WW II – A Young Person’s Guide
This is an attempt to collate some of the general effects a world war had on a group of young people who were just about old enough to understand or were of sufficient age to realise it was for real. I include myself in the latter group; but only just, at the beginning of the war. I have not attempted to write a WWII history and only mentioned the events that directly affected our lives and left lasting pictures in our minds.
This preamble is research and not experience but it is perhaps ironic that my birth year of 1933 coincided with the rise to power of Adolph Hitler and his Nationalist Socialist German Workers Party together with the formation of the Third Reich or Nazi Party. Hitler became Chancellor of Germany after eliminating the opposition and as Führer (Leader) his enthusiastic rhetoric seemingly hypnotised enormous audiences at Nazi party rallies with their swastika arm band and stiff armed salute and orchestrated cries of “Zieg Heil”.
Herr Hitler’s popularity was further enhanced by the success of his government in leading the country out of a world depression and restoring a degree of prosperity to a nation that had lost a world war and had many supposed restrictions placed on them in reparation. He nevertheless engaged in heavy military spending and built the Autobahns, thus assisting in reducing the mass unemployment and returning at least some Germans to prosperity. There was no opposition allowed to the plans of his Party, which provided for great growth.
Anti Semitism and the production of a pure Aryan race, “The Master Race”, was a main aim and it was brutally pursued. Concentration and labour camps were set up in various places with names that were to become associated with ethnic cleansing and genocide. Millions died. The Gestapo; or secret state police and SS decimated the other factions such as Socialists, Liberals, Communists and other’s deemed as undesirable. For the young, membership of the Hitler Youth became compulsory and physical fitness enforced. Further education for women was curtailed; the Nazis practiced what was called “emancipation from emancipation”, to what purpose I can’t determine. The infamous 1936 Olympics in Berlin was stage managed as a showcase with military precision, a demonstration of the might of the Master race.
Hitler became increasingly aggressive, threatening invasion and war in all directions. Whilst France and Britain replied with attempts at appeasement a series of countries were absorbed by force or pseudo agreement including Austria in 1938 and in the same year the Sudetenland via the Munich Agreement. Czechoslovakia was over run in 1939 whilst Hitler made a pact with Russia’s Joseph Stalin and invaded Poland in 1939.
This brings us to a time that I begin to remember first hand. I recall being told that Prime Minister Mr. Chamberlain had met Herr Hitler and on his return to Heston Airport, waved the signed agreement he received and quoted, “Peace in our time”. It did not mean much to me in September 1938 and hindsight shows it was even less memorable for Herr Hitler, the other signatory.
On the 3rd of September 1939, Chamberlain was again on the wireless and I am convinced I remember the following world changing news.
“I am speaking to you from the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street.
This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note stating that, unless we hear from them by 11 o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.
Now may God bless you all, may he defend the right. For it is evil things that we shall be fighting against – brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution – and against them I am certain that right will prevail.”.
We were at War with Germany and so was France.
A bill had been passed during 1939 for registration of all Great Britain residents as the last National census had been back in 1931. A national registration day was declared for Friday 29th September; just 24 days from the declaration of war and from the information it provided we all received a National Registration Number and card. Few survivors of that day will not recall their issued number. After 73 years mine is still indelibly etched in my mind.
In that same year as the events noted above later proved, the threat of war was obvious and Anderson air raid shelters were issued; free to those earning less than £250pa (which was a lot of the people in those days). These galvanised corrugated steel structures were bolted together and buried in back gardens in holes 1.2m deep and covered with soil .4m thick. They were 1.8m high, 1.4m wide and 2m long. Not a lot of room for a family of four. They were also extremely damp and in many cases actually flooded. Covered in soil with flowers and vegetables planted on the top and sides they looked a lot better proposition from the outside than was actually true of the inside. 3.6 million of these shelters were issued and installed up to and during the war. Many stories were told of the miraculous escapes from death they provided. Others reported double pneumonia, Trench Foot and frogs.
Another momentous event during 1939 for a child, was the issue of millions of gas masks to the population. With the use of Mustard Gas in the trenches during the previous war we all carried our personal protection in a cardboard box with a string to hang it around our neck. My mother, along with thousands of others, made cloth or rexine covers for the box, with press studs!
The mask’s smelled horribly of the rubber they were made from and had canisters containing filters attached to the bottom. With no exhaust valve, the air expired would make a rude noise as it found its way out on your cheeks and forehead. The younger children had a red mask with a nose piece exhaust device sticking out of the front and two goggle eye pieces as opposed to the single plastic window of the adult mask. Another all enclosed device was used for babies. This had to be pumped in order to keep the child alive and safe. It was just as well the baby could not see the actual respirator from the outside.
I recall it frightened me and I did not have to be incarcerated in it. I can’t think of a better way to scare the life out of a child, not just with the device, but the implications associated with its need. We had to practice putting them on and sat for an hour at our desks sweating and itching. Eventually they were forgotten, except for practice, and we put the horrors away in the back of our minds and hung our boxes on the back of the desk; they were part of our life.
Plans for the evacuation of civilians were made very early on. The country was divided up into three zones, designated- evacuation, neutral or reception. Possible places were identified for nearly 4 million people, and many of them would be children.
Although few if any Watford children were moved away we did have Londoners evacuated to Hertfordshire. A married couple from East Ham stayed with us for some time and several soldiers were billeted on us. There was not an option to refuse I am told. A spare room meant you had to take in whoever you were given. Our soldiers wrote for a while but stopped suddenly!
Some of our current residents who lived at the time in London were moved out into the country. One lady; aged 15 at the time, was sent in late 1939; together with the rest of her Shepherds Bush Grammar school pupils to first Ascot, where they stood in a school hall and were issued with homes to go to. The first “digs” were nice but it was soon determined that the adjacency of an army camp made it an unsuitable area for impressionable young girls! A move to Newbury was less pleasant and the two girls were not wanted and made to feel a nuisance. The second move saw them becoming domestics. Breakfast in bed for the occupier etc. Here they had half a day at school to supplement the copied work sheets to complete during the rest of the week. The last move was to a nice house owned by a retired Colonel and his wife. It was during this period that they did work on local farms for pocket money and eventually returned home in 1944. This evacuee’s house had been fired bombed during her absence and she lived with a relation nearby. She became a local ARP warden and returned just in time to see the V1 and V2 bombardment of London. “I remember hearing the buzz stopping and waiting for the big bang”. A thrill shared with a lot of people, most of who coped without the need for support other than from the family. A traumatic adolescence by any stretch of the imagination!
Another lad of 6 was evacuated in 1940 from Acton to the West Country following a near miss from a German Landmine destined for the Evershed & Vignols, Acton Lane works just down the road, where they made instrumentation for military aircraft. He had been sleeping in a Morrison shelter in the living room at the time. These structures were cage like, with a steel top, 6 foot 6 inches by 4 foot and 2 foot 6 inches high. They were designed to act as a table or actually live under the dining room table. 600,000 were produced and saved many lives following a house collapse on top of them. At the time of the explosion his Uncle was blown from where he was standing by the front door, into the house, round a corner and then slammed into a wall. With our subject being of such a young age he can only vaguely remember the journey, first on a tram and a train, with his suitcase in his hand, gas mask on his shoulder and a cardboard label with his name on it attached with a piece of string through his jacket lapel button hole. On his arrival, wherever it was, he was loaded on a Charabanc and finished up on a working farm with two other boys. He thinks he must have been the youngest in their room because he had to take the bottom bunk. He recalls he was treated well and had plenty to eat and best of all there was apparently no “war on” down there. This said, where “down there” was, as suggested earlier, is actually not recalled. He returned to London when the Blitz was virtually over, but not to the house he left. That was gone. His parents then sent him to his Granny in Southwick near Brighton. He recalls seeing the vapour trails and hearing the anti aircraft guns and later, even the Doodlebugs passing over. It was not unusual to come across a shot down plane, both “ours” and “theirs” and marching up the nearby Downs with his wooden rifle made by his Dad. He would watch the Land Army Girls hard at work. With D Day nearing he was in the centre of the SouthCoast area from where the landing in Normandy was launched. There was a lot of interesting military activity. He does not recall any bad things that happened, which was indicative of the way we coped in those days.
Watford junction was a staging place for the evacuations and there are pictures of masses of young children from six and seven upwards, boarding trains at Watford Junction to travel to a venue unknown. They only found out where when they arrived. It is assumed that at that time their parents were informed. For both them and their parents it must have caused a great deal of stress. I suppose compared with being at risk of death every night or losing your home then it was the best of a bad job. And we were made of tough stuff in those days; there was not a lot of other options really although a good many stuck it out in bomb torn London and other high risk areas.
Meanwhile pictures appeared in the papers of masses of sleeping Londoners crammed onto the platforms of Underground stations safe from the bombs. But there were other risks associated with the life style that resulted.
In September 1939 the government had introduced a nation wide “blackout”. Two days before war was declared the showing of any light, be it from street lamps, shop window, a house window or car or even striking a match to light a cigarette was banned. What cars and buses there were had headlamps with three hooded slits in them. House windows were covered by a black cotton material. We had ours on a wooden frame that was removed in the day time. I recall visiting other boys homes where the covering was pinned or nailed directly to the window frame and only a corner turned down to allow a little daylight in.
A number of people had been appointed as ARP wardens, (Air Raid Precautions). With their tin helmets, arm bands and whistles they would patrol the streets shouting “Put that light out” to any careless householders.
Another restriction to the light was the brown paper sticky tape that was latticed across the glass to allegedly prevent the window from shattering and hurling shards of glass in all directions.
The fear that the Germans would start mass bombing raids immediately was fortunately not realised.
I often wondered about the road signs that were removed or painted over. We were told it was to prevent German parachutists or low flying aircraft from finding their way to wherever. I recall my childhood logic thought that if they were turned round to face the wrong way then they would only think they knew where they were going.
I recall the men with lorries and what I later discovered were acetylene torches, cutting off our iron gates and front garden fences in a shower of very satisfying sparks. The metal was supposedly used for the war effort although now I doubt the quality lent itself to too many applications. It was just a way of making everyone feel part of the team.
The war up to this point did not seem too bad for a young child. The threats were implied more than actual. Things were to change! Rationing was introduced in January of 1940 for Bacon Butter and Sugar.
The UK only produced around a third of its food requirements and the Germans took advantage of this fact by using U-boats and planes to sink the merchant vessels and bomb the docks they used bringing supplies to British ports. In addition to rationing was a radical enforced change to the use of agricultural land. Less livestock and more cereals and root crops were the orders. The householder was exhorted to “Dig for Victory” and vegetables replaced flowers in many small gardens.
Allotments flourished and Pig clubs were formed. The members would collect household scraps from large galvanised bins placed in the streets to help feed the beasts. A lot of wire netting chicken coops were erected and the eggs were very welcome. Of course these things did not occur from day one but as rationing was to go on for many years and get even more comprehensive, the operations were refined to be quite efficient and not at all out of the ordinary.
One person’s typical weekly allowance in 1940 would be: one fresh egg: 4oz margarine and bacon (about four rashers): 2oz butter and tea: 1oz cheese: and 8oz sugar. Meat was allocated by price, so cheaper cuts became popular. Points could be pooled or saved to buy pulses, cereals, tinned goods, dried fruit, biscuits and jam. More detail later.
To redeem your points from the ration card you had first to register with a supplier, be it grocer or butcher and then your allocation could only be purchased from this store. As the supply did not always meet demand this was probably the birth of queuing as we know it today; and for which we are world famous.
In July 1940 Hitler set his mind on invading Englandand his air force (Luftwaffe) began daily raids on shipping, ports, radar stations, airfields and aircraft factories. The RAF Fighter Command responded and the resulting heroic defence was to be known in history as “The Battle of Britain”. Their losses were high but the damage they inflicted on the German planes was higher, to the extent that Hitler had to change his tactics.
The plan was he would target civilians and force Britain to surrender without the need to physically invade our shores. On the 7th September 1940 the daily raids commenced on London. Other cities and towns followed and soon the raids were made at night both for the Germans safety and to increase the fear factor. He certainly achieved the latter but did not destroy the spirit of those he attempted (and succeeded) to kill and maim. The extent of the “Blitz”, as it was termed, resulted in 60,000 deaths and 87,000 injured. The destruction to property and manufacturing facilities was enormous.
It was around this time that war became real for this seven and a half year old. In addition to the daily wireless reports of the air raids and the glow of Londonon fire across the darkened landscape beyond the cemetery, the sky was crisscrossed by the needles of searchlight beams and the thuds of anti aircraft shells exploding. There was also the detonation of high explosive bombs that reverberated in the chest cavities, mostly not close but some were too close for comfort. It was about this time that the threat of no more Bananas whilst “there is a war on” finally got through.
During the daylight raids we would watch the Spitfires firing on the squadron of enemy bombers and hear the rat-tat-tat of their guns. It seemed less frightening in the daylight. We became familiar with the steam powered siren sited inCardiff Road nicked named “Moaning Minnie”, it would be the prelude to a night of fear. The relief on hearing the “All Clear” cannot be described.
During that time we used the Anderson shelter, but not for very long as it was so uncomfortable and cold. A blanket under the kitchen table became the refuge for us kids. What protection it would have provided in the event of a hit is very evident now but I recall feeling safer there than in bed. Under the stairs was another option but in our house nearly everything was stored, “under the stairs” so it left little room for me.
As noted earlier another type of indoor shelter was named a Morrison. It was a strong wire cage that fitted under the kitchen table. The kids were bedded down inside every night and were given some degree of protection in the event of a house collapse but nothing could save you from a direct hit.
One of the interviewees told me the ARP man came to the house to ask where they slept in their cage. He wanted to know where to dig if they were under the rubble.
On the continental front during 1940 the Germans with allies Italy captured the majority of Europe, France falling very quickly. The real battle started on 10th of May and by 26th of the same month the Allied Expeditionary Force and the remains of the French and other European troops were evacuated at Dunkirk The Germans had surrounded the defence force very effectively. The only way out was via the English Channel.
The decision to evacuate was made on the 25th May. In the nine days from 27 May – 4 June 338,226 men escaped, including 139,997 French, Polish and Belgian troops, together with a small number of Dutch soldiers, aboard 861 vessels (of which 243 were sunk during the operation). These were the “little ships” from around the British coast and included fishing vessels, ferries,pleasure craft and private boats of all sorts.
Another major battle took place in the skies above the beach at Dunkirk as the Luftwaffe attempted to sink the boats and kill the soldiers struggling through the surf to reach them. A hundred plus RAF planes were shot down and it was claimed that twice as many German aircraft were lost.
At the time Dunkirk was the only subject of consequence on the news and in the papers. Fathers and brothers were fleeing for their lives and every bit of news was discussed at length. It seemed closer to me than the bombs falling on London. Today it is reckoned on being a successful retreat. It was not that successful for a lot of brave men.
I have two reports of streams of ambulances at the Watford Junction and along Courtland Drive transporting wounded men to local hospitals. Leavesden hospital was one centre used for treatment. We saw many servicemen in the high street wearing blue, a sign they had been injured.
An alliance was formed between Hitler’s Germany and Italy’s Mussolini. They were very powerful and had overrun most of Europe by the end of 1940. Here was another name to hate!
With the capture of Poland many of the earlier mentioned concentration camps were set up and together with those in Germanyand other controlled countries they numbered around 300. It was in these camps that the genocide and enforced labour was rooted. The atrocities, which included the Holocaust were not names that an eight year old was familiar with at the time.
Nor was the German invasion of Russia in June 1941. It was mainly known by us kids for the new “good” name of Joseph Stalin. With the exception of our invaluable colonial allies we stood alone, so on the basis of your enemies enemy being your friend, Stalin was on our side. I recall pictures in the newspaper of a very stern man with a walrus moustache meeting Winston Churchill. The invasion was not to end well and due to the German resources it used it most likely saved us from invasion. Previous to this event an arrangement had been made under the heading, “Lease Lend” where the US President Franklin Roosevelt, whilst the US remained neutral, arranged to ship weapons and ammunition to theUK by declaring them “surplus”.
The news of a Japanese aerial attack on the US base at Pearl Harbour is recalled, and as the Japanese had an alliance with Germany there was much talk amongst the older people of the “Yanks” soon entering our war with Germany. This did not happen and it was Germany and Italy eventually declaring War on the US. in December 1941 that brought them into our conflict.
The memories of this era were the sudden appearance in the High Street of very well dressed American service men. They had; or so we were told, all the home comforts and access to things like nylon stockings, Lucky Strike cigarettes and chewing gum. Us kids were not too interested in the stockings but would normally get a result with a request for gum. “Got any gum chum?”, was what we were supposed to have asked. I personally don’t recall this particular request but did get gum from somewhere. It tasted peculiar, not a bit like Wrigley’s.
The “Yanks” were very popular with the girls at the local “hops”. Amongst other things, they Jitterbugged! This is only hearsay!
With rationing getting ever more stringent research shows that the following was the average allotment, unless you were in the know! The amounts varied slightly up and down during the period of rationing that was to go on until 1954. That was of course if your chosen supplier had the goods. Disrupted deliveries and destroyed warehouses could cause havoc.
Meat. Between 1 & 2 shillings worth each per week. (5p-10p) Bacon. 2 ozs. per week 57gms. Tea. 2 ozs. per week. 57gms. Butter. 7 ozs. per week. 198gms. Sugar. 8 ozs. per week. 227gms. Milk. 3 Pints p/w sometimes dropping to 2. Cheese. 1 ½ ozs per week. 43gms. Jam. 1 lb per month. 450gms. Dried eggs. 1 packet every month. Sweets. 4 ozs. Per week 113gms. Eggs. 1 a week each. If available.
In addition to the list above, the Ministry of Food introduced a points scheme for items such as fish, canned meat and vegetables, adding condensed milk, rice, breakfast cereals, biscuits, and canned fruit later. These points could be redeemed anywhere and resulted in a lot of shuttling between shops and queuing when there was a rumour that dried fruit had been seen. Was it under the counter?
I recall both the queuing and the requests but most of all the restrictions to my diet. It was not a case of “what would you like”, but of “this is what you’ve got”. And not a lot of it either. We had an allotment so vegetables were plentiful and the occasional pork joint from the Pig Club. Eggs too were available when the chickens were laying although part of the yield was sometimes swapped for foul smelling chicken meal. The surplus eggs were placed in large containers of isinglass which preserved them for the winter. Runner beans were prepared and salted down for the same purpose. Nothing was thrown away. Cheese with mould was scraped, jam with a furry top was scalped, stale bread was toasted or put in the oven and crushed to make bread crumbs, and what was not eaten today was added to tomorrow’s offerings. Except for Christmas I do not recall ever having pure custard. It always contained the remains of yesterday’s sago or semolina, or blancmange, or tapioca or even the dreaded rice pudding.
With no form of domestic refrigeration available nothing much could be kept for a lot more than 24 hours in the summer. Even the little bit of meat purchased had to be re-cooked everyday and there was a constant fight to keep the flies away. There was no such thing as “sell by” and “best by” dates. “Don’t forget there’s a war on” covered most eventualities.
It was not every week that the ration quota could be met. The merchant ships were taking awful losses due to German U-boat action. Thousands of Merchant Seaman lost their lives in their attempts to feed us and ferry armaments across the Atlantic. We were at the same time supplying Uncle Joe’s army and suffering even more losses in the Baltic.
Petrol was severely rationed and during the war only available to those doing “war work”. It did not affect us as we had no car anyway. Clothing was also rationed in 1942 with an “outfit each per year” if you managed your allocation well. “Make do and mend” was the order of the day. I recall my woollen socks were more darn than sock It was my job to undo knitted garments and roll up the very crinkly wool before it was stretched on a board to be straightened in hot water. It was then re knitted into a “new” garment. Shoes were repaired or holes filled with cardboard. I was fortunate that I was the eldest child. My younger brother had to make do with my hand me downs. I must say our lack of sartorial elegance was not a big problem to us lads. Another exercise involved turning outside to inside, reversing, finding patches and shortening. This concerned sheets, shirt collars and cuffs, jacket elbows and frayed trouser legs.
My mother had a letter and a food parcel from a Mrs Kenyon in Australia. I don’t know how the first contact was made although I believe it was a scheme of some organisation such as the WI but the parcels came regularly after that first one with a Christmas cake arriving around March time. They were a godsend. Sometimes a parcel did not arrive and it was assumed it had gone down with another crew of brave seamen.
Schooling was a stop and go operation. I spent many hours in damp underground shelters or sitting under windows. The rationale for the latter was that flying glass would be blown over our heads instead of into us. I recall we sat under windows on opposite sides of the main hall so one set or other would have had a good view!
A resident who attended Kingsway School tells of leaving home in the morning clasping her savings money and being sent home almost immediately as the air raid siren sounded (her house was nearer than the shelters across the field), and returning on the “all clear”. She was soon back home again. This happened all morning until the teaching staff gave it best and she still had her savings money in her hand. Very close to her home the German fighters had sprayed bullets into the side of a house and window frame and mothers with babies returning from the clinic at Stanborough had hidden their young families under the pram when a German fighter strafed them. It was not all fun and adventure.
Many of the men teachers had been called up for military service and our teachers were consequently either ladies or older men filling in. I can’t assess the effect this had on our actual education but with discipline being so much tighter in those days it may have been easier to control us, despite the absence of what must be considered the first team. The survivors from the original teachers were just beginning to return to teach as I was about to leave school.
As the war proceeded we were bombarded with propaganda posters. “Dig for Victory”, “Don’t be a Squander Bug”, “Careless talk costs lives”, “Air force week” “Navy week” “Army week” War Savings week, (us kids would take sixpence a week to eventually buy a £1 certificate to stick in our savings books). I bet there are thousands of these books tucked away somewhere.
We were all persuaded to “Salvage” everything. Not recycle, salvage. Anything from jam jars to beer bottles to newspapers, even unwanted cooking pots and pans. Rags, bones and any metal scraps were needed to win the war. The effort was not to be more green or meet an EU quota, it was to serve a desperate demand for raw materials that money could not buy.
As kids we were the ideal search and recovery agents. With our carts and old prams in tow we would knock on doors to ask for “scrap”. This would then be taken to the jam factory, brewery, West Herts Post or down to the scrap merchants at the bottom of the High Street. The very few coppers we received in return were very welcome. We drew the line at bones!
All of the above continued through until the end of the war in 1945 and beyond.
From 1942 onwards the tide slowly began to turn, and with the US now involved we were in with a chance. In the North Africa the Desert War with Field Marshall Montgomery and his Desert Rats made slow and painful progress. The Russians eventually repulsed the Germans and Italy was invaded by the Allies, and following their heroic series of battles, fought their way up to meet the other Allied forces. The Italians had signed an armistice in 1943 but the Germans still had a very strong military presence.
Perhaps the most memorable spectacle of the war for me was watching the thousands of Dakota towed gliders slowing heading east to be released over the D Day Normandy landing beaches where with 25 soldiers each, they supplemented the tens of thousands of water born allied invaders who were to eventually free the continent of Hitler and the Nazis. Other kids saw the massive gathering of military equipment and manpower on the south coast as did the previous evacuee’s report.
It was in 1944, soon after the D Day landings that Hitler launched his V1 attack on the UK. These devices were pilotless ram jet planes that flew low and carried a substantial load of explosives. Launched on the near continent, the majority of the 9,500 were aimed at London. With little or no effective guidance system they were indiscriminate in their eventual target. The 50 times a second pulse of their engine caused them to be nicknamed Buzz bombs or Doodle Bugs and the silence when the engine cut out heralding the big explosion was quite traumatic. One fell in North Watford, and the resulting explosion caused the deaths of 37 people, 64 more people were injured, and 50 houses were damaged beyond repair.
This was not a pleasant period of time and cost thousands of lives, but it was not the end of the terror bombardment of our island. The V1 was followed by the V2. This was a rocket propelled bomb that was fired into near space and fell, with no warning and no sound on its target. They were considerably more accurate that than the V1 and completely invulnerable to defensive tactics. The psychological effect of both of these weapons cannot be measured but the fact that Germany was staring at defeat when they introduced them must have helped a little. I recall I was particularly bothered by the concept of the V2. At least you could hear the other missiles coming! Small consolation perhaps, “But there was a war on”!
The war in the Far East was still not yet won by the time the Germans unconditionally surrendered on May 8th 1945.
The celebrations on what was designated VE Day. (Victory in Europe) were wild. My mother took me; at that time I was 12 years old, to the near riot on the roundabout outside the Town Hall. Most had had a drink and some had had more than one. The tall lampposts in the centre of the roundabout were being climbed whilst the white capped US military police were laying into their charges with batons to reduce their level of excitement if not the size of their lumps. People were thrown into the pond or jumped in, everyone was delirious with joy. I won’t forget that night, ever! There were bonfires lit in the High Street with whatever came to hand and it was quite frightening for a 12 year old.
Street parties were hastily organised. There was no need to get permission in those days to block streets with kitchen tables and chairs and the odd upright piano. The food and drink appeared from nowhere, gallons of tea were drunk together with much diluted babies orange juice. Songs were sung and dances danced and we kids ran around to find all the parties we could reasonably; or not, claim some connection with. I recall a portable gramophone with a large horn providing some of the music and harmonicas and tambourines providing the back up. We really were not very High Tec at that time.
We had to wait until September 2nd to hear and celebrate the fact the Japanese had surrendered on the 14th August and World WarII was over. It had needed two atomic bombs to be detonated over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to force them to give in. The pictures from Japan of the bombings should have put anyone off the prospect of nuclear war. But it didn’t!
There were more celebrations for VJ Day (Victory in Japan) but I believe my mother thought getting out alive from the first one was enough for me; and her.
It was the end of the war but not the end of austerity. The country was in enormous debt, and left with devastated cities and infrastructure. Food and most raw materials were still in very short supply and power resources were also inadequate. For instance shop window displays were limited to one lamp and of course rationing continued for all the food stuffs and clothing until June 1954.
The men folk came back from fighting, both from Europe, and the Middle and Far East where some had suffered abominable ill treatment. Many more did not come back at all!
It is difficult to comment on how our young lives were affected by the whole war. Everyone had different experiences and met them in different ways. The reduced diet was something that we all coped with; there was no mention of morbid obesity during this period of our history. It has been claimed that as a civilian population we were as physically fit then as at anytime since. Despite that, my personal opinion; given the choice, is that I would rather have missed it all.
These memories are mainly mine but several current Kingswood residents have kindly provided the tea and biscuits and we have reminisced over our shared experiences. Their input is included within this effort for which “I thank them”.
I must say thank you to Messrs Greville and Nunn and for their respective kind permission to use photographs from the Watford Reference Library and illustrations taken from the “Book of Watford”. I also received both help and photographs from the Watford Museum. The assistance on obtaining these illustrations from seventy years ago plus has been invaluable.
Some of the graphics were not attributable to a specific source and for those I again say thank you to whoever.
I also again formally thank the several residents who were also “actually there”, and helped me to recall some of the events of the day when things were far from “rosy”. A resident was also the source of the only photograph actually originating from the estate. If there are more relevant pictures I would be very interested in seeing them, for inclusion or not!
These are my interpretations of the facts as I recall them and I am not the spokesman for the KRA or anyone else. Please do not publish this effort in part or as a whole without permission.
Thursday, 11 October 2012.
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