March 1940 It’s blooming cold.
For the last few weeks it has been very cold. We have been ‘wooding’ up St Annes hill, a large woodland park up past the Golden Grove Pub. Most of the fallen branches that are nearest to us have already been cleared by other kids. So now, me, my brother Don and his friend Kenny Edwards, have had to go further up, into Blue Bell Dell, taking turns pushing our old pram with its buckled wheels.
We are lucky, lumber jacks have been busy felling trees for the war effort. Lucky, yes we are, but I am very sad to see theses huge Sweet Chestnut trees chopped down, a whole hill with loads of trees gone in a matter of weeks. The old Nun’s Wishing Well that was pretty much hidden in the dense undergrowth, and only a few of us knew where it was, is now there for all to see.
On the other hand, the men mainly used enormous axes to fell the trees, this gave us lovely large chips of wood, just right for the fire-place, and easy to fit in the pram.
Don looks at our old pram full of these quite heavy chips and then at the buckled wheels.
He decides we carry as much as we can, hoping a pram that is only half full, will survive the bumpy track down the hill.
We returned day after day, together with the rest of our mates and cleared the hill of all this wonderful firewood. We gave some to old Mrs. Phillips, ‘Pedlar’ her son was one of the first to join up, leaving her on her own.
Unfortunately, the Sweet Chestnut wood chips are still very green and are not very good for burning, but at least they were free, and once they dried out a bit they were fine.
The blackout is now in full force, fire wardens would soon shout if they see so much as a glimmer of light from your windows. They would say an enemy plane can see someone smoking a fag from 2,000 ft. We believed everything they told us.
The Local Defence Volunteers were always good for a laugh, which was very unfair as they were so keen to protect us and they took it all so seriously.
I think even they thought it was funny though, with their home made white arm bands with LDV hand written on them, and having to practice drill with broomsticks or something similar, they had no rifles. They were men too young or too old for the services and all shapes and sizes.
With only one fire to heat the whole house, we would all crowd round it, with the result we had scorched legs or worse still, chilblains.
The wireless was always switched on for the nine o’clock news, with Alvar Liddel, the news reader, often with some bad news, like when HMS Exmouth was sunk with many sailors dying. This was followed by ‘Into Battle’, a newsplay about the war in which we seemed to always be winning. We all loved it.
Mum was very upset when we heard that Italy had joined forces with Germany, we had a lot of Italian friends and neighbours, and we thought they would be sent away to prison camps, but this never happened.
Instead, later on, whenever Italian soldiers were taken prisoner, they were sometimes camped near Chertsey, they worked on the local farms and were soon allowed out— with an escort— into the town. I don’t think the Italian people were very keen on the war at all.
So far the war had been happening somewhere else, and one of our young evacuee’s decided to go back to London, as some others did.
But then the German bombers started to come over.