War Breaks Out

When I was nine years old we moved house to the posher end of the town, Dawes Heath Road, near the High Street and the school. Mother had decided we needed more room. Her health was failing and she was tired of struggling up the hill to do the shopping.

Most people in those days did not buy houses but rented them. Father thought buying was “a mug’s game”. He was highly suspicious of anyone who wanted money from him. In a way he was right. Being committed to a family was not what he wanted at all. Had he known what was in store for him I think he would have preferred to be a bachelor. But he was a good man and he did his best if somewhat grudgingly.

This house was much bigger with a long garden. Father spent most of his free time growing vegetables and flowers. We had three bedrooms and a proper indoors bathroom and lavatory. Mother was roused to unpredictable bouts of house-cleaning. She liked polishing the red tiles. She even carried out a spring-cleaning once.

Mother went to church when she felt like it. Although she was a Congregationalist, she often tried out other churches, especially the spiritualist sort. She didn’t go as far as The Peculiar People’s Church. I was fascinated by the name. I sometimes waited to see if anyone went in or out. But I never saw a peculiar person, only the usual sort.

By this time we were aware of what was going on in the outside world. I listened to the radio with Dad and sometimes I read the newspaper. I heard Neville Chamberlain on the radio after his return from visiting Hitler. He spoke of Germany as a far-off country that had nothing to do with us. That is unbelievable today, now that the whole world seems so much smaller because of the great changes in the speed of travelling and communication. When we went to the local cinema there was always a news-reel. I saw one of the rallies in Nuremberg. I can remember the atmosphere of power and drama and the disturbing, hectoring voice of Hitler. He was like all the worst teachers rolled into one. Extraordinary rumours abounded: that Hitler was a madman who gnawed his carpet and ate little children for breakfast, like something out of a fairy-story.

I remember the day war was declared. We heard the news on the radio. That day everyone seemed to be on the streets talking in groups. The sense of impending doom was frightening and exciting. We were all waiting for something to happen. During The First World War civilians had hardly been at risk because the aeroplane was still being invented. But we knew what damage could be wreaked because of the bombing in Spain during The Spanish Civil War.

We had a special interest because my eldest Aunt Margaret had married a Spaniard who was in England at the time. He came from a wealthy family that built ships. They lost all their money and my Uncle Ramon stayed in England and ran a small sweetshop for the rest of his life whilst my aunt was a teacher.

It was hearing my uncle speaking Spanish that fired me with a strong desire to learn the language. I was eleven when I began French but I had to wait until I was sixteen to learn Spanish. I took my degree in Hispanic Studies and spent eight years in Venezuela with my husband who worked for Shell. Both my sons were born there. I became virtually bi-lingual.

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