Dick Barton, Special Agent” at seven every evening on the radio (no television in those days!), followed by ITMA (It’s That Man Again), starring Tommy Handley, a comedy show that seemed to comprise of nothing but a series of doors opening and closing, with various people shouting a catch phrase familiar to everyone, like “Can I do you now Sir?”, “This is Fumf speaking” and “Don’t forget the diver, Sir”, at which the studio audience roared with laughter, as if they had never heard them before. I don’t think ITMA would last long in the slick clever world of entertainment we live in today!

Mum usually went grocery shopping on Saturday mornings and she always took me along with her, a journey, on foot, of about six and a half kilometres in each direction, so I was a fairly fit lad in my youth! No supermarkets in those days either; Mum used to go to her regular grocer, ration books in one hand, handbag in the other, where she’d sit down at the counter and read from her list, the things she wanted. The grocer would then run about all over his store fetching everything for her, most of it having to be cut, weighed or otherwise prepared by him, because there was virtually no pre-packaging in those days – butter for instance, was a large block standing on a marble slab at one end of the counter – imagine that today! Then it was the long walk home, to wait until the grocer’s delivery boy arrived on his bike with our goods, about an hour later. A totally different world from now, even if there hadn’t been a war.

Meanwhile, Dad had been conscripted as a cook, something I didn’t actually discover until many years later, after he died, when I found a photo of him with his cookhouse colleagues. He had never cooked in his life, so I guess that was why he was considered perfect for the job they put him in; they could mould him to the service methods without having to eradicate any pre-conceived ideas of how it should be done. At least it meant he didn’t have to do any front line duty, which must have relieved Mum, but he did have a very nasty fall one dark night, which banged his head badly and from which he never fully recovered, suffering severe migraines right up to the time he died in 1964.

It was after he passed away that Mum blossomed somewhat, suddenly wearing slacks, which Dad had never approved of, coming on holiday with us and spending much of the small cash savings she had accumulated – a lot of it on us! We had another four happy years looking after her, before she too died, in 1977, but I still have fond memories of her and her ways, though my father has faded much more from my memory. I guess there’s something to be read in that!

Share your thoughts below.

Brian Lee

  1. Our mums were strong and our dads thought their contribution to family life was really just being the bread winner. I think two generations of war made a lot of dads less than approachable or hands on. A lot of demons for these brave men to carry.

  2. This reminds me of my cousins whose father was in the army. They stayed with my parents at different times except the baby . I was born after the war but I remember my Grandma shopping like that, particularly sitting down yo read out her list to Mr Bull the grocer and Uncle Fred the butcher.

  3. Thank you Brian. The change in family dynamics brought about by war are something that is not often thought about.The lives of mothers who suffered the double whammy of a husband away at war and their children evacuated from the family home to safer regions is another.

  4. I was born in 1941 in an island which was occupied by the Germans for 5 years, my father who was a policeman at the time would not talk about his experiences but when I visited the German Underground Hospital I understood more clearly why he was the man he was, no counselling for people in those days and the traumas he and mum suffered proves how much more resilient people were then.

    3 REPLY
    • Probaby Channel Isles , i was born in Guernsey in 1944 to a starving mum, had lost all her teeth as many did ,, brought up on the occupation stories

    • I was born in Jersey and had whooping cough (no vaccinations) at the age of 3 months which left me with permanent damage to my lungs which resulted in major surgery so those mums who refuse to have their babies vaccinated make me very cross, they do not realise how lucky they are to have the chance of protection. From what my mother told me I consider myself lucky to be here.

  5. Life was so hard for them but they hardly complained. My Uncle Joe fought as a young man and returned shell shocked and never spoke another word. He would sit for hours staring into space, then suddenly jump up and pretend to shoot people, until we calmed him down. It was heartbreaking for our family. Others never returned. War is so futile.

  6. Yes war changes many lives, Mum a Sydney lass was engaged to a friend she had grown up with, he was a pilot in the RAF but died during the war then she met Dad who was from country SA they married. In normal time they would never met. In times of war things are different people learn to adapt.

  7. Great post. I was born after the war, but my Dad was engaged to my mum when he went to war He escaped from Singapore, just a couple of days before it’s capitulation to the Japanese. He once told us that Singapore was in flames when he left in a small Chinese junk that he and a few other wounded soldiers from the 113th AGH managed to escape in. For years he used to have these terrible dreams, screaming out etc. and it was always about fire. It is a very clear childhood memory. I don’t know how any of them survived. We won’t see the like of that generation again.

  8. This post moved me deeply. My dad was a POW in Changi. He met my mum just after the war and married soon after. He never talked about what happened to him in Changi except the occasional funny story. Looking back, as an adult, he must have been suffering from what is now called PTSD. He was very quiet, passive and would never argue with my mum, which would really annoy her greatly. My mum would browbeat him constantly to try to get a reaction but he would never fight back. It’s very sad, now that I know a little bit of what he suffered, to see how their lives life panned out. My mum was unhappy and he was such a good, kind, man but maybe didn’t have the chance to live the life that he could have been capable of due to his horrendous experiences as a guest of the Japanese in Changi. I wonder what our family life would have been like if dear old dad did not enlist in the AIF to fight in WW2.

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