Wednesday, 6 February 2008

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'treasures' like coins, badges and shell cases I hid in tins in it! I was a great one for making secret caches.

Gas masks were issued early on in the war. The sort we all had came with a cardboard box to contain it and a string to loop over your shoulder. As time went by we dispensed with the box and carried our mask in a home-made case shaped rather like a gun holster with a more substantial strap. The transparent piece that you looked through was a single piece of celluloid, unlike the goggle-type which military and other essential people had. I remember having to attend a centre where an additional circular filter was taped onto the original filter. The tops of the round letter boxes were painted with a substance that would turn a different colour in the event of a gas attack. At junior school we had a daily gas-mask exercise. Teacher would blow a whistle and we had to put on our masks as quickly as we could. Correctness of fitting and strap adjustment would often be checked by teacher and we would have to sit with them on for about ten minutes or until teacher could no longer put up with the increasing level of snorting which we all contrived to make. It is probably as well there was never a need to put our masks to the test because they were given little respect by we children. By the time almost everyone had converted to more suitable carrying cases (which you could buy if mum couldn't make them herself ‑ although I didn't know a mum who couldn't) we had learned to exploit the advantages of this mandatory 'weapon'. Gas mask containers were swung, hurled and generally abused in the true expertise and inventiveness of children. 'Gas mask fights' were not uncommon ‑ a licence to inflict pain!

Identity cards were issued to everyone. 1 remember my number still ‑ EDVB/86/2. The 2 was something of a status symbol as it indicated I was, without a father, second in the family. We also wore a tag, medallion or bracelet with our name and identification number on it. I recall we all had a wrist strap with a metal name plate.

Householders were required to have equipment for the extinguishing of fires. Apart from high-explosive bombs the Germans often dropped large clusters of incendiary bombs. These were relatively small ‑ something like half a metre in overall length and about 8cm in diameter. I had the tail of one of these for years. My adult son has since acquired it.

I remember Mr. Freeman, who was the only male teacher at my junior school and who had the top class, giving a demonstration of how to deal with an incendiary bomb. He had received training in air raid precautions (ARP, as it was known). As I recall, you were not supposed to throw water onto an incendiary bomb as it would be likely to explode and spread fire further. You had to use a water spray for the surrounding fire and put sand on the device itself. Stirrup pumps were issued to households ‑ although we never had one for some unknown reason. This pump was to be kept in the porch just outside your front door along with a bucket of water and another bucket of sand. Everybody complied with the buckets at least. Later in the war I had a live incendiary demonstration from which I learned much respect for the weapon.

Being within visual range of Southampton gave us something of a grandstand impression of the bombing aspect of the war. From my mother's bedroom window we could not actually see the buildings, which would have been about ten miles away, but we could clearly see the sky immediately above the town. Southampton, of course, took enormous punishment from air raids and we knew members of the Winchester fire services who frequently attended the destruction. In fact one friend

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