© Noel Harrower 2015
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Memories of World War II
A few things in the first years of the war are still etched on my mind. May 1940. I was back at “The Acacias” (Burnage Junior School) struggling to keep up because I had missed out on vital lessons whilst doing half time schooling in Southport. (The school on St. Luke’s was shared with the Bootle evacuees, who used the class- rooms in the afternoons, whilst we were taken to a recreation ground. I was mixed in with the Southport pupils, but I never really felt I belonged.) I remember my mother being upset when Mr. Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister, after a vote of no confidence in the House of Commons. She was sorry for him, because she thought he was a man of peace, who had tried his best to avoid war and talk sense into Herr Hitler. She thought of Churchill as a war-monger, but later changed her views in the light of Churchill’s stirring speeches and came to believe that he was the right man in the right place. May 27/8 Belgium surrenders. British Expeditionary Forces trapped in Dunkirk. The evacuation begins. The little ships went out to help and the collapse was hailed in broadcasts by Churchill and J.B. Priestley as a miracle and a triumph. I remember my father saying he saw soldiers in Albert Square, Manchester dressed tatters and looking exhausted and bewildered. They’d just escaped. Some of the dazed men wore foreign uniforms and did not know our language.  10 June. Italy declared war on us. I remember sitting round the table having tea and listening to the six o’ clock news. All Italians living in Britain were to be interned. My father opened the window and called up to the window cleaner, who was up a ladder “They’re rounding up the Italians, There’ll be some trouble in Cheetham Hill tonight!” June 22. When I went to school that afternoon some of the children were saying that France had surrendered. I said I did’nt believe them. France was our ally, How could she? They said they had heard this on the one o’clock news. My mother had not put the news on that lunch-time, so I did’nt know. Looking back on it, I expect she was too upset and was concerned that I would be. She must have known it was likely, but I only found out that this terrible news was true at six o’clock, when my father came home, grim faced. Later, we all listened to Churchill’s broadcast to the nation. “We will fight them on the beaches…we will never give in.” We were proud to be British that night, but also afraid for tomorrow. July.  Invasion now seemed very likely. Our parents discussed the possibility of Roy and I going to live with Auntie Nellie in Canada. I was shocked when they told us, stressing what a wonderful country is was. I said I did not want to leave Mummy and Daddy. My mother took Roy for a walk in the park to talk it over. He would have to be very brave and take care of me on the sea crossing and during the seven-day train ride across Canada. We would be with a large group of evacuees, and would be looked after by good people. Roy told me he was looking forward to it. It would be a big adventure. I said that he couldn’t love Mummy and Daddy like I did, if he could say such a thing. Roy and I both had medical examinations and were approved for the journey. September. I remember my mother telling me first thing when I wakened one morning that I had no need to worry any more about being sent to Canada. A ship carrying child refugees had been torpedoed by a U boat and several children had been drowned. Others were rescued. My parents were very shocked, as was the whole country. My father said “Whatever happens. We’ve decided we’re all staying together.” Roy and I were both very relieved and I realized that he’d been putting on an act about wanting to go – for my sake.                                                                                                                               Noel                          A few later memories. Christmas 1941. A few days before Christmas, there was a terrible air raid on Manchester. This was a time when Roy and I were put to bed in sleeping bags on our “air raid shelter” under the stairs. My father went into the front room and peered through the black–out curtains after one huge bang. “Oh. Elsie!” he called. Come and look at this. Roy and I ran into the room too, and for a few moments we were allowed to peer out through the front window. The whole sky was red. It looked like a brilliant sunset, but we knew it wasn’t. “That’s Manchester burning!” said my father. The next day, he travelled to work on the tram as usual not knowing what he would find. Warehouses and factories were still burning in Oxford Rd. but the Town Hall was intact. Later that morning, Uncle Bert called round in great distress. He had watched his workplace blown up by the army, to stop the blazing fire from spreading to more buildings along the street. Most of the workers were made redundant, but he was kept on with a skeleton crew to try to keep the warehouse business going in other premises. On December 25th we had our Christmas dinner as usual at Auntie Louie and Uncle Bert’s home, “Culross” 118, Mauldeth Rd. Burnage. It was a longstanding tradition and Hitler could not change it.  The turkey and the pudding had been prepared, so we ate them together round the table, together with Uncle Ernest and Auntie Lizzie and exchanged our presents in turn as we always did. We listened quietly to the King’s speech on the radio. He finished with a poem about meeting the man who stood at the gate of the year and putting his hand into the hand of God. It was very moving. At that time no one knew what the future held, and Uncle Bert did not know if there was a job for him in January.                                                                                                                                  Noel
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