Being born in 1949, I was one of the lucky ones to miss the war...
but we grew up with the remnants, reminders and after effects.
Some of it comprised the physical manifestations of conflict.
There were tank traps surrounding the old railway station just south of
the harbour's east gate, pillboxes in the countryside and gaps in the
housing of the town centre created by bombs.
Much of the wartime defences had been removed from the beaches but
some of the concrete remained in chunks after it had been broken up. The
Horsebridge pier was simply littered with this debris and much of it remained on
the shingle until sea defences were eventually upgraded.
Occasionally, more dangerous remnants turned up and were reported in
the local press. These included live shells discovered around the army
training areas at West Beach and sea mines or bombs caught in the nets
of local fishermen.
There was even some new phraseology. The one I remember most was the
term "bomb site". It was used to describe any derelict
location. Some were indeed bomb sites but many were just natural signs
Play often revolved around the war. We played "Germans and
English" with a whole range of weapons supplied by toy shops or
made by our skilled relatives. I was even given a "home-made"
Tommy Gun for Christmas (made from wood and painted bright red) along
with plastic WWII soldiers and Dinky Toy tanks! Every comic had a war
As a youngster, I made no attempt to distinguish between
"German" and "Nazi". To me, they were synonymous and
it was some years before I learned that German people had also suffered
at the hands of Hitler and his henchmen.
Whilst many adults did make the distinction and regretted the loss of
life on both sides, some attitudes were hardened by the loss of loved
ones and the years of fear. One expression I recall being used by some
of my seniors was "The only good German is a dead one".
As a child it was impossible to escape this prejudice and it would
take many years for the feelings to subside and for logic to gain an
upper hand over emotion.
War stories were abundant and they were spread by circumstance. There
was no TV and no central heating! Thus, an evening was normally spent
with the family congregated around the fire of the "living
room". That was when the questions and answers arose.... "Dad
what did you do in the war?.
Even our teachers were a source of first hand information. Many had
served in the armed forces.... including my Mr. Hake of Class 2A,
Oxford Street Boys School!
The WWII stories and the remnants around me, provided me with a very
precise and frightening definition of war.... and it was quite different
from anything that gad gone before.
War was not just about attacks on military personnel and on battle
grounds. It constituted assaults on civilians of all ages and on small
harmless towns like Whitstable. Thus, I remember being horrified when I
learned of the Suez conflict in the early 1950s and saw newspaper photos
of troops being moblised. I asked my mum when the bombs would start to
land on us!
Another frightening feel was created by the fact that two world wars
had occurred in quick succession. Thus granddad outlined his World War I
stories while dad provided his World War II accounts. Thus, I accepted
that everyone would fight in a war at some stage in their lives and I
just hoped that my turn would come later rather than sooner.
Fear was another thing that would take time to disappear... and it
wasn't helped by another 1950s phenomenon. Having been caught with an inadequate number of troops in the lead in
to two recent World Wars, Britain operated a system of compulsory National
Service in the military throughout the decade. As kids, we just accepted that
our older brothers and cousins would disappear for a couple of years...
and come home occasionally... in uniform and short haircut.
I also accepted that my turn to be conscripted would also come one
day... but, of course, it didn't as National Service ended in the early
We also accepted that The Yanks were at Manston airfield and that
they would occasionally swoop in to marry a sister or a cousin.
We all knew a family with no dad. In fact, one of my uncles died
during service with the Royal Navy.
Rationing of some products remained into the 1950s and so did the
coupon books. It would be many years before normality returned. But
there again, we didn't know about any of that. To us, this was