06 February 2008

David Ward's memories





By David J Ward


When Britain declared war against Germany on the 3rd of September 1939, I was eight years and ten months old. My father had died of tuberculosis almost exactly one year earlier, leaving my widowed mother with myself and two brothers ‑ twins, younger than me by three years and four months ‑ to bring up unaided. We lived in a three-bedroomed semi-detached council house on high ground about a mile and a half outside Winchester City, going in the direction of Romsey. From my mother's front bedroom window we could look south towards Southampton. From the garden side of the house we had unobstructed views across the valley of the river Itchen to the Twyford Downs and beyond. Both city and open countryside were on our doorstep.

I have no recollection of the tensions which would have preceded the declaration of war but I recall the declaration itself ‑ or rather I remember my mother telling we boys very gravely that we were at war. I do not think I had feelings of any significance except that thoughts of aerial bombing were conjured, mainly because I had always been fascinated by my mother's accounts of air-raids on the Isle of Wight when she was a teenager during the First World War. I doubt that, at that stage, I had any concept of what to expect.

I was attending Stanmore Junior School, Winchester, a walk of almost a mile ‑ downhill all the way going and uphill coming back and we used to come home for lunch in those days as school meals were unheard of. My first memories of any change in my life brought about by the war stem from school. We were labelled with a piece of card safety-pinned onto our clothing and organised into groups relative to where our homes were located. We then formed a crocodile under the supervision of an adult (teacher I think) and went home like that. I cannot remember going TO school in that way although we may have done so. I DO remember that the only confections we were allowed to consume whilst in the crocodile were 'boiled sweets' and inspections to enforce this were commonly carried out although the reason why such emphasis should have been placed on this rule escapes me still.

Sirens to warn of air-raids were placed at strategic points, the nearest one to my house being erected on a tall mast about halfway down the hill towards the school. People started to construct shelters in their gardens. These were usually made of corrugated iron and sunk into the ground, often with earth or sand-filled sacks on top. A good neighbour constructed a small shelter in my mother's garden shortly before he was called up to serve in the army. We had wooden seats along each side and we initially kept blankets and some oil lamps in it. It was completely below ground level so that it was necessary to negotiate a number of steep steps made of timber and packed earth. When it was first made we boys thought it was great and had a lot of fun using it as a play camp ‑ although it was supposed to be out of bounds!

Large Communal shelters were built on the school playing field although these were essentially surface-built and formed into long mounds with tons of earth heaped over them. I remember going into them for practise but cannot recall an occasion when they were used for real whilst I was still at the junior school. Air raids mostly occurred at night in any case.


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