6) Hitler’s Terror weapons and my disdain for them
Having started school in war time I knew no better than to accept that our way of life in the early 1940’s was normal. I was, as I have said before a miserable child. My first day at school presumably in September 1941 was not a happy one. I had to leave the comfort of home and the exclusive possession of my mother that I enjoyed during the daytime and mix with other children and possibly have to do things for myself. Mum was anxious to have me off her hands so that she could supplement the family income with some form of work. That first day is a blank, but the next morning I remember clearly as I refused outright to return to school having ‘been there and done that’. This was clearly a problem as I was left with Granny Kimber while Mum pursued her new career which initially was a helper in the school canteen. She later got a job in a Walker’s Stores, a grocery shop in Downing Street, Farnham, where she stayed for the duration of the war, rising to illustrious position of First Hand!
My minor victory on that second day was turned into total defeat for me the next when I had to return to school full time. Luckily I saw little of my brother as I was in the infants and he was two years ahead of me. Each morning we all got up after Dad had gone off to work in London. Our faces and hands were washed over the kitchen sink and we were bundled into our clothes and set off to walk with Mum to the school about a mile away. We boys carried our gas masks in square fibre boxes slung around our necks. It was heinous crime to turn up to school without them. Because the previous world war twenty years or so before poison gas had been used in the trenches and the likelihood of it being used on civilians this time was thought to be high. The walk to school was enjoyable and generally uneventful. One day however it wasn’t. Daydreaming as usual and not looking where I was going I walked straight into a traffic light pole and knocked myself out for a few seconds. After a scolding and a rub better we set off again.I would mention here that there were on 2 traffic lights in Farnham at that time so I should have marvelled at it rather than ignored it.
Occasionally the weather was too inclement to walk and we went in by the number 14 bus operated by the Aldershot and District Traction Company. The trouble with this was that we got to school too early and had half an hour to muck around before going in, Mum having stayed on the bus to get to work. Needless to say we explored the whole area around the school and found some very interesting places to play. There were brick air raid shelters built in the roads to provide people some protection in case of air raids. There was hardly enough room for delivery vans to pass by, but as there was so little traffic then it didn’t matter. We also found a disused factory site with a tall brick chimney that had a furnace under it. I climbed in and looking up could see the sky with clouds racing past ever so quickly high in the opening at the end of the stack, that was exciting as no one else was game to squeeze in. Then there was the large Farnham Park where huge concrete blocks had been built to discourage enemy gliders from landing and disgorging hundreds of German soldiers to overpower the citizens of Farnham and presumably our school adjacent.
We lived just far enough from London to miss most of the raids on that city, and there was no big industry to destroy in our neighbourhood. Later when Hitler did unleash his real terror weapons we had become very blasé about the war. We heard the doodlebug or V1 rocket for the first time when we were playing cricket in a field adjoining our street but we knew we were safe because if you could hear them it was all right. When their throbbing rocket engines stopped you had to take cover very quickly as it meant the bomb was then on the way down. The later more powerful V2 rockets were not a thing to worry about at all, either they missed you or you were dead! They were shot off high into the stratosphere and without much control landed where they liked with absolutely no warning at all, not even an air raid siren. The traditional bombing that did occur near to our house was of mainly stray bombs dropped by accident or unloaded when the true target couldn’t be reached by the then returning bombers. It was comforting to know that if a bomb did drop on the house it was not really meant for you!
Wars are not terrifying for boys only exciting. The true impact and meaning of the war only came home to us when we found that a chum at school stopped coming, and we had to pray for him at assembly. But we soon put that out of our minds and returned to our bartering for war relics like bits of shrapnel, bullet casings and foreign cigarette packets.