Submitted by Barb Hale
I was four years old when the second world war was declared, in September 1939. Germany had crossed the line drawn in the sand and invaded Poland. Britain immediately declared war on Germany, followed by France, Australia, Canada, and South Africa. I have a vague memory of sadness and tears but had no idea what it all meant. I have no recollection of life before war, so, I assumed that this was what life is. Life is all about war. The news, which we heard constantly on the radio, was about the war, the newspaper had pictures of the war, if we went to a movie, there was always a news reel before the movie and – you guessed it – more war. I figured that when the war was over, there would be no news!
Ration books were issued on the 9th January 1940. Every person had a ration book, and we could only buy the amount of food that was in that book. We had our three pints of milk delivered daily by the local farmer. One pint per child and 1/2 pint per adult and 6 eggs came once a week. My Mother registered with one grocery store and an employee came once a week and sat at the kitchen table with my mother to plan the weeks supply. Occasionally there would be a special treat. “We have a supply of raisins, Mrs. Hale, and each customer can have 1/2lb.” I wonder now, what risks the sailors took to bring a ship load of raisins from some sunnier clime, so that the British children could have a treat! The grocer did not sell perishable food or meat. These came from the greengrocer and the butcher respectively. This was a bi-weekly trip to the village – about a mile away. We always had a roast on Saturday, either beef, pork or lamb. My Father sharpened his knife to a fine edge and was proud to carve the thinnest slices. That roast, which was not big to begin with, gave the four of us a hot meal on Saturday, a cold meal on Sunday, and Shepherds pie on Monday.
We lived in the country, outside a small village called Marple, about twenty miles south of Manchester. My father created an air raid shelter in our scullery, with huge wooden beams to support the ceiling and a sandbag wall adjacent to the back door. Not sure how adequate it would have been, but it made me feel safe. The scullery was a room containing the kitchen sink, the stove, the washing machine, and a pantry which was a small windowless room on the north side of the house to keep food cool. Not quite as cool as a refrigerator! The kitchen, on the other hand, had a table and chairs and cupboard for the dishes, and a fireplace with an attached oven. This is the room we lived in during the day. In the evening we would let the kitchen fire die and light the fire in the living room. Coal too was rationed. The bedrooms were never heated, and nobody went to bed without a hot water bottle!
My father had polio as an infant and always walked with a limp, so he was not called up for active service. However, he worked in Manchester, and joined the ARP (Air Raid Patrol) which meant that he must spend every second night in Manchester to help in case there was an air raid. On quiet nights he got some rest, but on not so quiet nights, his work ranged from shepherding people to shelters, rescuing people from crumbling buildings and dynamiting unsafe walls. He had many stories to tell.
We first heard the siren faintly in the distance. As the bombers came closer, the sirens got louder as each village or town sent out their warning. When the sirens in our village went off, I ran to my parent’s room and we all went down to the scullery, where we got out the cots and tried to get some sleep. The drone of the airplanes over head was very frightening but their target was Manchester, and we could faintly hear the distant explosions. Sometimes they would bomb Stockport, a smaller town closer to where we lived and then we could see the fire in the sky across the valley. Although I was never allowed to watch this, I was told that sometimes overhead you could see fights between the Messerschmitt German fighter planes and the British spitfires. The British planes attacking the bombers and the German planes defending them. Dogfight to the death.
Despite the lack of luxuries, my sister and I had a normal childhood life. We went to school each day, had friends and games and homework. The only difference was carrying a gas mask all the time and having to practice putting it on once a week. I can still remember the claustrophobic smell! Fortunately, we never had a gas attack. I was not told of the horrors of war. I was not aware of the sacrifice of so many, so that we could have and continue to have a normal life. Lest we forget.