1943 -44 Living in Seven Kings, a suburb of London
As the war dragged on, it seemed that every night we were roused from our beds to go to the shelter. We were so very tired – tired of war, tired of shortages, but most of all, tired of the damp and dirty Anderson shelter in the back yard. . It seemed to be where we spent most of our nights. To help fend off the cold Lily bought me a siren suit, a product developed out of necessity. Almost every young child had one. It was a one-piece outfit that could be pulled on over pyjamas or nightshirts; it had no holes for feet or hands, and included a hood. Quickly buttoned, it was easy to put on a sleepy child and was ideal for long nights in the shelters. The suits were usually donned when the sirens sounded, hence the name Siren-Suit.
On one of many endless nights in the shelter, Lily complained of being very thirsty. During a lull in the bombing, her husband Ben, home on sick leave, made a dash to the kitchen to find a drink. Supposedly, there was a bottle of lemonade sitting on the counter to the left of the kitchen sink. With a strict blackout in effect, He dared not use a light. Instead, he fumbled in the dark feeling for the bottle while, at the same time, listening for the bombs to start falling again. Finally, his hand touched a bottle on the window ledge. Thankfully recognising it as a lemonade bottle, he grabbed it and dashed back to the safety of the shelter.
Handing it to his thirsty wife she immediately put it to her parched lips and took a long swig. Almost instantly she began choking, spitting and gagging! We couldn’t see what was wrong in the dark interior. Ben, obviously concerned, struck a match that dimly lit the shelter. Lily had her head between her knees spitting out the last dregs of whatever it was she’d just swallowed. She slowly regained her composure and then her voice. Turning angrily toward Ben, she asked, ‘What in hell was in that bottle?’ Flustered and unaware of its contents, Ben was about to reply when the match flickered out, burning his fingers. ‘Damn!’ he said, It was his turn to swear. Having returned to darkness, I could no longer see Lily’s angry face. Ben first smelled and then tasted what had been in the bottle. Clearly, it was not lemonade, and in the end turned out to be paraffin, but he felt completely exonerated. It was, after all, Lily who had filled the bottle with paraffin in the first place. No more attempts were made to quench Lily’s thirst on that particular night!
On the last night of Ben’s leave he took us to the cinema. Going to the pictures was an exciting and rare treat. During the early war years, when the blitz was in full swing, cinemas were shut down. It was too dangerous for groups of people to gather in one place.
Heading home that night after the show, I was happily riding on Ben’s shoulders and Lily was walking at his side when the sirens began to wail. For some reason, Ben decided it was a siren test, not a raid. Tests were carried out sometimes, but I could never tell which was which. Ignoring the noise, we continued walking and talking with not a care in the world. Suddenly, planes were overhead, and then we heard the whistling of falling bombs. Ben yelled for Lily to drop to the pavement, at the same time dropping with me still on his shoulders. I crashed hard onto the cold concrete hitting my nose and making it bleed. Already extremely frightened, the sight of blood didn’t help matters. Ben quickly gathered us close and we lay very still.
Bombs were exploding very near as we huddled tightly together, pressing ourselves into the pavement. We heard the thud of a bomb landing in a garden just a few feet from where we lay. Instinctively, we braced for the coming blast, but incredibly it didn’t explode. We didn’t hang around to find out why. In seconds we were up and racing for the nearest shelter. Ben carried me under his arm and pulled Lily along beside him. Bleeding from my nose, scared and crying. I must have looked like a real casualty. An ARP warden standing in the entrance of an underground shelter waved us toward him. He anxiously urged us to hurry before the next wave arrived. Reaching the entrance, Lily quickly grabbed me and ducked inside, leaving poor Ben to explain to the angry warden why we’d failed to heed the siren. That night remains in my memory as a close call, we survived only because the bomb failed to explode.
Please note there is no connection between Lily’s husband’s name, Ben and my nickname, also Ben, mine was picked up years later years later whilst serving in the Royal Navy Submarine Service
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