u3a - Battle of Britain and the Blitz stories - Andrew Slater

Submitted by Andrew Slater, Steyning u3a

I was born the year that Hitler came to power so the Battle of Britain started a few days after my 7th birthday in July. I remember standing with my mother and elder brother in the garden of our Southwest London home and watching a dogfight - planes flew into distant view, there were flashes and planes falling with trails of smoke. South West London was a safe distance from the battle in the sky so we did not have to be pushed under the dining room table or descend to our family-sized shelter which my father and friends had built in the middle of his prized lawn. I don't believe that at the distance we enjoyed my brother could spot the difference between a Spitfire and a Messerschmitt both smaller to the eye than the micro-model cardboard planes and war ships which we cut out subject to availability of glue.

I recall I was still going to school in July 1940. We all had gas masks and above ground shelters in the playground and all pupils carried emergency rations. Mine included raisins and peppermint sweets rather optimistically named, Life Savers. Mine contained in a tin labelled Pontefract Cakes.

Another memory during the rest of the Summer of 1940 (apart from collections of stamps and matchbox labels) was my collection of shrapnel. My father had been a pilot at the end of the WW1 and was a volunteer air raid warden in the A.R.P, mostly in Central London. With little encouragement from me he would arrive home with a briefcase quarter full of war scrap. I recall setting up a mini museum which included twisted bits of bomb, shell and plane. Particular boasts were a piece of dashboard with German words, the tip of a  German plane joystick and a large hanky-sized piece of parachute. My collection grew to a size that allowed me to  exchange chunks of metal for copies of the Beano and Dandy.

In the Summer of 1940 I enjoyed with my mother my first  restaurant meal, in a British Restaurant communal kitchen. Wholesome 2-course meal for nine pence (old money). I remember being told that our family shelter would protect us from danger except for a direct hit with a high explosive bomb. Not many of those fell on Merton Park. We slept 6 feet under most nights and could squeeze in two next door neighbours. I had my own bunk bed with my nose very few inches from the corrugated iron roof lining. I can still recall the alarm sound and the relief of the softer sounding all-clear siren. Barrage balloons and searchlights were just part of the scene and one night on the way down to bed, I recall the excitement of hearing gunfire and spotting an enemy plane caught in the crossing of two searchlights. The intensity of the bombing was much less than in Central London but my brother's school was evacuated and my mother and I spent the rest of the year living in Oxford with welcoming aunt, uncle, cousins and amazing corgi.

I remember being impressed by my Uncle's ability to identify planes by sound only or as mere specs in the sky. He was a volunteer part-time member of the Royal Observer Corps. Impressed also by the loyalty of the dog whose amiable calm was disturbed only by the postman and my Uncle speaking German.