Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Few Eggs and No Oranges by Vere Hodgson
Thursday, 17th - Well, last night was a fiendish raid, and no mistake. All night long they thrummed over our heads and what we heard coming down is more than can be put into words. It was like one of the worst nights of last Autumn, and even then I don't remember hearing the sky so full, incessantly, hour after hour, of bombers zooming overhead.
Many of the images we see of the Blitz are in black and white. Reading Vere's account of daily life as the bombs fell transformed those images into vivid colour for me.
Imagine the sounds of gunfire and fighter planes roaring overhead almost nightly as you fell into bed in a state of exhaustion. The task of keeping your ear to the ground for word of a shipment of precious fruit and vegetables day after day was a necessity. The quest for reasonably priced linens to replace threadbare sheets was more often than not a fruitless one. The communal cat wasn't spared and had his meagre milk ration watered down when supplies were scarce. He didn't seem to go too hungry though as Vere gave him a talking to about the number of mice spotted scurrying about the place.
Vere's numerous acts of kindness humbled me again and again when several times she was presented with an extra ration of cheese or meat and immediately shared with friends. During many air raids, there were elderly women to drag under desks or make quick cups of tea for. A stirrup-pump was always close at hand for putting out incendiary fires and on one occasion, a chimney fire that had nothing to do with the war. Pulling on a pair of wellies and pitching in wherever help was needed empowered Vere.
During the month of April 1940, there was a bus strike and I laughed at the description of soldiers replacing the drivers. Passengers were directing them through the streets of London as best they could but occasionally wrong turns were made and they would end up lost. With bricks and debris lying in piles everywhere it must have taken ages to get anywhere.
Not only does this fascinating diary offer a glimpse of the home front, it offers a lesson in the politics of the day in a very readable manner. Vere was an ardent fan of Churchill, had harsh words for Hitler and Mussolini and was heartbroken by news of lost fleets during action. Her reports of invasion, treatment of POW's in Japanese war camps and the horror of the holocaust as they were reported in the papers are riveting.
Reaching the end of the war and the diary, I couldn't help feeling emotional as the black-outs were ripped from their place over windows and doors. Vere felt it was too good to be true and there was a slight nervousness to embrace a sunlit room. When victory is announced crowds stream toward Trafalgar Square, Downing Street and Whitehall.
'Precisely at 3 pm Big Ben's chimes told us the moment was about to begin. All traffic stopped. The mounted policeman wiped the sweat from his brow. All was still. How wonderful to be standing in Whitehall, in the shadow of the House of Commons, listening to That Voice which had steered us from our darkest hours to the daylight of deliverance.'
Out came the steamed puddings saved for such a day and cups of whatever people wanted. And with any luck the eggs and oranges weren't far behind.
(photo credit - John Hinde)