Magazine article The Spectator

Memories of Wartime

Magazine article The Spectator

Memories of Wartime

Article excerpt

Bells did not ring out on Christmas Day in 1940. If they had, it would have been a sign that we had been invaded.

I was born in London in 1935. By the summer of 1939, it was considered wise to get children out of the city before the war started. I wasn't separated from my sobbing mother at Victoria station and put on a train holding a gas mask. Instead, my mother and I went down to Devon to stay with my grandmother, who had rented a house in the village of Torcross.

In London, the war did not stop for Christmas. Toy shops before the war had sold small forts modelled on the Maginot and Siegfried lines. Now boys in the city wanted toy planes like the ones they saw flying overhead.

But in Devon in 1940 things were still peaceful and we had a big Christmas lunch with all the trimmings. We were joined by an uncle whose job it was to pull bodies out of bombed buildings in London. The authorities thought he might have cracked under the strain and he had been ordered to take a few days off to get a grip and calm down. Lunch was too much for him, I'm afraid. After having a few words with Granny, he lost it and turned the table over, covering us all with gravy and turkey.

I was quickly deposited in another room with some chocolate blancmange, which I squeezed through my fingers as the shouting went on. Christmas has never been such fun.

We sat out most of the war in Devon. It was a couple of years later, in August 1942, that I went to the beach on a hot day. …

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