Through the filter of a preschooler, Julia McLean’s memories of World War II are an impressionable part of her childhood
I was born just after the outbreak of the Second World War so I do have some personal memories.
I remember the searchlights in the sky over a blacked-out battered city.
I remember my father and my brother in uniform – both serving as air- raid wardens because my father was too old to be called up and my brother was a draughtsman in a munitions factory so was excused military service.
I remember being lifted out of bed and taken to sleep downstairs under the dining table when we heard the air-raid sirens. Later, when shelters had been dug, we went down into those. Every house on the street had a shelter in the back garden.
I remember that my home town, Cardiff, was a prime target for German Bombers because it was an important port. Houses all around us were flattened and once my brother found a woman in the wreckage of her house. She was sitting up right in an armchair like a pink plaster statue because the force of the bomb had brought the blood in her body to the surface at the same time as the plaster ceiling collapsed. He was traumatised by that for a while.
I remember my father being furious when my brother volunteered for the army because my brother didn’t have to go but his mates had all gone and he was being teased for being a coward.
I remember the night he went because he came and leaned over my cot and smoothed my head and sang me ‘Danny Boy’ as he had always done. I must have been three or four and he was 19 or 20. I cried myself to sleep.
I remember my parents being upset when they heard of the death of one of my brother’s school friends.
I remember my uncle having to live with us for a while because he was working on the docks in Cardiff.
I remember hating to visit relatives in Swansea, another strategic port not far from the Margam steel works, because it was flattened during the war and was such an ugly mess for years afterwards.
I remember learning the phrase ‘Gimme some gum, chum’ and standing begging chewing gum (a new and fantastic invention) from young American serviceman outside a local pub like a 6 year old ‘lady of the night’ – fortunately, I only met nice Americans!
I remember the street party for VE Day (Victory in Europe).
I remember, 50 years later seeing the War grave of the two Canadian soldiers in the Bretteville sur Laize War cemetery who died at aged 16 and asking myself how old they were when they joined up.
86 DORE, GERARD, G
Private E/584 Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal, R.C.I.C. 23/07/1944 16 XVI.
0 TAYLOR, ROY F., R F
Private B/129570 Calgary Highlanders, R.C.I.C. 01/08/1944 16 III. B.
As the First World War poet, Laurence Binyon, wrote:
‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.’
For those interested in personal war stories:
WW2 People’s War: An Archive of World War Two Memories – Written by the public, gathered by the BBC
Bretteville sure laze War Cemetry
“The Cross of Sacrifice.” Wikipedia
“Canadian war cemetery Dieppe.” Wikipedia
Recent Julia McLean Articles:
- Old Dog – New Pavlovian tricks
- The Herd Instinct
- Luke Skywalker and the Desert Fox – Part Two
- The Desert Fox – Part One
- Kingdom of the Fungi: Part Two