Memories of war through the eyes of a child

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MORPETH Antiquarian Society’s January meeting was a members’ night, which involved Second World War experiences through the eyes of a child and the lasting impressions of war.

Charlotte, aged five in 1939, told of gas-masks never worn and an itchy siren suit worn to go down into an air-raid shelter with her two-year old sister.

Their cat hid in the oven with the dog hiding under the table. Their parents never showed any sign of fear, although Charlotte was frightened by the poster telling that careless talk costs lives.

Her father bought a wireless after listening to next door’s radio through the wall. Children’s Hour and war jokes were Charlotte’s favourite. The family had plenty of food and holidays each year.

Alan was born in 1942 and he heard his first air-raid siren in Warrington. His parents served in the WRAF and RAF and the family then moved to Guiseley in Yorkshire.

Alan was proud of his green clogs – clogs were not rationed. Very excited, the family prepared for VE Day but Alan developed scarlet fever and became one of the first civilians to be treated with penicillin, previously reserved for service personnel.

Vivien lived in London in 1939, her father was in the Home Guard. Vivien remembered seeing St Paul’s Cathedral surrounded by fire and the church where she was christened flattened by a bomb.

She and her brother moved to Luton and neither liked it. There was still bombing of factories and she was afraid of hens. They collected scrap metal to be melted down and herbs to be used for medicines.

Phil aged six in 1939 like to watch the pyrotechnics over Consett but was in trouble when a policeman called because Phil and friends had accidentally set fire to an old railway shed – the police had reports of German spies. He also told of his wartime injury when a deck-chair collapsed, breaking his finger.

Joan was evacuated on September 1, 1939, from Newcastle station to Kendal. Soldiers on the train gave the children sweets.

On arriving in Kendal, the children were lined up like animals for people of the area to choose who they would take.

Joan was an older girl that no-one wanted and at the end of a long day she was taken by the organiser to her home looking over Morecambe Bay.

Joan left for Weardale in January 1940, eventually returning to Newcastle. After their Westgate home was hit by an incendiary device, her father picked up the bomb in a rug and threw it outside.

Pat told those in attendance about evacuees from South Shields and London’s east end coming to Morpeth and the problems of different cultures. The people from London left after three weeks but the billeting officer ordered that all bedding used by them should be burnt and their room fumigated.

We then heard a moving story from Don who, aged nine in 1954, saw his father cry while watching the armistice memorial service on their new television.

After asking why, Don has gone on to research his father’s brother, Don, who was killed in 1912 and whom the speaker was named after.

Don Senior served with the Green Howards in Sicily where he died carrying a wounded soldier out of the line of fire.

Don Junior spoke of the true meaning of the phrase ‘life goes on’; finally it is death that goes on’.

Evelyn was three in 1939. After the war her German language teacher at Bedlington Grammar School arranged for the class to have German pen-friends.

Evelyn was one of nine who visited Germany. A year later a large party of German students visited Northumberland. Family friendship continues now after the death of Evelyn’s pen pal.

The last speaker told of how he learned about war from boys’ comics in the 1960s, eventually to discover the use of comics as propaganda during wars.

His is possibly the last generation to play British against German or Japanese soldiers.

Thanks to Pamela Cassells for organising the speakers. A pooled supper rounded off an enjoyable evening.

The next meeting of the Morpeth Antiquarian Society will be on Friday, February 24, from 7.15pm at St James’ Community Centre. Guest speaker will be Mrs Thompson talking about A Night at the Pictures – Picture Houses of Newcastle. Visitors are welcome.