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War Story - A Child`s View

by Mikesparks 

Posted: 27 June 2004
Word Count: 1803


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WAR STORY

A child's view

Everybody remembers where they were when Kennedy was assassinated, when Armstrong first set foot on the moon, and when tragedy struck New York.
The whole world knew where they were when war was declared in 1939.

For my part, I was a ten-year-old, sat around the wireless with my father, mother, and my 18 year-old brother, Albert. We were listening intently to Clement Attlee's speech about Germany invading Poland, and how Britain was now at war with Germany.
"Had to happen, I suppose," said dad as he switched the radio off. "There’s been trouble brewing ever since that Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party got in."
"He's done good with poverty and that, though, dad." Albert added. Dad was shocked and surprised by what Albert said.
"Since when have you been interested in politics, boy?” He asked.
"I listen to what goes on around me, dad. It's a developing world out there." Albert replied proud of what he knew.
"Youth, eh?"
"He's growing up, dad." Mum said proudly.
"Too quickly for me, I can't keep up with them these days." Dad got up, ruffled my hair, picked up his pipe and paper, and sat in his chair by the fire.
"What's going to happen, Albert?" I asked, wanting to join in the adult conversation.
"Nothing for you to worry about, squirt." Albert said rapping me on the head with his knuckles.

"Hey, that hurt." I said as Albert ran off laughing.
"Catch me if you can, squirt," he taunted. But the pain in my head hurt too much to give chase.

The next day in school, our teacher, Mr Baker, spent the whole morning explaining about last night's declaration of war, and about how he himself was involved in the last war. Boring. As ten-year-olds, all we wanted to do was play out, and not be stuck in listening to stories of war. At the time, I didn't realise the impact this was to have on life around me, and at that time I didn't care.
Dad had volunteered for duty, wanting to do his bit again for King and Country. He was turned down when it was found by the medical officer that he had a "dickey heart", as Mum described it. Naturally he was devastated, but kept his chin up under the circumstances.

I remember the day our lives were to change; it was when Albert came home and announced he had joined up.
Mum was devastated, and in her anger forbade him to go, pleading with dad to make him go back and tell the Army he was just a boy, her baby, and they were not to take him.
Dad told him off, but really he approved, and was proud that is oldest son wanted to follow in his footsteps, and fight for his King and Country as he had done 20 years earlier.


Mum eventually calmed down, and gradually came to terms with the fact that her first-born was now a man ready for war.
She broke down the day he had to leave for his training depot. She stayed at home with me, and let dad see him off at the station. Before leaving, Albert said his goodbyes, and gave me his treasured penknife, the one Granddad had given him when he came back from Africa after fighting in the Boer war.

With Albert gone, the house was a little quieter. Mum was becoming a bit overprotective toward me, but I suppose it was to be expected. In some respects it was a bonus, but it did have its downside, as I was expected to do jobs about the house that Albert did.
Twelve months later the first German bombs had fallen in the Shetlands, it was shocking. We got our revenge when the RAF started bombing Germany. Food was rationed, butter, bacon and sugar. Many people began to hoard food. Mum was no different; it was a battle as to who would get to the shops first.

As time went by, more a more countries joined in the conflict. America joined Britain when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour. Dad, like everyone else, was sure the war would be over by Christmas. Mum wished Albert was home; I was missing him too, but not his knuckles rapping my head. We got several letters from him, but he could not say where he was because of security. Wherever he was, it was hot all day, and very cold at night.


To do his bit, dad had joined the fire watch. Every night after work, he would take his bucket of sand and a stirrup pump, and join the others to keep an eye out for German bombers. As kids, we were hoping to see German planes.
When they eventually did come, we wished they hadn't. A whole squadron of bombers unleashed a myriad of bombs as they passed over. Our Ack-Ack guns took out a few before they could drop anything, but it wasn't enough. Bombs exploded as they hit buildings and they crumbled like a deck of cards. Us kids were both shocked and excited by the bombing. The next day myself and several other kids were out amongst the rubble looking for shrapnel.

People had been out all night, including my dad, searching through the damage.
It was sad, old Mrs Clark lost her dog. He was hiding in the coal cellar when a bomb hit it. Although it did not explode the coal cellar collapsed in on him. It was dad who found him. Us kids wanted to see it, but dad forbade me to go. Luckily, no one was killed in the bombings, just a few injuries. A lot of houses were hit as well shops.
People were getting in and pinching the damaged food. The police called it looting and made several arrests. Unfortunately for us kids, there were no sweet shops hit.

London was being bombed relentlessly. The rest of the country wasn’t fairing any better, and neither was my hometown Wirral. To us kids, it was one big adventure. We had bonfires every night, and the excitement of searching through the bombed houses for shrapnel kept us going. Just when we thought life couldn't get any better, the RAF came zooming by chasing a German aircraft.
We were witnessing our first dogfight. We stood transfixed as the two planes flew around the sky like mad bees. The Spitfire was shooting bullets at the other plane, and before long flames were billowing out of the back.
It suddenly exploded, started diving down towards the ground at speed. The Spitfire did a victory roll before flying off. The German plane came spiralling down, and landed in the playing field. Everyone who saw it cheered, then ran toward were the plane had crashed. When we reached it, the tale was broken off, and a body had crashed through the cockpit and was laying half in half out. Several people moved slowly toward the wreckage, others started to follow. Suddenly the body started to groan and moved. We all stopped, then the body fell from the plane and dropped to the ground. We didn't know it at the time, but the fall had killed him. A few of us kids started to make our way toward the pilot, until the plane suddenly burst into flames. The fire watch arrived, one being my dad, and kept everybody back. Within a few minutes the whole plane exploded, blasting metal skyward and spreading everywhere, luckily we were well clear.
Before long the police and the Army arrived. After examining and searching the body,
an ambulance took it away.
That was our excitement over for the day, but it gave us kids something to talk about for the next few days.

Food was getting shorter because of rationing. Clothing was also in short supply.
The government issued ration books and clothing coupons. As time went by, our clothes were beginning to fall into rags, but the ingenuity of our mothers knew no bounds.
Other garments, such as coats were transformed into trousers.

Hitler was relentless in his bombing of England, but if he thought we were going to cave in and surrender he was very much mistaken. If anything, it had brought everybody closer together. Every man woman and child who were able to help in the cause did their bit, none more so than the retreat from Dunkirk. Hundreds of ships sailed out to help. Even dad wanted to do something, but was frustrated by the fact that he lived too far away, and was needed by the fire watch.

During a lull in air raids and dogfights, us kids were bored. We were fed up of searching through the bombed houses (but we did enjoy being chased by the fire wardens) we needed something to do. Billy Williams, always a prankster, had an idea. We found big bins that people put their scraps in that went to feed the pigs, and Billy decided to put
a dog in.
He did this one-day and we then hid around the corner, and waited. Within minutes, Mrs Brown came out, a huge woman who was fierce and hated us kids. We suppressed our sniggers as she went to the bin carrying a bowl of scraps. She held the bowl in one hand, then lifted the lid off the bin with the other, as she did the dog leapt out of the bin at her and pushed her over. Startled, Mrs Brown, fell backwards as the dog shot off barking.
We were in fits of laughter, and got up and ran off. Leaving a furious Mrs Brown shouting her obscenities at us laughing kids. We laughed for hours as we recalled the look on her face as the dog jumped out at her. We kept this trick up for weeks
until people got wise. We tried a cat once, but the victim was badly scratched.

So, that was my life as a prepubescent boy growing up in war torn Britain.
I had just turned sixteen when the war ended. Albert was missing in action, presumed dead. As I grew older I tried to find him, but I only managed to find the last known place he was at, and I laid flowers down in remembrance.
Mum couldn’t bring herself to go, dad had died when I was twenty.
His dickey heart finally gave out cigarettes had won.

I am now 72, and I have attended every remembrance service paying my respects to the fallen soldiers. I realise now the full horror of those six years, and what people went through. As a naďve ten year old, those six years were a fun time. Kids were blissfully unaware. I think that was the best way to be.











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Comments by other Members



Jim Beard at 17:45 on 27 June 2004  Report this post
Mike

A wonderfully descriptive piece for those of us who were fortunate enough to be born in post war Britain. I do remeber the late 40's/ early 50's and the fun we had as kids playing on bomb siytes. It was the sheer enjoyment that we got from being able to break windows or destroy things that had no value at the time. A great release for a boy. As a kid you are, as you say, blissfully unaware of the problems around you. What a pity that we have to grow up.

Thanks for the enjoyment

Regards

Jim

madhatter at 20:31 on 27 June 2004  Report this post
This was a touching story, which I feel could benefit from the following:

I felt that the opening lines suggested that the story was to be about a single incident - that of where the child was when the war started. However, the story covered the war years. I felt that for a short story this was a very ambitious task you had set yourself, and becuase of this there has been a tendancy to 'tell' rather than 'show'. Eg When the teacher bores the kids with war tales it would have been nice to show us with something like a view from the window or playing with rulers, ink-wells etc.

The opening of the piece (up to the teacher incident) works very well, the dialogue interaction really brings alive the characters.

You also have some very nice touches to this piece, the incident with the dog in the bin juxtaposed against the dog dead in the coal bunker - sad against humorous, both visual, showing hope through adversity, and it is these I would like to see capitalised upon.

You obviously know a great deal about WW2 and you have enough material in this piece to make a novella or novel, something I think you could achieve. As a keen amateur historian with an interest in the people at home during WW1 and WW2 the story appealed to me greatly. I have only one query - would the children have been allowed to build bonfires night after night with the blackout regulations, and if not could we have had a humorous yet seriouis consequences incident with them and the fire wardens?

I've said a lot here and hope I haven't offended with my honest critique. I just see the potential of this piece becoming a really great story.

<Added>

Just one other thought. You had an interesting comment made my Albert about Hitler doing good for poverty. It got me wondering, why does he join up so quickly to fight. Is it the romance of war or something to do with his father having fought in WW1 or is it something else. I could see this being developed further.

As I said before, a good start with bags of potential.

P.S. Please forgive the typos - blast the lack of spellcheck.



Becca at 22:21 on 29 June 2004  Report this post
Mike, I have to say I agree with what Mad has said. I'd have liked to have read the story about the boys and the dog for example. There's some fascinating information in this piece, but to make it into a story, it does need showing rather than telling about. As it stands, it's an account rather than a story, I'd love to see it made into a story, although I guess you'd find it hard to get all the interesting details into it if you did that. But I'll bet you could create the atmosphere of what it was like to be a boy growing up then. One thing to watch would be what your MC knows at the time as he's seeing it through a child's eyes, and might not understand all the interactions between his brother and parents, but experience them rather.
Becca.


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