Welcome to my blog. I am not a very regular blogger, but I try to keep this site updated with news and information. If there's none of the above I may just share my random ruminations.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Who knew The Battle of Britain lasted for longer than one day? Not me.

It was done and dusted in about an hour after Sunday lunch, wasn’t it?

Whenever this pivotal moment in the war is mentioned, I always think of my parents.  They had no connection with it other than it was fought above their heads, but for many years, my understanding of the battle was grossly distorted by an anecdote they told, which came down in family lore.  

It wasn’t until I was a grown up woman with a child of my own that it really came home to me how close WW2 was to my own life.  Even though the world I grew up in was peppered with bomb sites, there were still ration books, and my parents’ reminiscences were full of stories about their wartime experiences, the war was somehow remote to me.  It was long ago.  The olden days.  History.  I never truly absorbed, on an emotional level, what my parent’s and grandparent’s generation went through during those years. 

But I am not writing this to expound on their heroism, or their contribution to the war effort.  My father, John Allan,  had what is known as a lucky war.  It could have been very different.  Before the war he’d joined the Territorial Army, but he’d lied about his age.  When war was declared he was sent to France with The Expeditionary Force.  He was too young and his mother immediately wrote to The War Office informing them that a mistake had been made.  It was a mistake which, in any other circumstance, might have passed with a shrug from the powers that be.  

But my grandmother was a woman to be reckoned with, and although I can’t know for sure, I guess she pursued this indefatigably, writing to them over and over again.  Their simplest recourse, under the assault from Gran, was to give in; her son was sent home before the debacle of Dunkirk. After my father died I found three letters from The War Office, which confirmed the story.

My Dad then spent the remainder of the war posted to various locations inside the UK. For a long time he was in South London, first as a gunner on anti-aircraft gun emplacements,  then his artistic skills were utilised in the making of plotting boards - I’ve always assumed these were used in planning bombing raids.
 He always claimed that one of the men he worked with, at this time, was Cecil Day Lewis.  It has to be said that my father was an embroiderer of the truth but I have just Googled Cecil Day Lewis and apparently he worked for The Ministry of Information during the war.  It is not a tremendous leap of the imagination to put the two men together at some point.  It was only after the war was over that my Dad was sent out to Germany with the British Army of the Rhine.

My parents had just begun ‘courting’ as the war began. My mother, Irene Kelsey, wasn’t herself called up into the ATS for a couple more years, and so in October 1940 she was an eighteen year old, still at home in Orpington, with her parents and younger sister.  And, very luckily, her nineteen year old boyfriend, my Dad, was stationed nearby and was a frequent visitor.

Stubborn, fiery, and anti-authoritarian, my Mum, was also down-to-earth with a prosaic, matter-of-fact streak. Later, she was an early adopter of the underlying principles of Women’s Lib.  It was a movement which confirmed instincts she already possessed.

My Mum & Dad in 1940. 
Back to the war.   It was a Sunday in October 1940, and my Dad was at my Mum’s home, to join the family for Sunday lunch.  He loved my Mum’s parents, and loved his future mother-in-law’s cooking.  The two men - my Dad and my Granddad - their bellies comfortably full of main course and pudding, got up from the table to go outside and watch the skies. And while there, the spitfires buzzing above, I am quite sure they enjoyed a companionable fag.

“Rene! Rene! Come and look at this,” my Dad called to my Mum.
“I can’t!”
“Because I’m doing the washing-up!” she shouted back. Her tone of voice needs no qualification.   I can just imagine it; in her mind it was something that HAD TO BE DONE at that moment, no matter what.  But at the same time she wanted her boyfriend to know that she was deeply resentful - even if she couldn't yet put it in these words - of being stuck in this archetypal female role. 

So, that's the story. For all of my young life I thought my Mum missed seeing The Battle of Britain because she was doing the washing up. 


Angela Britnell said...

Interesting stories and thanks for sharing them. Angela Britnell

Gilli Allan said...

Thanks Angela. gx

Susan said...

It makes a difference when 'history' touches your family. Thanks for sharing such a personal view of a world event.