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The little boy

First-Person

Posted: July 27, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 27, 2014 2:00 a.m.
 

Life on New Park Avenue in the town of Palmers Green was fairly conventional for a family in the upper end of the lower class.

The mom and dad were kind and loving, big brother was aloof and had little time for his younger, stupid brother; they were born about 10 years apart, so it was not surprising that they were not close.

The little boy was about 6 or 7 and big brother was about 16. He would volunteer for military service at the age of 17 rather than possibly being conscripted into working in the coal mines.

The father, although a foreman in a clothing factory, had an unusual affinity for all things electrical and showed the little boy how to make a very simple radio called a “Cat’s Whisker.”

He had recently bought his wife a brand new Morphy Richards electric iron complete with thermostat and signal light.

As always in the winter months, it was starting to get dark by about 4 p.m. The night was always dark, every night was dark.

The little boy hated the dark. It reminded him of ghost stories he had heard on the radio, and he wondered if they could be true.

Soon he would hear it again – that same noise that always made him shiver – that wailing noise that was so loud and eerie he hated to hear that awful undulating sound because it meant that they would have to hurry down the garden path to the air raid shelter.

The shelter, with the corrugated top, had been built by the little boy’s father and Mr. Lee, the next door neighbor. The entrance to the shelter was in our yard.

It would protect against shrapnel or if a bomb were to fall near the house but would not protect from a direct hit. As private shelters went this one was reasonably large and housed several families.

The little lad, about 6 years old, was always a little scared. He was not always sure why he was scared, but all the adults also seemed to be a little scared so it was not surprising.

Walking down the short path in total darkness was always a little scary until he stepped down the couple of steep steps to the entrance to the shelter.

There was a little turn at the entrance with a curtain that ensured that no light would escape. Although electricity had been provided, while the neighbors were entering the shelter no lights were permitted.

When everyone was inside, small wattage bulbs were lit. Well at least it was not quite as scary now.

A very short time after the siren stopped wailing, the little boy heard the first of the explosions that were to follow.

The bangs were not all the same. There were the higher pitched sounds of the anti-aircraft guns that made repeated rat-at-at machine gun noises, the big boom of larger caliber guns or the whine and explosion that often shook the ground as the bombs dropped.

Most of the bombs dropped on the East End of London, the oldest and poorest part of the city. New Park Ave was about 10 to 15 miles from where the worst bombing occurred.

It was not unusual for someone to plug in an electric kettle to make tea and for someone else to bring some biscuits (cookies) to eat while they waited.

The boy, who was always in his pajamas by late afternoon so he was ready for the shelter, was urged to lie down and go to sleep on one of the wooden cots that had been built into the shelter and were outfitted with sheets and blankets.

When the raids first started, sleeping was the last thing that was going to happen. As the weeks and months went by however, the noises did sometimes rock the boy to sleep, only to be woken when the wail of the all clear was sounded.

On one particular night after the all clear had sounded and everyone was exiting the shelter, someone noticed that a dim light, like a flashlight, was lighting up a room in the boy’s house.

How could that be when there was a complete blackout in place, and we were all outside?

Everyone stood still looking at the window when the light went off. By this time the little boy was looking along with everyone else. Uh oh, ghosts?

The male adults grabbed whatever tools were available and suitable for bashing whoever lurked within. There began a slow progress toward the house.

The light went on again and at least three grown men, with some trepidation, but with grit and determination, moved ever closer. Whoever was in the house was in for some rough treatment.

They were all inside now and the light went off. Soon an outburst erupted and three tough men were outside again this time, looking a little bashful as they brandished their menacing weapons.

Now, with nerves jangling but relieved that there was no danger, the little boy’s father began scolding his wife for leaving the house before turning off her brand new electric iron with the bright signal light.

Well the little boy lived through the war, and although for many years he still hated the dark, he did eventually come to terms with it.

The shelter that served the family for about five years was, in time, torn down to make a very pretty rock garden and, at least until recently, was still there.

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