Several years ago I set out to do a series of small gouache paintings recording some childhood memories. Tomorrow is 75 years since VE day and one of the paintings depicts a vivid memory of the celebratory bonfire on our street complete with an improptu Bitannia with dustbin lid shield and toasting fork trident. Bonfires were not allowed during the war years so as a just turned five child it was magic.
We lived in an end of terrace house and one of the two communal air raid shelters was againt the end wall so it was literally next door. The shelter had a dog legged entrance to stop any light escaping and making us a target for bombers. When the siren sounded an ARP warden stood by the door with a doward facing dim torch and helped people in. For some reason I was frightened of this man and I vividly remember him shouting to a man running full tilt across the cobbles in the street, “Hurry up! The Jerrys are coming.” I had no idea who ‘the Jerrys’ were and no real concept of the danger we were in but the panicked atmosphere coming off the adults communicated real menace.
The shelter had wooden benches running along both sides and was dimly lit by a single light bulb suspended from the ceiling. We sat by the entrance and our neighbour, Mrs Freeman who lived across the Terrace, sat on the opposite bench with her faithful little companion dog, Judy. I remember my Mum muttering that she was not supposed to bring a dog into the shelter but I as very glad she was there as she held my attention while the antiaircraft gun pounded away from the nearby Park.
We had a small canary finch cross which sat in a cage hung in the window of our kitchen living room. I didn’t know much about the bird except that because it wasn’t a pure canary it didn’t sing, Sadly we returned from the shelter one night to find poor Joey dead in the bottom of his cage. Perhaps all the crashing and banging was too much for him or he was just an old bird. The other possibility was that gas got to him. We all had gas masks and I remember mine having a Mickey Mouse shape.
There was no street lighting because of the blackout but one night I stood in the back yard with my Grandad who pointed out strange lights beaming upwards.To me these were just pretty lights but I now know they were searchlights trying to spot enemy planes in order to shoot them down.