CHAPTER ONE: THE WAR YEARS

The outbreak of war
I was born on the 21st of December 1934 to middle class parents in a small village called Banstead near Epsom, site of the well known race course where the Derby is run and about 15 miles to the south west of London. My Father was in the head office of the mighty Prudential Insurance Company in Holborn in Central London, where he was one of a cadre of people with the knowledge and experience necessary to negotiate loans of the firms very considerable assets. My Mother had met him there and when they were married she had to quit her job, a company policy which was very common in the early thirties, but which would be a corporate hanging offence in today's world.

My first reasonably coherent memories had to do with our next door neighbour sitting at our dining room table with a roll of "passe partout" tape in one hand, adding extra filters to the standard issue gas masks which we all had. The time must have been shortly before the outbreak of war in September 1939 and I remember being fascinated with the eye catching colour of the add-on filters. They were a brilliant shade of green, a stark contrast with the drab black of the gas mask with its rubber face piece and celluloid window. I remember that the window invariably fogged up on the few occasions when I had been coaxed and cajoled in to trying it on by my anxious parents. Obviously I had little or no idea what this was all about at that time, but in the next six months or so events were to move fairly swiftly for our family, consisting of my parents and my brother Noel, then only a few months old.

In February 1940 my Mother was hospitalised for a fairly serious operation which required that my infant brother and I be farmed out for a few weeks to an institution which turned out to be a cross between a Victorian orphanage and a work house. How my Father ever got onto the place goodness only knows. There was a single coal fired stove in the middle of a large cold room where meals were served, with all the children simultaneously taking one slice of bread and butter each from the plates provided, on a cue from the battle axe who ran the place, to ensure that all of them consumed exactly the same amount. On Sunday nights we would be ushered individually into the presence of the aforementioned battle axe where her son would dispense minuscule squares of chocolate to each child in turn. The necessary labour to keep the place going was provided by a number of girls in their late teens who were probably paid next to nothing and worked very hard for the privilege. One of these was particularly kind to me and always made sure that brother Noel was properly cared for in the comfort of his pram. I was unspeakably miserable the whole time and kept my thoughts firmly centred on Sundays when my Father came to visit and take me out for a few hours. When we finally got home my mother was absolutely horrified to discover that I had chilblains all over my hands and feet from the cold and damp in that Dickensian institution.

Evacuation to the South Coast of Devon 1940
Every cloud has a silver lining and in this case it was the seventeen year old girl who had kept an eye on me and my Brother during our incarceration. My Father had noticed this in his brief visits and asked her if she would like to come and be a nanny for a while until my Mother was able to cope again. It seemed that she jumped at the chance to get out of her slave labour situation and joined us shortly thereafter. In June 1940, a few days after the fall of France, (which I do not remember) my Father was told that the Prudential head office building was being evacuated to various locations away from the London area and that he was to report in three days for work in an office near Torquay, a resort area in South Devon on the west coast of England. At this point with the German army already in Paris and essentially in control of the continent, (and with only twenty two miles of water across the straits of Dover separating us from them), it seemed that an invasion could happen at any time and under the circumstances my Father, understandably, absolutely refused to leave us behind.

There was no time to find accommodation or make arrangements for the furniture to be moved from the house and we ended up driving away from the place with just a few pieces of luggage and all of us; Mother, Father, nanny, one small child, a babe in arms and a golden retriever, all packed into a two door 1935 Hillman Minx coupe. Although I did not understand all the ramifications, I do remember the scene, the urgency, the tense conversation, the agitation, and my Father saying as we pulled out of the driveway: "Well, take a good look - we may never see it again". It took us eight hours to do the 200 mile journey to the place near Torquay where the new office was located and when we got there no hotel would take us because of the dog. We eventually found somewhere to rest our very weary heads in a guest house run by two little old ladies with the improbable names of Miss Opey and Miss Elford (In later years I was reminded strongly of them by the characters in the film "Arsenic and Old Lace").


The getaway car, a 1935 Hillman
We were very lucky and eventually got sorted out, arrangements were made for movers to go in to our empty house and pack up the furniture and all our possessions, and move them to the three storey boarding house that my Father rented not far from the beach at Preston, a village between the two resort towns of Paignton and Torquay. In normal times that house would have been worth a fortune, but these were anything but normal times and the proprietor, with tourism wiped out completely, must have greeted the prospect of someone who actually wanted to rent the place as manna from heaven.

Amazingly the move of our furniture and belongings by the Southern Railway (as it then was) from our house in Banstead two hundred miles away, was accomplished with nothing broken and nothing missing, despite the fact that we had had to leave with literally everything we owned, from dishes to prized possessions, lying around the house unpacked and with no lists or inventory of what was there. An example perhaps of how a nation once in a while closes ranks in the face of a common danger by not taking advantage of easy opportunities at the expense of others, beleaguered by circumstances beyond their control.

The next order of business was to find me a school which did not take too long, and I found myself pitchforked into a cosmopolitan bunch of children consisting of locals and evacuees from London. These were children from the inner suburbs of London which were deemed to be very high risk areas for aerial bombardment and or gas attacks. Plans had been made to evacuate children (with parental consent) at government expense on one condition; that the destinations would not be known, even to the parents, until they had arrived safely. The reason for this seemingly heartless aggravation of the stress of separating children from their parents, was to ensure that German intelligence never got wind of the times or routes for the trains carrying the evacuees to where they were going, which would have made them vulnerable targets for strafing from the air.

My Father almost immediately set about building an air raid shelter, an "Anderson" shelter (after the politician who had championed the idea to protect the masses from aerial attack with a simple and inexpensive do-it-yourself solution). It consisted essentially of a hole in the ground, dug out by hand, with walls and roof of corrugated iron supported by wooden poles and four- by-two timbers. The earth that had been dug out was then piled on top of the corrugated iron roof. My Father hacked away at the red Devon clay until he had a hole about six feet deep, which took many hours of hard labour. I "helped" by painting breeze (cinder) blocks for the steps down into the hole with "Alum", some sort of waterproofing compound. Every time it rained the thing filled with water and had to be pumped out with a fractional horsepower motor hooked up to a tiny impeller pump, which took forever, but at least we had a shelter to run to when the heat was on, which it frequently was.

The "tip and run" air raids
South Devon was not immune from air raids as we soon found out. The Belgian fishing fleet had taken refuge at Brixham and there were large railway marshalling yards at Teignmouth and Newton Abbott further down the coast. Plymouth was a target because of the Naval dockyards and some radar installations at a place called Bolt Head. The tactic used was "tip and run" raids; Stuka dive bombers would come in across the channel at "zero" altitude, i.e. so low over the water that they for all practical purposes they were on it, and wreak havoc on the coastal towns before any RAF counter offensive could be deployed. They would come in, drop their bombs and head out again before the air raid siren had even sounded.

Our area in the centre of Torbay was used to house recruits and other military personnel in hotels and guest houses that had been requisitioned by the military and there was always a lot of activity, with troops on exercises marching back to and from field camps and so forth. The RAF had some sort of training centre not too far away and there were often "Walrus" sea planes practising in the bay. On one occasion one of them got waterlogged and was zooming madly round the bay in a desperate effort to get airborne, he could not beach it because of the fortifications which were set up all along the beaches that were not mined. These were a form of continuous scaffolding made of tubular bars bolted together with brackets. They were installed just above the low tide mark and were there to impede the landing craft which everyone felt sure would arrive at anytime. Some of the beaches in the less populated ares were mined and had big "KEEP OUT" notices behind barbed wire. I remember looking across Slapton Sands and being curious that seagulls could walk over the sand without setting off any mines but we could not.

Because of the military activity presumably, our area was frequently a target of sorties across the channel by the Luftwaffe and one particular occasion sticks in my mind. My Mother had taken the bus into Torquay (a ten minute ride) to go to the local repertory theatre to see a production of Noel Coward's "Blythe Spirit", and my Father had gone off on his bike to post a letter in Paignton, ten minutes in the other direction, leaving me in charge of my Brother. A few minutes after he had left I heard the sinister sound of aircraft engines and dashed out of the house to see what was going on. I saw them coming in low over the bay towards our beach and I guessed (correctly) that they were not ours. I grabbed my Brother and his playmate and got them in the house, thank God I did because several of the aircraft literally flew down the street, raking everything with 20mm cannon as they went. The high pitched roar of the engines and the shattering blast of the gunfire was absolutely terrifying and it took me a little while to collect my wits afterwards. They also unleashed some bombs two streets over from ours which took out three houses in a terraced row. It was all over in less than a minute I suppose, but the noise and fury of that low-level bombing and strafing attack was something that I will never forget to my dying day.

Meanwhile my Mother had a similarly narrow escape; her double decker bus was just passing the local gasometers as the raiders opened fire, sending them up in flames, one of the planes had been shot down and was burning on the beach below with ammunition exploding all over the place as the fire caught hold. The bus driver turned and motioned all the passengers to get down on the floor of the bus and then put his foot down and hurtled the thing along at break-neck speed to get past the gasometers before they blew up. Many years later, after thousands more bus rides, My Mother said that never, before or since, had she ever been in a double decker bus doing that sort of speed, and in such dramatic circumstances and nor would she ever want to be.

The Home Guard
Both my parents did their bit for the war effort, My Mother was an air raid warden with the "ARP" (Air Raid Patrol), charged with enforcing the blackout and getting people to public air raid shelters when the siren went, and my Father joined up with the "LDV", which was the "Land Defence Volunteers", later the Home Guard. At that time there were no uniforms and he wore a simple arm band with LDV on it. within a few months the Home Guard was organised and he had a proper uniform and was issued with a rifle and ammunition. Not all the units were so lucky and some contingents were so short of weapons that they were issued pikestaffs from local museums.

A few years ago there was a British TV series called "Dads Army", which was a lighthearted history of the Home Guard. I can personally vouch for the fact that it was remarkably close to the truth in the way that it portrayed the melting pot of towns people from all walks of life. In reality it was a serious business, everyone knew that if a German commando raid across the channel took place in our neck of the woods, then it would be up to the Home Guard to hold them off until regular troops could be deployed. We also knew that there was the ever present possibility of a full scale invasion at almost any point along the southern coastline of England. My Father was frequently called out for night training manoeuvres and more than once there was a call-out alert to be ready to deal with a real enemy landing. On one of these occasions I remember him saying grimly to my Mother after getting the phone call: "They think this is it". Apparently it was indeed an aborted landing of some sort because bodies in German uniforms were washed up off Start Point, further round the coast.

Living with the Threat of Invasion
Despite the uncertainty under which we lived, life continued pretty much as it would have otherwise, people went swimming in the summer and tended gardens, children like me went to school, my Parents sang in a choir organised by the BBC at their music school at Dartington Hall near Dartmouth and my Mother hosted rehearsals in our living room when they needed an accompanist. One of the abnormal things was the requirement for everyone, man, woman and child to carry a gas mask. The original containers in which they had been issued were waxed cardboard boxes with a fold-down lid and a string to carry it with. The boxes were approximately 7"X 5"X 4" and were incredibly inconvenient to carry. My Father made a very slick and durable case for mine, he took a tubular tin used for a breakfast cereal ("Honey-grains"), painted it black and attached a leather strap to it. It was a perfect fit and waterproof as well.

The concern over the possibility of a gas attack was very real, presumably because of the horrifyingly effective use that had been made of it during the first world war and the knowledge that even more powerful and unpleasant concoctions had been developed since then. One of these was mustard gas, and my Father had a kit containing some ointment to be applied to exposed skin to combat it in his Home Guard paraphernalia. Once in a while there was an exercise using a very mild form of tear gas "pour encourager les autres" just to let people know that the authorities were serious about carrying gas masks. These were publicised in advance, and anyone indoors with the windows closed would not need to put on a gasmask.


Father, brother, 1942, barbed wire
coastal defences were a way of life
Other things that were abnormal were the "tank traps", about half a dozen metal girders each bent into a "V" shape were stacked under each railway bridge to be inserted in holes in the roadway covered with heavy lids like manhole covers with lifting rings in them. These would at least temporarily block a tank column from advancing any further than the trap locations. Public air raid shelters were everywhere, usually these were brick block houses designed only to protect against blast and flying glass rather than a direct hit and were fortified with sandbags.

Just about all wrought iron railings in public places had been torn up to feed the war effort and everyone was exhorted to make sure that old aluminium saucepans for example were sent for recycling to be turned into Spitfires, Hurricanes, Stirlings, Lancasters and Wellingtons. A cartoon of the day showed a woman in an apron looking skyward as a squadron of saucepans flew past.

Rationing
Food rationing of course was not a normal thing, but the system was fair and flexible. There were clothing coupons and points for food items, most items were interchangeable, if you used your points for eggs then you had less for tea and so on, but certain things like milk, sweets and chocolate had separate quotas. Other things like cigarettes and camera film were rationed by scarcity and mysterious queues would form at news agents shops if the word got around that they had some of these items, even then distribution was equitable with the proprietor saying "One per family, come on now, just one per family". One of the staple items that was not rationed was fish and as a result there were always queues at fish shops, in fact they became a sort of national symbol of patience over the years. Obviously nothing much was thrown away and the few scraps that were went into the "Pig Bin", which was collected separately from the ordinary refuse to feed farm pigs. Nobody in their right minds would dream of cooking a cake with butter and real eggs, margarine and dried egg was the order of the day. The dried egg mix was not bad, but it had a propensity for staying unmixed and would turn up in the cake as a "dried egg worm". Dried milk was better than nothing as a straight drink - but only just, quite bearable in tea however. Dried bananas were odd at first, wizened black and skinless, but were a great deal better than nothing and were actually a good substitute for the real thing. I always remember my Brother Noel's look of deep suspicion when shortly after the war at the age of about six he was confronted with the first real yellow banana he had ever seen.

Because there was no petrol available for private cars, except under special circumstances, (such as a one gallon a month allowance for elderly people to go to church) there was almost no traffic on the roads apart from delivery vans and military vehicles, as a result the place was perfect for bicycles. At seven years old I had no trouble learning to ride one, but for my Mother it was more difficult. She eventually did and we were able to travel around a bit with my Brother in a wicker-work seat on the back of my Father's bike. Road signs were virtually non-existent, having been removed to hamper any invasion force, but that did not bother us particularly.

Return to the London area
In November of 1942 the word came that the Prudential had decided to reconsolidate its operations at the London head office. By this time the tide of the war had turned in our favour following the entry of the Americans into it, prompted by the attack on Pearl Harbour. We returned to the London area by car, (courtesy of a special 10 gallon allowance of petrol to cover the 200 mile return journey) and re-adapted to the life we had left two and a half years earlier.

Elementary and secondary schools of the time
I was put into yet another school, this time a Methodist church elementary school which had accommodation in one of the local "Central" schools, a euphemism to describe the lower tier of the two-tier secondary educational system which to this day continues in England. At that time the upper tier was represented by the "Grammar" schools, which were state supported and which provided a level of education through to the age of 18 comparable to that of the private schools and the so-called "Public Schools" (of which more later), where substantial fees were charged which were beyond the means of most families. Access to the Grammar schools was by an examination taken between the age of 10 and 12. Those who had been fortunate enough to go to private "preparatory" schools supported by fees, had an edge in all such entrance examinations, both for state supported and fee-paying (parentally supported) secondary schools.

The little Methodist elementary school that I attended was adequate and taught the three R's mixed with a liberal dose of bible readings. I do not remember any attempt to interpret the bible or force any religious point of view in any way at all. It was run by three very down-to-earth women in their thirties and forties, two of whom had children of their own, who did what they could to get their young charges prepared for the judgement day of the examination, which would effectively define their lives from that point on.

The bible part of it consisted of about half an hour each morning of class members standing up and reading a few verses in sequence at the behest of a monitor, from whatever book and chapter the teacher had selected. The monitor was chosen from the class each day by the teacher and this was empowerment with a vengeance. The monitor had complete control over which child read at any given time, and for how long. After nearly two and a half years of this I was familiar with most of the old and new testaments simply by a process of osmosis reinforced by constant repetition, although I was never conscious of any overt attempt to instil anything into me.

I am not a particularly religious person and by no means do I accept all the tenets that the bible offers, but I consider myself fortunate to have had that opportunity to soak up the matchless seventeenth century prose of the King James authorised version of the bible in such a painless fashion at a relatively young age. As a result I am implacably opposed to all the attempts to "simplify" and "interpret" the bible with all sorts of glitzy translations. For example the passage from the twenty third psalm: "...Yea though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me..." sends a message which is pretty clear even if you were not born in the seventeenth century, but today some trendy evangelist, aided and abetted by a publisher with an eye to the bottom line, would probably translate it as something like: "... even when the going gets rough I know you're in my corner..." (or some such drivel).

Living with the air raids
The air raids over Britain, and particularly London and the South East, continued unabated through 1943 and into 1944. The night raids were of course particularly disruptive and every time the air raid siren went we all had to get into the cupboard under the stairs, the safest place in the house to be if there was falling masonry (injuries from shattered window glass and falling ceilings were particularly common, just from the blast of a bomb too far away to cause any other damage). My Father finally decided to install a "Morrison" shelter which was made available at a nominal cost to anyone who wanted one. This contraption, named I believe for Herbert Morrison, the Home Secretary in the coalition government, was a steel dining room table consisting of a 3/16" steel plate about six feet by four feet, with a supporting frame work of heavy steel girders and four corner posts made of 1/4" thick by 6" wide steel angle iron. Under the steel plate, which served as a table, was a bed-spring of steel slats attached to the framework.

The idea was that it could be installed in the living or dining room of the average British "two up, two down" dwelling and provide a secure place to sleep and a refuge for daylight air raids. Once inside, the occupants hung heavy-gauge wire grids on the sides to prevent bricks and mortar from tumbling in on them. It was designed to support the weight of a house collapsing on top of it and indeed it did, because in many cases that is exactly what happened and the inhabitants survived unharmed.

One thing about the Luftwaffe, they had Teutonic predictability and one of their favourite times to visit was Saturday and/or Sunday lunch time. No sooner had my Mother got everything dished up and on the steel table than the damn siren would start. Usually we would take that under advisement and wait for audible confirmation of enemy activity before retreating under the table to sit cross-legged with plates on our knees.

My Father was still in the Home Guard but by then the priority was mainly damage control rather than fending off invaders. I remember going out with his platoon after one air raid to watch them do some emergency shoring up of a house that had been badly damaged but was still standing and a threat to passers by if it were to collapse without warning. my contribution was to hand him the tools he needed as the work progressed. In retrospect it was a dangerous exercise, but everything is relative and the danger was nothing compared to fighting incendiary bomb fires or defusing unexploded bombs which other brave souls did all the time.

The flying bombs 1944
On one never to be forgotten night we saw a plane coming in low over the field behind us, the engine noise was deafening and it appeared to be on fire with flames belching out from the tail. It roared over the house at treetop level and then a few seconds later the noise stopped, there was a short silence followed by an explosion which must have been a mile or more away. My Father reckoned that it was a fighter plane that had been hit by anti aircraft fire and that it had exploded on impact.

At that time I was caught up in the current "aircraft recognition" craze at school, spawned by a series of cigarette cards with the silhouettes of enemy and allied aircraft on them. Anyone who could not tell a Dornier 97 from a Junkers 88 or a Messerschmitt 109 from a Hurricane was just not with it. The plane we saw on fire that night was quite unlike anything on those cards and the next day we learned that what we had seen was a pilotless plane, a flying bomb, powered by a rocket engine, and that we could expect to see a lot more of them very soon - and we did. This was the "V-1", the first of Hitler,s "secret weapons" which he unleashed on London and environs in a desperate last ditch attempt to prevent the inevitable defeat of the Third Reich.

The "doodlebugs", as they came to be known, had a psychological impact that was as devastating as their destructive power. They had enough fuel to reach the London area, at which time they simply nosed into the ground and exploded wherever they happened to be. The statistical variation in the distances each one travelled and the deviations in their flight paths because of minor differences in aerodynamic trim, resulted in them peppering broad circles across their nominal target areas in London and the South East.

The psychological effect was the menacing reverberating roar of the rocket engines, the remorseless straight line flight that they maintained through heavy barrages of ack-ack (anti aircraft) fire which filled the sky around them with black puffs of smoke, giving them an aura of invincibility, and the sudden termination of the engine noise in a dying cadence like a stricken dinosaur, followed by the dramatic silence for a few seconds, during which no one breathed, and then the explosion itself.

The bomb which each one was built around was certainly powerful enough to wipe out everything for a radius of 30 to 50 yards and was all the more destructive because it did not make a crater on impact. The doodlebugs flew in at nearly 400 mph, which was faster than any fighter plane could do in level flight at that time except the Tempest, and even it needed the paint scraped off and the fuselage polished to reduce the drag to the minimum. One of the defence strategies, implemented immediately, took advantage of the robot behaviour of the doodlebugs and that was the deployment of hoards of barrage balloons. They were made of metallised fabric and looked like airborne whales. They provided "skyhooks" for heavy cables which were capable of downing any aircraft which was stupid enough to fly into them, a category which definitely included the doodlebugs. The balloons were hydrogen filled and occasionally one would be struck by lightning and descend in a spectacular fireball, or get loose from its moorings and drift over residential areas, dragging its heavy cable over rooftops and knocking off chimney pots and so forth.

The area where we lived was within the broad target zone for the doodlebugs and we had quite a few encounters with them. One epic experience was when my family went to Cornwall in the south west of England for a couple of weeks to try and get a break from the stress of the air raids. We went by train and took our bicycles with us, these being the only reasonable means of transport at that time. The journey involved taking the commuter train to Waterloo station, one of London's major railway termini, and transferring over to Paddington station, one of the other ones, which was the main departure point for the Great Western Railway trains to Devon and Cornwall. The view from the train as we travelled in to central London was one of unremitting devastation. Scarcely a street without one or more houses in a sea of rubble and others shored up with wooden scaffolding. Instead of pictures or advertisements in the spaces above each seat in the train, there were stern messages and cartoons to back them up such as: "Loose talk costs lives" with a drawing depicting a crowded train compartment with everyone talking and just one sinister individual with grotesque dumbo ears reading a newspaper and listening to every word being said.

We arrived at Waterloo and my Father decided that my Mother and five year old Brother would go with the luggage and her bike in a taxi (bike on top, no problem in those days) while he and I would ride our bikes from Waterloo to Paddington. We got about half way when the air raid siren sounded and we started to hear the ack-ack barrage and saw the little black puffs of smoke in the sky from the gun batteries as they tried to pick off the flying bombs. My father picked up speed and it was all I could do to keep up with him as we went hell for leather across central London to try and meet up with the other half of the family. We arrived at Paddington station in record time and amazingly we did connect with Mother and Brother and luggage and managed to get luggage and bicycles ticketed and moved off to the Cornwall train before the air raid took a more urgent turn. Paddington station is huge, built at or before the turn of the century it is a vast enclosed concourse of steel and glass about forty feet high, covering perhaps an acre or so of platforms and ticket offices. It also included an underground tube station, and it was here that we were corralled along with a crush of humanity when the order went out to evacuate the station, all effectively on hold while the air raid lasted.

There was standing room only and we were packed like sardines, then we heard the menacing roar of a doodlebug coming very close indeed, followed by the sudden silence as it ran out of fuel. The atmosphere in that tube station was absolutely electric and you could have heard a pin drop as several thousand people waited for the explosion which we all knew would follow. The stakes were high, If the station were to be hit, the entrance to the underground tube station could be blocked and we would all be there for a very long time. After perhaps five seconds which seemed an eternity there was a stunning explosion which shook the tunnel and sent a pressure wave through it which I will never forget. It reverberated back and forth along the tunnel for several seconds causing the most weird sensations in the ears of every body there. Nobody moved a muscle, much to my parent's relief, they were afraid that if there was a panic my Brother and I would be crushed in the stampede to get out. The railway had been hit not far from the station, but it was soon repaired and we made it to Cornwall, where there were no air raids and where we slept uninterrupted the whole night through in proper beds - not under our steel dining room table where we had spent most of our nights for many months previously.

That was not the end of Hitler's surprises. Some weeks after the V-1 assault there were major explosions which unlike the doodlebugs, left giant craters. The first few were attributed to gas mains having been hit, but we quickly learned that these were due to the V-2, a real rocket against which there was no defence or warning. In theory these should have caused more stress and been more demoralising than the doodlebugs, but people seemed more or less resigned to them, after all there wasn't a damn thing that anyone could do to prepare for them, short of spending the entire time in an air raid shelter, so they had less of a psychological effect (as far as I can remember anyway) than the flying bombs did.

There were several POW camps in our area where captured german Luftwaffe aircrews were interned. Towards the end of the war when it became apparent that there was no real risk of them attempting to rejoin their forces across the channel, they were allowed to earn some money in the local community doing odd jobs. We youngsters were fascinated with their talents, they could make very convincing rings for fingers out of coloured tooth brush handles, complete with different coloured "stones" to simulate amethysts or garnets or whatever. Others were amazingly clever with clocks and watches. We had a POW to do gardening who was obviously well educated and spoke reasonably good English, his name was Herr Boch. My Father had long discussions with him about the war and tried to get out of him how he justified the Nazi aggression in Europe. Boch, who was a card carrying member of the Nazi party and a devout National Socialist, would only say that we were wrong to intervene in the rightful attempt by the German people to regain the territory which had been confiscated under the treaty of Versailles after the armistice in 1918. Nothing would convince him that anything Germany or "Der Fuhrer" had done was in any way a root cause of the war.

Padding the rations
Because dairy products were in very short supply, a lot of families kept poultry. Most had chickens but for some reason we had ducks, which laid white eggs rather than the familiar brown ones. Ducks are team players, whenever they managed to escape from their wire netted "run", they would process single file wherever they went until, alerted by a neighbour, one of us would rush out to retrieve them. It was not difficult, if you walked behind them they could be "steered" quite easily. The difficult bit was to steer them back through the narrow gate and into the compound again, inevitably one would not go in, but nevertheless all four would move as an ornithological platoon with the wire netting separating one from the rest. The only solution was to get the other three outside and start again. The four of them provided us with an average of about a dozen eggs a week for two or three years, a real bargain for us.

One of our neighbours was more enterprising than the rest of us, not only did he keep poultry, but he also had a goat for milk and bees for honey. He learned by doing with a vengeance and his first attempts to make the ill tempered goat (which he named "Kate" for the taming of the shrew) part up with some milk were mirth provoking in the extreme. He soon had the animal under control and when we tried the milk (a rich nutty flavour) we had a new respect for him. His bee hives also caused some consternation when the bees swarmed into one of our apple trees. Nothing daunted he appeared looking like a commando with a hat covered in netting to protect his head and face and the rest of him completely enveloped in what appeared to be a sort of Arabian Knights attire and approached the tree with an authoritative air. Amazingly he managed to convince the several hundred thousand bees hanging like a buzzing sock from a branch of our tree, that they did not belong there and succeeded in persuading them to return to their hives.