Each of us has our own way of respecting our elders. As a youth, I chose to do this by memorializing my elder family members’ life stories before I lost the opportunity. During the late 1990s, I interviewed my grandmother (Gram) about her memories of growing up in England during World War II. What follows are the memories I captured years ago.
Seventeen-year-old Gram lived in Irthlingborough, England, at the beginning of World War II. The period was “the most exciting time” of her life, but she was adamant:
She never wanted to live through it again.
At the time, she was a high school student living with her mother, a Red Cross volunteer, and her father, a member of the British Home Guard (or what Gram described as the “neighborhood watch with guns”). She didn’t attend a girls-only school, but there were no men there; they were just off at war. “We didn’t have a prom or anything like that,” she recalled.
Gram recalled that, initially, the air raid sirens caused chaos and confusion each time they activated. She recalled that when the air raids sounded, her parents would leave the house to help bombing victims. She rallied her little brother and sister, and the three of them sat under the kitchen table “hoping that [they] wouldn’t be bombed and that [their] mother and father would make it home.”
The raids soon became commonplace, and people just continued on with their daily activities as they watched their lives crumble around them. Adults evacuated many of the children living in London and other major cities to more rural areas of the country. Gram’s family hosted several children, their families, and — later — British and American soldiers.
“For the most part, everyone that stayed with us was very kind and grateful,” she said. “But we had one girl that was trouble. She was 13, and it was probably very hard for her, going through puberty without her parents. She used to run away a lot.”
Gram also remembered one family in particular who stayed with her for several months after the war. They attempted to return to London, but they soon found that their home had been completely destroyed. “There was nothing left in the cities,” she said. “People had to rebuild their entire lives.”
When asked whether she or others celebrated war victories, Gram said no; people couldn’t celebrate when they were living in constant fear of what might come.
“If an English plane shot down a German plane, everyone would be scared that the Germans that survived would come and throw hand grenades at our homes,” she said.
Not everything about the war was scary though; Gram met my grandfather (Pop-Pop), an American soldier, while he was stationed in England during the war. Gram’s best friend Joyce was with her at the time and described that moment to Ian White as part of his “Pause to Remember” compilation available here.
“We were peddling down towards the A6 when we were confronted by dozens of Yanks on bicycles pointing in every direction,” Joyce said. “Avoiding action was impossible, and we ploughed into them shouting some less than complementary remarks… luckily no-one was hurt.”
Gram married Pop-Pop and moved to the United States at the end of the war.
“That was definitely an exciting period to live through,” she said. “But it’s probably what gave me high blood pressure all these years.”
More from this Contributor:
Generational Gifts: 5 Reasons I Love my Grandparents
Spend Autumn’s Gold: 5 Things to Try This Fall Season
To Walk or To Ride: A Parents’ Guide to Finding Their Child a Safe Route to School