We spent Bank Holiday Monday – which coincided, by chance, with U.S. Memorial Day – unexpectedly on the receiving end of impromptu family recollections of the Second World War in Britain. Over our London lunch table, my in-laws (aided by red wine) shared some childhood memories with us. We’d heard some before; but others were new to us. Here are a few particularly poignant ones:
Father-in-law: “We got one egg a week, for three of us. My mother would boil it and carefully slice it three ways.”
Mother-in-law [to my wife]: “Your father’s father was out in Patricia Bay, with those Canadian women chasing after him. He had a lovely war.”
Father-in-law: “Uncle B’s tank was hit by enemy fire in Tunisia. He spent months in hospital there. As soon as he was better, they sent him back out to fight. He ended up at Monte Cassino, but he never talked about it. It must’ve been hell.”
Mother-in-law: “My father stationed in Scotland would send us food packages. I just remember meat. At the cinema once we saw an American film in which children were sitting at a dinner table. One complained to the mother, ‘Oh, no, not chicken again.’ The whole cinema groaned. What we all would have given to have had a chicken dinner.”
Father-in-law: “Uncle M. trained with the RAF in South Africa. He qualified as a pilot just as the war ended. Lucky devil. Saw no fighting.”
Mother-in-law: “I don’t remember fear. Once I remember a ‘V’ bomb hitting not far away. We didn’t think anything of it. Maybe we were so young, we didn’t understand. It was a lark.”
Father-in-law: “At night, the Luftwaffe would fly overhead, and the air defence had these huge searchlights all around London that illuminated as far as the eye could see. Occasionally, they’d spot a German bomber, and our boys would knock it out of the sky. They were kids, just like our lads. 18, 19, 20 years old.”
Mother-in-law: “I spent the beginning of the war with my aunt in Ireland. But my older sister didn’t go. My mother finally sent for me to come back to London. [Tears in her eyes, she added] She believed if we were going to die, she wanted us all to die together.”
Father-in-law: “You can’t imagine how terrifying it was to see the RAF dogfighting in daylight with the Germans. You would see planes circle and circle, leaving their wakes behind them. If one of them went down, we always cheered when we knew it was the bloody enemy.”
Father-in-law: “A German bomb hit No. 257, across the road from our house. It blew out all of our windows. My mother screamed to us to get under the stairs.”
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of St Pauls Cathedral in London, England.
Mother-in-law: “We wouldn’t have won the war without the Americans….”
Me: “….We were a bit late turning up.”
Mother-in-law: “What mattered is you came and we couldn’t have won without you.”
As soon as I could, I jotted down what I could recall of what they had said. You don’t hear stuff like that twice sometimes. What one may learn during what starts out as an innocuous meal….