* 19.1.16 A Boy at the Outbreak of War

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This happy serene world in which I grew up seemed to be changing. Initially the change was quite slow but then the pace of change increased and grew more dramatic. When we went to the pictures there were always shots of British and French troops on manoeuvres and pictures of British battleships under full steam. Then more sinister clips of huge rallies being addressed in hysterical terms by Hitler and Mussolini. However, the most alarming news came from my Dad who was a senior Post Office engineer. One Sunday on our usual seaside walk before lunch, I happened to glance up to the green hills behind the coastal water meadows and noted twelve tall steel towers that I had never seen before. On asking Dad what these were for he quietly told me that they were to help protect us against attack from enemy aircraft. ‘But who is the enemy?’, I asked innocently. ‘Well’,said Dad, ‘it looks as though it might be Germany again’.

Then the pace of events speeded up again. First out Prime Minister flew to Germany and returned waving a piece of paper which he said would guarantee peace in our time. My Dad said we  would be at war within a year and we were. We were all fitted with sinister and uncomfortable gas masks. Next the Germans occupied Czeckoslovakia and the allies stood idly by which encouraged the Germans to pursue their expansionary policy further by taking over the Rhineland which they  had surrendered in 1918. Soon came the diplomatic pressure on Poland over Danzig a port which the Germans wanted to control. Then the invasion of Poland by vastly superior German forces and finally that fateful day in September 1939 when Mr. Chamberlain announced on the radio that we were at war with Germany.

I had been playing with a friend but returned home when the air raid sirens began their woeful wailing, to find my Mum and Dad putting up ‘black-out’ curtains which somehow seemed symbolic of the darkness we were entering. Yet it was also surreal. A drama we would have to participate in until the final curtain. Exciting but deadly.

We all changed and children like me had to grow up very quickly. We did not understand what death and destruction meant at the beginning of the war and some even predicted it would all be over by Christmas. Another disturbing indication of how quickly ‘wishful thinking’ had replaced ‘real’ thinking. We prayed because we were frightened but did we have real faith and where would it come from? In my case it came from my lovely, gentle, brave mother who always had total faith in God’s mercy. My father hid his fears and just carried on with his duties and my G’ma sat in her room smoking and cursing the ‘Boche’.

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