The world was turned upside down in WWII and in this book you find out how a young girl, survived, coped, and grew into an adult… too soon.
Have you had an event in your life, be it worldly, locally, or within a very limited confine that has shaped and changed your life forever? Do you feel it was for better or worse?
As for me, I became a student in a school that to this day I remember with great affection. It was a place that created memories galore to be cherished. It was named Pinkwell School. When we lived at Clement Gardens I was a few blocks from Pinkwell School but after moving to Mildred Avenue I was much closer, in fact, just around the corner. It took barely five minutes to get there each day. How I loved that school. From the moment I first set eyes on it I knew I would be happy there. The headmaster and teachers were almost too good to be true. The school was a wooden building built in a square with an open quadrangle in the center. The veranda, built alongside the quadrangle separated the open quad from the classrooms and appeared as a sort of deck around the perimeter of the classrooms. In order to walk from room to room one would need to use that veranda which was open except for a roof overhead. Roses grew profusely during the summer months all around the outside of the quadrangle and alongside the veranda.. The aroma would float into the classrooms when the roses were in bloom. We only had a three week summer holiday and thus were able to enjoy the beautiful floral display. One felt wonderful just being there. Something was very special in the atmosphere of that school.
To have Mr. Miller for a teacher was a dream come true for most students. He was extremely popular yet required the utmost discipline. No matter how many students he had or what his task, he always found time to make us all feel special. We were important to him. It was obvious to all, his teaching was not just a job but a ‘calling’. He made his subjects interesting and took the time needed with those who might have had trouble with their work, to help them understand better. He expected the best we could do and was always encouraging. He would not tolerate any misbehaving and no one seemed to mind. We just wanted him to be satisfied with our work and our behavior.
One night, in 1940, shortly after we had retired to our beds, the air-raid alarm sounded. I do not remember hearing it and was most likely already asleep. Grandma had turned off all the lights and opened the blackout curtains so she could watch outside. Granddad was feigning sleep for he did not wish to alarm her. His thought being she would not be afraid if she thought he was relaxed enough to sleep. Little did she know at that time, every sense he possessed was alert.
He told us later that she suddenly said, “Oh Charlie, wake up! You have to see this. It’s the prettiest sight I have ever seen. There are such pretty lights floating in the sky. The whole town is lit up. Why, I can see the Fairey Aviation from here!” Grandma was, for the first time, but not to be the last during those war years, watching flares being dropped by enemy planes in order the bombers following them closely would be able to see clearly where the factories were and instantly know when to release their bombs.
At first we were forced to use one big bed in the shelter, but of course that was really not feasible when my grandparents realized we would be occupying the space regularly for a long time. Granddad ordered bunk-beds made especially for the Anderson shelters and I remember how ecstatic I was when I saw them.
There were two narrow beds, one up, one down, on either side of the shelter, leaving no room for anything else. I had never seen bunk-beds before except in the pictures (movies) and when I was told I would occupy the top bunk it was frosting on the cake. What fun, I thought, to climb up into bed every night. I would later realize it was not quite as much fun as I thought it might be.
There was a very narrow aisle between the bunk beds erected on both sides of the shelter. One could barely walk between them. Not of course, that there was anywhere to go! If we sat on the bottom bunk, adult knees were almost touching the bunk across from them. Whoever used the top bunks could not sit up straight for there was no room for that. We could rest upon our elbows, or just remain in a sleeping position.
There was no electricity in the shelters and the only light we had in the evening hours came from a hurricane lamp or an enclosed candle stick resembling the hurricane lamp. Still I managed to do lots of reading by that dim flickering light and did not seem to suffer any undo problems from doing so. We had no heat either and the old fashioned hot-water bottles were a must in winter when temperatures in the London area would typically be in the 20’s and 30’s at night.
Always the ever present Search Lights with their beams swinging back and forth until an enemy plane or planes would be caught in the ray of light. At that time those operating the lights would keep the aircraft within its beam to give the soldiers operating the Ack-Ack guns an easier target.
In the distance we could see the glow of fires from incendiary bombs falling on the City of London. It was awful for us but horrible for those poor people. Many did not have air-raid shelters and would run to the underground (subway) stations to spend their nights sleeping on the platforms. Often there would be queues of people, holding arm loads of blankets and pillows as well as a little food, waiting to gain entrance to those stations. Many times the raids were well underway before they were able to enter.