ENTERTAINMENT

What was life like as a child during World War II?


When luck was a broken ginger nut: what it was like to be a child during World War II, when sirens and bombings were part of everyday life

  • It is often simple pleasures rather than destruction that the children remember
  • The Second World War ended 75 years ago and was celebrated on the last VE day
  • Kathy in Portsmouth saw entire streets destroyed. She no longer had a school

War summer

By Caroline Taggart (John Blake £ 8.99, 336pp)

"It may sound terrible," admits a woman named Eileen in this exciting oral story by Caroline Taggart, "but I felt that the war years were the best years of my life."

The Second World War ended 75 years ago, as we were recently reminded of by commemorating VE Day. Therefore, Taggart's older respondents, men and women in the eighties and nineties, were mostly children during the war.

Your memories stay fresh. The day the war was declared, Ros, ten, was in her garden in Surrey, dancing to music on the gramophone when her mother said, "You have to come in. There is war."

Three small children who enjoyed a carrot on a stick in 1941. Often it is the simple pleasures rather than the destruction that these eyewitnesses of history remember

Thirteen-year-old Connie in Liverpool was unimpressed by the "terrible" news that her mother gave her. "I just thought:" So what? "She admits. Sheila from the East End was evacuated to Wales where" most of the children spoke Welsh and I felt so uncomfortable that I kept leaving school. "Brian was in Cornwall, where he witnessed scenes that remembered the movie Whiskey Galore when a supply ship was destroyed off the coast.

"A farmer waded in to get a large wooden box, hoping it would contain bourbon or tobacco cans, only to find that it was full of wet toilet paper."

Brian helped himself to take the pineapple out of the can, but ate so much that he became seriously ill that evening. Many of the children were aware of the loss and suffering in the war. In Slough, Sylvia remembers saying to her parents, "There's a sunset, but it's in the wrong place." She looked at the fires of the London flash.

Summer of War by Caroline Taggart (John Blake £ 8.99, 336pp). As a record of what it was like to be a child at the time, the summer of war is unbeatable

Summer of War by Caroline Taggart (John Blake £ 8.99, 336pp). As a record of what it was like to be a child at the time, the summer of war is unbeatable

Kathy in Portsmouth saw entire streets destroyed. She had no school to go to and "a whole row of houses and shops were now just a smoking pile of bricks".

But more often it is the simple pleasures than the destruction that these eyewitnesses of history remember. In a time of rationing, even broken cookies were a treat. "You didn't have to pay vouchers for that … There may be half a pudding cream and a little ginger nut."

And after American soldiers arrived in Britain, there was new reason to celebrate. “They used to drive through the village quite often, just throwing away packages of nylons and things like that. I can remember people running behind the trucks picking things up. "

London children wear their gas masks when they bounce around 1940 in the park of their makeshift houses on the south coast of England

London children wear their gas masks when they bounce around 1940 in the park of their makeshift houses on the south coast of England

When the war ended, it was difficult for some children to understand. In South Wales, Maggie heard "cheers and shouts and people firing blasts". Her mother told her that Germany was defeated. "I don't think I really took it," she says. "I had never had a life without sirens and bombings … that was the norm for me."

Anyone looking for a more comprehensive, scientific account of the home front during World War II will need to look elsewhere. But as a record of what it was like to be a child back then, the summer of war is unbeatable.

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