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Memories of World War 2 - Part 3

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Mervyn Mitton

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My apologies to Irishgunner and to Frank, who I left off the list of regular bloggers , posted on the Lounge.
I was hoping to persuade a few more of our Members to join-in and make regular posts. Everyone has something happening
in their lives - let us be part of it ...............
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Well, at the end of part 2 we had reached Dec. 1936. Neville Chamberlain was Prime Minister - King George 6th. was on the Throne - and Hitler was busy taking over bits of Europe that no-one was contesting.

War was declared by Britain against the German 3rd. Reich on September 1st. 1939 - the ostensible cause being Germany's invasion of Poland. I was at that time 2 3/4 years of age - so, you will forgive me if my memories are not too solid.

During this time Britain was not idle - our armed forces were being re-inforced - civil defense units were set-up and our police,ambulance and fire brigades were trained in possible future events management. The problem was that despite happenings in Europe no-one had any idea of the horrors that were to follow.

I have clear memories of my Mother making blackout curtains - one of the laid down civil defense measures. They were hung inside of normal curtains and had to be fully light proof. I can also remember being taken to the local clinic - with the proximity of war, essentials started to be in short supply and youngsters under a certain age were entitled to free orange juice and cod liver oil - I think I also had another unpleasant one called malt extract. We used to go to the clinic every 2 weeks and I enjoyed seeing the other youngsters.

During this period my Father was badly ill with a duodenal ulcer and spent nearly three months in hospital with an operation. I can remember being taken to see him regularly, either by my Mother or, Grandmother. My Mother did not work , as was normal in those days. Probably such an ulcer would not be so serious today - however, the drugs were not invented then to deal with it. He was left poorly for a long time and I don't think ever fully recovered. He was not allowed to be 'called-up' as it was termed then and died in 1974 at 64 years old.

THE WAR STARTS

I have very clear memories of the thousands of troops travelling down the Rochester Way - which we overlooked, going to Dover and embarkation to France. Part of the BEM - British Expeditionary Force. I was too young to go down the wooded slope to the road - but did on many other occasions. Tanks - on the backs of lorries would take ages to go past - they were slow. The soldiers often stopped and the men came-up to our row of houses for water - again, I clearly remember my Mother and Grandmother - and all the other ladies making sandwiches and tea - leaving everyone short but, this was important.

Neither side seemed in a hurry to engage and there was the period known as the 'phony war'. Nearly our entire army was in France and Belgium and yet there was no real fighting. This was to change with the attacks on Belgium and Holland - and our army retreated towards Dunkirk (UK spelling). From May 26 to June 4 1940 our army was evacuated by the great armada of small boats, ferries and old warships. I was 3 1/2 now and understood a lot more. I can sense now the worry in my parents - everyone was listening to radios all the time and I can remember the men in the area having meetings - although many of the younger ones had gone to join-up. When the call for volunteers was given on the radio all of this groups went to Gravesend to try and help. I believe some did go as crew to France - Father was rejected as being not fit enough, This upset him for many years to come.

CIVIL DEFENSE - IN THE TRUEST SENSE.

So, this was it. We were in grave danger and invasion was a real possibility. With the frightening example of Rotterdam all adults knew civilians would not be spared. Evacuation for children out of London became a reality - my Mother refused to let me go - and we didn't think we were in danger as Blackheath was the other side of Greenwich and about 10 or 12 miles from Central London. How wrong we were !

Humans are a strange species - we can read signs better then most and knew the possibilities. However, life has to go on and even the Wall's ice cream man still used to visit once or, twice a week. The cycle had a big insulated container on the front and we all waited patiently for him - he wasa lovely old man - used to tell us about the 1 st WW.
What had changed was that rationing had come into force - food, furniture, clothing - even cigarettes and drink - were now on a points system and we all had a ration book with the coupons for different periods. Even sweets had gone - I think they were what I missed most.

Another thought - we had to go to the local school to collect gasmasks - it was compulsory to carry them at all times. I can remember my childs' version - the bit over the face was of mickey mouse.

Oh yes ! There was one other piece of equipment I was given by my Grandmother - that will be in the next installment...... I will try for Sunday.

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