July 14, 2011

A Different View of War

I was about four and a half at the start of the Battle of Britain and though it may sound disgracefully callous I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed it. But then at an age when concepts, even of war, are niether acknowledged nor understood and life revolves largely around picture impressions that is not really surprising. It was a wonderful summer in 1940 with the deep blue skies a perfect backdrop to the white vapour trails of fighter aircraft as they twisted and turned in daily combat, with the occasional white parachute that to me seemed to hang in the air forever. There were lots of spent machine gun bullets lying around the garden and I remember putting one in my mouth to suck then accidentally swallowing it. After admitting my crime to nanny I was promptly dosed with cod liver oil then sat on a tin pot until a rewarding ping announced I was ammunition free. I remember a German bomber in flames flying low over the house before crashing in the next door field and being taken to have a look at the remains the next day.

But the highlight of my memories was an afternoon walk to Burnt Mill. Nanny seemed to have set walks and judging from how often we went on this one it must have been her favourite, that is until that fateful afternoon. Presumably because it was a hot summer day she was dressed in white, spotless and starched. Which might sound strange by today’s standards when she would more likely be wearing short shorts and a loose shirt, but this was 1940 and things were different then. It was a long way to the old burnt out mill, well to me it was, down a narrow road across the fens with ditches on either side. I used to walk most of the way though Nanny always brought a push chair along in case my legs gave out. Anyway we had gone about half way when we heard the plane which sounded much louder and lower than usual. I remember hearing some cracking noises, then Nanny scooped me up and leapt into one of the ditches. The plane never returned and looking back I can only assume the pilot decided to use up the last of his ammunition by shooting up the road and us. But it was Nanny who made my day, emerging from the ditch her face speckled with dirt, hair all over the place, her spotless white now dripping with black mud and her buckled shoes squelching with every step. I didn’t dare laugh, but I think it made my war.

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