Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Bouncing Bomb

The dark cavern under the dining table continued to be my hiding place where I listened in on the adult world and, when all was quiet, created a dream world all of my own.  On 17 May 1943 I was curled up there again, I know the date for certain because as usual the wireless had been left on and I heard the news reader announce that they had just received the report that the Edersee Dam had been breached, what followed has remained in my mind ever since.  A pilot of the Lancaster Bombers of No. 617 Squadron was talking about the scene below him, a huge hole had been blasted in the dam 230 feet wide and 72 feet deep and an enormous wave was surging up the Ruhr Valley.  Cars were fleeing from the flood water and he could see their white head lights, then as they were over taken by the waves the lights changed to dull yellow, purple and then finally disappeared.  I didn’t feel I could share this with the grownup world; I just hugged the terrible image to myself.  I didn’t know then that 70 people had been drowned in their cars, nor did I know that the bomb which we all now know as the bouncing bomb had been tested and proved on the Fleet.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

HMS Ladybird

Sometimes life gets overfull and there is no time left in the day for the things I really want to do.  At last I’ve managed to slip away into the farm kitchen of my childhood memories hoping you will join me here. 

On 12 May 1941 I was in my favourite hiding place under the dining room table, when I heard the man on the wireless talking about HMS Ladybird, a ship I had always regarded as mine because I knew my name was inscribed on the inside of her bell.  I had been baptised on board in 1936 when I was six weeks old and the Ladybird was tied up alongside in Hankow so in accordance with Naval tradition the ship’s bell was used as the font.   The news reader said that German planes had bombed her, set her on fire and she had sunk but right to the very end while her guns were above the water even though she was sinking she had gone on firing and had brought down two enemy aeroplanes.  This was a very powerful message to a small person and has been part of my driving force throughout my life – never give up no matter how bad things seem to be, you never know what you may achieve even when all seems lost. 
HMS Ladybird was one of the little river gunboats that had sailed from the Yangtze to join the Fleet soon after the beginning of the war and so were involved in the Battle of Torbruk.  If you go to Wikipedia you can find the story of the sinking of HMS Ladybird including part of the report by the ship’s captain Commander John Blackburn; he tells how the sailors, gunners and officers, including the wounded with the ship burning under their feet and half the guns under water kept seeking his permission to ‘Carry on, sir, please.’  Only when the old ship was rolling for her final  plunge did John Blackburn give the order to abandon ship. ‘She went down with what guns we could still man, firing to the last.’
Next week another story from under the table.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

China to Falmouth

Back at the end of September I confessed that I am very lucky to be alive today because my mother got me out of China on the last ship to leave Shanghai as the Japanese invaded the northern border.  Life in a Chinese concentration camp was very hard and a baby of less than a year old wouldn’t have lasted long.  A Chinese lady who we called Amah came with us, she had looked after me since I was born and from what I gathered I doubt if she would have trusted my mother to look after me.  It came as a shock to find that though Amah lived with us in England until I was two, when I asked what her real name was so I could search for her when I went back to China in 1980 my mother confessed she had no idea.  All the early photographs of me show a smiling baby but from the age of two every one is of a very solemn child who never smiled at all.  My mother was a distant figure who believed in children’s hour, time spent with mummy from five to six o’clock, the rest of the day was spent with a constantly changing background of nannies; today we would call them mothers-helps for they were all untrained.  Then came the war and my mother disappeared to be with my father in Greenock while my grandmother supervised the nannies.  It probably wasn’t as bad as it sounds but for a couple of years life was just very confusing for a small child.  One memory is as clear as yesterday; I was standing at the top of a road in Falmouth looking down on the harbour holding the hand of ‘Nanny who married a Dutchman’.  She was talking to a sailor who had a red pom-pom on his cap, presumably the Dutchman in question.  The harbour was filled from side to side by grey ships and I now know I was looking at the Free French Fleet who had made an exciting escape from the Germans to fight alongside our Navy.