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David Myrton Baines
from:White City London W12Memories of my childhood in England during World War II, by David Myrton Baines
Chapter 1 In the beginning.
I was born in 1933 in Ilford, Essex. I had a year at St. Winifred's School in Goodmayes. My father's work with the London County Council took us to London in 1939. We lived in a brand new apartment in Shepherd's Bush and I remember my photograph, playing in my new home, appearing in the London Evening News.
Another memory was of that first air-raid siren. I was playing with my building blocks on the living room floor when there was the scariest sound. People ran screaming into the streets. It was very disquieting for a six-year-old. I cannot remember any contact with a parent or an adult at this moment in time.
When school started I went to the nearest elementary school. Lessons were happening, and one day I came home with a large cardboard box containing my gas mask. Then schooling stopped. Arrangements had been made to evacuate and one by one they left. Unfortunately, due to our recent arrival in the area, I wasn't included on any list.
My older sister had joined Godolphin and Latymer, a private school and arrangements for them to go to the country were in hand. Several youngsters in my situation were taught lessons in our dining room. It was finally arranged that I should go with my sister to Thacham a village in Berkshire, about thirty miles west of London. We were billeted on Mrs. Brown, an elderly lady whose spinster daughter ran a one-room school across the road.
I started school, again. Ironically the first night we were there a German bomber whose pilot had lost his sense of direction, was running out of fuel flying west. He jettisoned a string of bombs across the village. We were out the next day to see the craters. Fortunately no one was hurt.
There followed, for me, a not unhappy year. My parents visited when they could get enough gasoline. I had two pet mice and a garden patch where I grew radishes. I appeared as Michael in the school production of "Peter Pan". We attended the Congregational Church with the Brown family. I was awarded a Bible for my Sunday School participation, which I still use. It was a beautiful summer and I made new friends. My sister was not so happy. She was nearly thirteen and feeling rebellious! It was decided she should move to Newbury and live in a large house with other students and teachers from her school.
I went into limbo. I stayed in Newbury, first at a boarding house, a Mrs. Goldsmith for a while and then another, Mrs. Tucker. I joined a small group of other young boys at my sister's school. We were sharing the school with the local children We had their building in the afternoons, but the mornings we used an unfinished store front, on Fifth Street down town. My teacher's names were Miss Luce and Miss Wilson. So life continued.
Finally I was sent to Mrs. Arslett's and met Geoffrey Howell who was a year older than I. His home was on the same street as mine in London. We were to spend our nights sleeping end-to-end in a twin bed in what was really a wide passage, not a bedroom. I remember a cold winter when Geoff had terrible chilblains. Mrs. Arslett resented having us. She received some compensation and our ration books. She had a teen-age daughter and a middle-aged border, who was more welcome than we were. She was a smoker and always had a cigarette hanging from her lip. I watched the ash fall into the food she was cooking. We had precious little to eat. The plates she served it on were more like saucers. I befriended the local kids, one was a fan of George Formby the entertainer and had many of his records.
Life for a little group of boys was not all that good at the girl's school either. Miss Luce and Miss Wilson were super teachers and I loved them both. At that age we did not want to associate with girls nor they with us. We had a booby-trapped retreat in a corner of the sports field. I remember being sent to the dentist's and it was decided to remove a tooth. I was given a gas anaesthetic, but no one told this little boy to go to the bathroom first. I came to with a damp seat! We were only allowed in the house for meals and at bedtime. We roamed the streets when we were not in school. I really grew to hate Mrs. Arslett. To get even with her I would roam the lanes collecting hands full of weed seeds which I would sprinkle over her garden!
One day my parents came to visit on a school day. They found me walking home with my hands in my pockets holding up my pants, no suspenders, and my shoes on the wrong feet. I was showing signs of malnutrition with boils breaking out on my face. Mother took one look at me and said, "We're taking you home - you're at greater risk with Mrs. Arslett that you'd be with Hitler's bombs, in your own home. They called Geoffrey's parents and he went home too.
Chapter 2 Home again.
Home was in White City which is in west London. Dad had found a place for me at Latymer Upper School, a private school in Hammersmith, two miles walk away. Most of the school had evacuated to Slough, but a working school was still operating in Hammersmith. At nine years of age, I joined Mrs. Wiggan's 1B class. Happily, Geoffrey was there too, but being a year older, was in another class 1A. Walking to school was the only way. Some days we had to find a different route home because the usual street had been bombed. Dogfights happened overhead and warm shrapnel was a prize. We walked past the old open-air swimming pool which was now a morgue. Debris from bombed buildings was brought to an open space near where we were living. We used the bricks and corrugated steel to make a clubhouse. It was not unknown to find an unexploded bomb among the bricks. School went on every day. If the sirens went we had a place to go to. 1B went to the boiler room. The school received one direct hit. A firebomb hit the gymnasium and set fire to the adjacent woodwork shop. The shop was being used to store flour. When the hot water from the showers in the gym met the flour a wondrous gooey mass resulted. This oozed under the parquet flooring, lifting it about four feet with everything that was on it.
We were provided with lunch at school although no dining rooms existed. We used the new building classrooms and woodwork shop and there were two sittings. Lunch cost five pence a day - two and a penny a week. Large tickets with a different color for each day were issued. Mrs. Crawley - the caretaker's wife ruled the operation. The meals were cooked elsewhere and kept warm over steam. Even for wartime they were pretty poor. We kept bottles of red and brown sauce (both ersatz) to hide the taste. These were brought from home.
Nights were the worst. We lived close to some field artillery, which made an awful noise. This plus the sound of the bombs has left me with an aversion to sudden noise. We put a mattress into the hall closet so that I could sleep in the strongest part of the apartment. An elderly lady who lived alone upstairs would sometimes come and share my space.
Somehow we went on living. We had been regular Church goers. Many Churches closed and my parents took us to any that was holding a service. There were no boy scouts or girl guides and churches operated only if there was someone to take the services. I remember visiting several different denominations during this time.
I know we had rationing but mother was a wonder and I don't recall going without. There were always treats for birthdays and Christmas. Toys were hard to come by but my father, clever with a jigsaw and with wood he had scrounged, always came up with some thing new. I read and reread a toy catalogue. The tiny artificial Christmas tree and a few decorations came out year after year. No tree-lights but real candles!
We listened to the wireless for every scrap of news. We had screens to black out our windows and I had maps on mine and used little flags to mark the progress of the war.
Our grandparents lived in the country in the north of Essex. The villages are Castle and Sible Hedingham. We spent most holidays there. The villages were ringed with US Airforce bases and we soon learned to ask the young service men "Got any gum chum?". It was a sight seeing the big American cars driving down the tiny lanes. We could tell the difference in sound of the RAF, USAF and Nazi planes.
Dad was shocked to be drafted for military service just weeks before his fortieth birthday. I think he must have been one of the oldest soldiers in World War II. All the officers were young enough to be his sons. He went over to France on D-Day, and I'm pleased to report he did come safely home.
At school life went on. With the gym gone we did PE in the school hall with minimum equipment. Mr. Treacher found some off-cuts of wood and we were able to make a gardening dibber and a small footstool in woodwork. I enjoyed Mr. McIntyre's art class. Paper was in short supply and we had to write in pencil so we could erase every page and re-use with ink. Ink of course was in bottles with scratchy steel nibs and blue-black fingers. Mr. Harmon took us in 1A. He was in charge of music. I joined the school choir and sang at assembly each morning. A big attraction was having a seat to sit on! Mr. Stollery did wonders on the unconventional organ. During this year we took the Scholarship Exam. Fortunately I passed and the remainder of my schooling was paid for,
Chapter 3 In hospital.
It was during a stay at grandma Baines' in the spring of 1944 that I was left behind while my mother and sister returned home to see if everything was all right. It was then that I had a nasty accident on the farm. I got my right hand caught in some farm machinery at Kirby Hall and very nearly lost it. Mother kept the news from Father saying it was a nasty cut. I was in Colchester hospital for thirteen weeks. It was during this time my brother Donald was born. Poor mother had her hands full. The flying bombs were all around us. I lay in my hospital bed listening to them fly over. One narrowly missed our apartment, but took out the next block.
Chapter 4 Back home once more.
I returned to London and joined the second form in its second term. Mr. Tuttle in charge. I loved to sing. I rejoined the choir. We learned descants and special "amens" to sing on Fridays. We also sang parts of The Messiah and The Saint Mathew Passion. These were performed in Saint Paul's Church on Hammersmith Broadway. In the third year I joined the Middle School Society which met after school on Wednesday. This was in preparation for the Guild.
The doodlebugs, as they were called, were bad enough but one day at school we heard an explosion at Staveley Road, Chiswick, (8th September 1944). We later found out it had been the victim of the V2, Hitler's rocket bomb. Had the war not been brought to an end, these bombs might have caused the downfall of Britain.
There was great rejoicing on VE Day and we cut out cardboard shields and made flags to decorate the balcony. Mother, Doreen and I walked, with Donald in a pushchair, to Buckingham Palace to see the Royal Family and Winston Churchill come out onto the balcony.
I remember with excitement as the streetlights were turned on again. Old neon signs flickered back to life. We all celebrated VJ day. The evacuated schools returned and life slowly returned to normal. I was then twelve years old.
October 11th 2004
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