When I Was Ten

Arfer By Arfer, 5th Oct 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Personal Experiences

One night in the life of a ten year old boy. The story of an air raid in 1941.

When I was Ten

Ten years old. One of a child's most formative years.

The age when I knew all there was to know about practically everything, but was still inspected by my mother to see if I had washed behind my ears. At ten I was the man of the house and the world was in the grip of war.

Now part of history, 1941 was for me a year of dark streets, dead people, falling bombs and shattered homes.

It was a year I will never forget. Nights without sleep but filled with fear. Questions without answers. Rumours and gossip. Nightmares come to life.

Nine o'clock in the evening, the air-raid warning had warbled its mournful note over the rooftops. My mother had called upstairs for us children - there were four of us, to get up. We had been put to bed early in order to get as much sleep as possible. The air raids were a nightly occurrence and with three to four hours sleep lost during an air raid, children fell asleep across their desks at school.

When we were all together Mother asked us to bow our heads. She prayed to keep us safe from the bombing we all expected that night. Then she prayed for father, wherever he was, and for all the Allied forces. She prayed for the leaders of the Allies, to give them wisdom and courage. And finally she prayed for a speedy cessation to the war. We all said 'Amen' at the end of the prayer.

On this night the drone of German bombers was heard shortly after the siren.
"Is that one of ours?" asked mother, as the first of the aircraft flew overhead.
"No, that sounds like a Dornier," said my brother, who was nine.
"No it's not. That's a Junkers," said I. And that was the end of that. Being the eldest male in the house, what I said had to be right. Father had been called up for service in the army, and we had not seen him for months, nor did we know where he was.

Soon the air was full of the resonant throbbing of enemy aircraft engines. We held our breath, scared, huddled around the dying embers in the fireplace.

Crrrump! The first bomb fell a long way off. Then more and more explosions. The house shook and little flakes of plaster fell from the ceiling when a bomb dropped close by. But the main attack was a long way away. We could not hear the whistle as the bombs fell, and it was some comfort to us.

"Sounds like London's copping it again," I said, mimicking the words of an air-raid warden I had overheard the previous night.

The bombing went on until after midnight. My two sisters had fallen asleep and my brother and I were very tired.
"Can't we go back to bed, Mum? The bombing's a long way away now. We're not going to get it tonight."
"No, son. We must wait until the all clear," said mother.

We waited until one in the morning, but the all clear did not sound. The aircraft had gone and the night was silent, except for the occasional crack of anti-aircraft gunfire. Then we heard the sound of many people in the street.
"Put that light out," somebody shouted.
"I'm going to look outside," I said.
"Be careful," said mother, as if I would encounter German troops at the door.
I went to the door that opened on to the street and cautiously looked out.
"Put that light out," yelled the air-raid warden, and I hastily turned off the light.

The street was full of people, all looking southwards. I looked with the others and saw a deep red glow in the sky, like a sunset. But it was no natural phenomena we saw. London was burning. The fires set by the bombing were almost fifty miles away. I called the rest of the family to come and look. After five minute we had all seen enough and wanted to go to bed.

The all clear did not sound at all that night. At two o'clock we went to bed, and at eight Mother woke us to go to school. A quick wash, breakfast and dress for school then with gas masks slung over our shoulders my brother and I joined the other kids in the street.
"Did you see the fires last night?" said one boy
"I bet London copped a packet," I said.
"How many planes did you count?"
"There must have been five hundred."
"Yeah, Dorniers and Junkers."
"I heard some Heinkels, too," said my brother.
A lone fighter plane roared overhead.
"There goes a Spitfire."
"I wonder how many Gerry bombers he shot down last night?"
"What time did the all clear go?"
"I don't know. We went to bed at two," I said.
"It didn't go at all."
"Don't be daft, it must have gone. Otherwise there'd still be an air-raid going on."
The drone of a high-flying aircraft interrupted our schoolboy banter. We all looked up.
"Can you see it?"
"Yes, look, there it is."
We saw a solitary aircraft at about ten thousand feet, barely making headway.
"It's one of ours."
"Yeah, it's a Wimpy."
"No it's not. Just listen to the engine. It's a Gerry bomber. That's a Dornier," said I.

Most boys at the time were keen aircraft spotters and soon we had recognised the plane from the silhouettes published regularly in the newspapers.
"What's he doing around here, in daylight?"
"I told you the all clear hadn't gone."

We watched in amazement as the aircraft turned and came lower. We saw the bomb doors open as the plane was overhead, and watched five deadly shapes wobble from the belly. For seconds we were speechless as the sinister objects hurtled towards us. Then, as if on cue, we dropped and lay face down in the gutter.

The explosions, when they came, were almost simultaneous. We waited for the blast, which ripped the leaves off the trees above us, before getting to our feet.

"That Gerry must have lost his way last night."
"Why couldn't he take his bombs back to Germany?" said a small boy.
"Don't you know, silly? Hitler would have shot him if he took them back."
"Why do they have air-raids?"
"Because there's a war on."
"Well, I don't like them. They frighten me," said the small boy.

We continued on our way to school as plumes of smoke and dust rose high in the air from the shattered buildings, some four hundred yards away. As we entered the school gates the all clear sounded its monotonous, but cheering note.

A bird sang in a naked tree and the sky was empty, except for the familiar shapes of a dozen barrage balloons.


Air Raid Siren, Air Wardens, Blackout, Bombing, Dark Streets, Dead People, Falling Bombs, Fires, Junkers, Nightmares, Put That Light Out, Shattered Homes, Spitfire, Wwii

Meet the author

author avatar Arfer
PAUL ENGLAND, the eldest son of a minister, was born in the south-east of England in Essex during the Great Depression.

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author avatar Retired
6th Oct 2010 (#)

This is a sobering account of the war Arfer. It's amazing to me that anyone survived in that. Thank you for sharing this piece of your personal history with us.

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author avatar Arfer
7th Oct 2010 (#)

I am happy to share with you.
Thank you for your kind words.

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author avatar aden kendroemen
6th Oct 2010 (#)

A great read sir, to have lived at such a time. This was a bit before my time, but I have always been endlessly fascinated with that era. The Greatest Generation indeed, all across the globe people were called to take a stand. None more so than the English, who stood in the breech like the Spartans of old. The courage showed by your people, prompting others stay the course. Some people today say that the times were simpler then, it was easier to know who the enemy was, maybe so, but times being simple or complicated, have no bearing on courage, or the tenacity to hope for a better tomorrow, and the strength to see it through.

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author avatar Arfer
7th Oct 2010 (#)

Your comments are appreciated.
Thank you for your kind words.

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