happened to Old Children?
My War - by Vic Forrington
I was in the War,
you know. When we lived in Crewe.
In our street most of the dads worked on the railways which were
there to take away old children to the war and to make them into
old men or often into dead men.
If they didnt work on the railways they worked at the wagon
works which made the trains that took the old children away, or
they worked at Rolls-Royce, like my Dad. At R-R as it was called,
they made the engines that went into the bombers which flew each
night to bomb Germany and some times never came back.
They also made the engines for the fighters that shot down the German
bombers as they bombed us, that is, if our fighters werent
shot down first by their fighters. All these dads were in Reserved
Occupations, which meant they didnt have to go to the war.
They said they would very much have liked to go to the war, but
their jobs were too important for that and Churchill needed them
to stay at home.
On the other hand, those dads who didnt have such important
jobs and could go to the war were always trying to get into a reserved
occupation and were very fed up when their Call Up papers arrived.
Some tried to be ill so they didnt have to go, like we did
when we didnt want to go to school, but it didnt often
work for them either. But it was mainly the older children who had
finished school and only had jobs that mams and older sisters could
do, like baking bread or putting gunpowder into bombs, who got the
call up papers, which made their dads proud and their mams cry.
These older children didnt look like kids to us, being big
and not going to school, but their mams used to cry and say that
they were only children and shouldnt have to go to war. Sometimes
we put on our dads Home Guard armbands and pretended we were
soldiers and asked our mams if we could go to the war. They would
tell us to shut up and sometimes cry like the mams of the older
children and tell us never to grow up and be taken off in the trains.
At first it didnt matter much to us kids who were far too
small to be taken off in the trains and rather enjoyed being got
out of bed each night when the sirens went off and snuggle under
the stairs and eat baked beans and condensed milk while the German
bombers flew over us to blow up Liverpool.
Then they would fly back over us and sometimes drop some of their
leftover bombs on us as they tried to get home without being shot
down by our Ack Ack, or blown up by our fighters. Then when the
all clear sirens went off we could go back to bed so as to be ready
for school next day.
Later on in the war, when the bombing had nearly stopped, they built
air raid shelters in our street and sent round big fat Air Raid
Wardens with beer on their breath, just like the dads on a Saturday
night, to drive us out of our comfy under-the-stairs hideaways and
into the cold brick-walled boxes. It was better sometimes because
you could actually see a German bomber caught in the searchlights
and the ack ack fire trying to shoot it down, but even us kids could
work out that it was a bit daft not to have put a roof on the shelter.
But ours was not to reason why, we were told. In the end they did
put roofs on the shelters, but that was after the war was over.
Sometimes we would see the ack ack hit a bomber and it burst into
flames. At first the dads would cheer but later on in the war they
would say poor buggers and be a bit quiet about it. Once we saw
three Jerries parachute out a burning bomber and float down through
the searchlights and into the dark.
One of the dads said to my Dad, who was in the Home Guard, some
more for you to catch, Jack, and they all laughed except my dad.
In the day time life in our street went on, playing cricket and
football with old tennis balls, Cowboys and Indians, with the girls
as Indians of course, fighting, being made to go to school, trying
to play truant, cheeking the policeman and being cuffed in return
or, depending on the level of cheek, being kicked up the backside,
or for extreme cheek being taken by the ear and delivered home to
a dad who would take off his belt and wallop you. Altogether not
a bad life, except for the wallopings.
What puzzled us though was the silence that would come on the street
when the telegraph boy came on his bicycle and delivered a telegram.
Mam would say, very solemnly, that Mrs So-and-so had had her telegram
from the King. So why wasnt she happy that she was a friend
of the King? Mam would say that the King had told her that her Billy
wouldnt be coming back h ome from the war. Where was he going
then? You know, Mam would say, where you are told at Sunday School.
We didnt like to say that we always skipped Sunday School
and went to the woods for Cowboys and Indians, and threw stones
and sticks at the girls, who were still the Indians. Soon there
were a lot more telegrams coming from the boy on the bicycle, and
all Mam would say was that Mrs So-and-so had had her telegram. We
sort of understood but didnt like to ask any more.
We had a laugh at some of the things, though, like the posters that
said Walls have Ears., and which would have noses and eyes added
to them by kids. There were also people who were Fifth Columnists,
who had to be reported to the police. Nobody knew exactly who they
were or what they did, but we knew they acted suspiciously.
It was said that Mr Jenkins, who lived alone at the big house at
the end of the street was a fifth columnist, but it turned out he
was only a Welshman, even though he acted suspiciously. We would
often report kids in other gangs as being fifth columnists, but
the policeman would give us a cuff, but not too hard and tell us
There was a man called Lord Haw-Haw who used to talk on the wireless
and tell people that Germany was winning the war and that Churchill
was no good, He said our dads should rise up and refuse to work
until Churchill gave up. He is also supposed to have said that we
kids should rise up and not go to school, which seemed a good idea
until Mam threatened to tell Dad to wield his mighty strap.
Actually we werent allowed to listen to Lord Haw-Haw and if
you did you would be taken away to the Tower of London and Hanged
for Treason, which sounded worse than the strap. Some of the dads
listened to Lord Haw-Haw despite the risk of being hanged, and had
a good laugh, they said.
Even though the bombers came over most nights to bomb Liverpool
they didnt bomb us very much, except one Sunday afternoon
when a single bomber came over in broad daylight and bombed Rolls-Royce.
It was considered a very unsporting thing to do, as all the dads
were having their Sunday dinners at home instead of being on the
ack ack. But they still bombed us a bit at night, and the next day
we would go and look at the ruins and try to find bits of shrapnel
to take home or swop with other kids for birds eggs or cigarette
The policeman would only let us go to the ruins when the fire engines
and ambulances had gone away, but there was still the smell of smoke
and gunpowder about. At first it didnt mean much to us kids,
just something to do, until one day we became aware of the true
horrors of war. We stood on a great pile of rubble looking in awed
silence into the still-smoking gap tooth-emptiness in the terrace
that had once been a shop. Our shop, the Toy Shop, had been destroyed
by the barbarians and life would never be the same again.
Actually the shop never had any toys much, but it was the principle
of the thing that offended. Funnily enough Lord Haw-Haw got to hear
of it straightaway and sent a wireless message to the Children of
Crewe that this should teach us a lesson and we must stop going
to school immediately. Or so someone told us, probably a fifth columnist.
On nights when the bombers didnt come, we still went into
the roofless shelters just the same. Then they stopped coming at
all and we were told we could stay in bed all night. But that wasnt
much fun and we still liked to get up in the middle of the night
and go under the stairs and eat baked beans and condensed milk,
like in the old days. Mams went along with this at first, but dads
got a bit grumpy and stayed in their beds. Then mams started staying
in their beds and it wasnt much fun any more.
Then one morning there were lots of bells ringing all over the town,
and someone had put bunting up across our street. Mams and dads
were out in the street, laughing and shaking hands with people they
normally didnt like. Even the air raid warden had a smile
on his big fat face, and the policeman was handing out cakes to
us kids instead of cuffs.
It was VE Day. The war was over and we had won. Hitler was dead
and Lord Haw-Haw was going to be hanged. Haw, haw we kids said,
serve him right for the toy shop. The only people who still seemed
a bit sad were the Mrs So-and sos who had had telegrams from
That night all the dads got drunk, but the mams didnt mind
as much as they normally did. The blackouts were down from the windows
and all the lights were on, and there was nothing the air raid warden
could do about it, but he was drunk anyway. In the street, instead
of it being pitch black we could see everything, even through all
the neighbours windows and the carrying ons inside.
After a few days everything went back to normal, with dads having
to go back to work and having to behave themselves when they got
home, except on Saturday nights. We still had to go to school, and
school food was still horrid despite all the promises that had been
made to us. They did re-open the Sweet Shop, but it only had hard
boiled sweets which broke your teeth and were mainly used after
a few licks to stuff down girls knickers when they were the
Indians and we were still the Cowboys.
A temporary Toy Shop was set up, but still with no toys much, and
at the bread shop the penny buns now cost tuppence. Even though
we had won the war, we still only got one egg a week and a measly
bit of cheese and an even measlier bit of meat each week, which
the dads ate because they had to go to work.
Mams used to give us a bit in secret sometimes, but mainly we had
to eat spuds and cabbage and things like that. They were supposed
to be good for kids, but not apparently for dads, and carrots would
make us see in the dark. They didnt, but they did make us
bump into walls and things when we tried.
Every now and then, a dad would bring home some sausages or bacon
which he had got at the Black Market and which were very tasty.
We never knew where the Black Market was because dads had to keep
it very secret, and if we told anyone, particularly the policeman,
we would go to prison.
The wireless said there was plenty of food now, but it turned out
to be a horrid looking fish called snoek and whale meat which was
mainly thick yellow fat, but no one would eat it, so the wireless
eventually shut up about it. What have we been fighting for, the
dads would say, especially on Saturday nights, even though they
had not been fighting, because Churchill had needed them at home.
Ah, we would really have liked to fight but our jobs were too important
and they wouldnt let us fight, however much we pleaded. The
ones who had been too ill to fight soon got better but looked a
bit sheepish when they met up with the ones who hadnt been
too ill and had been made to fight. It would all be better, the
dads said, after the Election and when they had all voted for Churchill.
But secretly lots of them were really going to vote for Attlee,
but didnt want Churchill to find out and be offended.
Soon the soldiers started to come back home to their mams and dads.
This was called being de-mobbed, and mams and dads, particularly
mams, looked forward to it a lot. The soldiers looked much older
than went they had been sent off in the trains, and not always that
much happier either. Certainly not as happy as all the people who
had stayed at home had been on VE night. We kids would try and cheer
them up and ask about the war.
We would give them a V for Victory sign and puff an imaginary cigar,
and speak to them in a voice like Churchill had on the wireless.
They usually gave a V for Victory sign back, but often the other
way round, which was considered rude by our mams. Sometimes they
gave us bits of black chocolate and hard biscuits, which they said
was their Iron Rations. They certainly tasted like it, but were
a change from spuds and cabbage.
I remember talking to one soldier over our back wall as he went
down the alley to see his mam and dad again. He was loaded down
with kit bags and the like, and had a round thing in a net hung
from his belt.
"Wotcha, cock", I said, it being a familiar form of address
at the time.
"You bin in the war, then. Kill lots of Jerries?"
"Dont think so, son, kept me ead down most of the
time, like all of us did."
"Watcha got in that net then, a Jerries ead?"
"No, son, its an ostrich egg. Wanna ave a look?"
"Cor, that really an egg? Whats an ostrich anyway? Where
you get it?"
"Africa, stole it from a wog. Goin to give it to me mam
as a present."
"Africa, wheres that? Whats it like?"
"It's in Africa. Bloody ot and bloody orrible."
"Worse than Crewe?"
"Well otter anyway and full of sand and mud, like Southpor."
"Are you goin to go back there?"
"No, Im bloody not."
"Wotcha goin to do then? Work at the wagon works like
"No, goin to go to Night School, like a lot of the other
"Wotcha goin to then?"
"Dunno yet. Wait until Attlee gets in, I suppose."
"Wotcha mean, Attlee?. You not goin to vote for Churchill?"
"Cant vote anyway, not twenny one yet., but the corporals
and the sergeants and the older lads are all goin to vote
for Attlee and no more war. They say Churchills all right
in a war, but they dont want no more war, not now, not never."
"So you dont want to give Stalin a bashing?"
"No I dont. The sergeants and the corporals say that
Uncle Joe isnt as bad as hes painted and we would be
better off if we listened to him for a bit. Let the sergeants and
the corporals take over from the officers, like, and the workers
take over from the bosses."
"Cor! My dad in charge of the foreman! Will it appen?"
"Its not the foremen, son, its the plutocrats and
the gentry wholl ave to go. The sergeants and the corporals
say from each according to is abilities, to each according
to is needs. Dunno what it really means, but thought Id
give it a try. Any way its time I saw my mam again, shes bin
waitin two years and should ave my tea ready by now."
"Eres your egg back then."
"No, you keep it, son. Im fed up with the bloody thing."
"What about your mam?"
"Shell never know if you dont tell er."
"Tat ta, then."
"Ta ta, son."
We left the street soon afterwards, because at Rolls-Royce my Dad
got the foremans job at last and we moved to a better street
where they all really voted for Churchill. So I never knew how the
soldier got on at Night School and whether he found his better world.
I hope he did because he seemed a good sort, and I hope someone
told Attlee that he would have voted for him had he been old enough.
I still have the ostrich egg, even though some kid wanted to know
if it bounced. It didnt, but I keep it in a dish with the
broken bit down, so I can still tell other kids about Africa.
(Copyright: Vic Forrington)
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