Monday, September 3, 2018

BLOG OF THE WEEK - A CHAT WITH ROBIN KIMBER ABOUT CHILDHOOD IN LONDON DURING THE BLITZ

We have an amazing feature for you this week, my friends. Robin Kimber, whom we affectionately know as Old Egg, and who blogs at Robin's Nest, is chatting with us about his memories of being a young lad in London during World War II, when bombs, blackout curtains and gas masks were part of normal life. I find his a fascinating story. Pull your chairs in close. You won't want to miss a single word.





Sherry: Robin, when you look back, what do you remember about being a child in London during World War II?


Robin, about 1940, with his father 
and older brother

Robin: We kids ran free, even though it was wartime, with army bases close by and planes flying overhead. But we knew no other life. We climbed trees, waded streams and caught tadpoles and fish in there or in ponds. We pretended we were soldiers just like our dads or uncles but with sticks for guns.

Sherry: Were there signs of war that you took for granted as part of daily life?

               



Robin:  We had to carry gas masks to school until it was considered safe. When the air raid siren went off a teacher led us to an air raid shelter across a school field. Most side streets had a communal air raid shelter built on the road itself, allowing one vehicle to pass.

As there was strict petrol rationing, that was fine, as there was so little traffic. If your parents had a car, which mine didn’t, it was put in storage. Petrol rationing was severe, and available mainly for commercial use only. 

Many families had their own air raid shelter in their own gardens, so they didn’t have to run to a communal one some way from their home. Once or twice an announcement was made at assembly that a classmate had been killed in an air raid.

We had no air raid shelter at home. During air raids we slept downstairs, under the dining room table or under the stairs. Luckily for us there were no bombs dropped close to our house. Living a few miles from an army base, the streets were filled with army vehicles, gun carriers and tanks.


An air raid shelter


Sherry: It is very meaningful to get this real-life glimpse of children's lives during wartime, my friend. Sadly, too many children are still experiencing its horrors.

I would like to include one of your poems here, if I may:



It did no good of course
Drawing the black curtain
To exclude the night
Was some comfort in war

As under the table
We crept all wrapped up tight
For kids it was fun
Parents were anxious, scared

So the bombs they still fell
But drawing the curtain
Flashes were not seen
We heard not Mum's scared keen

The planes rumbled above
As wrapped up in her love
We slept peacefully
Innocent, unaware

We woke up in our beds
T'was like every day
I went off to school
Through smoke, rubble and fire

A few missing from class
But lessons are the same
Gas mask by our sides
Was some comfort in war


Robin: We lived about 37 miles from London, in between the major Army base at Aldershot and the town of Farnham, Surrey. Luckily we were midway between the two, so only a few bombs nearby by accident! Later on the Doodlebug rockets fell at random when they ran out of fuel, but everyone soon leaned that if you heard the drone of the rocket you were safe, for it was only when the engine stopped would the rocket fall to Earth. Us kids were playing cricket in a field one light evening; we heard one fly overhead but, hearing it, we knew we were safe! 

St. Paul's Cathedral under heavy bombing
[forces-war-records.co.uk]

Britain was bombed through much of the war, especially the industrial cities, docks and military establishments. Children, however, adjusted easily in wartime, so our bargaining tools at school were bomb fragments and shell casings, our toys were planes and tanks and cigarette cards, which were no longer in cigarette packets, so some series were highly valued. Worn or unpopular designs were used to play a card-flicking game trying to get yours closest to a wall!





Years gone by
With grandparents two doors down
Two aunties there too

Two cousins tucked in
Fathers had been called to war
In Britain's dark hour

The war was raging
Housing appropriated
For the duration

One uncle at sea
The other stationed far away
Each child same story

My dad in London
Keeping things working at night
Dowsing the bombs fires

Same for all of them
All they had was constant hope
And fear for us kids

Nobody was spared
Others uncles at front too
All gone to war's call

North Africa, Burma
Fighting in desert, jungle
Patrolling the seas

War's an ugly thing
Making orphans and widows
and peace for us kids

You fought for our homes
You fought for us your children
Now we honor you


Sherry: Yes, we honor them indeed. They fought a hard battle to preserve democracy from fascism. I know your father had a very important job during the war. Would you tell us about it?


en.wikipedia.org


Robin: My father’s job was to help maintain the electrical power system in London. He also he did compulsory fire watching, as London was being bombed with incendiary bombs that set fire to buildings, necessitating him staying at work all night as the power stations had to be protected. So he and other workers sat on the roof all night with buckets of water and sand to douse them. This meant our mother and us two boys had to cope alone, hoping he would return home the next day.

For kids, though, war was exciting. My brother and I would be so pleased when Dad came home from the midst of the bombing with chunks of shrapnel from burst bomb fragments. All kids would collect what they could to show off to other boys, and we were always pleased to have him as a source of collectibles! 

Families were often split up through the war or shifted to safer housing with a relative further from the bombing zones. After the port of Southampton on the south coast was bombed, my wife Maureen’s aunt and cousin came to came to live with her family until war’s end.



Sherry: Such a time of turmoil. I am amazed by your lack of fear. But then you were very young. Your parents must have done an admirable job of making you feel safe, amidst such uncertainty.

Robin: It was only after the war that I fully understood the gravity of war and the effect it had on everyone. In the main, those uncles that came back from serving overseas were not keen to talk about their experiences. My favorite uncle who had served in North Africa, Italy and Austria couldn’t, as he had seen too much and couldn’t share it. 

Both Maureen, my wife, and I lost uncles in the war, both in Europe and in the Far East, particularly in German and Japanese prison camps. Meaning some of our young cousins grew up not knowing their fathers who had died.

Sherry:  My favourite uncle served in the RAF in those years. He could never talk about what he had seen either. He had such sadness in his eyes. Your uncles must have suffered terribly in the prisoner of war camps.

I would like to include another of your poems here, if I may:

           




Toddler in peacetime
Then schoolboy when the bombs fell
But we had free milk

Food was very scarce
Everything was rationed then
Except mothers love

Kids ran wild and free
Bus to school and Ma to work
Dad in London town

His job was great fun
Dowsing incendiary bombs
Dropped by enemy

Eyes on the skies
Looking for the hostile planes
No that's one of ours

Empty grocers shelves
Food was short and so was I
Cold damp bomb shelters

Wrapped up in blankets
Waiting for all clear signal
Let's get back to bed

Wrote childish scrawl note
To uncle in Italy
Cheered him up he said

Another aunt sad
This uncle's not coming home
So she cried a lot

All kids at school fence
Army trucks and tanks pass by
Heading for the coast

Us kids played in the fields
Doodlebug flew overhead
Good it has flown on

The tide was turning
We found out how bad it was
For millions more

We all cheered at last
For peace was finally here
Weird war for youngsters

Sherry: I am sure there was cheering, at war's end.  Is there an especially vivid memory you have, of a defining moment of the war?



en.wikipedia.org


Robin: Man had not been flying for 40 years, but the skies were full of planes. We boys could identify them by wing shape and the sound of their engines.

On one of the last days of summer 1940, our family spent the afternoon on the Hampshire downs. In that glorious setting, we watched a dogfight overhead – tiny planes droning and firing and circling and falling on that dying day of summer. It was the culmination of the Battle of Britain, a deciding point in the war. The action that day was proof to the British that we could win despite the odds.

Sherry: My goodness, Robin, that sounds amazing. It is like you lived in all the movies I ever saw about World War II. It must have been glorious when the war came to an end.

Robin: The war ended, but not the privation of those dreadful years. There was not much of anything in the shops. Rationing continued for a few years. With no television, our great pleasure was to visit the cinema, to watch a grey film in that grey town in a grey country in those grey times.

Sherry: What an amazing childhood you had, my friend, and what heart-stirring memories. Thank you so much for sharing these vivid recollections with us. It has been such a privilege to have this chat with you. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

What a very special chat this has been with our beloved Old Egg. We are sure it has been meaningful for you. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you! [If you have an amazing story to tell, email me and we'll chat!]

47 comments:

  1. What a fascinating interview... such a long time it seems now, really another world, and I so wish that we never have to face times like that again (though there are parts of the world where it does happen)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks do much for your comment brudberg. The sad part is that these days war is an industry where manufacturers (and investors) of armaments, planes, tanks etc., delight in encouraging unrest in vulnerable countries and making a fortune from it. For so many still it is not another world.

      Delete
  2. I was born in Nov. 1939 – just before the war began, Mum always used to say. Australia wasn't bombed, I'm thankful to say (well, except for Darwin) but our men went off to war too, and we experienced rationing, so I can relate to some degree. As you say, Robin, children accept their own circumstances, so to me rationing seemed just normal, unquestioned. My Mum told me many years later how sad she was that she couldn't give me beautiful dolls such as she had had, but only rag dolls with head and hands of plaster – but, not knowing anything different, I thought my dolls were beautiful. I still have my sleeping doll, Julie, whom I got when I was 7 – so the war would have been over, but the privations not yet over – and I still think she's beautiful. My Dad was lame from an injury when he was a boy, so he didn't go to the front but was sent to a camp in Central Australia where men who weren't fit enough to go to war trained in how to repel an invasion if one should happen. All my uncles came home safely, but I can remember that the men who returned would never talk about their experiences – notably a family friend who had been one of the Rats of Tobruk, who just would not be drawn on the subject.

    Another, nicer, memory we share is the free milk in schools.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How interesting, Rosemary. Yes, children accept what is as a matter of course. It is good the war never reached those shores. I was shocked when I watched the Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society and learned the Nazis got as close to England as Guernsey in the English Channel. Wow.

      Delete
    2. Thank you Rosemary for your comment confirming much of my memories with your own in Australia. Sssh! I had a small stuffed monkey toy to cuddle when I was little; it was loved so much it had to have a new face made for it! I think my parents wanted a girl when I was born!

      Delete
    3. Thanks to you both, Sherry and Robin, for being the occasion of my own memories. I loved the interview, and your poems, Robin.

      Delete
  3. I so enjoyed this interview and the poems, Sherry and Robin. Although we are not close in age, we share so many things, Robin. I have family in Hampshire, my paternal grandparents moved there from Streatham and I spent some of my childhood with them. My daughter and her husband live in Guildford but are planning to move to Farnham very soon and I'm thinking of moving back down there in the future. I think you would like my World War II novel for children, Joe and Nelly, which is a ghost story for children set in London during the war. Although it's fiction, it is based firmly in the stories told to me by my grandparents and parents. Thank you fr sharing your memories, Robin!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How cool you have written a book about children during wartime, Kim.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for your visit Kim. I shall certainly lookout for the book "Joe and Nelly". Britain is really a small country but with such a varied countryside and population and accents. This probably is quite a surprise to visitors from overseas.

      Delete
  4. There's another poem in your words, Robin: "With no television, our great pleasure was to visit the cinema, to watch a grey film in that grey town in a grey country in those grey times." How lucky you were to stay with your Mom--and to survive. Gosh. I appreciate how adults can help children enjoy the little life war doles out to them. Great poems, keeping all the memories.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Susan and I must laugh at those words of mine where I used 4 greys and a great for extra emphasise! Dad worked in London but only stayed there overnight when he was rostered on for fire duty one or two nights a week. Us boys loved him bringing home pieces of shrapnel from exploding bombs! We knew no other life.

      Delete
  5. Robin and Sherry, what a wonderful sharing. Robin, I so much appreciate you talking about what it was like for you as a child in the London area during WWII. I think what struck me most is how you came to think of this way of life as normal and your parents made it as 'normal' as possible. Your father really had an important job to do. Your poetry included here gave a vivid depiction of just what it was like. Wonderful feature. I thank you both!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Mary for your comments. Almost everybody got involved in the war. many more women were employed as men were mainly in the forces. Food and clothes rationing was hard but it did allow you sufficient to survive. I remember once my dad's alarm clock failed and he had to get a permit to by a new one! This was because clocks were mainly used in armaments and virtually none were imported. The one he finally got was made in Canada!

      Delete
  6. It was a privilege to put this feature together, and record these important times. Thank you, Robin, for saying yes!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Sherry for tying it all together with the odd nudge and push. Curiously September 3rd was the date Britain and France declared war on Germany in 1939; what better day to publish this article!

      Delete
    2. That is a coincidence. This was a wonderful chat. Thank you so much.

      Delete
  7. Such an illuminating interview. I love your memories and your words Old Egg

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Jae. Just for you I will give you a wartime memory about the milk at school. It came in 1/3 pint bottles and was not for sale anywhere but issued free, paid for by the Government to ensure children had sufficient calcium in their diet. In winter the milk would sometimes be frozen as it waited to be taken in and we kids were quite pleased because we pretended we were having ice cream instead!

      Delete
  8. What an awesome interview, Sherry and Robin … an incredible story! The narrative was edifying and compelling, and the poems (illustrated with those old photographs) were so impactful. Several members of my family served in WWII - my dad having spent several weeks in England before being deployed. Even though I was born in 1951, the stories they shared at family gatherings, their photos and mementos - and of course, the many TV documentaries, Dad always tuned into - fascinated me. War effects everyone it touches in different ways. Chronicling these accounts, it so important! Thanks for this, Poets.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Wendy. You are so right it is so important that the realities of war are made known. I was lucky as my immediate family remained intact. There were cousins that lost their fathers and aunts who lost their husbands. Young though I was I could see what great effect it had on them. Yes, they were heroes but they were still gone and it hurt because something had been stolen from their lives..

      Delete
  9. Wow Robin, that was incredible. It's one thing to read about WWII or see it in movies and videos..and quite entirely another to hear your actual experiences. I can't begin to imagine what it was like and how that horror lives on in so many parts of the world as if we have learnt nothing as a species. Thanks so much for sharing this memory of "a grey film in that grey town in a grey country in those grey times..." Sherry absolutely wonderful of you to have put this together for us. Much appreciated.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Thotpurge for your comments. Many countries hadn't fully come out of the depression of the 1920's 1930's thirties and that was why it appeared to be a grey environnment because their was no money for flair. With a war added and a country like Britain dependent upon supplies from their colonies it was particularly hard. During the war Britain received a lot of aid from the USA and not unnaturally they wanted to be paid back after the war. So the post war years were very difficult too. After the war the troops returned to their old jobs when they could but this put thousands of women out of work! The late nineteen forties were particualrly difficult.

      Delete
  10. Thank you, Robin, for sharing with us your childhood stories during the war. Those are special memories, i am sure. I liked the little details of how you can identify the planes in the sky by wing shape and engine sounds, how you all make do with whatever you can find as toys and games.
    My parents were also children during the japanese occupation of Singapore during the war, and most stories I heard from them were how to scrap for food, and they too were reluctant to talk much about the war. maybe it is a painful subject, as all wars are.

    Thank you Sherry, for another outstanding feature.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for comments especially knowing of your parents experience during the Japanese occupation. This was a terrible time for the locals who were often made to work for the occupying force. The captured Allied troups were badly treated not only in Singapore but elsewhere in other occupied countries. Although I wasn't living in Australia then the Australian troops fought and pushed back the Japanese troops in Papua-New Guinea.

      Delete
  11. It was a privilege to put this one together. Truly an honour. Thank you again, Robin.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, Sherry you are the one with the ideas, I thank you.

      Delete
  12. I enjoyed this interview very much. Thank you to Sherry and Robin.I wrote a very long comment but it disappeared as i pressed the publish box. Sorry about the brevity of this one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Rall for the visit. Sorry I can't read what you really wanted to say. Greed for power, land, wealth and religion are the main factors initiating war. Sadly we never learn by our actions how much damage is done to both sides regardless of the result.

      Delete
  13. It's a most fascinating interview to read, Robin and Sherry. Thanks for the share. What's most heartbreaking truth about war is when one uncle never returns and his wife's tears never dry. In 1965 and in 1971 I had some experiences of sirens, blackouts, rationing, planes zooming overhead when India was at war with one of our neighboring countries. I was a kid then and nevertheless school going was there too. War will never end as long as there is mankind. So sad.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are so right Sumana. As a highly developed race of mammals one would have thought that all our faults would be slowly eliminated instead quite the opposite has occured despite organisations such the United Nations, UNESCO, World Health Organisation, World Trade organistion, and many more being established to help all nations.

      Delete
  14. Wow, Sumana, i didnt know that. I wonder why humans have such war-like natures. It is unfathomable to me that we have not evolved as we were meant to.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Thanks for sharing this interview; the poems selected and the descriptions made for vivid and moving reading.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your visit Chrissa(?). So glad you liked it.

      Delete
  16. I was born in 1950. And yes this is incredible history related in your poems Robin
    Thanks for the up close Sherry

    Much💗love

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your visit and comment Gillena. The amazing thing is that children showed no fear that they we were in the middle of the war as few my age had known little else.

      Delete
  17. Thank you for sharing your stories Robin with us. It's like a history lesson from a different perspective. I have always been fond of your poetry. I can tell you write often from life experiences.

    A fine poetic showcase Sherry!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Truedessa. I think it is something all of us ahould do. Not necessarily to to write a biography but to write about things that changed ours lives that should be remembered.

      Delete
  18. Every interview I am blessed to come across is a blessing, but this one and Robin's life has really moved me. What an amazing childhood you have had Robin, so full of hardship and turmoil but also wonderment and joy. Thank you for sharing your life and inspiring poems of that time with us. Another wonderful interview Sherry!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for your comments Carrie. I knew no other life from 3 years old so from starting school at five and being thrust into a world of war was just part of my upbringing. Rationing was normal, blacking out windows at night was normal, seeing bombed out buildings was normal and seeing empty desks in the classroom was normal when some kids never finished their primary education. This was an entirely different world.

      Delete
  19. Both my parents were young children during the war which was different here on the mainland US as we were not bombed....but my dad's brother served in the war in England defending her shores against those bombers. He met his wife there and never talked much about the war or any of his service in 3 wars. I asked him a year or 2 before he died what movie depicted war the best for him as a soldier. Most he said glamorized it, but Saving Private Ryan was as close as it came.

    I cannot imagine growing up in a war as you describe and it is amazing how resilient children can be when it is all they know...sadly today so many are growing up on the front lines being bombed almost daily. I can only hope we see an end to it but I don't think it will ever come in my lifetime. Thank you for sharing your story Robin, and thank you Sherry for bringing it to us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for your comments Donna. I think I was lucky as I knew no other life. I only hope that the millions of children suffering to day in wars everywhere can recover from its effect on them as I did. But sadly I think that they may think why wasn't more done to protect the innocent. What makes it worse is the fact that wars today achieve so little except for armaments manufacturers and investors.

      Delete
  20. This is absolutely amazing. Thank you for sharing your memories, Robin.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Thank you Mama Zen. I am sure we all have stories to tell, just waiting for the right time to show their face.

    ReplyDelete
  22. This is such a poignant share Sherry and Robin .. my heart was pounding as I read and walked down memory lane with you and was touched by "With no television, our great pleasure was to visit the cinema, to watch a grey film in that grey town in a grey country in those grey times"... You are truly an inspiration for us all, Robin💞

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Sanaa. We all have our own stories to tell and I have no doubt with the way you write you too will tell of your past one day.

      Delete
  23. Dear Sherry thank you for sharing Robin's childhood of war. I hope what he says is true for every child caught in war. War is not for children, not for men and not for anything living. I enjoyed learning about Robin's life.

    ReplyDelete

This community is not meant to be used in a negative manner. We ask that you be respectful of all the people on this site as each individual writer is entitled to their own opinion, style, and path to creativity.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Blog Archive