The full impact of War as I stand face to face with Hitler.
I was a few months over three when war was declared. We as a family had quietly enjoyed one last holiday away from home in that sad summer of 1939. Those precious last few weeks of peace in August were for me my first holiday and also the last for six years. The adaptation to a life away from home, in those sunny days was less than satisfactory for me. It wasn’t that I had to contemplate the vulnerability of Britain as I faced the English Channel and unknowingly the threat from continental Europe, as I played on the beach with much of it being cordoned off to install barbed wire and to mine the waters. It was that I no longer had the run of the house, as we were in a cheap bed and breakfast in the back streets of Hastings. My toys had been left behind and I was subjected to new sensations as part of my growing up. Ice cream and the sea were the better ones and marmalade and sand in my orifices being the downside. (Work out for yourself which orifices I am referring to)
In those first few weeks of conflict after the declaration of war on the 3rd September 1939 there was at least a stalemate or phony war when nothing really happened. What conflict there was being conducted was well away from home in a foreign country. Being from a family a fair way down the socio-economic scale, (not that they had such things in those days), we did not suffer great deprivations on account of rationing or the absence of exotic foodstuffs and other wares from the shops. We merely continued to buy the cheapest of whatever there was available and were thankful for that.
For me the war and its regimentation was a way of life which I grew up with. I knew of no other life. I did not notice that things changed; that papers and the news therein grew smaller, as did the advertisements. Foodstuffs were standardised and for the most part were without brand names. Mind you, Stork margarine continued to advertise their non existent product all throughout the war to maintain their brand name in the public’s mind.
Confectionery which for us was a treat in any event remained so and the allowance per person did not really concern us. Later when I had pocket money, alternatives to sweets could always be found. My brother and I found that Horlicks tablets, Foster Clarks solid soup concentrate and lemonade powder were quite acceptable stand-ins.
Clothes of course were of no concern to children excepting that time wasting part of putting them on and taking them off, except in the winter when much of what you wore during the day would stay on at night as well. Naturally you complained if the shoes had holes and let the water in or the jumper had shrunk and no longer fitted. It was more likely however that the clothes wore out on you. When that happened you continued to wear them until your parents could afford to get you newer ones. Socks had potatoes in them, this is the description of bare heels and toes pocking through the worn wool.
Shoes were always a problem with boys as it is impossible for a boy to walk without scuffing his feet. And if anything is kickable it is kicked; stone, ball, stick or brother.
Being a younger brother I did get a few hand-me-downs but not so bad that I complained about it. I did complain about the kicks though.
The meaning of war was rammed home very early in my boyhood. War is the confrontation of two disagreeable parties who have or want the property of the other. My brother and I were at war. At best we were in a position of mutual dislike and in a shaky truce. When we were told to go out to play together it was like being punished. The only thing we had in common was parents, and I could never believe that I was really their child either. Once my Mother had to find the carefully preserved notice of my birth from the local paper to prove it to me on the day when I suggested I was adopted and they hadn’t told me.
When we were out of sight of the house, I had to keep my wits about me to avoid or at least fend off the blows that were certain to come my way. Regularly we went playing with other boys from the street, and often I would be left at some point while they continued their game or adventure. So I became a weak, introspective and miserable child. It didn’t help that I thought my (adoptive) parents loved my brother more than me. It was only as an adult that I found out that my brother felt the same way and was jealous of the attention that I received.