Signs Of War

Signs of War by Catherine PainOur lives changed overnight. Everyone bought evil-smelling black-out material to make curtains for all the windows to blot out the light at night. Gas-masks were issued to everyone including babies. They had a special kind with Mickey Mouse faces. I didn’t think they would mean much to babies once their heads were inside them. The masks were issued in cardboard boxes attached to string so they could be carried over the shoulder. I hated their rubbery smell and felt claustrophobic when I put mine on. Great was the fear of poisonous gas which was first used at the end of World War One. Happily they were never needed. For a while everyone carried them everywhere, then they just faded away. My cardboard carrier came in useful once or twice when I was travel-sick on buses.

Father was a civil servant in The Customs and Excise Department. His offices were in London. The greatest effect on our family was his evacuation to Blackpool. He lived in digs for a while but in June, 1940 we joined him there. He accepted this departure with some reluctance. This pleased me because I felt reassured that he really cared about us. The immediate effect of his going was that of a thundercloud lifting. We had Mother to ourselves and we felt free. We laughed and made merry and did silly things without Father’s inhibiting presence.

He faithfully wrote individual letters to all three of us children with special pencil drawings at the end. This was a different Father from the one I knew. Distance lends enchantment to the view. I realised how true this proverb was. His fundamental care for us shone through leading to a more open interest in what we were doing. I answered all his letters and enjoyed this new way of communicating with a difficult parent.

I have noticed throughout my life that those who have suffered in childhood from a lack of love and attention find it difficult to express their deepest feelings to the people they love most. It is much easier to open up from a distance. Words are cheap. A mistaken belief is that women in particular want to be told they are loved. What people say and what they do are two different things. We all need to focus on deeds, not words. Most people seem to be unable to do both at the same time.

Father came home for Christmas . We were pleased to see him. It was then he began to read Dickens to us starting with “The Christmas Carol”. Because the stay was short we were unable to get back to our old patterns of family behaviour.

This was the time of the Phoney War when we were blinded by false hopes that nothing much had happened so it would all soon be over. Little did we realise how bad things would get. Yet we should have known, because the Civil Service sent all the families of their evacuees to live in Blackpool too.

I was about to lose my paradise in the country for good and to begin one of the worst periods in my life. Not because I had been badly treated, far from it. The physical and emotional difficulties in adolescence together with my hyper-sensitivity to the sufferings of so many innocent people, killed off all traces of religious belief once and for good. The saving graces for me were my love of learning, my constant thoughts and efforts to understand why human beings could behave so badly and above all else the healing power of classical music, especially Beethoven and Schumann. Somewhere, somehow there were invisible powers for good. It took me a long time to understand that this power was already there inside me and that we have to understand that there will always be forces of good and evil and that they exist in all of us. I prefer to call them negative and positive. As many of our greatest men, especially C.G. Jung, Spinoza and Erich Fromm have told us, we must experience both sides of everything and understand them if we want to make the most of life. It is no good trying to be good nor trying to be evil. Take either of these too far and they will turn into their opposite.

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