5) My involvement with Fighter Command in 1940
The indoctrination that took place during the war affected everything we did. It was one thing to be bombarded in the newspapers with acceptable news, but even in peripheral things there was the subversive mind twisting of our young brains. On one hand the bad news was reported obliquely. “Bombing raids took place in several industrial centres in Britain overnight,” not telling us where, as though that was reassuring. At the same time advertising happily talked of winning through, we were urged to save for victory, dig for victory, and to be like Dad and keep Mum! The jungle telegraph however was quite effective, it took next to no time for the news of heavy raids on the cities of Southampton and Portsmouth to be passed word of mouth across the country and the bombing of London we knew about because Dad would tell us about it the evening after work or in the morning if he had been on fire watch duty the previous night.
One incident in our own family which brought the war very close to us was the tale of the egg. One poor chicken in our backyard run laid and enormous misshapen egg. This egg was raffled off to the neighbours and friends of the family and the proceeds were sent to the “Buy a Fighter fund” which many a local Council had organised. So our poor chicken unwittingly helped the war effort and contributed in some small part to the building of a Hurricane or a Spitfire fighter plane.
The elements are not conscious of the deeds of man and the summer of 1940 was a glorious one. For Britain however there was little joy, having had to endure a defeat of massive proportions when the allied forces finally came up against Hitler’s advancing armies and escape from them at Dunkirk. It was at this time however that Chamberlain the lame duck Prime Minister had been replaced by the far more dynamic and forceful Winston Churchill. As a peace time politician he was regarded somewhat as a renegade or a stirrer. In war it was essential that he was in control as he was clever enough and strong enough to see the whole situation and to take the unpalatable decisions when he had to. His fighting spirit, his rhetoric and charisma and his ability to inspire trust was what was needed when defeat seemed so close to the nation at that time.
As that summer drew to a close the German Luftwaffe had for weeks been pounding the cities and industrial centres of Britain and our embattled fighter planes were being knocked out of the sky almost faster than they could be replaced, either by machines or manpower.
In September 1940 just before children returned to school for the new school year we made a trip down to a small village between Alton and Winchester, where a friend of my Father, Charlie Humphries had a small pub on the main road. This pub which was named an unlikely, “The Shant” was the place that I witnessed a dogfight between German and British fighter planes high above the rolling chalk downs of northern Hampshire. It was impossible to tell the planes apart as they were so high above us. Their tiny silhouettes and their vapour trails were all we could see. But it was there then on that hot summer afternoon in September that I too was part of the Battle of Britain.
It was fortunate then that our chicken had done her deed and the money contributed to the Fighter Fund had been put to good use. By the 15th September the major aerial dogfights were over, the Battle of Britain had been won. Winston Churchill talked later about how much was owed by so many to so few but our long suffering hen got not one word of praise.