Friday, 15 May 2015

A Bomber’s Moon

Wild Strawberries | HISTORY/War
by Derek Smith

It was not the bombing that had driven young James to aspire to become an evacuee, for indeed, he had probably survived the worst of it. Air raids had become part of his nine year old life and he accepted them with the same resignation with which he accepted rain on a Saturday morning after a week of fine sunny days when he had been at school, or the loss of a favourite marble down a drain - they were part of the ‘sod’s law’ of life and you just got on with it.
The tail fins of the falling bombs made a screaming noise as they fell, but panic attacks were to be an invention that would not come along until much later. You didn’t have panic attacks because you didn’t know that you could have one; you just kept your head down and hoped that the bomb that you could hear screaming down did not have your name on it.
James had two younger brothers and a sister. At first their air raid shelter had been the dining table with two armchairs tipped up over the ends and the settee pushed up against one side. The theory was that should the house come down around your ears, then at least you stood a chance of not being completely buried and had some air-space where you could survive until hopefully, someone came to dig you out.
Eventually, an Anderson shelter was delivered. One of the last things that their father did before he was called up into the RAF was to assemble it. The first thing he did was to dig a great gaping hole in the garden, well away from the house. The galvanised corrugated iron sections were then bolted together in the hole and the base was cemented over. He built a low wall up to ground level inside the shelter to keep water out, and constructed an ‘L’ shaped wall in front of the entrance to keep out the blast should a bomb fall nearby. The wall consisted of sand bags filled with soil dug from the hole, for where could you get so much sand, a million miles from the sea, in wartime Birmingham? The remaining soil was then piled over the top of the shelter and the grass sods that had once occupied the area where the shelter now stood were placed over the soil making it invisible from the air. This was, of course, a futile gesture, as no bomber was going to target an individual shelter, even if it could be seen in tthe total darkness of the blackout. However, this was going to be a war like no other war that had ever gone before, and no one knew what was likely to happen.
In the event, nothing did happen on the ‘home front’ as it was called, for almost a year. This period was known as the ‘phony war’ and some who had been evacuated from the towns right at the start of the war in September 1939, had started to trickle back home again. At first, everyone carried their gas masks everywhere they went, but after a while the novelty wore off and people started not to bother. However, this ‘phony war’ was not to last and in August 1940 the Blitz began in earnest.
Air raids became a way of life and James knew the routine well. When the banshee wail of the air raid warning sirens rose and fell heralding another raid, his mother would look into his room, and as he would normally be awake by then, call out ‘come on James, Jerry’s over! Get the children.’