When I visited the ‘Spirit of the Blitz’ Exhibition in Liverpool Central Library, I realized that my experiences of WW2, in a small Hampshire town were very different to yours. Although Alresford is only 20 miles from Southampton and the blitz there kept us awake nearly every night, we had little experience of the constant bombardments which you endured. Occasionally we had to take refuge for an hour in the school air raid shelter, when a returning German Bomber was shedding its load, but we did not suffer, from the destruction of our homes. Not until, that is, the unexpected arrival of the unmanned and unpredictable V1s, ‘doodlebugs’, in the summer of 1944. I expect that these particular flying bombs did not reach Liverpool.
Unlike you we were not evacuated but, rather, welcomed families from London into our homes and children from Portsmouth into our schools.
We, also, grew accustomed to the blackout and to food rationing but, in our case, the produce from our garden, with its orchard and poultry yard, alleviated these shortages. As my father was a milkman, a reserved occupation, we were not deprived of dairy produce either.
Like all young children we were only affected by the immediate consequences of the war and as my parents were not away on active service, my life was not much different from how it had been in the depressed 1930s. I heard on the radio about Dunkirk, Pearl Harbour and El Alamein, but did not fully understand the significance of these momentous events. Even young children listened to Mr. Churchill’s stirring speeches and I tried to imagine my father and his Home Guard colleagues fighting “in the streets and in the hills”, trying to keep invaders at bay. Fortunately, the invaders never came although the church bells rang one night to announce their imminent arrival!
This insularity was to change in 1944 when our neighbourhood was at the centre of the preparations for D-Day. Then, troops from Aldershot were hurtled through our small station on their way to Southampton docks, their trains always taking precedence over our school trains.
There was more excitement when the Americans arrived. Most families ‘adopted’ a soldier from the nearby camps. You too would have experienced the arrival of the Americans and, like us, have been impressed by their smart uniforms, their apparent wealth and by the rations and candy they brought when they spent their leave in our homes.
You can imagine our consternation when we saw them march away a week before D-Day, only to return for a few days more before their final departure. When I heard of the D-Day landings, on June 6th, 1944, 1 could only think of our American friends and was later devastated to learn of the death, in combat, of ‘our’ own American, Tony Lamana.
From that moment on I felt no longer secure and became only too aware of the progress of the war and of events elsewhere in the wider world and although it was many years before I knew about the destruction of Liverpool and the Battle of the Atlantic, I now understand that your war was more horrific than mine.