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About A Week: A Happy War

Peter Hinchliffe appreciates gallantry on the home front during World War Two.

"Some suffering blighters are catching it tonight," said Dad. We were on the back lawn, out in the darkness, listening to a faint series of thumps and bumps.

"Bombs," said Dad. "Miles away. Sounds like a big raid. I'm glad we're not under that lot."

We listened for a few more minutes. I was disappointed that the bangs weren't louder. They sounded like dud fireworks. Then I grew restless, as boys of six or seven-years-old do. We went back into our blacked-out house, not turning on the light until the kitchen door was closed. Soon I was tucked up in bed, all warm and cosy. I slept well. I felt secure.

Europe was in turmoil. Millions were dying. Buildings were in flames. But the war seemed to be happening far away from our isolated village. War was distant bombs in the night. War was not having sweets to suck. War was being shouted at by Mam for kicking a hole in a shoe which couldn't be replaced because there weren't enough coupons left on the ration book.

We still played cricket when summer came around. What if we had to use a broken bat and a fuzz-free tennis ball? We still had fun. In winter that same shiny tennis ball was our football. Scopsley Lane was our Wembley, our field of dreams. We went sledging, played conkers, gathered blackberries.

There were chores. Queueing endlessly at the Co-op for a miniscule scoop of sugar. Shovelling up the coal which fell from lorries leaving the local mine then trailing it home in a hurry-cart to keep living room fires burning.

But for the most part it was play. Racing on cold autumn evenings through the Woolpack public house ginnel and along Scopsiey during heart-pounding games of poise-can and alley-titchy, the drama heightened by the lack of street lights.

There was the occasional night in an Anderson shelter, emrging damp and sore of neck through having tried to sleep upright.

At school there was air-raid drill which presented the chance to make realistically rude noises by blowing through the edges of our gasmasks as we filed in near darkness down to the basement shelter.

Of course there wasn't much meat on the table - and what little there was put me off eating beef for a decade after the war.

By and large though we had a normal childhood in a village where most of the men were in the deferred occupations of mining and farming.

A television programme, The 1940s House, undammed a flood of memories. A family was plucked from a comfortable, centrally-heated, gadget-filled Yorkshire home and transported to West Wickham, Kent, there to live in a semi while experiencing the privations and trials of wartime on the home front.

They wrestled with blackout curtains, cracked their muscles to plant an Anderson shelter in the garden, survived on jam-and-bread while learning to balance austerity rations.

We lived in a genuine 1940s house. We moved into it in 1939, weeks before the outbreak of war. Dad designed it himself, a self-taught architect. He drew it on graph paper. Being a cautious Yorkshire chap he calculated how much material would be required, probably down to the last half-brick. The house cost 960 to build. It still stands foursquare, a tribute to an enterprising man who died two years before he was due to retire and never reached the magical earnings figure of 20 a week.

No central heating in the 1940s house. Not much coal to warm the downstairs and no radiators upstairs. I recall waking up on winter mornings to see ice on the inside of the bedroom window.

There was a warm meal on the table every day during the war though.

Some of us who lived through the war as children realise belatedly the mountainous debt owed to our parents. Rearing children is a difficult task at any time. To make life seem normal while bringing them up when the house, the village, the whole country might come crashing down. That was a superhuman achievement.

Pity no medal was struck for Services To Home Life. Millions of mums and dads deserved it. The best thing that wartime kids could now say to their parents, if they are still around, is: We were happy during the war.


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