One boy at school was a bit of a boffin and was very keen on facts and figures. He seemed to know more than any other boy about what was going on anywhere that you could name, and some places that you couldn’t even say. His father was in the Merchant Navy and when he came home, he would tell his boy what was happening in other parts of the world.
Everyone in the country listened to the same news on the wireless, but he knew far more than we were aware of. I suppose if your father was in and out of the ports, he would have a lot to talk about, I wonder how much of this should have been secret though. We were being told ‘Careless talk costs lives’. He told us never to repeat any of it, but this is what he was doing all the time.
One of his stories was more like one of my ‘fanciable’ tales that my Mum complained of. He said that up in the north of the country the Germans had dropped bags of white powder, and people were told to keep clear of them in case they were some sort of chemical. We never heard anything like that on the wireless, except for some silver paper ribbons that were being dropped. We were told these were to confuse our searchlights and anti-aircraft gunners, which was more believable.
Another one of his stories was even stranger. A German magnetic mine had exploded on the Yorkshire coast, and it had caused a field of potatoes to be attracted out of the ground and down to the sea more than a hundred yards away. This sort of story was quite common, and some people really believed them. We were told that most were completely untrue.
I think he knew more than the grown-ups, he kept it all written down in a book, he said the first bomb to fall in Surrey was in June but did no damage, it just made a crater in a ploughed field. His pride and joy though, was a leaflet that the Germans were dropping, he kept it in an envelope because he said it was very rare and that he should not really have kept it.
The leaflets had to be collected by the Air Raid Wardens before they could be read by the civilians. They were German propaganda, telling the British people to listen to reason and surrender before they were all bombed out. He said that he kept the leaflet in a plain envelope because if a policeman found out that he had one, he would get into a lot of trouble.
On the other hand, he told us the fire wardens sold them as souvenirs, but he said they were allowed to do this as they used the money to pay for treats for London children. These leaflets, that are asking for the British to surrender ended up buying sweets for lots of children who would have some toffees to chew! This is a story I want to believe, but I still wonder.