Sunday, 4 July 2010

What did you do in the war? What Me?

I used to say I had a difficult childhood but that wasn't true. I only thought I did. Having been born just a few years before World War 2, I was expected to achieve a pigeon pair for my parents after my brother had been born two years previously. A girl was expected and in those days there were no tests to check to see if that might be the case. Thus I was already named Judith and proved to be a minor disappointment. I grew up to be a ‘whimp’ which clearly I was well fitted for as I whimpered a great deal in those early years. Some of the tears were quite normal but others were encouraged by my older brother who clearly thought I might steal some of the favours previously bestowed on him.
Our Dining Room table had the corners cut off so that there would be less likelihood of little heads at that height bumping into them. I didn’t realise for many years that it was all to no avail as the damage had already been done. My brother had encouraged me to climb from the chair to the tabletop then removed the chair and exited the room leaving me to find my own way down. Which I did bruising my head and this encouraged Dad to get his saw into action when my brother ‘explained’ what happened.
I wasn’t the only whimp in the street; little Barry Foster was far more expert than me. When he was upset he would go and sit in the middle of the road and cry for all to see him. Occasionally some dupe would pander to his needs and comfort him but as the trick continued he tended to cry alone for a few minutes then go back indoors. I must explain the road we lived on was rarely used by vehicles other than delivery vans and the surface was so bad nothing could travel at any more than walking speed. Almost nobody owned a car and those that did had it on chocks in the shed or under cover for the ‘duration.’ The duration was a British expression meaning for while the war lasts. Thinking about it now I think it was a wonderful word showing that we Brits were going to endure the war at whatever cost, which of course we did.
More strife came for me whenever Mum would say “Go out and play together”. Now it is true we did that occasionally but my brother thought I was a drag especially if it interfered with playing with his real friends. I would tag along behind the bigger boys and my brother would turn round and push me to the ground or into the stinging nettles to show that I was not wanted. Now please do not take pity on me all this treatment was a great hardening exercise for me. This was especially the case when Ivan from a street nearby played with me in the meadow at the bottom of our road. Ivan was in my class at school and his uncle had been stationed in Africa for part of the war and returned home with various souvenirs. One of these souvenirs was an assegai which as everyone knows is a spear with a furry tassel and a very sharp iron spear tip.
Ivan brought the spear out to play with one day probably with no one else aware of it. We each had a go and as all we did was throw it away from us, Ivan decided his next go was to throw it at me. Seeing the spear on the way I turned and ran and luckily it only hit me in the right calf. The wounded adversary, me, limped to his house where his mother attempted to tend to my wound then sent me home. My own mother was furious, ripped off the unsatisfactory dressing and applied one which was deemed more suitable. I wasn’t allowed to play with Ivan for a week or so. I had no tetanus shot, and no visit to the doctor for stitches. We were made of sterner stuff in those days.
I still have the scar, a small square white mark on my calf and for some reason I am quite proud of it. It was my war wound albeit inflicted by friendly fire, but it was more than that too. It was my rite of passage, or perhaps my hardening for the real world. From that moment on I became less of a whimp and more of an individual able to take on all comers...well, at least stand up for myself for the duration of my life and not to be surprised when a friend stabbed you in the back!

Illustration from


  1. A great memoir. There aren't many who can say they've been speared by an assegai. Quite the war wound.

  2. Ow - there must be easier ways to learn the lessons of life! Lovely end line..Jae

  3. great story and well told..enjoyed it..I felt the pain of the spear because a friend of mine got me in the ankle with a dart. not a big "war" sound but it did hurt and I limped for a few days. Maybe we should get together and find these guys and whip them wih wet noodles.

  4. I very much enjoy your reflections on growing up and the manning up of "oldegg". I sometimes wonder if childhood stories like that even happen anymore in our society. I sure hope so.

    Interesting about the Cimmerian blog. I was an avid reading of REH in my 20s and 30s. I still have a lot of Conan comic books from the 70s and 80s. Alas, I found the blog after it was retired.

  5. a great picture of what life was like then. I'm enjoying a vacation with family in Florida this week so I may not post but I will read when the internet works as it is for the moment!

  6. Nicely done! I wasn't expecting where this little tale was going, but you told it well, and with charm.

  7. Well, for a minor disappointment, you sure can create majorly engaging tales of fact as well as fiction. Expert whimp, Little Barry Foster; your brother’s “real friends”; Ivan and the friendly fire ordeal... And the wind-up paragraph! All of it, so enjoyable : )

  8. Its our scars that make us real isn't it? And our children....I know you like us to feel sorry for you, but its your brother I really pity, he had no kids...

  9. Hahaha and toughen up you did, but never forgot or stopped learning eh.
    BTW I am still that whimp, well most of the time.