Sunday, October 30, 2011
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Hungary, Communism and the Suez Canal
A few years after WW2 our usual Geography teacher at school took extended leave to visit India. Her replacement was a rather plump and pleasant woman from Finland. Sadly she couldn’t teach Geography without putting a political slant on everything. Nowadays political geography and current affairs are quite normal, for us however the notion was quite new, and I for one took to it like a duck to water. We were allowed to ask the question "Why?” rather than just accept the facts. This put a completely different perspective on the countries of the world. She cooked her own goose of course because being a Finn she protested too much about the injustice that her country had experienced, when we all thought that they sided with Germany initially only to be attacked by Russia for their trouble.
Later when the Hungarian uprising took place in 1956 the Communist forces quickly crushed the protesters without much of a protest from the Western nations. This was because Britain was itself doing something ignominious at the same time. Egypt’s General Neguib had finally thrown out King Farouk as head of state. I say thrown out which is not quite correct he had been living on the French Riviera for years in luxury while his poor nation was a tool for both Britain and France to exploit the rest of the world with their control of the Suez Canal. When General Nasser came to power in Egypt he nationalised the Canal and said it now belonged to them. Britain under the Conservative Prime Minister, Anthony Eden then sent in the troops to reclaim it. World opinion, particularly that of the Americans was against this action. The Americans clearly could see some advantage for them if they opposed the British as their own presence in the Middle East might then be welcome and there was a lot of oil there.
All such plans badly misfired as Egypt looked for Soviet Aid, the US continued to support Israel and from that time on the whole of that region of the world has been in total turmoil ever since. Meanwhile Hungary returned to Communist control for a few more years and those refugees escaping to the west we made welcome, depriving those on council home waiting lists of houses by their getting preferential treatment.
Newly married my wife and I put our names on the Council list for housing but we never got anywhere near the top of the list because we never had any children, didn’t live with our parents, didn’t work for the Council and were not poor enough. Oh! And one more thing - we were not Hungarian.
This piece, as you may have guessed was written many, many years ago. Readers may throw up their hands in disbelief to contemplate Old Egg as a rebel and non conformist. Youth is a testing time and permits young adults to test the water of their own individuality. Living (and surviving) is making mistakes and learning from them. Thinking something radical 50 or so years ago does not stain you irrevocably but develops you and makes you more colourful. How do I feel now? Well in politics I usually vote for one party then when they disappoint jump ship and rebel. So should you. Never let a politician feel secure!
Thank you all for reading and commenting on these recollections of a warped mind.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Thursday, October 20, 2011
My backyard did not end at the rusty three wire fence at the bottom of the garden. That was merely the portal to my magical world so that I could leave the confines of home with a troublesome brother, parental stricture and the mundane life of ordinary average people that association with would stunt my growth and development.
So I slipped away between that fence's wire strands to set foot in a land of every wonder and delight. The clucking of the hens and the order of my father’s vegetable garden were gone and I like Livingstone before me could view a land of deepest mystery and untold delights.
The grass was high (for me that is) and I strode my small steps across that meadow with haymaking still far off and observed by unseen rabbits and probably a fox cross that his stalking would come to nothing as I reached the woodland not a hundred yards from home.
If the meadow was the sea through which I sailed, my entry into a fantastic wood filled with tall trees and hazel bushes and the calls of birds warning of my approach were to me a jungle in Africa where my eyes were peeled for dangers underfoot and as well heeding the scampering of squirrels in the trees chirping their disgust that this explorer should invade their territory.
The occasional clearing would be invaded with brambles to snare my clothes as I ploughed my way through this jungle realm and acute hearing would alert me to the tinkle of a water course where my parched lips could find relief in the pristine stream that wound its way through this new found paradise.
A flash of blue darts past my eyes and a kingfisher flees from my approach as the moist ground now sucks at my feet and there looking down I spy the disappearing tail of a grass snake disturbed in its hunt for food.
I kneel down on the banks of the stream and scoop up a welcome draught of fresh water in my hands to cool my endeavours thus far. Near by is a fallen tree whose old trunk is now covered with moss that forms a right royal seat for the explorer who sit and waits, listening for the sound of the natives of that magical place.
All is silent even the wild creatures are stilled as they sense another presence yet still far off. I too strain my ears to hear that fearful sound now booming with frightful import sending all my fellow creatures fleeing for safety.
“Robin, its lunchtime!” Came the call.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Monday, October 17, 2011
Friday, October 14, 2011
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Monday, October 10, 2011
6) Hitler’s Terror weapons and my disdain for them
Having started school in war time I knew no better than to accept that our way of life in the early 1940’s was normal. I was, as I have said before a miserable child. My first day at school presumably in September 1941 was not a happy one. I had to leave the comfort of home and the exclusive possession of my mother that I enjoyed during the daytime and mix with other children and possibly have to do things for myself. Mum was anxious to have me off her hands so that she could supplement the family income with some form of work. That first day is a blank, but the next morning I remember clearly as I refused outright to return to school having ‘been there and done that’. This was clearly a problem as I was left with Granny Kimber while Mum pursued her new career which initially was a helper in the school canteen. She later got a job in a Walker’s Stores, a grocery shop in Downing Street, Farnham, where she stayed for the duration of the war, rising to illustrious position of First Hand!
My minor victory on that second day was turned into total defeat for me the next when I had to return to school full time. Luckily I saw little of my brother as I was in the infants and he was two years ahead of me. Each morning we all got up after Dad had gone off to work in London. Our faces and hands were washed over the kitchen sink and we were bundled into our clothes and set off to walk with Mum to the school about a mile away. We boys carried our gas masks in square fibre boxes slung around our necks. It was heinous crime to turn up to school without them. Because the previous world war twenty years or so before poison gas had been used in the trenches and the likelihood of it being used on civilians this time was thought to be high. The walk to school was enjoyable and generally uneventful. One day however it wasn’t. Daydreaming as usual and not looking where I was going I walked straight into a traffic light pole and knocked myself out for a few seconds. After a scolding and a rub better we set off again.I would mention here that there were on 2 traffic lights in Farnham at that time so I should have marvelled at it rather than ignored it.
Occasionally the weather was too inclement to walk and we went in by the number 14 bus operated by the Aldershot and District Traction Company. The trouble with this was that we got to school too early and had half an hour to muck around before going in, Mum having stayed on the bus to get to work. Needless to say we explored the whole area around the school and found some very interesting places to play. There were brick air raid shelters built in the roads to provide people some protection in case of air raids. There was hardly enough room for delivery vans to pass by, but as there was so little traffic then it didn’t matter. We also found a disused factory site with a tall brick chimney that had a furnace under it. I climbed in and looking up could see the sky with clouds racing past ever so quickly high in the opening at the end of the stack, that was exciting as no one else was game to squeeze in. Then there was the large Farnham Park where huge concrete blocks had been built to discourage enemy gliders from landing and disgorging hundreds of German soldiers to overpower the citizens of Farnham and presumably our school adjacent.
We lived just far enough from London to miss most of the raids on that city, and there was no big industry to destroy in our neighbourhood. Later when Hitler did unleash his real terror weapons we had become very blasé about the war. We heard the doodlebug or V1 rocket for the first time when we were playing cricket in a field adjoining our street but we knew we were safe because if you could hear them it was all right. When their throbbing rocket engines stopped you had to take cover very quickly as it meant the bomb was then on the way down. The later more powerful V2 rockets were not a thing to worry about at all, either they missed you or you were dead! They were shot off high into the stratosphere and without much control landed where they liked with absolutely no warning at all, not even an air raid siren. The traditional bombing that did occur near to our house was of mainly stray bombs dropped by accident or unloaded when the true target couldn’t be reached by the then returning bombers. It was comforting to know that if a bomb did drop on the house it was not really meant for you!
Wars are not terrifying for boys only exciting. The true impact and meaning of the war only came home to us when we found that a chum at school stopped coming, and we had to pray for him at assembly. But we soon put that out of our minds and returned to our bartering for war relics like bits of shrapnel, bullet casings and foreign cigarette packets.
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Thursday, October 6, 2011
5) My involvement with Fighter Command in 1940
The indoctrination that took place during the war affected everything we did. It was one thing to be bombarded in the newspapers with acceptable news, but even in peripheral things there was the subversive mind twisting of our young brains. On one hand the bad news was reported obliquely. “Bombing raids took place in several industrial centres in Britain overnight,” not telling us where, as though that was reassuring. At the same time advertising happily talked of winning through, we were urged to save for victory, dig for victory, and to be like Dad and keep Mum! The jungle telegraph however was quite effective, it took next to no time for the news of heavy raids on the cities of Southampton and Portsmouth to be passed word of mouth across the country and the bombing of London we knew about because Dad would tell us about it the evening after work or in the morning if he had been on fire watch duty the previous night.
One incident in our own family which brought the war very close to us was the tale of the egg. One poor chicken in our backyard run laid and enormous misshapen egg. This egg was raffled off to the neighbours and friends of the family and the proceeds were sent to the “Buy a Fighter fund” which many a local Council had organised. So our poor chicken unwittingly helped the war effort and contributed in some small part to the building of a Hurricane or a Spitfire fighter plane.
The elements are not conscious of the deeds of man and the summer of 1940 was a glorious one. For Britain however there was little joy, having had to endure a defeat of massive proportions when the allied forces finally came up against Hitler’s advancing armies and escape from them at Dunkirk. It was at this time however that Chamberlain the lame duck Prime Minister had been replaced by the far more dynamic and forceful Winston Churchill. As a peace time politician he was regarded somewhat as a renegade or a stirrer. In war it was essential that he was in control as he was clever enough and strong enough to see the whole situation and to take the unpalatable decisions when he had to. His fighting spirit, his rhetoric and charisma and his ability to inspire trust was what was needed when defeat seemed so close to the nation at that time.
As that summer drew to a close the German Luftwaffe had for weeks been pounding the cities and industrial centres of Britain and our embattled fighter planes were being knocked out of the sky almost faster than they could be replaced, either by machines or manpower.
In September 1940 just before children returned to school for the new school year we made a trip down to a small village between Alton and Winchester, where a friend of my Father, Charlie Humphries had a small pub on the main road. This pub which was named an unlikely, “The Shant” was the place that I witnessed a dogfight between German and British fighter planes high above the rolling chalk downs of northern Hampshire. It was impossible to tell the planes apart as they were so high above us. Their tiny silhouettes and their vapour trails were all we could see. But it was there then on that hot summer afternoon in September that I too was part of the Battle of Britain.
It was fortunate then that our chicken had done her deed and the money contributed to the Fighter Fund had been put to good use. By the 15th September the major aerial dogfights were over, the Battle of Britain had been won. Winston Churchill talked later about how much was owed by so many to so few but our long suffering hen got not one word of praise.