My dad passed away almost a year ago and as I find myself thinking about him, I quite often remember the stories he shared of his childhood in England. He was born in 1931, and he and his twin sister grew up in a suburb of Liverpool during the Second World War.
I am not certain which house the family lived in during the early 1940s, as they, at one point, resided in Clitheroe before moving to Hunts Cross, but the story he told me of the flying door makes me envision the house of my grandma where I stayed in 1979 as a child.
My dad and aunt grew up in a rowhouse on Laxton Road, and at that time the area of Hunts Cross was apparently quite underdeveloped. The buildings are tall and narrow; a single door recessed into the front wall, a small rectangle of garden in the front with a short walk from the sidewalk to the front step, and a low fence and gate for the illusion of privacy. They have changed little since they were built and my aunt, after getting married, moved across the street from the original house.
In 1940, the Germans had already begun bombing England, with the first bombs to hit the Liverpool area in August. Now referred to as the Liverpool Blitz, it lasted until Christmas of the same year. Prior to this my dad and my aunt were temporarily evacuated along with other children and sent by train to strangers’ homes in Wales. They weren’t there long before my grandmother who was Welsh had them returned home.
During the day life tended to continue as normal, including school and shopping. Many items, of course, were rationed, but peanut butter seemed, at least to my dad, one staple that was in excess. My whole life my father refused to eat it, and the drama that ensued when someone in our household opened a jar of it, was at times quite comical.
In the evening a blackout was imposed. Residents were under strict criteria to keep their windows darkened. Indoor light was allowed in the evening, but there were severe reprimands to those whose windows showed the smallest sliver of light. My dad recalls authorities doing their rounds in the evening to make sure the streets and homes were properly darkened; after all, a darkened city was a much smaller target from the air.
The stories I heard from my dad were at different sittings over the years and I can’t be certain of exact timelines. My dad described flying bombs with wings and motors. These first cruise missile-like weapons were in fact the German V-1 flying bomb, and were used toward the end of the war. They were known as buzz bombs due to their distinct buzzing sound. He remembers hearing theses bombs buzzing lazily overhead on their way to some prearranged target.
“As long as you hear the motor,” he would say, “you didn’t have to worry too much. It’s only when the motor stops, that you’re in trouble.”
The disengaging of the motor meant the target was achieved and as gravity pulled the explosive to earth, those under it became victims.
Living nearby to Speke Airport and The Matchworks factory, although a smaller military target than the Liverpool docks, was still an objective of the Luftwaffe. Throughout the Liverpool Blitz, there were regular bombings within two to three miles of their home, the closest being in Woolton, Speke, Garston and Mossley Hill.
Another incident my dad relayed to me involved an unexploded bomb that landed in Hunts Cross, close to his home on Aug. 28. Much of the neighborhood raced to see it as news spread around town. It is likely that this is around the time when the flying door incident happened as well, as this is also when a bomb destroyed a house on nearby Kingsmead Drive.
Generally, upon hearing an air raid siren, my grandparents would move the family to a small closet under the stairs. After entering the front door of the house, one was confronted by a staircase. My dad explained that during the bombings, the staircases of people’s homes would often still be intact despite the damage to the rest of the building. Without access to an air-raid shelter, many residents would use the closet under their stairs as a refuge. This one day, as the bombs dropped, my dad and aunt were ushered into the closet under the stairs. My grandma entered followed by my grandpa. As my grandpa reached to close the family into that confined space, the impact of a detonated bomb blew through their home. Their front door was blown inward sending debris flying past the little closet door my grandpa was in the act of closing.
In my recollection of my dad’s story, I envision the heavy wooden door with the brass knob in the center, flying past their hiding space in slow motion, all their mouths agape in fear and bewilderment. But I’m sure it was not as dramatic or theatrical as that, but was definitely as traumatic. Often what would happen is the front door would be blown halfway up the stairs, as the stairs directly faced the entry.
Regardless of the details, the fact that timing was everything made an impression on my mind. My dad credited the hand of God for their safety, and it was obvious from many stories he told, that he had reason to believe in more than random chance. The story of the flying door made an impression on me when my dad first told it to me, as many of his wartime stories did. They are stories of adaptability and resilience, of struggle and adjustment, of challenge and determination. And they are stories with unexpected moments of humour and hilarious peculiarities.
Remembrance Day is so much more than solemn reflection.
It is made up of a huge mass of intertwining stories that have, in so many unpredictable ways, directly shaped the here and now.
Aeiriuhnn S. Mair, Brookswood
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