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Seventy-five Years Ago Today....

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
I've just thought. In that picture of me on my new bike, there's a small cherry tree at the end of the lawn. Beyond it there seems to be a small mound of earth. Under it is a great slab of concrete which you can't see. And under that slab of concrete is the underground air-raid shelter which my dad built for us. We call it the dugout. I can just remember it being built. I was three and I was standing on that path, watching. Dad was down below, building one of the walls. I didn't have to help because I was too young. My big brother did, though. The steps down into it are just beyond the tree. You can just see that they have covers over them, to stop the rain going down into the shelter. It always does, even so, and so Dad has had to make a sort of drain at the bottom of the steps.

We've spent lots of nights down there. But we haven't been down into it for ages. I wonder if we shall have to ever again.

I wish Dad had taken a photograph of it while he was building it. I suppose he just wanted to get it finished. Quickly.
 

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
It's Wednesday, 7th June 1944. A normal school day for me, like every day this week.

But yesterday was a very special day. I didn't know anything about it until I got home from school. We only listen to the wireless in the evening. I expect that people started to find out about it during the day. But Miss Cook and Mrs Fairey, our teachers at Sandwell School, didn't say anything about it and so they probably didn't know either. Otherwise I expect we would have had a little prayer, or something like that.

So I heard about it by reading the Birmingham Mail. We get it delivered and I'm now old enough to read nearly all of it. Or at least the bits which interest me. I like the For Sale page where sometimes somebody is selling some second-hand Hornby Trains. They probably belonged to a boy who is now grown-up and is away, somewhere, fighting. These were the headlines last night.

The 'Second Front' Opens Well
Troops Secure Beach-Heads at Two Points
Sea and Airborne Invasion of France
Armada of 4000 Ships Crosses Channel
Operations Proceeding 'According to Plan'​

Later, after our wireless set in the dining room had been switched on and warmed up, we listened to the news on the BBC which told us more about it. It was the Armada bit which really impressed me. It was the biggest Armada ever. It made me think of Sir Francis Drake.

If I think about it, I know this is very important. But, even so, it just seems like another bit of the war which has been going on for ever. People have been talking for weeks that it is going to happen and I suppose that, now it has, it doesn't come as a huge surprise. Things for me carry on just the same, today, tomorrow, next week. Perhaps it really is good news. I suppose it must really be. I'm sure it will bring the end nearer. I can even start to think of a day when you can get bananas and oranges in the shops, possibly go to the seaside for your holidays or even get a brand-new Dinky Toy bought for you. And see grown-ups not worried about anything, any more.

If I have enough imagination, and I probably haven't, I can think of that Birmingham Mail being the way that a lot of people in Birmingham find out about what's happening. They'll pick up a paper on the way home from work. Possibly from the bloke in New Street by our bus stop who shouts something which sounds like "SpatcherMile". They'll be happy when they read the news. And then, a moment later, they'll think "Oh, what about our Frank?" (Or our Ron or Jim or Arthur). Frank is away, somewhere - and somewhere in this country. No one knows exactly where at the moment, or what is he doing. Is he all part of this? Is he OK? When will we know?"

We don't have that worry about my brother. He is what will soon be known as a D-Day Dodger. (That's something called sarcasm). We know he is safely in Italy, with his big gun.

Safely?

Much, much later he'll tell us what he is doing at this moment.....

(On May 26th 1944 and now well beyond Monte Cassino).............. By that evening, Aquino had been fully cleared, there was a general surge forward and the recce parties were called out yet again. The move to the next position was a tortuous one, crawling along hot dusty tracks and, every now and then, enduring long hold-ups due to traffic jams. All this time, we could see battles in progress on the hillsides to our right rear. After some time, we were beyond Aquino and crossed the railway to regain Highway Six. Pressing on northwards, the signs of battle were noticeably fewer and we spent the night in a farmhouse before proceeding to the designated gun area the next day. There were crowds of civilians around, all anxious to be friendly and telling us that they had been awaiting our arrival for over four months. That night, the Luftwaffe sent out its bombers to strafe and bomb Highway Six and the rear areas. Our previous gun position, where they were still in action, received a pounding but, despite near misses, suffered no casualties.​
The new position proved to be in a field, overlooked by several mountains to the east as well as by the town of Roccasecca, all still in enemy hands. The guns followed us in but, despite the lack of cover, we were undisturbed and spent a quiet time there. On May 28th, another move took us to a position near Arce, in the MonteGrande/Monte Piccolo area. Moving up with the main Battery, everything seemed quiet with nothing much to be seen except for the odd tin hat sticking out of the ditch, with a chap crouching beneath it. We were soon to discover the reason for the caution as a welcoming salvo of artillery shells and mortar bombs arrived and we had to dash for cover. A ding-dong battle developed, and Monte Grande changed hands more than once. We fired "Uncle" targets (a codename for a concentrated salvo of the 72 guns of the three Divisional Field Regiments upon a single map reference point) at rather short ranges. The next day, the recce party moved ahead once more, proceeding along Highway 6 to Ceprano. North of here, even our Observation Post and infantry were to the rear of us and we set up in a small house where, happily, all remained peaceful.​
The rate of advance continued to accelerate though we still met with determined resistance at several places. Meanwhile, on the coastal sector to our west, the Anzio beachhead had finally linked up with the main Fifth Army and there was a general thrust forward towards Rome. On May 31st we pressed on to a position near Ripi where it was quiet except for a number of mines which had been laid in the area, causing the loss of one of our water trucks shortly after arrival. Again we pushed onwards, next day reaching a point just to the south of Frosinone. It was on June 2nd that we passed through that town and branched off the main road to the north-east. Unkindly, the suggestion was that this was done so as to leave the way to Rome clear for the Americans. We reached one designated area, and orders came through to proceed further. So it was that we went bowling along the road to Alatri. Within sight of the town, progress came to a sudden halt as we encountered a sharp battle for possession taking place immediately ahead of us. It was decided that the Regiment would move up and go into action just where we were, and so we busied ourselves with the usual preparatory work. To our rear, we could see a battery of self-propelled guns belonging to one of the Armoured Divisions, firing over open sites at a church tower where the enemy was supposed to have established an observation post. Some unfriendly fire came our way and I found myself reasonably safe shelter and remained there intermittently for some hours. Towards evening, the town of Alatri was taken: our guns, still moving forward, had not reached this so orders were given for us to go back and rendezvous with them at a specified point, midway along the road back to Frosinone. The higher command had decided that the Division would remain in that area for a few days, whilst other formations maintained their thrust northwards. It was here that we learned of the fall of Rome on June 4th; this welcome news was soon overshadowed by that of the Normandy invasion two days later. As a diversion, I had been running a small sweepstake in the battery; the winner was to receive the kitty in exchange for having correctly forecast the date of the landings. Somebody duly won, I forget who it was, but I think that a few of them were surprised to find that I had safely retained all the stake money and was actually able to pay out on the nail!​
On June 7th we were ordered to be on the move again: rumour had it that the destination was to be either Pisa or Florence, both to be taken within a fortnight, or so an optimistic general staff would have us believe! The following day we started off, first to Frosinone to rejoin Highway Six, on which we proceeded to its "source" in Rome itself. Valmontone appeared to have been severely devastated but by the time the outskirts of the capital were reached, were very few signs of damage to be seen.​
Our passage through the centre of Rome was a moving experience, especially after all the weeks of "slog" to get there. There were huge crowds of Romans milling around and most of them seemed happy enough to have us there. Continuing northwards we headed out of the city on a new axis, Highway Three (via Flaminia) to a point year San Oreste, some 40km or 25 miles due north of Rome. Here the German General Kesselring had established his HQ set in a large underground township, carved out from beneath a prominent Hill. All seemed very quiet – perhaps suspiciously so. Next morning, we were shaken to receive sudden orders to bring the guns into action immediately as a scare was on, due to the reported presence of armed raiding parties in the area, and we heard one of the Divisional Headquarters sites had been shelled overnight. As in the past, we were allocated a platoon of infantry for "local protection" and they duly arrived, dug themselves in all around us and set up Bren guns........."​

And so tomorrow, exactly 75 years ago, Our Kid will be trundling through the middle of Rome with the rest of his Battery and their 25-pounder guns, sitting in the back of a 15cwt. Bedford truck and happily accepting flowers and glasses of Chianti from grateful Roman maidens. Possibly, at that moment at least, a bit nicer than being in Normandy......

Chris

(Sources: Matt Felkin for newspaper headlines; my family archive)
 
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ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Saturday, 9th September 1944.

I have just finished my first week at the new school. Could have been worse. I've learned quite a bit. A bit about arithmetic, English, history and writing. But also quite a lot about how to fit in somewhere, which is very strange to me. I didn't realise before but I've found out that I am a lot younger than most of the boys there. They seem to be all nearly 10 or 11. But my ninth birthday is until next April. I don't quite know how that has happened. But I'm not finding it easy. A year is a long time when you're only eight. They are all much bigger than me, seem to know much more than I do and find it easy to make new friends quickly. Probably some of them have come from the same school and are already friends. What I now know is that if anyone has a go at you, you do NOT say "But I am only eight". That just makes it worse. I've only made that mistake once. I only know one boy who was at the same school as me. He sits in one corner of the classroom and I am just in front of him. His name is Fairey.

There is another boy, called Smith, who I noticed on the first day. He's got a round face and is always running around with his friends. He lives in Goosemoor Lane, Erdington. It seems that he has got into the habit of running everywhere. I wonder why. I find it far easier to walk or, better still, sit down. If I knew him better I would know the answer. When he was at his other school, he always ran to it in the morning and then ran back home in the afternoon. He had got it all worked out. The quicker he ran, the less likely he would be to have a bomb fall on him. I suppose that sounds pretty sensible.

I'll come back to school in a minute. But I'm going to be boring for a minute. (I like to talk. But I'm usually the only person who listens to me. It would be quite nice if I don't stay boring as I get older, but I probably will. I think I could probably get quite good at it). I was looking again at the photograph I showed you last time, me on my new bike last April. If you look at the photograph carefully it tells you quite a lot about my dad. He is always doing things. He is very busy, he is always at work, including Saturdays. And he always spends a lot of time on the Home Guard. And in the summer there is gardening to be done and vegetables to be grown. We even have two or three chickens. There is one of those who is always nasty to me. I don't like it very much. One day Mum was in the kitchen plucking a chicken which looked very much like it. When I asked, she said, oh no, it's one Dad bought off a friend at the Hardwick last night. I didn't say anything. I didn't really believe her and, what's more, I never saw the bad tempered bird again. And the Sunday roast dinner was lovely, just like Christmas. I got the wishbone. But back to my dad.

As I say, he is always doing things. But he did a lot more of them before the war, after we moved into the house we live in now and when he had the time. You can see some of the things he built in that photograph. There is a funny thing on the left, with a tiled roof, just like the entrance to a church. That's a swing. If you look through it, you can see the fields behind and then, quite a long way away, there is Thornhill Road and after that Sutton Park. Also at the end of our garden is a little building which looks like a shed or a small house. This is what they call a Wendy House. It has got windows with curtains, a front door, a fireplace which works and lots of furniture. It's built of brick and tile, just like a real house. Dad built it for my sister, for her eighth birthday, before I was even born. He pretended he was building a garden shed. She doesn't play in it much now because she is 17. I do, though.

If you look at the end of the lawn, which I have my back to, you can see a small tree. Its a cherry tree. Not much good because the cherries are called Morello cherries and they are used for cooking. They look lovely but they aren't sweet. I think Dad must have made a mistake when he planted it. The blackbirds are always very happy with it, though.

But just past that little tree you can just see some flat things on the ground and I have mentioned these before. These are covers over the steps which lead down to our air raid shelter. We call it the dugout. Dad built it before the air raids started. I can just remember him doing it. It all started from a huge hole. We haven't used it for ages now and it's a bit wet and smelly. I'm not sure whether we shall have to use it again. Birmingham hasn't had an air raid in ages. But the doodlebugs are falling in London. Dad is worried about them in case the Germans start aiming them at Birmingham. What he says is that the further they have to fly, the less accurate they will be. So, if they are aimed at the middle of the city, by the time they reach Birmingham they may have wandered off in any direction and then fall absolutely anywhere - including about six or seven miles out of the city which is where Streetly is. I'm not sure whether I'm supposed to worry about this. It's just something else. But I'd rather not start having to sleep in the dugout again.

And just one other thing. Almost all the stuff in the garden - the Wendy House, the swing, the fishpond, the paths, the trees and the roses - was done for my Mum and my brother and sister. I wasn't around then. But I suppose the air-raid shelter was built partly for me and there is now one other thing. It has been done over the last few months and is just for me. For no one else. You can see it on the left of the bike picture. It looks like a tiny railway track, at the edge of the lawn. I'll tell you a little story about that.

Dad has been busy with the Home Guard for ages and ages. One of the days they meet - or "parade" as he puts it - is Sunday mornings. So normally he's never at home then. But one Sunday morning, a bit of time ago, he wasn't on duty and he took me to the house of a friend of his. Don't know if he is another Home Guard bloke or someone he has a pint with at the Hardwick. Or perhaps even both. Anyway, this man has a house in Hardwick Road, Streetly, one of those lovely houses with a nice back garden with lawns and flower beds and then, further from the house, woodland with trees and ferns and bushes. I've seen one or two others like it. My Mum's knitting group sometimes used to meet in one of them. I'd be taken as well, if it was the school holidays, and play in the garden while all the ladies sat inside and knitted mittens and balaclava helmets for the troops. There was always a nice tea although sometimes there was seed cake and I didn't like that much. The gardens were great for exploring. This garden is just the same. But what this man has done is to build a beautiful model railway in the woodland. Probably done before the war but still OK. All raised above ground, with bridges and tunnels and cuttings, threading in and out of the trees and bushes. It was simply great! And there were lots of engines. Basset-Lowke steam locos chuffing around the track. Some clockwork too. I had a wizard time.

All this inspired my father. He started to build a single line around our back lawn. He used concrete and brass curtain rail. And the picture shows one bit of it. It now stretches all round the lawn and that is exactly the distance one winding up will take a Hornby clockwork engine. It's great fun. I'm starting to use my brother's Hornby on it. He doesn't know yet and I hope he won't mind. It's a pity there isn't a loco in that picture but I'm enjoying my new bike too much. And so what looks like a little railway track in the picture really IS a little railway track.

Back at school. On the first day I found out that our classroom isn't the one where we had sat our entrance exam. You have to walk through that and then there is another room, of the same size. The windows all have a diamond pattern of tape over them. Supposed to stop the glass flying about if a bomb drops. They are high up in the wall so that you can't see anything if you look out of them when you are at your desk. Except for the sky and the top of other buildings. You aren't supposed to do that anyway, not during a lesson. Our teacher is the elderly man who had read the story of the crow and the pitcher to us. Mr. Gifford. We soon learned that his nickname is Goofy. But you don't call him that, of course. You just call him "Sir". And he calls you by your surname. As do all the other boys. This has been a bit of a shock at first. Up to now I have always been spoken to as Christopher. The surname thing isn't very nice. But you start to get used to it. And it makes you feel quite grown up. Anyway, I have never been very happy with the name my parents gave me. It sounds too - I don't know what - not posh, but not like other boys' names, probably a little bit stuck-up. Wish my name was Johnny or Dave or Mick. As for the other TWO names I was given, well, I'm not going to talk about them. They're worse than the main one. A friend of my mother's once told me I shouldn't hate them - one was my father's name and the other the name of the King. That made me think a bit. But I still don't like them.
 
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ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
(Still Saturday, 9th September 1944 .....)

As always, there's a lot happening in the wide world, beyond us here in Streetly and Sutton. This week we have liberated Brussels and Antwerp. The poor Poles are having to fight in the sewers in Warsaw, with nobody doing anything to help them. Finland is making a peace treaty with the Soviet Union and won't have anything more to do with Germany. Bulgaria is declaring war on Germany, although that doesn't mean much to me. Romania has already done so. The Germans surrendered Paris a couple of weeks ago. I saw all that in the newsreel at the Avion in Aldridge. A French Resistance fighter wrestling a weapon from an injured German soldier, lying in the middle-of-the-road as the bullets flew around. Something exploding in an open lorry full of German troops and some of them falling out of the back of it onto the road. The shooting, the running, the taking cover and running again, the rat-tat-tat of machine gun fire. Oh, the excitement of it all. I started to wish that I could have been there.......

And what about my brother, Graham? He's still in Italy. Although in fact, he isn't! After liberating Rome, which I told you about last time, he moved further north and was regularly in action. San Oreste, Viterbo, Collena, Orvieto, Castiglione del Lago. One ruined town or village after another. Near Lago Trasimeno his battery came under a big artillery attack which caused several casualties. It was very accurate indeed and went on for a long time. Later he found out that a local civilian had been caught directing fire by wireless. "I never found out what happened to him....."

Some time last July Graham and everyone else was told that the war was only going to last a few months and that his unit was going to be withdrawn and moved to the Middle East, eventually to return to be part of the Army of Occupation. So, after handing over their guns to another unit, they all headed south, past Rome, past Cassino and all the other places where they had fought, and caught a ship to Egypt. He has had a good time there, training, doing artillery exercises, learning to swim, sitting on the banks of the Suez Canal. Shouting "you're going the wrong way" to blokes on troopships heading east. And enviously watching others going westwards, in the direction of home. Last Friday, the 6th, he embarked again at an Egyptian port and headed back to Taranto where, all being well, he'll arrive next Sunday.

Army of Occupation? Hardly. He's still got a long and dangerous slog in front of him. Who knows just how long......

(I know you've seen it already but I'll show that picture again, so that it's easier for you to look at it. I'm a very considerate eight-year-old. I'll also show you a picture of my sister in almost the same place. It was taken eight years ago. By then they had just about got me. But no cherry tree yet and certainly no dugout. Dad has always been very proud of his garden and still is, even in wartime. Funny how the old log has got turned up on its end).

Chris

CMBikeWindyridge1944web750.jpgSAWindyridge1936img811WEB.jpg
 
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ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
I thought you might like to see another picture from the same sunny day, 8 years ago. (Yawn, yawn). It was June or July 1936. My brother and sister are nearly grown up. I'm on her knee. She looks as though she feels responsible for me. She still does. And I’ll be NINE next birthday! I think she feels she really is my mother, rather than Mum. I do sometimes get fed up with being bossed about. But that's something us blokes just have to get used to.

The picture is like a bit of film with cardboard around it. You hold it up to the light to look at it. The colours of some of them take your breath away. I never get bored with looking at them. Especially in the winter when everything is dull and dreary. The garden used to look so pretty and I wish I could remember it like that. No dugout then, of course. But it's still not bad and I really enjoy looking at Dad's Russell lupins (you can see a few in the picture), the red poppies and especially the lovely maroon peony when it finally comes out. We all look at it. And then it's gone again in a few days. Another long wait till next year. Most of the garden, beyond the lawn and the dugout, is vegetables now. It's called Digging for Victory.

We are on the swing which Dad built. I told you about that last time. It looked pretty new then. It's still OK but Dad says the legs are starting to rot a bit and I have to be careful when I have a go on it.

Today it's 19th September 1944 and my brother Graham has arrived back in Taranto which is in the south of Italy. He is hanging around there because all the guns and other stuff are coming on another ship and that hasn't got there yet. I suppose he'll be off again soon, back to the fighting. And Mum and Dad will start to worry again. I wonder whether he ever thinks of that summer's day, standing by the swing, looking down at his new little brother. When he was at home he used to call me "the cuckoo in the nest". I haven't worked out why.

Chris

GMSACMWindyrigeSwing1936img.jpg
 
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mw0njm.

Brummie Dude
Saturday, 9th September 1944.

I have just finished my first week at the new school. Could have been worse. I've learned quite a bit. A bit about arithmetic, English, history and writing. But also quite a lot about how to fit in somewhere, which is very strange to me. I didn't realise before but I've found out that I am a lot younger than most of the boys there. They seem to be all nearly 10 or 11. But my ninth birthday is until next April. I don't quite know how that has happened. But I'm not finding it easy. A year is a long time when you're only eight. They are all much bigger than me, seem to know much more than I do and find it easy to make new friends quickly. Probably some of them have come from the same school and are already friends. What I now know is that if anyone has a go at you, you do NOT say "But I am only eight". That just makes it worse. I've only made that mistake once. I only know one boy who was at the same school as me. He sits in one corner of the classroom and I am just in front of him. His name is Fairey.

There is another boy, called Smith, who I noticed on the first day. He's got a round face and is always running around with his friends. He lives in Goosemoor Lane, Erdington. It seems that he has got into the habit of running everywhere. I wonder why. I find it far easier to walk or, better still, sit down. If I knew him better I would know the answer. When he was at his other school, he always ran to it in the morning and then ran back home in the afternoon. He had got it all worked out. The quicker he ran, the less likely he would be to have a bomb fall on him. I suppose that sounds pretty sensible.

I'll come back to school in a minute. But I'm going to be boring for a minute. (I like to talk. But I'm usually the only person who listens to me. It would be quite nice if I don't stay boring as I get older, but I probably will. I think I could probably get quite good at it). I was looking again at the photograph I showed you last time, me on my new bike last April. If you look at the photograph carefully it tells you quite a lot about my dad. He is always doing things. He is very busy, he is always at work, including Saturdays. And he always spends a lot of time on the Home Guard. And in the summer there is gardening to be done and vegetables to be grown. We even have two or three chickens. There is one of those who is always nasty to me. I don't like it very much. One day Mum was in the kitchen plucking a chicken which looked very much like it. When I asked, she said, oh no, it's one Dad bought off a friend at the Hardwick last night. I didn't say anything. I didn't really believe her and, what's more, I never saw the bad tempered bird again. And the Sunday roast dinner was lovely, just like Christmas. I got the wishbone. But back to my dad.

As I say, he is always doing things. But he did a lot more of them before the war, after we moved into the house we live in now and when he had the time. You can see some of the things he built in that photograph. There is a funny thing on the left, with a tiled roof, just like the entrance to a church. That's a swing. If you look through it, you can see the fields behind and then, quite a long way away, there is Thornhill Road and after that Sutton Park. Also at the end of our garden is a little building which looks like a shed or a small house. This is what they call a Wendy House. It has got windows with curtains, a front door, a fireplace which works and lots of furniture. It's built of brick and tile, just like a real house. Dad built it for my sister, for her eighth birthday, before I was even born. He pretended he was building a garden shed. She doesn't play in it much now because she is 17. I do, though.

If you look at the end of the lawn, which I have my back to, you can see a small tree. Its a cherry tree. Not much good because the cherries are called Morello cherries and they are used for cooking. They look lovely but they aren't sweet. I think Dad must have made a mistake when he planted it. The blackbirds are always very happy with it, though.

But just past that little tree you can just see some flat things on the ground and I have mentioned these before. These are covers over the steps which lead down to our air raid shelter. We call it the dugout. Dad built it before the air raids started. I can just remember him doing it. It all started from a huge hole. We haven't used it for ages now and it's a bit wet and smelly. I'm not sure whether we shall have to use it again. Birmingham hasn't had an air raid in ages. But the doodlebugs are falling in London. Dad is worried about them in case the Germans start aiming them at Birmingham. What he says is that the further they have to fly, the less accurate they will be. So, if they are aimed at the middle of the city, by the time they reach Birmingham they may have wandered off in any direction and then fall absolutely anywhere - including about six or seven miles out of the city which is where Streetly is. I'm not sure whether I'm supposed to worry about this. It's just something else. But I'd rather not start having to sleep in the dugout again.

And just one other thing. Almost all the stuff in the garden - the Wendy House, the swing, the fishpond, the paths, the trees and the roses - was done for my Mum and my brother and sister. I wasn't around then. But I suppose the air-raid shelter was built partly for me and there is now one other thing. It has been done over the last few months and is just for me. For no one else. You can see it on the left of the bike picture. It looks like a tiny railway track, at the edge of the lawn. I'll tell you a little story about that.

Dad has been busy with the Home Guard for ages and ages. One of the days they meet - or "parade" as he puts it - is Sunday mornings. So normally he's never at home then. But one Sunday morning, a bit of time ago, he wasn't on duty and he took me to the house of a friend of his. Don't know if he is another Home Guard bloke or someone he has a pint with at the Hardwick. Or perhaps even both. Anyway, this man has a house in Hardwick Road, Streetly, one of those lovely houses with a nice back garden with lawns and flower beds and then, further from the house, woodland with trees and ferns and bushes. I've seen one or two others like it. My Mum's knitting group sometimes used to meet in one of them. I'd be taken as well, if it was the school holidays, and play in the garden while all the ladies sat inside and knitted mittens and balaclava helmets for the troops. There was always a nice tea although sometimes there was seed cake and I didn't like that much. The gardens were great for exploring. This garden is just the same. But what this man has done is to build a beautiful model railway in the woodland. Probably done before the war but still OK. All raised above ground, with bridges and tunnels and cuttings, threading in and out of the trees and bushes. It was simply great! And there were lots of engines. Basset-Lowke steam locos chuffing around the track. Some clockwork too. I had a wizard time.

All this inspired my father. He started to build a single line around our back lawn. He used concrete and brass curtain rail. And the picture shows one bit of it. It now stretches all round the lawn and that is exactly the distance one winding up will take a Hornby clockwork engine. It's great fun. I'm starting to use my brother's Hornby on it. He doesn't know yet and I hope he won't mind. It's a pity there isn't a loco in that picture but I'm enjoying my new bike too much. And so what looks like a little railway track in the picture really IS a little railway track.

Back at school. On the first day I found out that our classroom isn't the one where we had sat our entrance exam. You have to walk through that and then there is another room, of the same size. The windows all have a diamond pattern of tape over them. Supposed to stop the glass flying about if a bomb drops. They are high up in the wall so that you can't see anything if you look out of them when you are at your desk. Except for the sky and the top of other buildings. You aren't supposed to do that anyway, not during a lesson. Our teacher is the elderly man who had read the story of the crow and the pitcher to us. Mr. Gifford. We soon learned that his nickname is Goofy. But you don't call him that, of course. You just call him "Sir". And he calls you by your surname. As do all the other boys. This has been a bit of a shock at first. Up to now I have always been spoken to as Christopher. The surname thing isn't very nice. But you start to get used to it. And it makes you feel quite grown up. Anyway, I have never been very happy with the name my parents gave me. It sounds too - I don't know what - not posh, but not like other boys' names, probably a little bit stuck-up. Wish my name was Johnny or Dave or Mick. As for the other TWO names I was given, well, I'm not going to talk about them. They're worse than the main one. A friend of my mother's once told me I shouldn't hate them - one was my father's name and the other the name of the King. That made me think a bit. But I still don't like them.
run smith. run. lol... brilliant chris. i enjoy`d reading it thank you sir.
 
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ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Sunday 3rd December 1944.

Dad's out at the moment. He usually is, on a Sunday morning. But today's special. It's the last time he'll ever march with his Home Guard comrades. They are having a parade in Aldridge. The very last one. And after that the Home Guard is finished. For ever.

I expect he'll be pleased. But I really think he'll miss it sometimes. Especially being with his friends.

Chris
 

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Monday 4th December 1944

As I said, Dad was on parade yesterday morning, for the last time. Almost every other member of the Home Guard was doing the same thing, in one place or another, in every part of the country. I am sure there was a huge parade in the middle of Birmingham. But I haven't heard anything about that yet. I really hope that I shall do.

But the really, really huge parade was the one in the middle of London. Every unit across the country sent three or four blokes to take part. That means that over 100 Brummies would have been there. They all travelled on a special train from Snow Hill on Saturday morning, with a lot of other men from all around Birmingham. Three of my Dad's comrades went as well. They were Mr. Chaplin, Mr. Greenaway and Mr. Cartwright. I don't know them but they live somewhere near us. Later on Mr. Cartwright is going to tell the story of what happened and how they got on. It must have been a wonderful time for them.

But all that we know at this moment is in the papers. This morning's Daily Express tells us what it was like to watch the huge London Parade. Grace Herbert writes all about it. It's a good read and it's just as though you were there:

They marched through Hyde Park, sere and leafless in the typical December weather, saluted the King, their Colonel-in-Chief, went off down Piccadilly to the Circus, up Regent Street, turned left along Oxford Street to Marble Arch, went by Tyburn Gate, then down through the Park again to the Ring Road to disperse, officially for ever...... unless called on for some fateful emergency.

A spectator can stand only at one place along a route, see one aspect of a marching man's face, one set of expressions - I felt a strange, unusual wish to cry. Why? These were ordinary men, our grocers, bank managers, husbands, sons. Men we see every day.

But for this day they were uplifted into something different. They wore greatcoats and tin hats, some carried new rifles, others had last-war rifles. Some wore new boots which were hurting them; some were young - very young; some were old - though not too old. Men of 70 walked beside boys of 17. And they were comrades. It was the comradeship, not the militancy, of this procession which made me want to cry.

I stood near the dais where the King, the Queen and the two Princesses were to take the salute. The Royal Standard curled in a soft breeze. People crowded the roof tops of the Dorchester Hotel and the houses of Stanhope Gate just behind. Park Lane was still.

In the middle distance we heard a low cheering. Five grey horses of the Metropolitan Police came into view. Behind them bobbed the khaki tin hats of our voluntary army. Several of us stood on park seats so that we could see both them and the King and Queen, and the Princesses. The King wore Field Marshal's uniform; the Queen, a black fur coat, a black hat, and fox fur.

With them on the saluting dais were Sir James Grigg, War Secretary, in a plain black coat, and General Sir Harold Franklyn, Commander-in-Chief of the Home Forces. The Irish Guards band, stationed opposite the dais, played "Colonel Bogey". Princess Margaret whispered to Elizabeth. They strained forward past their mother and father to see the men advancing.

The King raised his hand to the salute as men of the London district marched past. Then came the anti-aircraft gunners; then the Eastern Command contingent. For 45 minutes they marched by, 29 contingents, 11 Home Guard bands. The crowd cheered and clapped. Nearly every person in that crowd was looking out for somebody they knew in the parade.


It was an amazingly large, good-natured crowd. But it did not cheer loud and long. One woman said: "We are still at war!" Which seemed to sum up the general feeling. There were many Home Guards in the crowd, both in and out of uniform. And they made remarks like these: "Well, it shows the war's nearing its end." "Our job's done." "We won't forget the friends we've made in a hurry." "Fancy every one of those 7,000 men wearing his own socks." "Now I remember when we only had sticks." "Now mum'll have me back on her hands." "Old Home Guards never die..."

The last line passed. The police closed in. It was over.



If you would like to read Mr. Cartwright's story about the weekend, of what they did and what London is like (because, like me, you have almost certainly never been there) you can see it here: http://www.staffshomeguard.co.uk/HomeGuardingPages/77staffshg.htm
(He's written it jolly quickly, because he only got back home this morning).

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oldbrit

OldBrit in Exile
It's Wednesday, 7th June 1944. A normal school day for me, like every day this week.

But yesterday was a very special day. I didn't know anything about it until I got home from school. We only listen to the wireless in the evening. I expect that people started to find out about it during the day. But Miss Cook and Mrs Fairey, our teachers at Sandwell School, didn't say anything about it and so they probably didn't know either. Otherwise I expect we would have had a little prayer, or something like that.

So I heard about it by reading the Birmingham Mail. We get it delivered and I'm now old enough to read nearly all of it. Or at least the bits which interest me. I like the For Sale page where sometimes somebody is selling some second-hand Hornby Trains. They probably belonged to a boy who is now grown-up and is away, somewhere, fighting. These were the headlines last night.

The 'Second Front' Opens Well
Troops Secure Beach-Heads at Two Points
Sea and Airborne Invasion of France
Armada of 4000 Ships Crosses Channel
Operations Proceeding 'According to Plan'​

Later, after our wireless set in the dining room had been switched on and warmed up, we listened to the news on the BBC which told us more about it. It was the Armada bit which really impressed me. It was the biggest Armada ever. It made me think of Sir Francis Drake.

If I think about it, I know this is very important. But, even so, it just seems like another bit of the war which has been going on for ever. People have been talking for weeks that it is going to happen and I suppose that, now it has, it doesn't come as a huge surprise. Things for me carry on just the same, today, tomorrow, next week. Perhaps it really is good news. I suppose it must really be. I'm sure it will bring the end nearer. I can even start to think of a day when you can get bananas and oranges in the shops, possibly go to the seaside for your holidays or even get a brand-new Dinky Toy bought for you. And see grown-ups not worried about anything, any more.

If I have enough imagination, and I probably haven't, I can think of that Birmingham Mail being the way that a lot of people in Birmingham find out about what's happening. They'll pick up a paper on the way home from work. Possibly from the bloke in New Street by our bus stop who shouts something which sounds like "SpatcherMile". They'll be happy when they read the news. And then, a moment later, they'll think "Oh, what about our Frank?" (Or our Ron or Jim or Arthur). Frank is away, somewhere - and somewhere in this country. No one knows exactly where at the moment, or what is he doing. Is he all part of this? Is he OK? When will we know?"

We don't have that worry about my brother. He is what will soon be known as a D-Day Dodger. (That's something called sarcasm). We know he is safely in Italy, with his big gun.

Safely?

Much, much later he'll tell us what he is doing at this moment.....

(On May 26th 1944 and now well beyond Monte Cassino).............. By that evening, Aquino had been fully cleared, there was a general surge forward and the recce parties were called out yet again. The move to the next position was a tortuous one, crawling along hot dusty tracks and, every now and then, enduring long hold-ups due to traffic jams. All this time, we could see battles in progress on the hillsides to our right rear. After some time, we were beyond Aquino and crossed the railway to regain Highway Six. Pressing on northwards, the signs of battle were noticeably fewer and we spent the night in a farmhouse before proceeding to the designated gun area the next day. There were crowds of civilians around, all anxious to be friendly and telling us that they had been awaiting our arrival for over four months. That night, the Luftwaffe sent out its bombers to strafe and bomb Highway Six and the rear areas. Our previous gun position, where they were still in action, received a pounding but, despite near misses, suffered no casualties.​
The new position proved to be in a field, overlooked by several mountains to the east as well as by the town of Roccasecca, all still in enemy hands. The guns followed us in but, despite the lack of cover, we were undisturbed and spent a quiet time there. On May 28th, another move took us to a position near Arce, in the MonteGrande/Monte Piccolo area. Moving up with the main Battery, everything seemed quiet with nothing much to be seen except for the odd tin hat sticking out of the ditch, with a chap crouching beneath it. We were soon to discover the reason for the caution as a welcoming salvo of artillery shells and mortar bombs arrived and we had to dash for cover. A ding-dong battle developed, and Monte Grande changed hands more than once. We fired "Uncle" targets (a codename for a concentrated salvo of the 72 guns of the three Divisional Field Regiments upon a single map reference point) at rather short ranges. The next day, the recce party moved ahead once more, proceeding along Highway 6 to Ceprano. North of here, even our Observation Post and infantry were to the rear of us and we set up in a small house where, happily, all remained peaceful.​
The rate of advance continued to accelerate though we still met with determined resistance at several places. Meanwhile, on the coastal sector to our west, the Anzio beachhead had finally linked up with the main Fifth Army and there was a general thrust forward towards Rome. On May 31st we pressed on to a position near Ripi where it was quiet except for a number of mines which had been laid in the area, causing the loss of one of our water trucks shortly after arrival. Again we pushed onwards, next day reaching a point just to the south of Frosinone. It was on June 2nd that we passed through that town and branched off the main road to the north-east. Unkindly, the suggestion was that this was done so as to leave the way to Rome clear for the Americans. We reached one designated area, and orders came through to proceed further. So it was that we went bowling along the road to Alatri. Within sight of the town, progress came to a sudden halt as we encountered a sharp battle for possession taking place immediately ahead of us. It was decided that the Regiment would move up and go into action just where we were, and so we busied ourselves with the usual preparatory work. To our rear, we could see a battery of self-propelled guns belonging to one of the Armoured Divisions, firing over open sites at a church tower where the enemy was supposed to have established an observation post. Some unfriendly fire came our way and I found myself reasonably safe shelter and remained there intermittently for some hours. Towards evening, the town of Alatri was taken: our guns, still moving forward, had not reached this so orders were given for us to go back and rendezvous with them at a specified point, midway along the road back to Frosinone. The higher command had decided that the Division would remain in that area for a few days, whilst other formations maintained their thrust northwards. It was here that we learned of the fall of Rome on June 4th; this welcome news was soon overshadowed by that of the Normandy invasion two days later. As a diversion, I had been running a small sweepstake in the battery; the winner was to receive the kitty in exchange for having correctly forecast the date of the landings. Somebody duly won, I forget who it was, but I think that a few of them were surprised to find that I had safely retained all the stake money and was actually able to pay out on the nail!​
On June 7th we were ordered to be on the move again: rumour had it that the destination was to be either Pisa or Florence, both to be taken within a fortnight, or so an optimistic general staff would have us believe! The following day we started off, first to Frosinone to rejoin Highway Six, on which we proceeded to its "source" in Rome itself. Valmontone appeared to have been severely devastated but by the time the outskirts of the capital were reached, were very few signs of damage to be seen.​
Our passage through the centre of Rome was a moving experience, especially after all the weeks of "slog" to get there. There were huge crowds of Romans milling around and most of them seemed happy enough to have us there. Continuing northwards we headed out of the city on a new axis, Highway Three (via Flaminia) to a point year San Oreste, some 40km or 25 miles due north of Rome. Here the German General Kesselring had established his HQ set in a large underground township, carved out from beneath a prominent Hill. All seemed very quiet – perhaps suspiciously so. Next morning, we were shaken to receive sudden orders to bring the guns into action immediately as a scare was on, due to the reported presence of armed raiding parties in the area, and we heard one of the Divisional Headquarters sites had been shelled overnight. As in the past, we were allocated a platoon of infantry for "local protection" and they duly arrived, dug themselves in all around us and set up Bren guns........."​

And so tomorrow, exactly 75 years ago, Our Kid will be trundling through the middle of Rome with the rest of his Battery and their 25-pounder guns, sitting in the back of a 15cwt. Bedford truck and happily accepting flowers and glasses of Chianti from grateful Roman maidens. Possibly, at that moment at least, a bit nicer than being in Normandy......

Chris

(Sources: Matt Felkin for newspaper headlines; my family archive)
June 7 1944 was my 11th Birthday going to school at Moseley School of art John Crump
 

Radiorails

master brummie
The most significant thing for those, who mostly lived on the south coast of England, was the first hand experiences. Up until the 4th. June, 1944 the ports, and estuaries, large and small, were filled ships, of varying sizes and types for use by allied troops - British, America, French, Polish and a host of other nationalities, awaiting and preparing for the invasion of the Normandy coast. It was a multi force by land/sea/air which once it commenced left all those places that had been in readiness very, very quiet, almost deserted, in many instances. Inland air bases, which had been busy were now less active. For many of those involved it was their last campaign and quite a few of the aircraft and ships were lost to action. Loves and friendships, made in the months leading up to June 4th., were now severed: a great many forever.
There are memorials, plaques in buildings and on airfields commemorating these days many places in southern England.
Large houses, such as Greenway House, near Brixham, (home of Agatha Christie) were now quieter and would soon be returned to their owners. There were a good many more, but this is a place I know. The murals are quite unique.
 

oldbrit

OldBrit in Exile
What do you remember of that day, John?

Chris
Not much in my memory now. The War was taking up most of my mind then. Also going to school every day on the bus still seeing bombed out buildings but the end was in sight.
 

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Thursday 21st December 1944

It's Thursday, December 21st. Christmas Day is next Monday. I'm very excited, of course. I've broken up from school after my first term at Bishop Vesey's Junior School. It's gone all right after a not very good start. I've just about got used to it and to being the youngest boy in the class. I'm still eight. I've even made one or two friends. Well, I think they're friends. We've now all left our classroom until after Christmas. There the tape is still on the windows in case of bombs but at home we don't have to put up the blackout blinds any more. Goofy, our teacher, handed out envelopes before we left. I think my Report is inside. I don't know what it says because Dad hasn't told me yet. Goofy also gave us a piece of blue paper with a lot of printing on it. Some of the older boys said that it was our Dog Licence. We were told to fold it just above the line which said "....advise the Headmaster in writing one clear day before your son returns to School...." Goodness knows what's special about one day when there isn't any cloud. Mum seems to understand it. She says it's something to do with infectious diseases.

The pudding and the Christmas cake have been made and I have licked the spoon. I like Christmas cake but not the pudding. My sister Sheila tells me that is daft because they are almost the same thing. I don't think they are at all. Pudding doesn't have any icing on it, for a start. Or marzipan.

The main trouble with Christmas is that sometimes you have to go to church. I really hate that. Mum and Sheila are very keen, and not just at Christmas. I'm not and they both think I should be. Every now and again I can't get out of it and I have to go with them. (Dad never seems to have to and I don't know why that is). I do think quite a lot about why I hate it so much. I believe in God and Jesus and all that. But I do almost anything to avoid going to church. I just feel so uncomfortable there. Mum seems to become a different person. She doesn't belong to me any more. She says the prayers in a funny voice, all humble and pleading and almost whiney, asking for forgiveness and that sort of thing. And she warbles in a funny way during the hymns. And the vicar reads stuff out of the Bible. All the sentences seem to start with "And". Everyone knows that you should never start a sentence with "and". The worst thing for me is the prayers bit. It's bad enough listening to Mum but as well you are supposed to get down on your knees. I find that very EMBARRASSING. I feel that people must be looking at me. So I try to get away with just perching on the edge of the seat with my head down. That seems to work, most of the time. I expect that over the next day or two the whole subject will come up and I shall just have to make myself very scarce when it does. One of my friends told me that his mum had said that I was almost a heathen. I think it's better not to mention that at home.

Sheila has got to know an American soldier. She probably met him at the Ice Rink. We are not allowed to call him her boyfriend. He's very nice. He has visited us once or twice. He usually brings some chewing gum for me and perhaps a tin of peaches or Spam for Mum and Dad. (He calls them cans, not tins). He always looks very smart in his uniform which is lovely and smooth, not at all like Dad's Home Guard uniform which he used to wear. That's rough and itchy. His name is Bob. He is the first American I have ever met and he isn't what I expected at all. Americans usually have a horse and a big cowboy's hat, or they talk loudly and smoke a big cigar, especially if they are detectives, or they are soldiers fighting the Japs and then they are smoking a cigarette and wearing a funny shaped helmet with the strap dangling down one side and not done up at the chin. I have seen all these Americans at the Avion in Aldridge or the Empress in Sutton. That's why I know what they are usually like. Bob isn't like this at all. He is quiet and gentle. I don't know how old he is, probably about 19. Dad likes him but does laugh at him a bit. He said the other day that he couldn't imagine Bob running at the Germans with murder in his eyes. Dad knows a bit about all this because he was in the trenches in 1918, in the last war. Bob was wounded in Normandy during the summer but he certainly looks OK now, to me. He lives at a place called Pheasey with a lot of other Americans. He isn't allowed to write home to tell his own mum and dad about his injury and how he is and what he is doing. So Dad has written to them himself. The letter has gone off but we don't expect a reply for a long, long time. I don't know if Bob will be sent back to the fighting, eventually.

My brother Graham who is in Italy has met quite a lot of Americans. He's not at all happy when their planes are dropping their bombs too close to him. He's been stuck in the Italian mountains for weeks. They have tried to move forward, towards a town called Bologna, but the Germans have been too strong and the weather is dreadful. Now he's in a tiny hamlet, with all the guns and lorries and things. Because there isn't much to do, he's been repairing roads which are in a terrible state. The Yanks have bulldozers but he and his mates just have picks and shovels. He says that they live in a hovel and there is an anti-aircraft gun just outside to protect them all. The blokes who man it tell him that they haven't fired it since Salerno a year ago. They stand around their gun in the evening, singing carols, and when it gets dark they sometimes join Graham and the others in their room, sitting around the stove and helping to drink what little there is. Everyone feels sorry for them because they have a very boring job. There has been an American artillery battery next door as well. They have now moved out and Graham says:

"We miss some of their familiar faces, their cigar smoke and the occasional box they handed around, but we are glad enough to see the last of their guns. I also believe that it was this small group who were responsible for giving me my first experience of the taste of canned beer. Pretty dreadful too, although the fault lay probably with the brewing and not the canning! As time goes on the tiny hamlet of about three houses has become home to people from a number of different units: apart from the Americans, there is an RAF detachment manning an observation post and even a scattering of civilians to be seen around us during daylight".

(continued in next post)......


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ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
(It's still Thursday 21st December 1944)

I don't know exactly what I'm getting for Christmas. But I expect it will be the latest Rupert Annual. I like that and it's all in colour. I suppose I'm getting a bit old for it but as long as I don't mention it to the older boys, it's all OK. Also the Daily Mail Annual where there are jolly good stories and puzzles and things. I get quite a lot of books, for birthdays and Christmas, and I really like them. They are usually new. You can still buy new books. Toys are different though. If you get anything new it will probably be home-made. I've had quite a lot of presents like that and sometimes they are super. My cousins, Pat and Brian Summers who live in Kingstanding, are good at making things and I often get a nice present from them. But usually everything is second-hand. I haven't seen any new Hornby or Dinky Toys in the shops for as long as I can remember. But last year I had a cardboard box with some Hornby in it, a bit battered but all OK. Track and points and some trucks and even two engines. Things that I had never seen before, only in pictures in the Meccano Magazine. (I spend a lot of time reading through the Meccano Magazine. I'm allowed to look at all my brother's old prewar ones). If you look at the wartime Meccano Magazines you'll see an advert every time which says something like "We are sorry, boys and girls, but at the moment we can't make the toys you want. But be patient, when peace comes..." I do wish it would.

I still hang up my stocking. Well, I'm a very lucky boy, and so, for me, it isn't a stocking but a pillow case. And I still leave a mince-pie for Father Christmas. When I wake up (even though I don't feel I've ever been to sleep because I'm so excited) there are just crumbs on the plate and the pillow case is bulging with all sorts of lovely things. I surprised myself not so long ago. I was talking to some boys about Father Christmas. For something to say, I told them that I thought it was probably the parents. The thought had just come into my mind, from nowhere. Probably I'm right, I suppose. It would explain a lot. But I'm not shouting about it at the moment. There's a saying. It's "Leave well alone". Just think about my sister who's 17. She puts up a stocking, a real one. Or a sock, really. All I can ever remember her getting is an orange and perhaps another little thing. It's funny. She seems quite happy with just that. But of course now she won't be getting an orange because you never see them. They are almost as rare as bananas which I don't remember seeing, except in pictures, although I think I might just remember what they taste like. So goodness knows what will be in her stocking when she wakes up. Possibly an apple or a small bar of chocolate. Or perhaps it might be one of Bob's tins of peaches.

It will all be fun. The postman will call on Christmas morning and Dad will insist he comes in for a glass of something and then we shall see him lurch off down the road to his next customer. Mum will say he's tiddly. Bob will join us. We are having a cockerel. That's super. A chicken is a real treat. We only have one on very special occasions. Then we'll listen to the King on the wireless. Mum gets nervous because she is a kind person and knows that he doesn't find talking like this easy. Then at the end she'll look at Dad and will say "I thought he did ever so well, don't you?" And Dad will nod. And then later we'll be in the lounge which we don't often use and so that makes the day special. The Christmas tree which I helped my sister to decorate with all its pretty prewar things is standing in the front window. And paper chains we have made go around the walls and are attached to the light in the middle of the ceiling. The fire will burn brightly in the grate and we shall invite our neighbour around. Her husband has been stuck in Malta for years and so she's probably lonely. And we'll talk and play games and I'll read my new books. We will be warm and cosy and happy and we'll forget all about the world outside. Except that we shall think of my brother, somewhere in the Italian mountains in rain and snow, and wonder how he is spending his Christmas Day and what sort of Christmas dinner he'll have.

I wish everyone a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year for 1945 - when perhaps peace will come, but who knows?

Chris

(Images source: family archive)

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ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Today is Wednesday, 24th January 1945........

Well, Christmas and New Year came and went.

It's weeks ago now and I had better tell you about it before I forget everything. Father Christmas came to me as he always does (despite my doubts). And he left my sister Sheila her orange as well. (Or more likely an apple). Then later in the morning we opened our main presents, as we always do. And the postman called and Dad, as usual, insisted that he had a glass of sherry. I think he had had one or two in other houses as well. And Bob, my sister's G.I. friend, arrived from his camp. He must have walked here.

So five of us sat down to our Christmas dinner, my Mum and Dad, Sheila, Bob and me. Bob sat opposite me and as usual I admired his smooth, smart uniform which I always think is very different from Dad's itchy, rough battledress which he wore in the Home Guard. That's been put away now. And I was able watch him eat in the funny way which he does, with just the fork. That's how the Americans do it. But I'm not allowed to.

We had a cockerel. This is really a large chicken. It was lovely. Chicken is always a big treat, and we don't have it very often. It's normally a bit of beef or lamb or pork on a Sunday. Chicken is just for special occasions. I love it. It tastes a bit like rabbit, only better. And you get a wishbone which is often given to me and then I have to think quickly and decide what I'm going to wish for. Usually it's a bit of Hornby. Sometimes Mum gets it and I bet she doesn't wish for anything like that. Probably she wishes for my brother to come home safely. Of course, no one ever knows because if you tell anybody what you wish for, it will never come true.

I think we had chicken last year as well. This was a bit unusual because we normally had goose before that and then there was always a discussion about who should have the Parson's Nose. Can't think why anybody should want it. I certainly didn't. The goose used to come through the post all the way from South Devon. Not alive of course and flapping its wings and coming by airmail. (That's a joke). No, it came all ready for the oven, without its feathers and with onions and other vegetables all around it. It was sent by Mr. and Mrs. Cummings who are farmers in a village called Sherford where we go for our summer holidays. But last year there was a disaster. The post was very slow and the weather was warm. So when the parcel arrived, it STANK. Dad had to bury our Christmas dinner in the garden. He must have been pretty fed up about that. After Christmas he wrote and told Mr. and Mrs. Cummings that it had arrived safely and that it was absolutely delicious. That was when I learned that sometimes you are allowed to fib if your intentions are good and it is the kindest thing to do.

But no goose at all from them this year. We know why. They have had to move out of their farmhouse, with all their animals and machinery and everything. It's the same for all their neighbours in their area. Something to do with the war. I think it's a secret but the Americans need the land. Not Bob, of course, because he's at Pheasey.

Anyway, after the lovely chicken and Christmas pudding (which I helped Mum to make weeks ago when I was allowed to lick the spoon) and tinned peaches which Bob had brought, we all moved into the lounge where a fire had been lit and so it was warm and comfy and everyone could stretch out on the two big settees. Although of course I sat on the floor where you can spread out a bit with your things. We played games, and listened to the wireless, the grown-ups talked, as they always do, and I read some of my new books. And later we had Christmas cake and cups of tea and Mum produced a box of dates. I'm not sure if I have ever had these before. They have a funny taste and huge stones which you have to spit out. I think I quite like them although there are things which I would rather have like chocolate biscuits and sweets. But the grown-ups felt that they were a big treat. And they talked about something called glace fruit which is bits of fruit covered in sugar and it sounds absolutely super. But I don't think I have ever seen that. Not to remember, anyway.

So that was Christmas. Everything has been cleared away now. The ornaments and paper chains and those big colourful balls which you open out are all back in their box up in the loft. And the tree and bits of holly are in the garden, ready to go on the bonfire when the weather is dry enough. I think we can have evening bonfires now. And Dad has taken the masks off the car's headlamps. For me it's back to my normal life - Monday to Friday at school and then the weekends, thank goodness, when I can do what I want. Poor old Dad still has to go to work on a Saturday morning though. I'm not sure I want to grow up!

A lady called Mrs. Milburn lives in Balsall Common. I have mentioned her before. She has a son Alan who has been a prisoner of war in eastern Germany or Poland since the middle of 1940. She keeps a diary. This Christmas she was able to buy a bottle of sherry. And on Christmas Day she describes her own dinner: "and then the Christmas Dinner – yes, it was worthy of a capital D, the cockerel was tender, the sausages were real sausages with eatable skins and the whole thing perfectly cooked and seasoned. I felt a real pig....... no plum pudding today but some hefty mince pies – yes, like that, not much mince but plenty of pie....."

Today is Wednesday, 24th January. Mrs. Milburn has nearly forgotten about Christmas as well. Every day she wonders how Alan is and, especially, when he is likely to be freed. News comes in of the Russian advances and what the Red Cross knows about the various p.o.w. camps in the east, including the one he is in. But she doesn't tell him in her letters how worried she is, and has been for the last four-and-a-half years. Last Sunday this is how she spent part of the morning:
"Outside it was lovely, but my, how cold! So this morning, with the fire in the living room at last getting on, I sat in front of it and wrote to Alan. The matter of our having had 21 cars I thought would interest him but could only count 20. Then we thought of "Little Bert", the Austin 7 which Jack had for his job in 1940 and how the little fellow (Bert) was afterwards sold and, in the blitz, blown up Harry Spencer's works stairs and pinned down with a girder. How, when the girder was removed, he was driven away gaily under his own power!"

There's a picture underneath of Alan (2/Lt. Alan Milburn, 7th Battalion, R.W.R.) and his mother, Clara Emily Milburn.

And what of my brother? He's in the mountains in northern Italy where he's been for weeks. It's still quiet but cold and miserable. But this morning he and a couple of this comrades have jumped into a jeep and started out on a long drive down to the south which will take several days. I might tell you about that another time.

And what of his Christmas in the mountains, his third in the Army? This is all he says about it:

"Christmas and New Year came and went".


Chris

(Acknowledgement to "Mrs. Milburn's Diaries - An Englishwoman's Day-to-Day Reflections 1939-45" - Harrap - 1979)

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Radiorails

master brummie
Sherford is no longer a small Devon hamlet with farms. It is being developed as a new (dormitory) town on thee eastern edge of Plymouth.
 

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Alan, I think/HOPE we are talking about two different places. "My" Sherford is located east of Kingsbridge, not far from the village of Frogmore. In fact it is an area named Keynedon, between Frogmore and Sherford.

Chris
 

Radiorails

master brummie
Alan, I think/HOPE we are talking about two different places. "My" Sherford is located east of Kingsbridge, not far from the village of Frogmore. In fact it is an area named Keynedon, between Frogmore and Sherford.

Chris
We are talking of two places Chris. I should have known it was the one twixt Kingsbridge and Slapton when you mentioned the WW2 clearances. The area is still very rural after all this time. Devon has many duplicate, triplicate and quadruplicate names The two Sherfords are approximately 18 miles apart. Spent many hours on farms in the area at barn fires. :eek:
 

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Thanks, Alan, that's a relief!

While we are on the subject, I'll talk about Keynedon Mill, Sherford for a few moments (with the excuse that it's almost all about Brummies!) This is a memoir that I wrote a long time ago - and it may well have appeared here before, somewhere or another)

The Ladywood evacuees
By the summer of 1941, when Hitler’s attentions were focused firmly to the East and we were no longer alone, intensive aerial bombardment and the risk of invasion had both reduced, at least temporarily. My father decided that we should try to get a holiday. Since the mid-1930s, and before I was born, the family had stayed at a farm in the South Hams of Devonshire, an area between Torbay and Plymouth, at that time remote and sleepy and little changed in the previous one hundred years. So off there my mother, sister and I went by train, to be joined a few days later by my father and elder brother, abandoning their work and Home Guard responsibilities for a short while for the attractions of rest, fresh air and unrationed food. How lucky we all were to have a holiday at that time.
We were not the only guests at Keynedon Mill on this visit. There were three boys there too. Bob was probably a year or so older than I at about six; he had an elder brother of 10 or 11 whose name I can’t remember and so I shall call him Billy; and the head of this family was the eldest, named I think Frank, a remote, grown-up fellow of 15 or 16 whom one saw only rarely. I was told that they came from a part of Birmingham called Ladywood and had been sent here to avoid the bombing. I hadn’t heard of this place before but I was struck by what a nice name it was and had visions of dense foliage and grassy, sunlit clearings. The boys lived in a large, white-washed single room, the loft either of the main house or of one of the outbuildings. They ate with the farmer’s family, at a large table in the entrance hall of the farmhouse. I still have a vision of them sitting there as we passed through to our own room. The meal was presided over by the commanding presence of Mrs. Cummings, a lady of great antiquity - possibly in her late forties - and with a frightening cane lying ready to hand; this was of sufficient length to reach the younger boys seated further down the table in case they required any guidance.
I imagine that Bob and Billy attended the local school in the nearby tiny village of Sherford but it was August and so they were on holiday. Frank on the other hand seemed to be engaged the whole time on farm duties and I know that he got up at some ungodly hour every morning to fetch the cattle for milking. I didn’t see much of Billy and can’t say whether he had his own list of duties but I played a lot with Bob who seemed to have plenty of freedom.
In later years I have often pondered on the mystery of how those three lads ended up in such a remote spot, so far from home. I don’t know whether they were part of the September 1939 evacuation although they probably were. It seemed strange that they were sent such a long way from home from where their parents – assuming they had any – would have found it almost impossible to visit them. And when the threat of invasion loomed from the middle of 1940, lodgings only a mile or two from the South Coast, even so far west, would not have seemed to be the safest of locations. I can imagine them being shepherded on to a train at Snow Hill, labelled and carrying a small package of their possessions and of course their gas mask, as they embarked on the daylong journey into the complete unknown. Memoirs of children in this situation, some of whom had never been out of their cities or on a train before, speak of the wonders of the journey. And so I imagine our trio, gazing out of the window at an ever-changing tableau of meadow and woodland, cornfields and unfamiliar farm animals as they trundled south. In their compartment excitement and wonder at the unfamiliar sights must have been intense but later, as the day progressed and tiredness started to overcome them, that would have been replaced by apprehension and even fear about what faced them. They would have passed through Bristol and Exeter, perhaps changing trains, perhaps seeing, every now and again, many of their companions leaving the train at intermediate stops. Finally they would have alighted at South Brent and clambered aboard a little two-coach train for the last leg of their long journey. A little GWR tank engine would have hauled them down the branch line through the rolling countryside of pastures and red Devonshire earth, where the hedgerows and lineside trees would have seemed close enough to lean out and touch. Quite soon they would have reached their destination, and the very last station, Kingsbridge. What an alien world it must have seemed as they got off the train and looked around them, at milk churns and empty cattle pens, the end of a line which stretched back to the bustle and soot of Snow Hill. And yet they still had another four or five miles to go, almost certainly this time by horse and cart in the gathering dusk, through small villages and finally turning off the road at Frogmore down a lane just wide enough to allow their passing.
Nor do I know how long they stopped at Keynedon. Early in 1944 the farm and the surrounding area was itself evacuated at short notice when the US Army took over the nearby stretch of coast and adjacent countryside as a training ground for the landings on Utah beach. The Cummings family moved with all their livestock into tiny premises in Frogmore. They were still there in August 1945 when we visited them. But the boys weren’t and of course I wasn’t interested enough to ask after them. I have often wondered what happened to them and how much their time in Devonshire, with all its fresh air and healthy food but remoteness from loved ones and familiar city surroundings, affected their later life. And just how that clash of totally different cultures, inner city industrial Birmingham and remote, agricultural Devonshire worked, day in, day out.
My friendship with Bob came to an abrupt and unhappy end. The facilities in the farmhouse were basic in the extreme – candles and oil lamps; an outside pump for water and, inside, ewers and china gesunders in place of any plumbing; and the main lavatory a fruity, fly-blown, wooden structure containing an earth closet and sheets of newspaper. The latter was conveniently located out of the front door, along the lane a few yards, up some steps cut into the earth bank and across a short stretch of grass to near the waterwheel. I was strictly prohibited from going anywhere near it with the mysterious threat of “diphtheria” being muttered as it always was when anything vaguely unhealthy was being discussed. Bob and I were playing near the waterwheel one day, feeding ducks with white berries plucked from a nearby bush. Getting bored with this, although the ducks weren’t, we decided to investigate the little house. And not only that, but to leave our visiting card there too. All of this was of course great fun. But somehow or other the incident came to the notice of my parents and, probably with a bit of assistance from me, Bob got the blame for initiating this crime. It must have been decided that he was not a suitable companion for me and I never played with him again. Nor after our departure ever heard anything further about him. I hope that he had a good life and that he always remembered, as I still do, a sunny day in Devonshire nearly 80 years ago, a flock of greedy white ducks and a smelly old hut on the edge of a meadow by a waterwheel.

I have images of the place and of Mr. Cummings, and even some cine film of the journey down the little lane from Frogmore to Keynedon. All from 1938 (although Nos. 3 and 5 might have been a year or two earlier). Nothing of 1941 or of the boys, of course - film was by then probably impossible to get. I have often thought, down the years, about these three Brummie lads and wondered what became of them. I don't even know their surname. But perhaps traces of their passing-through still linger somewhere, perhaps in the Devon Archives or in any surviving records of Sherford School which the two younger ones must have attended. It would be good to know.

Chris

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Radiorails

master brummie
Apart from modern silos, modern farm and road vehicles and the renovated cottages - second homes in many cases - little of the scenery has changed. Young people, mostly move away, to find work as the second home escapees outprice them for houses. Devon is usually known as Debm. Rare to hear Devonshire said locally - that's the mark of a 'furriner'. :laughing:
 
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