Saturday, 10 December 2005

Friday, 9 December 2005

Drivers who kill

Not that there should be a connection but the forthcoming season of joy will doubtless bring spiritual desolation to some unfortunate where driving is the cause of the death of a loved one. I know why there is a perception that the punishment does not fit the crime. This, by a magistrate, is a very good statement on the problem. Maybe read it now - just in case.

Death on the Roads

One of the most difficult things that a magistrate has to do is to deal with a case where someone has been killed on the road, and a driver faces the court as a result.

The worst offences, of causing death by dangerous driving, or of causing death by careless driving while under the influence of alcohol are straightforward - we would commit them to the Crown Court where they usually attract long prison sentences. The difficult cases are where someone has been killed as a result of careless driving. This offence can only be dealt with by magistrates, and is not imprisonable. Sometimes the tiniest error on the part of a driver can result in a death; this is fairly common where motorcycles are involved. We have always been trained to punish the offence and not the consequences, and when I was first trained we were given an example:-

You and I are driving identical cars side by side, at identical speeds, approaching traffic lights. Stationary in front of us are two more cars, identical to each other. We each hit the car in front at exactly 30mph. The driver of 'my' one gets out of the car uninjured. By horrible chance yours is dead. Should we receive different punishments? My view has always been 'no', as the carelessness is similar. Let us say that the penalty is assessed at £300 fine each, plus six penalty points (offence carries 3 to 9). Next Friday the local paper comes out with a photo of the dead man's mother in tears outside the court, under the screaming headline:- "THE PRICE OF MY SON'S LIFE : £300!" and a picture of Diana-style flowers fixed to the traffic lights.

It is vital that the Chairman prepares the court's judgement with enormous care, explaining clearly the reason for the sentence being what it is, and expressing sympathy with the bereaved. In a case that I saw the defence solicitor addressed about half of his mitigation to the victim's family. But that was not enough, and the victim's mother went off to the Daily Mail who gave it a full page.

The Government is currently reviewing Road Traffic law, and one of the proposals is to create a new imprisonable offence of causing death by careless driving. This runs a real risk of the courts dancing to the tabloids' tune, and imposing disproportionate sentences to please the mob. Accidents happen, and it is for a dispassionate and impartial tribunal to assess the proper penalty if one is appropriate. I fear that we are going to come under pressure to impose severe sentences. It will not, in my view, save a single life.
posted by Bystander

NHS for all?

As a big fat old man, I am naturally concerned about the NICE (as in NICE one?) report which appears to advocate that if a patient who presents for treatment is overweight, a smoker or drinkerm it is OK to defer or even refuse him treatment.
Leave aside the point that without examination there is no way to establish any connection between the 'criminal behaviour' and the affliction, we still have the possibility that the poor sod who does not fit the profile is that way because of the actions of the Government. Rubbish food and no employment tend to go together. Depression may appear to be lifted by alcohol. I say appear before everyone crowds in with their expert medical opinions. The woman is depressed, she drinks, she wants to get treatment for the depression, she is refused because she drinks. In proper hands, this could be written up to be better than the Dead Parrot Joke. I do not intend to get up tight about this; they can treat me or leave me alone and I'll deal with it myself when the time comes. However, this guy has a neat view on the NICE.

Normal service will be .............

Been missing any real drive to contribute here.
Strangely, I think it is because I am feeling pretty chipper.
From lots of reading, I think that most people (not all, before you start!) blog because they want to moan or draw attention to something where they feel moans from someone else would be merited. After all, most people can get themselves to complain about things like bad service or inadequate provision of some resource. Few go the other way and fire off approval to all and sundry when something is satisfactory.
So it is with me. I have the same aches and pains and inability to do what I did twenty years ago but the present situation is that I don't really care about any of this. My attitude that there is a big conspiracy to do me down has left me - maybe the tablets are working? Doubtless, were I to carry out some sort of detailed audit of my blessings I would find there is just as much to bleat and moan about. Right now, I cannot be bothered to look. Long may that last.
So, if I miss a few days it is because I do not have anything strong enough to motivate me and not that I am spending my time on splicing bits of string together to make some sort of hangman's rope.

Wednesday, 7 December 2005

Who ate all the pies?



And a flashing of the pink to boot!
Good job he was not going commando.

What a lovely day!!

In terms of scenic beauty, today must be one of the finest days I have seen.
We had a very hard frost overnight. By tenn’ish, the sun had got up but was still very low and slanting. The temperature was about 2 degrees Centigrade.
There was a blue sky that I can only describe as better than Arizona. A really brilliant mid-blue. Other than a few aircraft con-trails, it was completely clear. This meant that the brilliance of the sun was made much sharper. One could literally see for miles. A couple of aircraft went over and added more pin sharp white tracks so there was little wind at high level. It was so clear that I could see the aeroplane itself.
Up in the hills, the low sun meant that some parts of a field would be in bright sunlight and others still frosty in the shadows. The grass was brilliant verdant green. Footpaths and sheep-walks drew a delicate tracery that made some green fields look like lace. Where there were streams, they were mirror black or sparkling gold if the sunshine glanced off. Trees were shown in sharp contrast. In some areas of roadside woodland that are normally just dense blackness, the searchlight effect of the sun brought out the tangled trunks and undergrowth.
Most farmers have put everything to rights for the winter so the fields were, in the main, cleared with hedges neatly trimmed. The bushes in the hedges were gold, copper or black and grew in random sequences. Some sheep were still out and they were just little white blobs with very clearly defined shadows. The male pheasants were stalking about with their colours like jewellery. Other birds were flying and making dense black shapes against the perfect sky. The air itself was crisp – breathing in was like taking a strong nip of whiskey.

Sunday, 4 December 2005

Graffiti

Spotted on the wall of a pub urinal

"Welcome to the White Trash Internet!"

Smoking can damage your health

I reckon that where he is in Iraq, the long-term threat of death from smoking related diseases is the least of his concerns. Don't suppose his comrades worry about passive smoking either.

So there!!

Give this.

Wartime Britain

I make no apology for putting in such a long piece of cut and paste. This woman even went to the same school as I did. We are about the same age.
It reflects a part of my life and our National history. It may even display some of the spirit and attitude that explains what made us Great Britain. These have been nibbled away in what is described as progress and improvement. I do not call it that.

I am now 69 years old and both my parents are dead so what follows is as honest and true an account as I can render.

The day war broke out I was five years old and living at 5, Beltinge Road, Harold Wood, Romford, Essex, with my younger brother Paul, my mother and my father who as a builder had just completed eight semi-detached houses in one of which we lived. My grandmother was with us on that fateful day and she and I were in the front room. She tried to explain to me what war would mean but her experience of war was, of course, based on the first world war which brought about the death of her husband, my grandfather. She told me about Zeppelins and how an air-raid warden would cycle round the streets with a rattle shouting, “Gas. Gas Gas” when the deadly Hun bombed England and dropped poison gas.

Within a few weeks my father had dug an air-raid shelter in the garden (known as the Dug-out and later as an Anderson Shelter, from the man who designed the curved metal shapes). The first dug-out quickly filled with water and was therefore useless. The second was a success. Some short time later everyone was issued with a gas mask. I recall my auntie Jennifer fainting whilst trying her gas mask on and being revived with smelling salts. There were several types of gas mask, huge ones for baby's, the coventional type and others which made the wearer look like Mickey Mouse and very silly.

Everyone was issued with Identity Cards and I recall being on a single deck London Bus (Route 247)when two Home Guard soldiers got on and demanded to see everyone's Identity Card.

Next memory is of an air raid when my cousin June, who lived next door, and I sat up at a window watching the search lights scour the skies for enemy bombers. Shortly afterwards my father was called up into the Army and served the next six years in the Royal Engineers. One day, whilst living in Harold Wood with Dad in the Riyal Engineers I recall finding a drawer full of .303 bullets and being shown a .303 rifle which Dad had 'borrowed' from the army and 'loaned' to my mother. She, I later learned, had been told by Dad how to use the thing. After the war my brother and I played with the rifle in the garden at Lilac Gardens but Dad found us and took it away. We never saw nor heard of it again. My mother went into hospital suffering with tuberculosis and as a consequence my brother and I were taken in to Dr. Barnados in Stepney, east London on 25th June, 1940. (From records supplied by Dr. Barnados.) Although you might think there were other relatives able to take us in this was hardly possible since they were all in the same boat.

I recall little of Stepney but remember after three weeks we were lodged with a lady who lived with her only child, named Neville, in Saffron Walden. Although we were not badly treated I recall we had all servings on one plate without being washed between any courses. Secondly, my brother and I slept together in the same bed with only brown paper as blankets. At my young age I frequently confused the word ‘Neville’ with ‘Devil’ which brought the mother’s stern disapproval and I still have trouble with the name ‘Neville’ to this day, although I can say it well enough I have great trouble in recalling the name ! On the 17th July the lady returned us to Dr. Barnados at Stepney. On the 24th July,1940 we were sent to the Garden City Children’s’ Home at Woodford which was rather odd because Woodford got its share of bombs. On 11th September,1940 we were allowed home as my mother had recovered sufficiently to be allowed home herself.

. Our home in Harold Wood had been unoccupied by our family and as a consequence it was given to a family named Griffiths who had, I assume nowhere to live. I now understand it was common practice to sequester unoccupied homes for occupation by people who had been ‘bombed out’ as the phrase went. The next three years were spent dodging bombs in various houses in Dagenham and Romford.

At one stage we lived in a house in Harold Wood, Romford, and attended the local school, Harold Wood Primary. One frosty, misty morning we set off for school and I thought of a good way of avoiding school. I turned back and told my mother I couldn’t find the school because of the fog but she wasn’t going to have any of that ! The school is on the same side of the road and just 200 yards away so we were packed off again. Imagine, though, my delight and pleasure when we finally reached the school entrance to find it was closed. An Air Raid Warden was at the gate and told us an unexploded landmine, dropped by parachute was dangling from the school roof.! War is not all bad you know. At one stage the roof tiles were blown off our house which, I was told, was the result of a mobile anti-aircraft gun firing nearby.

These were the days of daylight raids and when the air-raid siren sounded we would all be gathered in the school hall where we remained until either our parents collected us or the all-clear was sounded.

On other occasions , the sequences of which I can no longer recall, there were many nights in the air raid shelter in the house we occupied at 3, Lilac Gardens, Dagenham, an unpretentious cul-de-sac of terraced houses with my new school at the end. I have no idea who the owners were, their belongings were padlocked into the from room and mother, my brother Paul and I lived in the rest of the house. At that time I was attending Rush Green Junior School and the favourite game for children in those days was collecting shrapnel from bombs and shells which had landed during the night.

How quickly children get used to things, like ration books, bombers and fighters fighting in the skies above as well as Air Raid Wardens, Concrete Shelters on street corners: Sand bags: Public shelters: The black-out with the familiar cry “Put that light out” wherever lights were unwittingly shown: The netting glued to windows, even on bus windows to prevent glass shattering through bomb damage: The posters, “Twenty-five pounds of waste bus tickets make one shell cap” The cartoon ‘squander bug’ imploring us against waste: Other posters, “Be like Dad – Keep Mum” “Careless Talk Costs Lives” Queues for absolutely everything: The daily change in landscapes and property as a consequence of bombing, and, of course, British Restaurants. The latter were supposed to supply cooked food to supplement rations. Because food was really short getting enough to eat was always a top priority. My mother once gave me enough money to get a meal in a British Restaurant but I found the ‘food’ absolutely ghastly and indeed inedible. They were not well patronised. I feel sure that Britain was on the verge of starvation and anyone who doubts that should take a look at a weeks ration allowance. I recall at some time during the war people, certainly in the London area got to be pretty good at aircraft identification, even down to engine noises because obvioucly fully laden German bombers had a particular drone. The cry , "It's alright, it's one of ours!" was often heard. This would occasionally be followed by the air raid siren and a hail of bombs.

We lived very close to Hornchurch Aerodrome, an RAF Fighter station, to Roneo corner where, it was rumoured Spitfires were being built, to Romford Railway Station where a railway bridge carried all rail traffic to and from London and East Anglia where many aerodromes had been built. We were also close to the RAF Aerodrome at North Weald. So far as I recall none of those places were hit by enemy action.

Throughout all that time I can honestly say I was never afraid; the thought of being killed or injured by enemy action never entered my little head. I recall there was a Post Office at Roneo Corner and on one day a live bomb ( not primed) was situated outside on the pavement with an invitation to put a savings stamp on it as a message to Hitler. I’m now ashamed to say, considering the awful bombing of civilian targets in Germany, I put a sixpenny Savings Stamp on it. At some time during the war a new type of air raid shelter was designed, the Morrison Shelter, named after Herbert Morrison MP, it comprised a huge steel table erected in the living room. In an air raid you could get under the table and shut yourself in with wire mesh sides. Better than going out into the garden to the Ayunder shelter. I recall seeing bombed houses desolated into rubble and all one could see were the Anderson Shelters sticking up among the rubble so they definitely saved lives.

At some time my mother, my brother and I went to stay on a farm in Barton Stacey near Andover, Hampshire. I recall the school was a long walk away down country lanes. The thing that sticks on my mind was that the farmer's wife, a thoroughly unpleasant lady, perpetually moaned about London children getting goodies from the government when her poor Alfie, a hulking fat lout of a boy had nothing. After a short time we returned to London

Dad told me that a German Pilot had landed by parachute at the bottom of our road onto some grass area, I think this was Beltinge Road, anyway,as soon as he landed he was surrounded by some of the locals who said they were going to kill him but when they got to him they found he was, as Dad described him, "Only a boy" and a couple of women there felt sorry for him and wanted to mother him instead.

Another Aunt, Addie Watson, her husband Charlie and their daughter Adele, lived in 5, Lilac Gardens and we shared their air raid shelter. I don’t know why Uncle Charlie was there because all the men were in the Services. One night Dad was home on leave and he and I were walking home when the air raid siren sounded. A bomb or some ordnance landed nearby and we saw what I think was shrapnel skimming along the road like white hot needles

We became used to seeing damaged planes limping home, mainly bombers, sometimes with a crippled engine with propeller twisted and still. The air-raid sirens sounded intermittently and we could hear the warnings getting closer and closer until our own siren gave out its chilling, demented wail. The all-clear was a single tone sound and signalled much relief, principally in my case as an opportunity to climb back into my own bed and sleep.

One night, during an air raid when father was on leave the sirens sounded and we were ushered from our beds along the garden path clutching an assortment of bedding materials in the dark and into the air-raid shelter. It was not a cosy place. After a while the familiar crump of far away bombs and the crack, crack of anti-aircraft fire began to fill the air and then die away. During one such lull Dad decided to go into the kitchen and make a cup of tea. After a while he returned with the tea just as we all heard something hurtling earthwards. Dad jumped quickly into the shelter and the following day we assumed his feet landed on the shelter floor at the same time the ‘something’ hit the ground because he didn’t feel the impact. Everyone else did and the most popular opinion was that it had landed very close by. Dad poo-poo’d the idea insisting it was far away.!

The following day Dad and uncle Charlie had a minor row about some damage to flowers in his garden which Uncle Charlie alleged had been caused by me and my brother, Paul. In the course of the dispute my fathers brushed some of the flowers away and revealed, with some shock, a polished tunnel in the clay soil. At first they thought it was a bomb but it later transpired it was an unexploded shell from the anti-aircraft guns( known as Ack-ack, the phonetic terms for A A) used in the previous night’s air raid.

We children were kept far away from it and Dad walked down to the nearest A.R.P post to report the find and was re-directed to another Post in whose area our house stood.(Dagenham) The house was evacuated and I later learned it was Royal Navy personnel who came and retrieved the shell.

In August 1943 mother contracted tuberculosis again and I recall plainly my father kneeling by my bed, tears streaming down his face to tell me we had to go back to Dr. Barnados. In August 1943 we were taken into Dr. Barnados, back to the Garden City at Woodford, in Wakefield House. Although I was unaware of it at the time Woodford was just a few miles from Dagenham. I recall walking through the orchard at the back where fallen apples lay which we were not allowed to pick up and again I experienced that dreadful feeling of emptiness and forsakenness that haunted my soul for a fleeting second. All children in that position most certainly felt the same but we all recovered in short time. There must have been thousands, millions of children across Europe in the same position or worse.

Two months after re-admittance to Dr. Barnados we were shipped off to the Kingston-on-Thames branch (known by the boys as "Dickies Shack" I know not why., made famous by Leslie Thomas in his book This Time Next Week. Anybody interested in what it was like should read his book. I didn’t get to read it until the 1970’s and was so pleased to find that things I was uncertain of did actually occur, one such was the meals. Thanks for that wherever you are Leslie. Tea consisted on two slices of bed and jam. No butter or Marge, just the jam. Strangely enough my brother and I were happy there. The boys would sing the Kingston song, “There is a mouldy shack on Kingston Hill, Where we get goshy soup that makes us ill,…etc. Kingston had its own language for instance, “massive” meant ‘extremely’ so one could say “massive small”. “Goshy” meant ‘rubbish’ and so on.

I got a job as an errand boy shopping for a lady in the town. She used to give me tuppence (Two pennies) and I would go to the greengrocers and buy carrots to eat and share them with my brother.

The air raids continued and we many more nights in the air-raid shelter. My brother and I had to share a bunk ( the explanation given for this requirement was that well, that we were brothers!) We had a top bunk and every time a bomb dropped somewhere close rust would detach itself from the iron roof and fall on us. One day we were out walking on, I believe, Kingston Hill when our ‘Nurse’ the accompanying adult, spotted fighters and bombers in a so called dog-fight in the sky overhead. We were ushered into a ditch and made to lie down. There was a delicately coiled and polished cold lump of dog shit in the ditch where I was supposed to lay my head but for obvious reasons I decided to take my chance with the bombs! By peering through the bushes all we could see was vapour trails and could hear nothing of note. After a while we were allowed to climb out of the ditch and return to our walk.

On the 17th March, 1944 Paul and I were evacuated to Argyll Street, Castlefields, Shrewsbury, with Mr. and Mrs. Blent. They were old then and he probably would have retired but for the war. There we were ideally happy. We loved the school, the adults, the other children, the open fields and hills, the canal and especially we loved the river Severn and the weir. Such a magic place. I used to catch tiny salmon tiddlers by tying string round an empty jam jar and suspending it in the water and when the tiddlers entered heave it out to wonder at their golden, blue and scarlet flashes magnified by the jar. I was also ‘adopted’ by Mrs. Blent’s son-in-law who lived next door. He had an exempted occupation as a train driver and was a keen fisherman. He would take me fishing on the Severn for dace, salmon and pike.

Mr. Blent kept racing pigeons in a pigeon loft in the garden and it was through him I learned how to identify the many colourings of racing pigeons. There was one pigeon of which he was inordinately proud but which had died some years before. Its photo hung on the living room wall and the pigeons name was “Innocent”.

At some stage the Yanks arrived in great numbers and set up their Headquarters in the best hotel in town. The Brits in those days were a clipped up, taciturn race ,as an example if you got on a train no-one would speak for the whole journey. I suppose after years of war what with the blitz and men being killed at the front line or taken prisoners you could hardly expect anything less but the thing is, the Yanks were quite different from any other men I had ever known. As children we found them kind, decent and charming young men, always ready with a smile, good natured and friendly.

On the 17th July, 1945 our Salopian Idyll came to an end when Dad, home for a few days leave, came to collect us and take us back to Rush Green, Dagenham, where we now occupied a flat above a shop, 103, Rush Green Road and I began at my new school in Longbridge Road, Dagenham. We exchanged the meadowed banks of the mighty Severn for that oily sewer, the river Rom and the tumbling Midland hills for the grey, devastated estates of what is now the London Borough of Havering. I was so unhappy at leaving Shrewsbury that my mother later confided she had thought of ending me back.

At some time afterwards we returned to Lilac Gardens where VJ day was celebrated with a bonfire in the street. World War II was officially over. Dad was demobbed in January,1946 but we weren’t able to return to our own home in Harold Wood until 1947.

Of my own family my father served for six years with the Royal Engineers, all of it in the U.K. although in many parts of it. My Uncle Arthur Pilgrim was at Dunkirk, Egypt with the 8th Army, Sicily and Italy, Burma and India, back to the U.K. France after D.Day and Germany. He was also in the Royal Engineers in Bomb Disposal. My father recounted the story of how, after Dunkirk, Uncle Arthur’s wife was in our front room crying and saying softly, “My poor Arthur. My poor Arthur.” When there was a knock at the door and in strode Uncle Arthur, complete with his Lee Enfield .303 rifle. He had a cavalier approach to life and within a few minutes was showing some other chap how to slope arms ! He eventually died of old age in Wales. A cousin was in the merchant navy and died when his ship ,the Rawalpindi was sunk by enemy action Another cousin died when shot down whilst serving in Bomber Command. Another Aunt served in the A.T.S. and is still alive living in Suffolk. So my family was mainly lucky – we made it.

I feel greatly privileged to have known these men and women who served so nobly in a great cause. Ordinary men and women, schoolteachers, plumbers, plasterers, housewives. To have listened to their stories and wondered at how they could lead such dangerous and tormented lives and then go back to being ordinary men and women without the legions of counsellors, psychologists and the like experienced these days is a matter for wonder. No counsellors, no shoulders to weep on, no TV cameras to record the scene. Just get on with it. And if you are too young to have experienced that war then you must feel proud of them too.

Here follows such a story told to me by a man named Smith, a Greengrocer in the village of Thorpe-le-Soken, in Essex in 1962.

Smith was in the peace-time Air force serving in Malaya. He had a friend, also in the RAF, who had a job as bodyguard to a high ranking officer and he encouraged Mr. Smith to apply for the job having been assured it was only a decoration and it was unnecessary to be a good shot or know unarmed combat. Smithy duly applied and got the post which he enjoyed simply accompanying his Officer on duties around Malaya.

Of course it was too good to last and we know why ! War was declared and the Japanese troops had no bother in brushing the British aside as they marched the whole way down the Malayan Peninsular. As the Japanese advanced there was panic in Singapore and all the women and children were evacuated by plane and ship. Finally a small but speedy Squadron of ships and fast boats left Singapore for Australia with as many high ranking Officers and their bodyguards as could be mustered.

They sailed for Australia but on the way were twice ambushed by Japanese warships. They managed to escape during the night by dodging between small islands but Smithy’s boat was holed below the waterline. They managed to limp to an uninhabited island where they beached the boat and managed to live like latter day Robinson Crusoe’s.

After a few days they were discovered by a Japanese Patrol Boat and taken as prisoners of war.. In Smithy’s case it was the infamous Changi Jail followed by forced labour on the Burma Railway. As I said at the beginning, when I met him around 1962 he was a village greengrocer and I have no way of checking his story but I have to say I am convinced it was true.

Here’s another true war story told to me by a retired Harbour Master at Dartmouth in Devon, one Captain Penny. He too was in Malaya with his wife when the Japanese invaded and all the civilians were put on ships and evacuated. Captain Penny arrived late at the port ( I can’t now remember where) and only by pleading with the Captain of a ship which was already full to bursting point did he manage to get her away. The ship was bound for India and after a few days the situation had deteriorated and Captain Penny was evacuated too, a few days after his wife .

By chance he arrived at the same port at which his wife had first disembarked so he went straight to the local bank and was trying to make funds available for her anywhere in the world but the teller wasn’t able to do so, he needed a specific town. By one of those unimaginable chances the man at the next teller position interrupted to tell Captain Penny he had met Mrs. Penny and that she was on her way to South Africa, I think Durban.

A few weeks later Captain Penny arrived at Durban. He walked down the street and bumped into his wife.!

This story gives some indication of what a turmoil the world was in. Again I am unable to vouch for his veracity but when Captain Penny told me this story he was sober and in an earnest mood. From what I knew of him he was not a man to embellish or lie.

Do I bear any grudges ? Well, we are all creatures of conditioning, even at the war’s end our whole school was taken to the cinema to see Shakespeare’s Henry V, a rotten production but loaded up with bits from other Shakespeare’s plays to ram home the “This England” story. We were subject to propaganda too. There is still some resentment at Germany and Japan but it is the innocent Germans and Japanese who paid the price for the guilty and in the final reckoning their suffering was worse.





























THE DAY WAR BROKE OUT…


I am now 69 years old and both my parents are dead so what follows is as honest and true an account as I can render.

The day war broke out I was five years old and living at 5, Beltinge Road, Harold Wood, Romford, Essex, with my younger brother Paul, my mother and my father who as a builder had just completed eight semi-detached houses in one of which we lived. My grandmother was with us on that fateful day and she and I were in the front room. She tried to explain to me what war would mean but her experience of war was, of course, based on the first world war which brought about the death of her husband, my grandfather. She told me about Zeppelins and how an air-raid warden would cycle round the streets with a rattle shouting, “Gas. Gas Gas” when the deadly Hun bombed England and dropped poison gas.

Within a few weeks my father had dug an air-raid shelter in the garden (known as the Dug-out and later as an Anderson Shelter, from the man who designed the curved metal shapes). The first dug-out quickly filled with water and was therefore useless. The second was a success.

Next memory is of an air raid when my cousin June, who lived next door, and I sat up at a window watching the search lights scour the skies for enemy bombers. Shortly afterwards my father was called up into the Army and served the next six years in the Royal Engineers. My mother went into hospital suffering with tuberculosis and as a consequence my brother and I were taken in to Dr. Barnados in Stepney, east London on 25th June, 1940. (From records supplied by Dr. Barnados.) Although you might think there were other relatives able to take us in this was hardly possible since they were all in the same boat.

I recall little of Stepney but remember after three weeks we were lodged with a lady who lived with her only child, named Neville, in Saffron Walden. Although we were not badly treated I recall we had all servings on one plate without being washed between any courses. Secondly, my brother and I slept together in the same bed with only brown paper as blankets. At my young age I frequently confused the word ‘Neville’ with ‘Devil’ which brought the mother’s stern disapproval and I still have trouble with the name ‘Neville’ to this day, although I can say it well enough I have great trouble in recalling the name ! On the 17th July the lady returned us to Dr. Barnados at Stepney. On the 24th July,1940 we were sent to the Garden City Children’s’ Home at Woodford which was rather odd because Woodford got its share of bombs. On 11th September,1940 we were allowed home as my mother had recovered sufficiently to be allowed home herself.

. Our home in Harold Wood had been unoccupied by the family and as a consequence it was given to a family named Griffiths who had, I assume nowhere to live. I now understand it was common practice to sequester unoccupied homes for occupation by people who had been ‘bombed out’ as the phrase went. The next three years were spent dodging bombs in various houses in Dagenham and Romford.

At one stage we lived in a house in Harold Wood, Romford, and attended the local school, Harold Wood Primary. One frosty, misty morning we set off for school and I thought of a good way of avoiding school. I turned back and told my mother I couldn’t find the school because of the fog but she wasn’t going to have any of that ! The school is on the same side of the road and just 200 yards away so we were packed off again. Imagine, though, my delight and pleasure when we finally reached the school entrance to find it was closed. An Air Raid Warden was at the gate and told us an unexploded landmine, dropped by parachute was dangling from the school roof.! War is not all bad you know. At one stage the roof tiles were blown off our house which, I was told, was the result of a mobile anti-aircraft gun firing nearby.

These were the days of daylight raids and when the air-raid siren sounded we would all be gathered in the school hall where we remained until either our parents collected us or the all-clear was sounded.

On other occasions , the sequences of which I can no longer recall, there were many nights in the air raid shelter in the house we occupied at 3, Lilac Gardens, Dagenham, an unpretentious cul-de-sac of terraced houses with my new school at the end. I have no idea who the owners were, their belongings were padlocked into the from room and mother, my brother Paul and I lived in the rest of the house. At that time I was attending Rush Green Junior School and the favourite game for children in those days was collecting shrapnel from bombs and shells which had landed during the night.

How quickly children get used to things, like ration books, bombers and fighters fighting in the skies above as well as Air Raid Wardens, Concrete Shelters on street corners: Sand bags: Public shelters: The black-out with the familiar cry “Put that light out” wherever lights were unwittingly shown: The netting glued to windows, even on bus windows to prevent glass shattering through bomb damage: The posters, “Twenty-five pounds of waste bus tickets make one shell cap” The cartoon ‘squander bug’ imploring us against waste: Other posters, “Be like Dad – Keep Mum” “Careless Talk Costs Lives” Queues for absolutely everything: The daily change in landscapes and property as a consequence of bombing, and, of course, British Restaurants. The latter were supposed to supply cooked food to supplement rations. Because food was really short getting enough to eat was always a top priority. My mother once gave me enough money to get a meal in a British Restaurant but I found the ‘food’ absolutely ghastly and indeed inedible. They were not well patronised. I feel sure that Britain was on the verge of starvation and anyone who doubts that should take a look at a weeks ration allowance.

We lived very close to Hornchurch Aerodrome, an RAF Fighter station, to Roneo corner where, it was rumoured Spitfires were being built, to Romford Railway Station where a railway bridge carried all rail traffic to and from London and East Anglia where many aerodromes had been built. We were also close to the RAF Aerodrome at North Weald. So far as I recall none of those places were hit by enemy action.

Throughout all that time I can honestly say I was never afraid; the thought of being killed or injured by enemy action never entered my little head. I recall there was a Post Office at Roneo Corner and on one day a live bomb ( not primed) was situated outside on the pavement with an invitation to put a savings stamp on it as a message to Hitler. I’m now ashamed to say, considering the awful bombing of civilian targets in Germany, I put a sixpenny Savings Stamp on it.

Another Aunt, Addie Watson, her husband Charlie and their daughter Adele, lived in 5, Lilac Gardens and we shared their air raid shelter. I don’t know why Uncle Charlie was there because all the men were in the Services. One night Dad was home on leave and he and I were walking home when the air raid siren sounded. A bomb or some ordnance landed nearby and we saw what I think was shrapnel skimming along the road like white hot needles

We became used to seeing damaged planes limping home, mainly bombers, sometimes with a crippled engine with propeller twisted and still. The air-raid sirens sounded intermittently and we could hear the warnings getting closer and closer until our own siren gave out its chilling, demented wail. The all-clear was a single tone sound and signalled much relief, principally in my case as an opportunity to climb back into my own bed and sleep.

One night, during an air raid when father was on leave the sirens sounded and we were ushered from our beds along the garden path clutching an assortment of bedding materials in the dark and into the air-raid shelter. It was not a cosy place. After a while the familiar crump of far away bombs and the crack, crack of anti-aircraft fire began to fill the air and then die away. During one such lull Dad decided to go into the kitchen and make a cup of tea. After a while he returned with the tea just as we all heard something hurtling earthwards. Dad jumped quickly into the shelter and the following day we assumed his feet landed on the shelter floor at the same time the ‘something’ hit the ground because he didn’t feel the impact. Everyone else did and the most popular opinion was that it had landed very close by. Dad poo-poo’d the idea insisting it was far away.!



The following day Dad and uncle Charlie had a minor row about some damage to flowers in his garden which Uncle Charlie alleged had been caused by me and my brother, Paul. In the course of the dispute my fathers brushed some of the flowers away and revealed, with some shock, a polished tunnel in the clay soil. At first they thought it was a bomb but it later transpired it was an unexploded shell from the anti-aircraft guns( known as Ack-ack, the phonetic terms for A A) used in the previous night’s air raid.

We children were kept far away from it and Dad walked down to the nearest A.R.P post to report the find and was re-directed to another Post in whose area our house stood. The house was evacuated and I later learned it was Royal Navy personnel who came and retrieved the shell.

In August 1943 mother contracted tuberculosis again and I recall plainly my father kneeling by my bed, tears streaming down his face to tell me we had to go back to Dr. Barnados. In August 1943 we were taken into Dr. Barnados, back to the Garden City at Woodford, in Wakefield House. Although I was unaware of it at the time Woodford was just a few miles from Dagenham. I recall walking through the orchard at the back where fallen apples lay which we were not allowed to pick up and again I experienced that dreadful feeling of emptiness and forsakenness that haunted my soul for a fleeting second. All children in that position most certainly felt the same but we all recovered in short time. There must have been thousands, millions of children across Europe in the same position or worse.

Two months after re-admittance to Dr. Barnados we were shipped off to the Kingston-on-Thames branch, made famous by Leslie Thomas in his book This Time Next Week. Anybody interested in what it was like should read his book. I didn’t get to read it until the 1970’s and was so pleased to find that things I was uncertain of did actually occur, one such was the meals. Thanks for that wherever you are Leslie. Tea consisted on two slices of bed and jam. No butter or Marge, just the jam. Strangely enough my brother and I were happy there. The boys would sing the Kingston song, “There is a mouldy shack on Kingston Hill, Where we get goshy soup that makes us ill,…etc. Kingston had its own language for instance, “massive” meant ‘extremely’ so one could say “massive small”. “Goshy” meant ‘rubbish’ and so on.

I got a job as an errand boy shopping for a lady in the town. She used to give me tuppence (Two pennies) and I would go to the greengrocers and buy carrots to eat and share them with my brother.

The air raids continued and we many more nights in the air-raid shelter. My brother and I had to share a bunk ( the explanation given for this requirement was that well, that we were brothers!) We had a top bunk and every time a bomb dropped somewhere close rust would detach itself from the iron roof and fall on us. One day we were out walking on, I believe, Kingston Hill when our ‘Nurse’ the accompanying adult, spotted fighters and bombers in a so called dog-fight in the sky overhead. We were ushered into a ditch and made to lie down. There was a cold lump of dog shit in the ditch where I was supposed to lay my head but for obvious reasons I decided to take my chance with the bombs! By peering through the bushes all we could see was vapour trails and could hear nothing of note. After a while we were allowed to climb out of the ditch and return to our walk.

On the 17th March, 1944 Paul and I were evacuated to Argyll Street, Castlefields, Shrewsbury, with Mr. and Mrs. Blent. They were old then and he probably would have retired but for the war. There we were ideally happy. We loved the school, the adults, the other children, the open fields and hills, the canal and especially we loved the river Severn and the weir. Such a magic place. I used to catch tiny salmon tiddlers by tying string round an empty jam jar and suspending it in the water and when the tiddlers entered heave it out to wonder at their golden, blue and scarlet flashes magnified by the jar. I was also ‘adopted’ by Mrs. Blent’s son-in-law who lived next door. He had an exempted occupation as a train driver and was a keen fisherman. He would take me fishing on the Severn for dace, salmon and pike.

Mr. Blent kept racing pigeons in a pigeon loft in the garden and it was through him I learned how to identify the many colourings of racing pigeons. There was one pigeon of which he was inordinately proud but which had died some years before. Its photo hung on the living room wall and the pigeons name was “Innocent”.

At some stage the Yanks arrived in great numbers and set up their Headquarters in the best hotel in town. The Brits in those days were a clipped up, taciturn race ,as an example if you got on a train no-one would speak for the whole journey. I suppose after years of war what with the blitz and men being killed at the front line or taken prisoners you could hardly expect anything less but the thing is, the Yanks were quite different from any other men I had ever known. As children we found them kind, decent and charming young men, always ready with a smile, good natured and friendly.

On the 17th July, 1945 our Salopian Idyll came to an end when Dad, home for a few days leave, came to collect us and take us back to Rush Green, Dagenham, where we now occupied a flat above a shop, 103, Rush Green Road and I began at my new school in Longbridge Road, Dagenham. We exchanged the meadowed banks of the mighty Severn for that oily sewer, the river Rom and the tumbling Midland hills for the grey, devastated estates of what is now the London Borough of Havering. I was so unhappy at leaving Shrewsbury that my mother later confided she had thought of ending me back.

At some time afterwards we returned to Lilac Gardens where VJ day was celebrated with a bonfire in the street. World War II was officially over. Dad was demobbed in January,1946 but we weren’t able to return to our own home in Harold Wood until 1947.

Of my own family my father served for six years with the Royal Engineers, all of it in the U.K. although in many parts of it. My Uncle Arthur Pilgrim was at Dunkirk, Egypt with the 8th Army, Sicily and Italy, Burma and India, back to the U.K. France after D.Day and Germany. He was also in the Royal Engineers in Bomb Disposal. My father recounted the story of how, after Dunkirk, Uncle Arthur’s wife was in our front room crying and saying softly, “My poor Arthur. My poor Arthur.” When there was a knock at the door and in strode Uncle Arthur, complete with his Lee Enfield .303 rifle. He had a cavalier approach to life and within a few minutes was showing some other chap how to slope arms ! He eventually died of old age in Wales. A cousin was in the merchant navy and died when his ship ,the Rawalpindi was sunk by enemy action Another cousin died when shot down whilst serving in Bomber Command. Another Aunt served in the A.T.S. and is still alive living in Suffolk. So my family was mainly lucky – we made it.

I feel greatly privileged to have known these men and women who served so nobly in a great cause. Ordinary men and women, schoolteachers, plumbers, plasterers, housewives. To have listened to their stories and wondered at how they could lead such dangerous and tormented lives and then go back to being ordinary men and women without the legions of counsellors, psychologists and the like experienced these days is a matter for wonder. No counsellors, no shoulders to weep on, no TV cameras to record the scene. Just get on with it. And if you are too young to have experienced that war then you must feel proud of them too.

Here follows such a story told to me by a man named Smith, a Greengrocer in the village of Thorpe-le-Soken, in Essex in 1962.

Smith was in the peace-time Air force serving in Malaya. He had a friend, also in the RAF, who had a job as bodyguard to a high ranking officer and he encouraged Mr. Smith to apply for the job having been assured it was only a decoration and it was unnecessary to be a good shot or know unarmed combat. Smithy duly applied and got the post which he enjoyed simply accompanying his Officer on duties around Malaya.

Of course it was too good to last and we know why ! War was declared and the Japanese troops had no bother in brushing the British aside as they marched the whole way down the Malayan Peninsular. As the Japanese advanced there was panic in Singapore and all the women and children were evacuated by plane and ship. Finally a small but speedy Squadron of ships and fast boats left Singapore for Australia with as many high ranking Officers and their bodyguards as could be mustered.

They sailed for Australia but on the way were twice ambushed by Japanese warships. They managed to escape during the night by dodging between small islands but Smithy’s boat was holed below the waterline. They managed to limp to an uninhabited island where they beached the boat and managed to live like latter day Robinson Crusoe’s.

After a few days they were discovered by a Japanese Patrol Boat and taken as prisoners of war.. In Smithy’s case it was the infamous Changi Jail followed by forced labour on the Burma Railway. As I said at the beginning, when I met him around 1962 he was a village greengrocer and I have no way of checking his story but I have to say I am convinced it was true.

Here’s another true war story told to me by a retired Harbour Master at Dartmouth in Devon, one Captain Penny. He too was in Malaya with his wife when the Japanese invaded and all the civilians were put on ships and evacuated. Captain Penny arrived late at the port ( I can’t now remember where) and only by pleading with the Captain of a ship which was already full to bursting point did he manage to get her away. The ship was bound for India and after a few days the situation had deteriorated and Captain Penny was evacuated too, a few days after his wife .

By chance he arrived at the same port at which his wife had first disembarked so he went straight to the local bank and was trying to make funds available for her anywhere in the world but the teller wasn’t able to do so, he needed a specific town. By one of those unimaginable chances the man at the next teller position interrupted to tell Captain Penny he had met Mrs. Penny and that she was on her way to South Africa, I think Durban.

A few weeks later Captain Penny arrived at Durban. He walked down the street and bumped into his wife.!

This story gives some indication of what a turmoil the world was in. Again I am unable to vouch for his veracity but when Captain Penny told me this story he was sober and in an earnest mood. From what I knew of him he was not a man to embellish or lie.

Do I bear any grudges ? Well, we are all creatures of conditioning, even at the war’s end our whole school was taken to the cinema to see Shakespeare’s Henry V, a rotten production but loaded up with bits from other Shakespeare’s plays to ram home the “This England” story. We were subject to propaganda too. There is still some resentment at Germany and Japan but it is the innocent Germans and Japanese who paid the price for the guilty and in the final reckoning their suffering was worse.





























Forum

People have been talking about this Contribution. Here are the most recent Discussions:


TITLELATEST POST
Rawalpindi/SparksMay 12, 2004
Editorial Desk: A1951544 - The Day War Broke Out...Nov 2, 2003

Start a new discussion

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.
Does this contribution break House Rules?
Alert the moderatorsAlert the moderators

Add your story

Do your bit - register for free and start adding your own stories. Find out more about registering.

Register for free


About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy

A Mad Mad World my Masters

Age limit on cigarettes could be increased to 18.

Pro-smoking groups protest, but public backs plan to toughen tobacco law.
The minimum age at which people can buy cigarettes is to be raised from 16 to 18 years under plans being considered by the government. Department of Health sources have told The Observer that there is a case to be made for raising the age and is looking to consult on the issue, believing it could prove popular.

So, we get the situation where I could be in bed next to a lovely sixteen year old girl after something perfectly legal had occurred but would be breaking the law if I were to offer her a cigarette. Post-coital tristesse will never be the same again.