The Auntie Doris Years: 1939

Hitler started his invasion of Poland on Friday 1st September, my 25th Birthday. I tried to ignore it. It wasn’t fair. The Prime Minister had told us that peace was secure only last year. Now all the talk was of war. People were lugging sandbags around all over the place, building bomb shelters and painting their windows black. We all got issued with Gas Masks, even April May. She got what they called a Mickey Mouse gas mask. It didn’t look a bit like Mickey Mouse. It was ruddy horrible. There was even talk about them evacuating her to the countryside. I wasn’t having that. Neither was Mother. We would look after her. She would be safe under the stairs with us if they dropped a bomb on us. People said that in houses like ours, under the stairs was the safest place. The stairs would never collapse.

I had quite a decent birthday actually. Mother gave me a hat, and April May gave me some flowers. Auntie Beryl gave me a little book which had a bit of advice for every day of the ear in it. “you should have planted your Taties by now, and remember that a smile is contagious” That sort of thing. That Sunday we all gathered around the radio to hear the Prime Minister’s broadcast:

“This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final Note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.”

No one who was there could ever forget that moment. We all knew that it was coming. But to hear it, to experience it, for real, was earth shattering. The first thing I did was run to the lavvy. Loose stools. I only just got there in time to save my drawers from an early wash. As soon as I sat down, mother was hammering on the door. Not to see how I was doing, but because she wanted to go too.
Father was out at the chapel. Praying for peace. Once we had both finished with the toilet, me and mother held each other tight, with tears in our eyes. And we held April May too. Then we took deep breaths, and decided then and there that we had better just ruddy well get on with it. So we finished making dinner, ate it, and took April May out for a walk in the park. It was already a different world, but we were determined to stay the same. Auntie Doris’s pop Pick of 1939: “We’ll Meet Again” by Vera Lynn. It captured the mood of the country, what with all those blokes going off to war and all those Kiddies getting evacuated. The sad thing was that plenty of them didn’t ever meet again. And plenty of those that did were not the same people as they were beforehand.

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