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Comment: Memories of war's horrors can last a lifetime

Nov 10 2012
A 1943 photo of the House family. Front row, from left, June, mother Annie Nora with baby Clive, father Charles and Eileen. Back: Pam, Ken, Don and Cindy. 

A 1943 photo of the House family. Front row, from left, June, mother Annie Nora with baby Clive, father Charles and Eileen. Back: Pam, Ken, Don and Cindy.

Photograph by: Handout , Times Colonist

As Remembrance Day approaches, I am reminded of my wartime experiences.

I was born in Wells, Somerset, England, in 1933, the youngest of six children. We moved to Freshwater on the Isle of Wight when I was still a baby, and my father started a ladies' and gents' hairdressing and barbering salon. I was barely six years old when war between Britain and Germany was declared.

I have a good memory and remember that day clearly; my mother started crying and then she and my Uncle George, who was visiting at the time, began to stuff the cracks around our windows with wet newspaper in case there was a threat of gas attacks. Everyone was issued a gas mask and we had to carry them with us at all times, everywhere we went.

I think a child grows up faster in times of war. From the age of six until I was 12, I heard and saw the effects of war all around us. There was not as much bombing where we lived as there was on the mainland and in the large cities like London, but the Germans attacked Southampton quite often because of the docks there. I used to hate hearing the planes and sirens at night. I still cringe when I hear small planes.

We had a large front lawn and my father and grandfather dug an air raid shelter for us. We had to go down there quite a lot, sometimes in the middle of the night. It caved in eventually after a very heavy rain, so we got what was called an Anderson Shelter, which was like a huge steel table that we climbed under during every raid. At school, they built huge brick shelters for the children. We each had to have a survival kit to take with us into the shelter.

Everything became rationed. Each person had a ration book with food coupons. The first of the month was always exciting as we would have some items that we would be short of the rest of the month.

At dusk we all had to make sure that no light was shining from the windows so the Germans could not see where towns were.

Everyone had black blinds or thick, dark curtains. The local constable would patrol at night and bang on doors if they could see any light from a house.

Parents had the option of sending their children away for their own safety. My parents decided to send us all to an aunt and uncle in Ontario. We had our medical clearances and were ready to go, but then a ship carrying other children to North America was sunk in the Irish Sea. My parents decided to keep us at home.

There were a few forts on the island that were not being used and so were taken over by the government to house German and Italian prisoners of war. There were also many Canadian, American and British soldiers billeted on the island. Quite often they caught spies up on the downs, sign alling to German ships.

We were warned not to pick things up off the ground as the Germans had dropped incendiary devices disguised as everyday objects that would explode if handled. One boy a few years ahead of me in school lost an arm this way.

My father joined the Air Force in 1942. It was either that or the munitions factories. At least he got to stay in England and was able to come home on leave fairly often.

My mother gave birth to her seventh child, a boy, in 1943. She was immediately issued a gas-protection unit that you would actually place the baby in and then pump air into. Also that year, my oldest brother joined the Air Force.

My father was stationed in Durham in the north of England in 1944 and managed to find accommodations for all of us there. We travelled north on the train packed with service people. Going through the Underground in London was pretty scary.

At the movie theatres, they always showed newsreels depicting the horrors that were taking place in the death camps of Europe. Those images have remained with me for my entire life. Fortunately, our children have not had to be exposed to such brutality.

June House is a Victoria resident.

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