Wartime From a Child’s Eyes

I remember my father calling me over to the radio set and saying: “Listen, that’s the voice of Hitler. One day, in years to come, you can say you heard him.”

I heard him all right – it was about the time when Neville Chamberlain was saying there would be peace in our time, and having been brought up on stories from the 1914-18 War, and being only nine years old, I was disappointed.

No war, no soldiers, no excitement.

The next few years were to see the end of childish thoughts about war in no uncertain manner. The whole school was evacuated in September 1939, and we left North London with luggage labels tied through buttonholes, some children crying and some, like myself, wondering where we were going.

I thought London was the world, and it was my first time on a train to where? It was a secret destination, and the train journey to get there seemed to last for hours. At one of many stops, one of the teachers told us we were at Leighton Buzzard. We thought it was a joke: who ever heard of a place called that? All the station signs had been removed to confuse enemy agents. We finally finished up at a place called Dunstable.

We wondered if people spoke English.

We were taken to a big hall and given a carrier bag filled with biscuits, condensed milk, some butter and sugar. I’d never owned so much in my life. There was a big lady wearing a tie (funny the things you remember!) who kissed me and was crying. I thought she was after my biscuits!

After that we were led round the streets knocking on doors to see who would take any of us. I was the last to be billeted, and had blisters on my heels. The lady who took us in said she couldn’t have us for long (two of us) but she couldn’t see us walking by any more. She owned a small shop which sold ice cream – another first!

After that we had different billets which did not like ‘vaccies’, as we were called, but as the ‘Phoney War’ progressed and nothing happened on the home front we all came home in time for the Blitz anyway. Rationing wasn’t so bad for some of us children. There was jam for a start: because it was in the ration we had it. I don’t recall having it before the war!

The school was re-opened and playground games were marbles, with glar-neys, alleys and blood alleys being played for, cigarette cards and up against the wall. Pitch and toss and odds and evens with pennies were also very popular. Most children got fourpence a day for dinner money and that was your gambling stake. It seemed then that the war wasn’t going to happen. The songs we were taught were patriotic -What Heroes Thou Hast Bred, Oh England My Country, The Fisherman of England and so on. We were so proud to be in the Scout or Cadet Uniform on Empire Day. By then sweets had all but disappeared, so we bought tiger nuts, liquorice root (a sort of twig you chewed) and halfpenny carrot from the greengrocer. Some of us bought Ex-lax chocolate from the chemist, but only once!

Sometimes there’d be pomegranates for a penny each, and all of us would be spitting pips. The more wealthy among us used to buy a tin of Zubes cough sweets and one boy nobody liked, whose dad was a taxi driver, used to buy Ovaltine tablets at half a crown a bottle. I soon made him my friend!

Comics were still available in reduced size. The Beano and Dandy had Addy and Hermie (Hitler and Goering) always looking for butter, and Musso (“He’s da big a da flop”), and there was no doubt in our minds that we were going to hang out our washing on the Siegfreid Line, as Flanagan and Allen said we would.

The map of the world on the classroom wall was nearly all pink and that was our bit. It never occurred to us that we could lose until Dunkirk – but that’s another story,

Ted Eldridge