Monday, 20 April 2020

EARLY DAYS



There are many allusions to World War II in the newspapers, on radio and on TV these days as we go the dreadful Covid 19 crisis. Even Her Majesty the Queen referenced Vera Lynn's wartime hit We'll Meet Again in her warm and inspirational broadcast to the nation. And it started me thinking - what do I remember of the war?

Not a lot, you might think, since I was not born until November, 1941. But I do have plenty of memories of the early years of my life. Snapshots, yes, but incredibly clear. I was only just two years old when my sister was born, yet I remember my Gran asking me if I would like to go upstairs and see my new little sister. It was a cold - possibly wet - January morning, and I had climbed into the living room window cill via an armchair, and was drawing with my finger on the steamed-up window. I'm afraid my recollection doesn't extend to what I thought of her, yet that memory of being told I was no longer an only child is framed for ever just as if it were a photograph.

Other clear memories involve being in my push chair. I can still recall the pleasure of being taken out for walks in the countryside, often by my dear Auntie Marjorie with whom we shared a home. She liked to go 'round the walls' - the perimeter of Ammerdown estate - and we would listen to the telephone lines humming above us as we went. On another occasion she had taken me down to the lane that runs along the valley below what was our house and stopped on a bridge over the river so that I could look down at the ducks. I was wearing a pair of brand new sandals and feeling very proud of them. Unfortunately disaster struck. Auntie had parked my push chair close to the wooden rail, the better for me to look through, and somehow I managed to catch one of my sandals beneath the bottom strut. When I freedved my foot my sandal was wrenched off, and fell down into the stream. Oh, the memory of how horrified I was! And of seeing Auntie scrambling down the steep bank to try and retrieve it. It wasn't to be. She couldn't reach it, and we had to go home and confess the awful thing that had happened. But would you believe, when clearing Mum's house after she died what did we find in the sideboard but the tiny surviving sandal, still brand new, having been worn only once. Mum had kept it all those years!

Even worse - another push chair incident, this time with Mum in charge. We were in the Co-op Drapery Shop, and Mum stopped to talk to a neighbour whose little girl was just a day younger than me. And for some unknown reason I leaned across and bit her on the arm! I think they put it down to me being jealous at the attention my new baby sister was getting, but I have no idea. I just remember the sudden urge to bite Valerie (as I later came to know her) and feeling dreadfully ashamed afterwards as Mum apologised profusely to Valerie's mum!

I can also remember the incident in the woods when the black bird - a crow or rook - was shot and landed fluttering right in front of me, though that is thanks to the hypnosis I had to cure me of the bird phobia that plagued me for forty-odd years, the story of which I related in an earlier blog. That had been tucked away in the depths of my memory until the hypnotist unlocked it. Now I can remember the whole thing, even being upset whilst having my lunch when I got home, and Mum saying 'Just forget about it, my love.' Well, I did, at least my conscious mind did, but I still remembered the terror every time I had contact with a bird, especially a black bird. The nightmares, the day walking across the fields Dad had to give me a ride on his shoulders in order to pass a dead black bird under a tree, the fear of any sort of fluttering. Only when I was able to remember the fright that caused it all, making me cry: 'It's dead! It's dead! I don't want it to be dead!' in a little child's voice, and face it with adult understanding was I able to begin to overcome my phobia.

I clearly remember a dream, too, much more clearly than I can recall what I dreamed last night, although I was very young, certainly no more than four. It was a terrible fire in a circus marquee. Yet somehow also our house was being threatened. My grandparents had their bedroom downstairs in what should have been the front room because Gran had 'a bad heart', and she had lots of ornaments on the mantelpiece. I was running in and out of the house getting those ornaments two at a time and running out to put them on the front lawn where they would be safe. I'd love to know where that dream that I've never forgotten came from - if I close my eyes I can still feel the aura of it. And I became fascinated by fire, to the extent that later, whenever the 'fire hooter' went to summon the volunteer fire brigade (the 'hooter' as in fact the old all-clear air raid siren) I would run down the hill to the fire station to watch the engine come out with its bell clanging. I even kept a notebook recording each call out, and the fire chief, a friend of Mum's, said I could be their mascot and ride on the engine one day. I don't think that ever happened, or I would surely remember it!

I also remember being small enough to fit in my mother's 'boat shaped' basket and pretending it was a real boat, and being dreadfully upset when I grew to big to get into it!

And so to the war. I remember hearing the siren - the alarm then - and the planes going over. I remember being told you could tell the difference between British and German planes because of the engine sound. I remember sitting on a blanket on the lawn and watching the English ones streak overhead and disappear into the distance,

Most exciting of all was when a German plane came down in a nearby field. My mother took me across to see it, and lifted me up onto the step so I could see inside! I couldn't have been more than three years old if that, but it's another clear memory.

And Auntie Flo, Gran's sister, who was bombed out of her home in Oldfield Park in Bath and moved into our already crowded household, being given my bedroom! But she played with me for hours, especially with my china dolly's tea set. I can even remember the scent of her talcum powder ...

And how my sister and I loved playing with our gas masks when the war was over! I can still smell the rubbery smell when we opened the cardboard boxes they were kept in ...

Oh, I could go on and on! But the rest, I think, will have to wait for another day!

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