In Woolworth’s down in Winchester there was a great big bomb case on which people were invited to stick savings stamps. I think you could buy sixpenny and half-crown savings stamps although I never knew anyone who had a half-crown one. Normally of course you stuck your stamps on a card with a view to cashing them in at a later date so, to stick one on a bomb which would drop on Germany (so you were led to believe) was sacrifice indeed. The bomb was well plastered.
Aircraft held an abiding interest for me. There were plenty to see –and not only in the skies. I watched dog-fights take place between British and enemy fighter aeroplanes, I saw aeroplanes coming down with smoke trailing and parachutes in the sky and I even managed to get bits off the occasional aeroplane that crashed in adjacent fields. Souvenirs, mostly consisting of unrecognisable bits of metal, bullet cases, shells and parachute webbing were a primary source of barter amongst schoolboys at a time when swapping was a consuming occupation. If you had managed to obtain the tail of an incendiary bomb, as I had, you were in an enviable trading position. Cap badges too were eagerly sought and exchanged.
I had a huge shell head – the bit that comes out of the gun and explodes – except mine had no explosive in it. I cannot remember how I came by it. It was heavy and as big as a saucer in diameter. I expect an adult neighbour gave it to me, knowing my interest. My mother always hated the thing and made me get rid of it, so I buried it at the end of our garden. It is likely someday someone will unearth it and may even be inclined to call in the bomb squad!
We had several ornamental trees in our garden – not huge but bushy with branches strong enough to support the odd rope for swinging on or for going hand-over-hand between one tree and another. I was keen on making platforms amongst the branches where I would spend happy hours with my make-believe anti-aircraft gun shooting at the incredible wealth of aircraft criss-crossing our airspace. I was also inclined to keep a log of all the different types I saw. My mother retained for years the exercise book in which I kept my log and other writings but it vanished with her move to another address.
Most exciting of all was to see an armada of heavy aeroplanes passing over. Winchester was surrounded by airfields, most of which no longer exist as such. We would hear a steady drone getting louder and louder. I have seen the sky almost literally filled with aeroplanes heading toward the coast. A very stirring sight was to see dozens and dozens of heavies (Halifaxes and Stirlings, as I recall) all towing gliders. Later in the day we would see them fly back over in the opposite direction in much less of a compact group and with just tow-lines trailing behind them.
Quite late into the war I remember cycling to Chilbolton aerodrome with a secondary-school pal for a very rare opening to the public. We were enthralled and actually allowed to go inside a Lancaster bomber right up to the cockpit. Oh how I envied the men who flew such machines! Little did I know that within eight years I would in fact myself fly some of the few remaining operational Lancasters whilst undergoing a Maritime Operations course at St.Mawgan in Cornwall. (As a point of interest based upon personal experience, the reverence and aura of nostalgia in which the Lancaster’s name now basks must surely stem from its wartime exploits and outward appearance. Those of us who have flown it will know that, whilst its handling characteristics were not unpleasant, its noise, vibration and comfort levels left much to be desired!)
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