I suspect ! was an accidental conception, coming 5 years after my sister and 8 years after my brother. I was the only child actually born in a hospital, and my birth was delayed on order of the midwife so that hospital staff could listen to the announcement of war on the loudspeaker. After I was delivered, Mum was so excited to see Dad the other two kids that she flew out of the hospital, leaving me in the arms of the nurse and had to be reminded to come back and get me! Much hilarity in the car, no doubt!
The next few years are known to me only anecdotally of course, but I clearly recall the war sirens announcing an attack or an all-clear. We had an Anderson shelter in our back garden. This was mostly an underground construction, with narrow bunks reached by cement steps. Out of the back door, straight underground was the order of the day when a siren sounded. Dad was often at work or flying round the district in a truck, shooting a few bullets here and there from the ONE gun the crew shared. It’s laughable, and so close to that damned television “Dad’s Army”!
Mum used to hold me on her lap, often, while she knitted or crocheted white cotton, which was all she could get. She made curtains, table cloths, dresses for we girls – anything she could think of, really. And then, with tea leaves, beetroot from the garden or whatever she could find, she dyed the items suitable colours. Very often she would read to us, or just make up stories to calm us and get us to sleep. The women of those days were truly amazing and mostly unsung heroes, in my book I mean, Mum made Banana sandwiches from mashed, boiled parsnip and banana flavouring!!! How on earth did she figure that out?
We could suddenly hear the tramping of Dad’s boots coming down the street, and I could feel Mum’s body sag with relief. All safe, all together again.
As you will see in British film, our houses were joined together in blocks of four, with an alleyway at each end of the block that led around to the back gardens. Our street was one side of a square, built around a central park. My brother used to walk around the corner to meet up with a friend and go to school together. One morning an air-raid siren screamed and he suddenly found himself thrown flat to the ground, with a strange woman on top of him. A thump, a cloud of dust. When he got up he discovered that his friends’ house had disappeared along with others in that block.
I was always the odd one in our family. I used to run up the stairs, into the bathroom, climb out the window and shinny down the drainpipe, come back through the back door and do it all again, despite Mum’s pleas to stop. One day up there, the man next door called up to me to ask if I could see his daughter’s house directly opposite, on the far side of the park. “She’s okay Mr Cotter – I can see her bathroom curtain blowing” I reported. We found later that that little wall with that bathroom curtain, was the only thing left in a whole street of homes. Devastating!