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STREETLY, STAFFORDSHIRE MEMORIES  (1936 - 1961)

SATURDAY, 6th FEBRUARY 1943
- THE VISITOR
-

by Chris Myers
 

 

Saturday, 6th February 1943........

Hello, my name is Christopher and I am six-and-ten/twelfths years of age. I live with my mum and dad and big sister in a house in the Chester Road at the top of the hill between the Parson & Clerk and Manor Road. I was born here. I think I have told you some of this before but I'm not sure if you were paying attention.

I'm not doing much today, really, just mucking about. I'm pretty good at that. And I'm certainly not expecting anything out of the ordinary to happen this morning. I should be at school - Sandwell School in Blackwood Road, Streetly - but I've had measles and although I'm better I'm not allowed to go back yet. Not that I'm too bothered about that! No - that's rubbish, it's Saturday morning, of course it is, so I wouldn't be at school anyway. That's a bit of a swizz when you think about it. Not having to go to school because you are supposed to be ill, and then two of the days when you're off school are at the weekend. Doesn't seem fair to me.

I go back on Monday. That'll not be a bad thing, I have to say. Monday here is dreadful. A bloke gets no peace. The garage is full of steam from the gas wash-boiler and the smell of bed linen being laundered. The dolly on the top of the boiler is swung backwards and forwards as fast as possible by my mother. It's jolly hard work and she has a funny expression on her face while she does it. And then the mangling. I have to keep my fingers right out of the way while this goes on. And finally all the pegging out.  Oh, blimey!

But here I am, peering around the half open door of our garage, down the drive towards the gate and the hawthorn hedge which cuts us off from the Chester Road and the whole outside world. The family Ford Prefect isn't on the drive because Dad's at work, although only until lunchtime on a Saturday. He's got a petrol ration because of his work and his Home Guard duties. We're lucky about that although you can't use the car very much, only for important things. My sister isn't around either. Probably in her bedroom dreaming of film stars. She's started calling herself Vivienne, after Vivienne Leigh. Oh dear! You just can't understand them, can you? Mum is also in the house somewhere, doing whatever she does there; or else getting ready for her W.V.S. shift. If it was a weekday she might even be preparing for the weekly meeting of local housewives. They get together in an afternoon in each other's houses to knit mittens and scarves and balaclava helmets for the troops. Knitting and nattering, in other words. Probably talking about their sons or husbands who are far away. I sometimes go with her, if I'm not at school. Or haven't got measles. Some of the houses are in Hardwick Road or Thornhill Road or Little Aston Park and they have lovely gardens which I can explore until tea is ready. We often get cake.

I am vaguely aware of what is going on in the outside world. I know that beyond our gate the world is a dreadful place although at the moment I can only guess just how horrid it is. I know that almost all of Europe is in the hands of the Germans and that life for the people there can't be imagined. These days I am always careful not to be seen to be picking at my food as otherwise I get the usual lecture from my dad: "If you were in Europe now you would probably be picking food out of dustbins...." I really hate it when he does that. It's always enough to make me clear my plate and that's a habit I don't think I'm ever going to lose.

There are things I know about and others I don't. I know that it is the aim of every single German and Japanese to bump me off and if it is the Japs I know it will involve torture as well (because everybody knows that and often, when we go on our bikes to the Avion cinema in Aldridge, the films prove it). Such horrid things come to me in bad dreams every now and again. I know that the RAF is attacking German cities and factories every night because that is what the BBC News (read by Alvar Liddell - or "Alvanidell" as the name sounds to me) keeps on telling us. I know there is a lot of fighting in Russia as well - they are always talking about the River Don on the wireless. And in North Africa. And I know that the life I am leading is absolutely normal. I can't remember much about what it was like before; and I most certainly can't imagine what it'll be like when it's all over, if it ever is. I don't worry about much. There is nothing extraordinary about what is going on. It's just normal life. If I had a bit more imagination I would know that the grown-ups aren't relaxed at all.

What I don't know, and perhaps it's a good thing, is what is happening day-by-day.

I don't know how many RAF bombers which have gone out over Germany will never come back home and what the families of their crews are feeling.  All those Lancasters, Halifaxes, Stirlings and Wellingtons which are "missing". I don't really think of all those children in Germany, kids just like me, who are being bombed every night - perhaps I should, but I don't. But I can stil remember quite a bit about what it feels like. Perhaps Mum thinks about them from time to time because she's a very kind person. I just don't know and she's never said anything to me.

There are running battles in the North Atlantic between convoys bringing stuff from America and U-boats: dozens of ships get sunk every month. Since the beginning of the year thousands and thousands of Jewish people have been deported to a place with a funny name. It's called Auschwitz. Around now they are starting to build something huge at Birkenau which is next door. They'll do this very, very quickly because it is slave-labour which is doing all the work. I don't know anything about that today. And I can't know, either, that when my mother, far into the future, learns about that place, and all the others, she will always call the people who were sent there "those poor wretches".

What I don't know either, but perhaps the grown-ups are starting to feel it, is that things are just starting to get a bit better. I and most of my fellow Brummies haven't had to spend a night in an air-raid shelter for ages. And Bomber Command is getting busier and busier. They are always talking on the wireless about "last night's raid on the Ruhr". Rommel has been forced back after defeat at El Alamein last October and is becoming trapped between the British 8th Army who are chasing after him and the British and American armies which landed four months ago in Morocco and Algeria. It looks as though the Afrika Corps has had it. The German 6th Army has just been wiped out at Stalingrad and the Soviet armies are getting stronger and stronger. And in the Far East, after all of last year's disasters, the Japanese are starting to be forced back. To me, though, what I know of this - and I only know bits of it - is all just day-to-day stuff.

I am still idly looking down the drive. Everything is quiet. Just an occasional lorry or motorbike passes the gate. Nothing is stirring in the front gardens of the houses opposite. Then to my amazement a man appears on the other side of the gate and starts to unlatch it. It is a soldier. Who on earth is he? Then I recognise him. It's my 20-year-old brother. He comes through the gate and walks towards me with a broad grin.

I shout to my mother through the back door to let her know. He shouldn't be here. We only said good-bye to him two or three weeks ago. This is a picture of him and me then, only a couple of weeks ago, standing at the top of our garden. I look very proud of him, which I am. He had been home on what everyone called Embarkation Leave. I had been told that that was it, he was going far, far away and I shouldn't expect to see him again for goodness how long.

And now here he is, back again!

 

Graham (otherwise known as Bill) has now been a soldier for 8 or 9 months. He is in the Royal Artillery. He had wanted to join Bomber Command and become a bomb-aimer but they wouldn't have him. His eyesight wasn't good enough. I bet Mum and Dad are a bit relieved! For exactly two years up to June last year he worked and trained at the side of our dad in the local Home Guard platoon based at Little Aston Hall stables. They spent night after night there, on guard duty. They said it was still full of the smell of horses. Then he was called up. First of all he went to Church Stretton. On a lovely Sunday at the beginning of July last year we all paid him a visit there and Dad took some pictures with a bit of colour film carefully kept from pre-war. Here he is on that happy day, facing an unknown future with a cheery grin and a Woodbine.

After coming up the drive and greeting me in the garage there are embraces with Mum who has arrived all excited at the kitchen door when she heard me shouting for her. He explains why he has arrived unexpectedly. He has been able to convince his Commanding Officer that measles can be quite a serious illness - he himself had a bad time of it when he was young. So what about a bit of Compassionate Leave? The C.O. falls for it and now my brother looks at me, all hail and hearty, and perhaps, just perhaps, feels a tiny twinge of conscience. But there we are, and, well, a couple of days at home aren't to be sneezed at.

Thirty-six hours later it will be good-byes again, this time for real; and off he will go, back down the drive, back to Woolwich and back to an unknown future. In a few days after he leaves us he will be on a troopship casting off from Avonmouth and sailing for an unknown destination.

 

                  Bon voyage, Our Kid!

 

 

This family and local history page is hosted by www.staffshomeguard.co.uk 
(The Home Guard of Great Britain, 1940-1944)
Please see INDEX page for acknowledgements.

All text and images are, unless otherwise stated, The Myers Family 2022

 

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L8J May 2022 
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