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Author Topic: Pee Cee's World  (Read 126627 times)

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John38

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #66 on: February 10, 2014, 19:10:16 »
This is rapidly becoming a valuable social commentary PC.

Offline peterchall

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #65 on: February 10, 2014, 16:15:17 »
Not quite the same thing, but illustrative of the risks of parting - our unspoken thoughts each day when Dad went to work or I went to school were "will we ever see each other again?"

Then an additional reason for parting was Dad's Home Guard duties - I can't remember now exactly what they entailed, but I think it was at least one evening a week training and one overnight a week guarding something. Dad and my younger uncle used to patrol somewhere, but I can't remember where. Then the Gun Wharf formed its own platoon and Dad transferred to that.

Another aspect of normality that continued throughout the war were visits to my policeman uncle at Eccles, and my aunt and cousins. On one occasion we were there when uncle brought back an escaped Borstal boy, and he had tea with us while awaiting for someone at Borstal to collect him. The 'Police Station' at Eccles was a desk in the living room of a house next to  the Recreation Ground! Borstal boys in parties of about 8, with a warder in civvies, out for walks were a common sight at Rochester.

Which reminds me of another 'recreation' - the bus ride. To Gravesend to go to the promenade was popular. Or just a bus ride for its own sake, to some destination and return without getting off the bus. However, it was about then that buses stopped running at 9pm daily and didn't start until 1pm on Sundays.
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Offline Lyn L

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #64 on: February 10, 2014, 13:22:37 »
Slightly off topic, but connected to the B of B. I lost an Uncle on the 20th October 1940 . He and my Aunt lived in Tottenham. They were on their way home when the sirens went, Aunt managed to get to the shelter which was just across the road from their home, but Uncle went back to get the dog from home, and they were both killed by the bomb.
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Offline peterchall

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #63 on: February 10, 2014, 11:18:50 »
Part 9
The name ‘Battle of Britain’ was coined by Churchill in his speech mentioned in Part 8, although we never knew it as such at the time. However it was definitely established by March 1941, when the Air Ministry published a book with that title – I still have a copy – which dates the battle between 8th August and 31st October 1940, whereas today its start is considered to have been 10th July.

From it we learned for the first time of the organisation of our defences. Note that radar stations are not shown, although the text mentions information about enemy aircraft being obtained by the Observer Corps and “other sources”.

Anyway, guess what – after the ‘Battle of France’ life in the Medway Towns continued to be normal! The school summer holidays were approaching and, while boat trips to Upnor and the paddle steamer to Sheerness were not on, trips to the Strand and a paddle in the river were, and so were my Saturday afternoons at the pictures with Mum.

My first ‘warlike’ memory is of Dad coming home and saying the Germans had shelled Dover with guns on the French coast. Whether it was common knowledge or he’d heard of it through his job, I don’t know, but he said things were getting serious – perhaps he thought it was a preliminary bombardment to invasion. I remember being on Jackson’s Fields when the siren went and I saw some planes far away to the north and heard distant gunfire, but who I was with and what we did, I’ve no idea (According to book The Narrow Margin attacks on convoys in the Thames Estuary were common from early August on).

My first ‘strong’ memory is of the siren sounding in the night, and going down to the cellar to the sound of planes, guns, and the ‘thud’ of bombs. I was shaking and saying to my parents “you’ve done this before (WW1) but this is my first time” – I must have thought a previous bad experience inured them to later ones! (Book The Narrow Margin records scattered attacks by small numbers of raiders almost nightly at that time, but that was the only one I remember. Book Front Line County records bombs at Upnor on 19th June, so it was probably then – earlier than I thought)

Presumably that was when we started sleeping in the cellar. It had been shored-up by about a half dozen 4x4 timbers between floor and joists of the ground floor. We slept on mattresses directly on the concrete floor, with bare brick walls, and light was by Hurricane Lamp(s) - or had a flex and lamp-holder been run down from upstairs?.

During the day there was little more than aircraft passing over (ours or theirs?) and perhaps distant gunfire (Detling and Eastchurch airfields were attacked on 13th August).

Then on 15th August my ‘real’ war began! The sirens went about 4pm and there was the sound of many aircraft and gunfire, followed by that of bombs – guns made a sharp ‘crack’, distinct from the ‘thump’ of bombs, although we probably didn’t realise that at the time – but we did know that something big was happening so Mum and I went down the cellar – Dad was at work - and there was the roar of engines as the formation passed over. The overwhelming sensation of an air attack was the sheer ear-splitting NOISE, so we were surprised on venturing outside to see everything intact. News soon reached us that the airport had been bombed and some bombs had fallen on Delce Road. My uncle (Mum’s younger brother) was working as a plumber near the airport  and came home somewhat shaken (He lived with my Grandparents in Queen Street, just round the corner).

I think Mum must have had a friend who lived in one of the bungalows on the wall in Delce Road and we went to see her in early evening, or we just went to be nosey. Some of the bungalows and other houses had some tiles off and some broken windows, so the bomb (I think there was only one) must have fallen in the open, because no buildings were badly damaged – it was the first bomb damage I’d seen. The snag was the sirens went again while we were there. Nothing happened, but Mum didn’t want to walk home with an alert on and we spent some time in somebody’s house ready to go into their shelter if need be – but I don’t remember if it was Mum’s friend’s house, or if some strangers had asked us in. A ‘crater’ from a different bomb, about 3” deep and a foot across, stayed in the  concrete surface of City Way for a long time afterwards.

From then the B of B went on apace, and that will be the theme of my next post.

To be continued…..
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Offline peterchall

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #62 on: February 08, 2014, 12:05:47 »
Part 8
Back to the war. I will try to write from the aspect of what we knew at the time rather than what we learned later, but it’s not easy to distinguish.

There were photos in the local paper of the Royal West Kents in trenches in France named ‘Week Street’, ‘Stone Street’ and so on, but hand grenades in neat piles on the trench parapet showed the photos to be posed. British troops were actually along the border with Belgium, mostly in billets. Small units took turns at going into the line with the French along the German border for experience, and there were a few casualties sustained during patrol clashes – both sides withdrew well back from the border and it was as if they were deliberately trying to avoid each other. Dad still said “It’ll fizzle out”

At home there was the occasional alert but most enemy air activity was minelaying and we slept in our bedrooms. A German bomber laden with magnetic mines crashing on Clacton, resulting in much damage and many casualties, was big news.

The Morden Arms in Queen Street, Rochester, became our local:

It definitely didn’t have a Children’s’ Room or any corners where a kid could hide, and I sat openly on a seat inside the right-hand window – sometimes we were even accompanied by my policeman uncle (in civvies) and my aunt, although it might have been later in the war and he knew what police priorities were. After a while nobody carried their gas masks and, apart from the blackout, life was almost normal.

I may not have the time scale quite right, but the clocks went back to GMT as usual in the autumn of 1939, then on to BST in spring of 1940, staying there for the winter of 1940-1941. Then in spring of 1941 we had Double BST, followed by BST for the winter, and so on for the rest of the war. The result was sunset after 10pm in the summer and sunrise after 9am in the winter, even this far south. Weather forecasts ceased, to avoid giving information to the enemy.

We were excited by the Battle of the River Platte, when the German pocket-battleship Graf Spee was destroyed. The Merchant Navy prisoners that Graf Spee had taken off the ships she had sunk had been transferred to the tanker Altmark which sought refuge from the Royal Navy in a Norwegian fjord. HMS Cossack entered Norwegian territorial waters to board her and release the prisoners and the words of the officer who called down the hatch to the prisoners – “The Navy’here” – became almost a catch-phrase.

The Phoney War ended on 9th April 1940 when Germany invaded Denmark unopposed, and Norway by simply docking troopships alongside quays in ports. By the time the Norwegians realised what was happening it was too late to put up a meaningful resistance, although they tried. British and French troops actually recaptured the port of Narvik from the Germans and the navy inflicted a defeat on German warships in Narvik Fjord, but they couldn’t be reliably supplied and were withdrawn later.

PM Neville Chamberlain stated “Hitler has missed the bus” and initial public opinion was that it was a good thing because Hitler had bitten-off more than he could chew by attempting sea borne operations with his puny little navy (which did in fact suffer serious losses in relation to its size). In ship-v-ship actions the Royal Navy generally came off best, but against the Luftwaffe or U-boats didn’t do so well.

On 10th May 1940 Neville Chamberlain was told, during a debate in Parliament, to..... “in the name of God, GO”.(Even as a kid I knew that was strong stuff) and he resigned a broken man, to die a few months later with his hopes of avoiding WW2 shattered – an honourable but naive man. Winston Churchill became Prime Minister and my grandfather said “he’s a warmonger”, apparently not realising that was what we needed. But home life was affected little more than the Afghan war affects home life today – mainly worry to families having men in the battle zones.

On the same day Germany invaded France, Belgium and Holland and we learnt the meaning of ‘Blitzkrieg’ – how to totally overwhelm your enemy.

Also on the same day there was an appeal for men to join the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV), later to be renamed the Home Guard.

We followed the news daily as the Panzers swept across the Low Countries and Northern France and the optimists (including Dad) said they were stretching themselves too far ahead and would soon become easy to defeat. ‘No sensible soldiers would advance so fast without ensuring that their support troops were keeping up with them’ was the opinion. Rotterdam was surrounded and invited to surrender, the Luftwaffe gave a demonstration of the fate of cities that resisted, and Holland surrendered within days. We heard of refugees clogging roads and hindering the movement of our troops, and of how the Luftwaffe ruthlessly cleared the way for the army - if there were refugees on the roads when the troops and tanks wanted to pass, too bad for the refugees. How many of the atrocity stories were true, I don’t know – I suspect some but not all. Then rumour had it that the German tanks were not clad in armour but in plywood, such was the dire straights of the German economy – so it wouldn’t be long before the Panzers were destroyed and Germany collapsed!

Within a couple of week’s the German army had advanced as many miles as WW1 armies advanced in yards in the same time, the Panzers reached the Channel coast at Calais and the BEF was cut-off in Belgium. The Belgian army on its left surrendered, leaving its left flank open, and the retreat (or headlong race!) to Dunkirk began.

Home life continued as normal, except that there was an appeal for anyone owning a small boat to get in contact with someone or other. The Dunkirk evacuation went ahead but the only direct memory I have is of seeing trainloads of troops going through Rochester. Then it was over and ‘our boys’ were safely home, but without most of their heavy equipment – although we weren’t told that. Dad told of us of torn and bloodied uniforms, taken off casualties, piled in the Transit Shed of the Gun Wharf. Churchill stated that we should be grateful for the deliverance but should not look on Dunkirk as a victory because “wars are not won by retreating” We were reminded always to carry our gas masks, but I honestly can’t remember doing so.

German troops continued to advance into France and she surrendered on 17th June 1940 (The surrender documents were signed in the same railway carriage that the German surrender was signed at the end of WW1, just to rub salt into the wound), and the remaining British troops who were in France were brought home – apart from those whose ships were sunk, that is. The Germans occupied north and west France, leaving the east and south ‘free’ under the Vichy government. The Channel Islands were occupied – the only British territory to suffer that fate in WW2 – a soldier who worked in the Gun Wharf was there on leave and didn’t get back. French warships in British ports were boarded and their crews 'arrested' until they decided which side hey were on.

This cartoon appeared in the Daily Mail:

I think the guy in the water was the French PM.

It was about now that Churchill made 3 of his most memorable speeches, and I make no apology for reproducing part of them here, because we really did listen to them and were inspired by them.
•   I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory….however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.

•   We shall go on to the end. We shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

•   …. the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation... [and]... our own British life. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world…..will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ”This was their finest hour”.

Dad and my younger uncle joined the local Home Guard, which met in Troy Town School. Road blocks and pill-boxes started to appear. Bearing in mind the chaos on the roads caused by refugees in France, we were told to ‘Stay Put’. We heard of convoys being attacked off Dover and there was a live radio broadcast from Dover cliffs during such an attack – we could hear the guns, bombs and planes. I first saw that newsreel shot – seen hundreds of times since – of a plane flopping upside down into the water (the snag was, it was a Spitfire!). Mum announced that if the Germans occupied Kent she would put her head in the gas oven, and dad stopped saying “it’ll fizzle out”.

But we still went to work, school, the pictures and the pub, Dad did the Football Pools, and we probably moaned about the weather. In other words, life was almost normal…..

To be continued…..
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Offline Lyn L

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #61 on: February 06, 2014, 20:04:57 »
Thanks again PC , I love all these Life stories . I wish my memory was half as good as yours  :)
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John38

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #60 on: February 06, 2014, 18:15:01 »
A thoroughly good read, really enjoying it PC.

Offline Sentinel S4

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #59 on: February 06, 2014, 15:19:18 »
PC this is great. I love reading these boards. These are what makes History live for me. Facts and figures are great but this is LIFE. My Friend I am enjoying your story immensely, thank you for taking the time to write this.

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busyglen

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #58 on: February 06, 2014, 14:58:54 »
Another good read PC.  :)

Offline peterchall

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #57 on: February 06, 2014, 12:51:00 »
 :)
Part 7
23 Ross Street was a 3-bed terraced house with a cellar, large by working class standards. Rented of course – home ownership for the workers was far into the future. A regular Sunday evening walk was to the ‘Prince of Wales’ in Strood High Street to pay the rent – it was about 10/- or 15/- (50p or 75p) a week, about 1/5th of a week’s pay (How does that compare with today?). We had electric light and a garden, and the toilet was inside the back door porch, but we had no bathroom. The cellar had been shored up to make an air-raid shelter and we had no Anderson shelter.

With the Phoney War continuing, evacuees gradually returned home with their teachers, and Troy Town School re-opened, I guess about March 1940. At first we just went in at a specified time to get homework, then it was for half-days and by the Autumn Term or sooner it was full-time.

Here I’m going to jump ahead and deal with all of my schooling. There was a fire station in Foord Street and the firemen were accommodated in the classroom next to my ground floor one. There was a bell system to tell them the state of alert – ‘yellow’ for initial warning, ‘red’ for imminent raid, and so on – and a fireman would put his head in the door to tell our teacher. I don’t know that it did any good to know that there was a ‘yellow’ on or that the bells for all-clear had been rung, because we went by the public sirens which sounded anyway for the ‘red’ and ‘green’. When the ‘alert’ sounded those of us who could be collected could go home and mum, being just round the corner, was usually waiting outside the school. When the ‘all-clear’ sounded we were supposed to go back to school, and at the height of the Battle of Britain it was a yo-yo existence. And it wasn’t unknown for the sirens and the presence of the enemy to get out of sync, so the teachers had to use their own initiative if guns started firing and there had been no alert. What with that and completely missing about 2 terms earlier, I think my parents worried about the effect on my education, although I probably thought it was great.

And so the 11+ came. In those days it was taken at the particular school on a Saturday, in my case the Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School (the ‘Math School’) and I failed. It was no ‘big deal’ because Mum’s elder brother had gone there and hated it (He was the one who became a policeman and taught me the value of the words ‘why’, ‘when’, ‘where’, what’, and ‘how’).

So I went upstairs at Troy Town to the ‘big school’ and into the TLC of Mr Marchant, noted for his enthusiasm with the cane. But I must have been a goody-goody or was crafty, because I escaped that pleasure.

There was a 2nd chance a year later with the exam for Rochester Junior Technical School (the ‘Tech School’) which I passed and got a free scholarship – it was open to my parents to pay if I’d failed (and for the Math the previous year) but they couldn’t have afforded it. I don’t think there were many paying pupils – we could only guess on the basis of a boy’s background because there was no distinction between paying and scholarship pupils as far as the school was concerned.

Thus in September 1941 it was to the Tech. We were combined with Chatham Tech at Holcombe, on Chatham-Maidstone Road, and spent part of the week at each. The advantage of the Rochester site was that the top floor was occupied by the Art School and up there were GIRLS – I still remember Gwen who I went to the pictures with (You can tell I didn’t go to a GRAMMAR school, because that sentence should correctly read  ”….Gwen, with whom I went to the pictures”) Her dad  paid for the tickets then spoilt it by coming with us! But at least we did walk to and from school a couple of days a week and exchanged Christmas presents – actually hers to me was a penknife which I had to buy from her for a farthing, because to give a knife as a present risked cutting the friendship, something I hadn’t heard of.

But back to school. Sports afternoon was spent at playing fields at Fort Pitt and my most hated lesson was PT. Favourite lessons were anything ‘mechanical’ – Maths, Mechanics, Geometry, and Engineering Drawing. Our Geography teacher was Mr McWillie who also ran an after-school class in German. He had been stationed in Germany with the army after WW1 and married a German girl – I think her family was still in Germany so the war must have been a worrying time for him. Not that I was much good at languages – I got a distinction in French by achieving 2% in one exam! Engineering Drawing was taught by Percy Hamilton who recommended a book to me that I still have, titled ‘Engines Today’, and it was from there that I learnt about steam engines and turbines, types of boiler, and 2-stroke and 4-stroke petrol engines and diesel engines – the book is not dated but it presents the LNER loco ‘Silver Link' as the latest and states that the rotary internal combustion engine (gas turbine) was far into the future. ‘Lucy’ Locket taught History and there was a ditty about him that started "There was a man called Locket, who went for a ride in a rocket, the rocket went 'bang'…..", but I’d better stop there! Gobby Davis had a son who was a Typhoon pilot and he visited one day to talk to the whole school assembled in the Gym – I wonder if he survived the war. Metalwork and Woodwork gave me the basis on which to build practical skills – the Metalwork shop at Holcombe had lathes and, I think, even a milling machine, to give me my first experience of handling machinery.

An altogether excellent couple of schools, attending which compensated for the time lost earlier in the war.

There was no fear of the cane because discipline was enforced by detention or by lines which had to be brought in the next day. By the time one had written “I will not run in the corridors” or “I will not talk in class” 100 times one took care not do it again. It was surprising how far pupils came, and the ‘Faversham boys’, as they were called, were allowed to leave 10 minutes early to catch their train. We made no concessions to Hitler regarding school hours – they were 9am to 4.30pm (12 or 1 on Saturdays), which meant coming to school in the blackout during  the winter – due to keeping BST – sometimes with the air raid alert still on. We were issued with an exercise book for each subject and had to write across the page ignoring margins, and couldn’t get a replacement until the front and back covers had been filled! Tragedy struck at first hand when a classmate who usually sat with me (surname Fox) died of polio or meningitis – I felt unwell for days, convinced that I had caught it.

Normal school leaving age was 14, but for the Tech the leaving exams were taken after the third year at age 15. The exams were set by the College of Preceptors – something between the School Leaving Certificate of the Elementary Schools and the Matriculation of the Grammar Schools. My best mate stayed at Troy Town and left school at 14 to earn a wage, and I think I must have become restless. So Dad (By now Foreman at the RAOC depot at Darland) used the ‘Old Pals Act’ to get me a job as Trainee Electrician with the Royal Engineers and – against the objections of the headmaster – I left school at Christmas 1943 without any qualifications. But that’s another story.

Regarding another aspect of my education, the minister of St Peter’s did call to try to persuade me to go to Sunday School, but more with the attitude that it was naughty not to go rather than it being good for its own sake, which stirred the rebel in me so I didn’t go. However, it is said that ’there are no atheists in a slit-trench’, so it’s possible that I did say my prayers during an air raid then hypocritically forgot them afterwards. As an ‘old soldier’ Dad’s attitude was “if it’s got your name on it there’s nothing you can do about it”

To save keep going back and forth in my narrative, let’s take Dad’s history to the end of the war. About 1942-1943 a large Ordnance Depot was opened at Darland, where Gillingham Business Park is now, and he moved from Chatham Gun Wharf to become Foreman there. I know he had an army boss then, a Major in the RAOC, because their working week ended with a session in the Central Hotel at Sunday lunchtime, and Dad commented that the Major drank whisky and he drank beer, making the cost of the rounds rather unbalanced! And it really was the end of the working week, because Sunday afternoon was usually his only time off. The Depot had its own Home Guard Platoon, but Dad somehow became involved with the HG rocket battery at Beatty Avenue and was commissioned:

I got a telling-off because I giggled when walking with him along Rochester High Street and people saluted him (almost every other person was in uniform). “It makes them feel awkward” I was told.

To be continued…..
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John38

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #56 on: February 03, 2014, 14:46:30 »
A really nice commentary, PC

Offline peterchall

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #55 on: February 02, 2014, 21:36:47 »
Part 6
I think the pub on the corner of Globe Lane and Medway Street, mentioned in my previous post, was the ‘Old George’. Does anyone know?

On mobilisation some soldiers were billeted in the Transit Shed and on the morning of 3rd September 1939 I was talking to one of them on the quayside when the sirens went. A soldier called out through the doorway “We’ve declared war on Germany” – I ran home to find my mother at the door with our gas masks and we went to the shelter in front of the Colonel’s House. I had missed Mr Chamberlain’s speech. Apparently a civil aircraft had been mis-identified and the alert lasted for only a few minutes. Mum and I spent that afternoon sitting on a seat looking out over the river, thinking our own thoughts and expecting waves of German bombers to come over at any minute. Although the Spanish Civil War was over, newsreels of that and scenes from the recent film ‘The Shape of Things to Come” fuelled our imaginations.

The next ‘excitement’ was an alert early on 6th September, when the ‘Battle of Barking Creek’ occurred (Google it). We stood outside the shelters and watched 3 single engined planes being fired at by AA guns, and heard rumours of a “great big black thing” being forced down over Strood. Why was it not realised that single engined planes could not have been German, due to the distance from Germany?

Soldiers patrolled the Gun Wharf at night and if we had been out we would be met by the shout of “Halt, who goes there?”. We STOPPED, and dad replied “Friend”, to which the response was “Advance ONE to be recognised” – dad would walk forward and all was well, but if we had not acted as expected it could easily have gone wrong.

After that it was all quiet on the Home Front. As far as I can recall the memories of a 10 year old, 74 years later, there was no flag-waving militarism, but rather a feeling of sadness that all attempts to reason with Hitler had failed. There was also a feeling of bewilderment that it was all so quiet, leading dad to say “They’ll come to their senses and it’ll fizzle out”. The phrase ‘The Phoney War’ was born.

But there was no phoney war at sea. The liner Athenia was torpedoed on the first night of the war and other sinkings occurred; the Aircraft Carrier Courageous was sunk at sea, and the event that really shook us was the sinking of the Battleship HMS Royal Oak while at anchor in the security of Scapa Flow. I think there was a grudging admiration for the skipper of that U-boat

The war didn’t start well for the RAF either. Attempts to bomb the German fleet in daylight resulted in unsustainable losses. Due to restrictions on the bombing of inland targets where there was the risk of harming civilians, night raids were limited to the dropping of leaflets, against which the night defences of the time were impotent - a lesson not lost on either side, causing them to adopt night bombing as their main means of attack.

The blackout killed more people than the enemy, due to vehicles head lights being covered by a mask with 3 slots in it:

Side lamps and tail lamps had to be dimmed by a layer of tissue paper behind the glass, as did hand torches. Any chink of light through a curtain, or even a temporarily opened door while someone went through it, could result in a fine. Warden Hodge’s shout of “put that light out” was not just a figment of the imagination of the authors of ‘Dad’s Army’.  According to the phase of the moon and the amount of cloud, visibility could vary from almost being able to read a newspaper in the street to not being able to see a hand in front of your face. The night sky on a clear moonless night was a sight to behold, sadly denied to most of us to day, due to light pollution. An improvement came when white strips were painted on vehicle mudguards and white lines were painted down the centre of roads. There was a song advising those trying to get home after having had too much to drink to “Follow the white line all the way”

Songs of the times were ‘Bless ‘Em All’, ‘Roll Out the Barrel’, ‘We’re Gonna Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line’ (The German border defences- some hope!), ‘The Quartermasters Stores’, ‘Wish me Luck as You Wave Me Goodbye’, and that Vera Lynn song that moistens the eye even today – ‘We’ll Meet Again’ (Soppy, innit?)

A couple of weeks after the declaration of war Russia invaded Poland, and Germany and Russia divided the country between them. Russia invaded Finland and we watched with admiration as that little country fought back throughout the ‘Winter War’. There was even talk of Britain sending troops to her aid.

Stripey and his constables on duty at the entrance sported revolvers and the ‘roofless’ building housed weapons handed in to the police when the war began – I gazed in wonder at the pistols and shotguns when dad took me  in there to look.

There was a magazine called ‘I was There’, intended for eye-witness stories, but it never caught on. I may be jumping ahead but the war prompted books on aircraft recognition and the weekly magazine ‘Aeroplane Spotter’, with its superb internal cut-away view of a selected aircraft each week – still an industry standard.

I don’t remember much about rationing, except that we got eggs in powdered form and never had anything like oranges or bananas – Bananas were a ‘no-no’ because banana boats were among the fastest of merchant ships and quickly requisitioned for more warlike purposes. Food was perhaps plain and monotonous, but I can say we never went hungry.

Cinemas, theatres, and dance halls re-opened after about 3 weeks. The winter of 1939/1940 saw the heaviest snow for years and I remember men clearing Military Road manually with shovels. Schools were still closed when, for a reason I don’t remember, we moved to 23 Ross Street, Rochester. It must have been early 1940, because it was after the winter snow.

For a layman’s overview of WW2, I don’t think they come much better than this:
http://primaryhomeworkhelp.co.uk/Britain.html

To be continued…..
It's no use getting old if you don't get artful

Offline peterchall

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #54 on: February 01, 2014, 16:52:24 »
Part 5
To Chatham Gun Wharf, late 1938/early 1939.

•   Our bungalow is ringed in red at the right of the photo. We had a garden again, this time with a fish pond. We still had the luxuries of electricity and an indoor loo, plus a bath; not a bathroom, but a plumbed-in bath in the kitchen with a lid hinged to the wall, that could be let down to form a low level table.
•   My dad’s office was at one end of the Transit Shed and is also ringed in red at the left of the photo. The Transit Shed was, as the name implies, intended for temporary storage of goods on their way into or out of the Gun Wharf, but was in reality used for storing odd ‘junk’ and was almost empty most of the time. Outside of it was a German WW1 field-gun, a nice ‘toy’ for a 10 year old boy.
•   The big house ringed at top-centre we called the Colonel’s House, but I don’t remember any occupants. It only features in this story because the Gun Wharf’s air raid shelters were dug into its front lawn. After the war it became the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and is now associated with the bus station.

Next to the white roofed building at top-left is the Gun Wharf entrance, and this photo by Numanfan shows the WD Police post just inside:

Next to the first lamp post are steps up to the Police Sergeant’s apartments with his garden on top of the wall. Just visible through the trees is the shelter that now stands on the site of the Transit Shed. The Sergeant was known to us as ‘Stripey’ and our families became friendly – he had a son about my age who I can loosely describe as a ‘playmate’. (But I can’t remember his name!)

Next to the entrance, at extreme top left, the roofless building had a roof when I was there, and was against the wall at the back of the present car park. It had a door in the back of it, through the wall, which I believe led to a tunnel to Fort Amherst.

Just over the Gun Wharf wall, on the corner of Globe Lane and Medway Street, was a pub – but see the distance we had to walk, via the Dock Road entrance, to get to it. I say ‘we’ because my parents took me with them – either the pub had a Childrens’ Room or there was a corner of the bar where a kid could sit without being seen by a copper looking in the door. I think the latter, and may be jumping ahead to after the war started and the police had more important things to do than check for children in pubs. Does anyone remember the pub’s name?

I went to St John’s Primary School on New Road, near the viaduct – now the ‘Caring Hands’ Hall. I was in Mr Brown’s class and later met him again when my own children went to Glencoe Road School in the mid 1960s – I think some KHF members might remember him there. It was about then that I had my first serious career ambition – to be a draughtsman. As I understood it, he was a person who designed things that clanked and whirred.

I had progressed from ‘Mickey Mouse Weekly’ to a ‘semi-comic’ called (I think) ‘Modern Wonder’, a kid’s level weekly about technical stuff. Westerns were all the rage at cinemas and Tom Mix appeared in person at the Theatre Royal. The Picture House, underneath the Empire Theatre, became mum’s and my Saturday afternoon venue and programmes always included a serial that ended at a nail-biting moment, so you just had to go back the following week.

Dad bought an Austin 7 open tourer for £5 which, even at 1939 prices, guaranteed it to be a wreck. I think dad had driving lessons in the army but didn’t have a licence, so its use was confined to the Gun Wharf on Sundays. One Sunday afternoon mum and dad had to push start it because of a flat battery and I was put in the driving seat with instructions to let-in the clutch when told, then to declutch and apply the brake. But the car had a hand throttle set part way open and when it started the car went trundling off towards the river at a fast walk, and I ‘froze’ (well, I was only 10!):

Dad jumped on the running board and yanked the steering round and the car ran into an ornamental brass cannon by the flagpole (where the dark rectangle is, near the Transit Shed). Dad said “silly billy motor cars”, or something like that – the cannon was OK, but I can’t remember what happened to the car.

I can’t remember if he occupied the other bungalow – the one that eventually became ‘Age Concern’- but on the scene came a person who held a rank unique to the RAOC, that of Conductor, a rank senior to Warrant Officer. The relevance here is that he owned a car (Ford 8?) and, being apparently single with no family, took us on the occasional Sunday afternoon car ride.

The Gun Wharf was an RAOC depot holding clothes, personal and domestic equipment, presumably receiving it from manufacturers and distributing it to units. Dad was the civilian foreman but presumably had an army boss, perhaps the Conductor mentioned previously.

And so daily life went on until Hitler broke the Munich agreement by occupying the rest of Czechoslovakia and demonstrating that he intended more than just bringing the German speaking areas of other nations under his control. When he began to speak of seeking ‘lebensraum’(living room) in Poland, Britain and France gave a guarantee that they would support Poland and sought an alliance with Russia.

I can’t remember what we thought about it in Britain - as a kid I was more interested in things mechanical. A main pre-occupation of everyone was with HMS Thetis, a submarine that sank in the Mersey, trapping all the RN crew and many of the shipbuilder’s employees aboard. A German Jewish refugee came to work in the Gun Wharf and dad affectionately called him ‘Jew Boy', something for which he would have been in trouble today. But Jew Boy was only too grateful to be safe – we had all heard of ‘kristalnacht’ when Jewish businesses were wrecked in Germany.

Conscription was introduced in Britain and war preparations proceeded. We were issued with gas masks and given advice about what to do in the case of gas attack, and how to deal with incendiary bombs. Stirrup pumps were distributed and Anderson Shelters were issued to certain households (not us because there were the shelters near the Colonel’s house). The Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) exercised their pumps in the Gun Wharf and I remember seeing how dangerous a hose under pressure could be when a fireman lost hold of it.

Army lorries were parked round the Gun Wharf and, with open cabs, were ideal for me to play on. There were piles of 50 gallon drums of bleach by the quayside, intended as an antidote for mustard gas. Ruth, the crane driver’s daughter – about my age – and I climbed on them and I saw she wore knickers with a flower pattern.

An inkling that something serious was afoot was the cancellation of the annual Navy Week. Then on 24th August Germany and Russia signed a non-aggression treaty which gave Hitler the green light to do what he liked regarding Poland, and mobilisation began in Britain. There seemed to be coach loads of soldiers everywhere - rumour had it they were going to Poland.

On 1st September Germany invaded Poland, the black-out began and all places where the public could gather (cinemas, dance halls, etc) were closed, but not pubs. Evacuation began, but we had decided to stick together, so mum and I were not evacuated.

Britain and France told Hitler to withdraw his troops from Poland by 11 am on 3rd September or else…...! But he’d been allowed to get away with it for too long - right back to posting troops in the Rhineland in contravention of the 1919 peace treaty, just before dad left the army in 1935 - to believe the ‘or else’ bit.

I anxiously asked dad if he thought there would be a war and, ever optimistic within my ear-shot, he said “Of course not”. And so we waited with bated breath.

To be continued…
It's no use getting old if you don't get artful

Offline Lyn L

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #53 on: January 30, 2014, 15:22:21 »
What a shame you didn't get to see them PC, that would have gone down as a black mark in my Mum's book  :)
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Offline peterchall

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Re: Pee Cee's World
« Reply #52 on: January 30, 2014, 14:40:54 »
The point is, we didn't  :)
Dad thought it was Southend illuminations reflecting on the clouds and so didn't call mum and me out. It wasn't until we heard about it the next day that he realised what it was.
It's no use getting old if you don't get artful

 

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