Continued from yesterday in honor of my dad's birthday....
My father's memory of WW II...
I was twelve when the war started in 1939. I remember walking back home with our parents one night after seeing a play in the village hall. It was dark when suddenly there was a shout, ‘Halt, who goes there, friend or foe!’ We were so surprised no-one answered, then there was a rattle of a rifle bolt and father shouted, ‘Friend!’ The voice then said, ‘Advance and be recognized!’ I don’t know what would have happened if he had shouted, ‘Foe!’ they would have shot at us I expect, but did the soldier expect a German to shout out, ‘Foe’? The army had arrived that night whilst we were at the play and put a soldier on guard duty. The next day they installed a searchlight and would search the sky at night for German planes. We would stand outside at night and watch the search light pinpoint an aircraft that would shine up all silver twisting and turning to escape the searchlight beam, but we never saw one shot down.
Posters were stuck on farm gateposts showing a rat with big teeth eating corn and vegetables. We were told to help the war effort and kill all rats to stop them eating the crops in the fields. We could get a penny a rat-tail from the gamekeeper, so it was rat catching from then on. Walking in a field where the farmer had heaped old tree trunks, I spotted dead rats all round them. Someone must have put down rat poison and I expect that they would be coming back for the tails. I cut off all the tails, 27 in all and ran as fast as I could to the gamekeeper’s house! He said, ‘Good lad, well done!’ and gave me the money.
There was a river nearby the farm and Sydney and I would go fishing with homemade rods and string for a line, father gave us some hooks. One day I swung my rod round to cast out and Sydney’s head was in the way so the hook stuck between his nose and eye. Sydney would not keep still allowing me to get the hook out; he was crying and making a fuss.
I had to untie the line and carry it so it wasn’t pulling on the hook and we went home for mother to get the hook out and that ended the fishing for a while.
We both had a bicycle by then and would ride to school. We had to cross the east coast main railway - the Edinburgh to London line, on the way to school. It was an unmanned crossing with large gates for vehicles and small gates for pedestrians. If we saw the smoke of an approaching train we would sit on the gate and the drivers would always sound their whistles and wave as they passed. One day after waiting for the train we thought we were late and peddling fast one of us must have caught the other’s pedal. We both crashed onto the road, bleeding from the elbows, hands and knees. On arrival at school we were just told to go and wash off the blood. There was no counselling in those days. The teacher said, ‘Hurry up, come in and sit down, use the paper and not the towel!’ When it was time to go home our legs were stiff and we had bruises on our arms and legs. From that day we rode in single file to school. Our father said, ‘Don’t wait for the train and don’t race along on your bikes!’ nothing about, ‘Does it hurt?’ He said, ‘Are the bikes alright?’ I said, ‘Yes’, and he answered, ‘Thank goodness for that!’ I found out later he must have had a lot on his mind.
In the picture - my father (far right in short trousers!) with his mother, Grace, little brother Sydney and Grandparents.