by Derek Rosser
I was nine and a half years old when, on my way home from school, I read the news in large letters on a billboard:
“GERMANS INVADE DANZIG”.
I hurried home to find my parents listening to the radio with worried expressions on their faces. I thought it was all very exciting but, of course, a nine year old could not appreciate what was to come.
We all listened to Mr Chamberlain’s broadcast on September 3rd 1939 telling us that we were now at war with Germany. The papers were full of it. A British Expeditionary Force had been despatched to France and would support the French army in the defence of the Maginot line. The Germans meanwhile were mopping up the Polish cavalry and took about six weeks to reach the North Sea coast and turn their attention onto the French. The construction of the Maginot line proved to be a waste of money and effort since the Germans went around it by way of Belgium and the Netherlands.
It was less than six months before the British army had its back to the English Channel at a place named Dunkirk. The cinema newsreels were showing the little boats criss-crossing the channel and bringing as much as possible of the British army home less it’s weapons and equipment. At the time it was viewed as a sort of victory because about three hundred and thirty thousand troops were rescued in the face of overwhelming odds. Everyone knew that the Germans may not be far behind and urgent steps were being taken to improve our defences.
For some time things at home were fairly quiet and we kids carried on with our normal routine. Normal, that is, apart from the air raid shelter that had been installed in our back garden and the gas mask in a cardboard box which was slung over our shoulder as we went to school. This was the period known as the “Phoney War”.
There was, of course, rationing and toffees were hard to come by. If memory serves, the sweet ration was 12oz a month (enough to last a week). Today with many children being overweight, and even obese, they could do with a bit of rationing. They could also take a lesson from our Sunday evening habit of the family walk. The afternoon was normally spent in attending Sunday school which finished at 3 o’clock. Then my mother and father sat on opposite sides of the fireplace reading the paper and I was expected to sit quietly between them reading the “Film Fun” and listening to the ticking of the clock.