There was an urban legend many years ago that my father told us enraptured boys that ‘they’ had discovered how to make an everlasting match. However the match companies in Sweden or wherever the cartels where in those days that controlled the match industries had bought the patent and promptly hidden it! Urban legends are a great source of wonder and amusement but that isn’t what I wanted to talk about.
In those dark days during the Second World War when matches were essential for all household tasks there was another industry that my father was involved in. No! Make that two. He was in a reserved occupation and was not called up for the forces as he helped to maintain the electrical power system in London. There was a minor drawback to being relieved military duties and that was compulsory fire watching. London was being bombed and much of the early bombing was terror bombing by dropping incendiary bombs that would explode and set light to the building they landed on. Clearly the power station and sub-stations that provided electricity needed to be protected so a proportion of staff sat on the roof all night fire watching with buckets of sand and water to dowse the bombs before they did much damage. I thought this was a far better job than his normal one of maintaining the batteries and other equipment in the sub station that provided power to the consumers in London.
As the war progressed normal bombing eased up and the V1 and V2 terror weapons took over to scare the population witless. By the population I mean the adults as for kids the war was exciting and my brother and I would be so pleased when Dad finally came home after being a day or two away in the midst of the bombing with chunks of shrapnel from burst bomb fragments as presents for us.
When the nights were long and the bombers quiet someone had the bright idea to manufacturer cigarette lighters at work. So a minor industry was set up with hand made lighters coming off the production line. These were ideal presents in a cash strapped country where even the most mundane items were just not procurable. One day our alarm clock at home died and there was a panic to get a replacement because of the need for my father to start off for work well before dawn. A permit had to be obtained from the local authority or the prime minister or someone like that, to purchase such an extravagance. Finally a clock became available and we found that it was made in Canada! No doubt all the British clock factories were producing clocks for bombs as gifts to the enemy and none could be spared for the local populace.
Nowadays I often wish I had kept some of those souvenirs from the war, the bits of shrapnel, the “Sweet Caporal” cigarette packs with silhouettes of Allied planes on the back, or even one copy of the “Daily Mirror” from those days printed on just one sheet of newsprint but with the cartoons inside with scantily clad “Jane” helping to win the war for the allies. However back then I didn’t have any such bright ideas.