D-Day

One thing that the war taught me was geography mainly because different parts of the world were constantly being mentioned in the ‘News’ and in the daily papers often accompanied by maps with black arrows indicating the advance or retreat of the armies, I could name every country and all of the main islands in the Mediterranean and draw a reasonably accurate map and this also applied to the rest of Europe. The countries in the Commonwealth and Empire where also very important and as ‘ the sun never set on the Empire ‘ I got a pretty good idea of the World Atlas as well. Empire Day was celebrated at school where we would draw and colour the flags of all the nations involved. We were taught to be patriotic and proud of the Empire and its achievements.

Another thing that I knew and I think a lot of the children of the war years did was to be able to list and name all the main Nazi leaders and our own war cabinet, I think it is sad that hardly any modern school children or their parents can even name our Prime Minister, I can still name them, apart from Hitler there was Ribbentrop, Himmler, Hess., Goering, Doniz, Gobbels, Eikman, Borman , Speer, Kietel, and the famous Field Marshal Rommel, I was not so familiar with the Italians apart from Moussolini. Our own cabinet included Churchill, Atlee, Beaverbrook, Bevin, Bevan, Anderson, Morrison, Sir Stafford Cripps, Anthony Eden and MacMillan.

Other leaders included Stalin and Molotov of Russia or as it was known then the ‘Soviet Union’, Franco as the fascist leader of Spain, Chiang Kai-shek of China. President Roosevelt was the dominant figure of the USA which tended to overshadow other prominent figures in that government. General DeGual and Pentain were the main names associated with the French, and infamous Quisling was the puppet Nazi leader in Norway. The images of Hitler, Goring and Mussolini were the most portrayed in cartoons, it required very little imagination to show Hitler, just an egg shape with a black square roughly where a mouth would be pictures and a further black triangular at the top of the egg would immediately be seen as of Hitler.

As well as the above we knew the Field Marshals, Generals, Admirals, Air Marshals and other top figures leading the different Services.

I became equally familiar with the names of all the major cities all over Britain from reports of bombing raids but also those in Europe particularly Germany for the same reason and elsewhere as they were mentioned in the news, thus from quite young, I knew a lot more about geography than I would otherwise have known if there had not been a war.

Once the bombing of our cities had more or less ceased in 1941, school life became what I would describe as normal, the threat of a gas attack which so dominated my early fear, disappeared quite early in the war and we were no longer required to carry gas masks, the games we played were, like birds nesting and catching butterflies, seasonal, there was a season to play ‘dibs’, ‘marbles’, ‘spinning tops‘, ball games’, ‘skipping’, ‘hopscotch’, ‘football’, ‘cricket,’ and fishing etc., there was also plenty of made-up games which were less seasonal and were usually played when there was enough kids to make up sides, our real unrestricted freedom did not happen until after ‘D’ Day ‘ in June 1944, when overnight all of the troops and their vehicle disappeared from the village, a night which was one of the continuous roar of engines and during most of the next day with tanks, half- tracks, ducks and all a manner of odd looking machines roared down Hursley Road with one tank catching fire. The road became so pulverised from the tank tracks that the surface was reduced to a white powder which wafted up with the passing of each vehicle, and then there was more or less silence.

On the morning of the actual ‘D’ Day, this silence was broken by sudden very loud roar of aircraft engines and coming from the sky, to the west of us, was a mass of low flying, four engine bombers towing gliders, in close formation, looking very black against the sky, I’m not sure what make of aircraft was doing the towing as American Liberators, Halifax and Lancasters all had similar twin tails, nor did I know from where they came, possible Stoney Cross or Homsley in the New Forest where there was two large aerodromes. Later it was announced on the radio that the Allies had successfully landed in Normandy and had created a beachhead. As already mentioned most of our Canadian friends were killed on that first day. It was only after the Americans had gone that the need to lay thick concrete at the junctions became apparent, this was needed to enable the tanks to turn without ripping up the road. Everything had been thought out carefully long before the event.

With the war progressing slowly towards victory meant that the buildings which had housed the American soldiers in Hiltingbury Road became a German Prisoner of War camp, with only a single eight foot high barbed wire fence between them and escape, hung on this fence were notices saying that the local populace should not fraternise with the inmates, which was totally ignored, on a number of occasions we would pass the camp on our Sunday afternoon walk and spoke to the prisoners, they had built a model of a Bavarian Village close to the road were they held their religious services.

At the other end of the village where Asda Supermarket now stands was another P.O.W. camp but this one was very different to the one in Hiltingbury, having two high barbwire fences with roofed watch towers with mounted machine guns and guard dogs between the two fences, the inmates were not like to common soldiers at Hiltingbury but hardened Nazis, who were more likely to attempt to escape. The difference between the two prisoner of war camps was apparent when a football match was arranged between the camps to be played on the local football pitch, then located on a field, on the corner of Hursley Road and Baddesley Road. To get to the pitch the Nazi prisoners were marched through the village and passed our house, accompanied by a couple of armed soldiers, all were dressed in long winter coats but to make a possible escape more difficult their boot laces had been removed, it looked quite effective as their feet almost came out of their boots as they made their way. It looked by their small number which was no more than twenty that they were just a team with support staff with no supporters.

There were other prisoners of war, housed in a large house called St. Josephs on the corner of Park Road and Brownhill Road. These were Italian, I’m not sure when they arrived but it was probably after Italy had surrendered as they were free to go almost anywhere in the village, the only thing showing they were prisoners was that they had a large blue circular patch sewn on the back of their uniform. They were very friendly and dallied with some of the local women with a number of the women becoming pregnant.

With the soldiers gone the village became more or less as it had been before the war with the ablution blocks and other structures left unlocked and abandoned. For we children it herald a period of freedom to roam and play over thousands of acres which would otherwise be denied us and never to be repeated. With no gamekeepers nor anyone else to restrict our movements we could birds nest anywhere and fish in what were private lakes, wander through private plantations and woods with out fear of being told off or evicted, nevertheless, there was still a war going on and although the bomber raids were in the past it was not the end of being attacked.