My Hedge End correspondent was kind enough to comment on my last post about my return visit to the New Forest last week. In it, I had mentioned that I had spent much of the war years in a house in Blackfield on the edge of the Forest and he imagined that "wartime in Blackfield was rather interesting. You must have a few tales to tell, Snopper."
With my father away in the war, my mother and I stayed with my aunt and uncle in a house in Hampton Lane, Blackfield, until the war ended and my father came home. It was all over 70 years ago now but there are a few memories still lurking in the recycle bin of my mind that refuse to fade away. Perhaps the two most compelling ones concern firstly the bombing raids on Southampton and the Waterside and secondly the intense activity in the run up to D-Day in June 1944.
As a large port, Southampton was a strategic target for the Luftwaffe and a concerted blitz of the city took place early on in the war with further bombing raids continuing for the remainder of the conflict. As Blackfield is close to Southampton and other targets along the Waterside, in what became a loving attempt at wartime health and safety I was put to bed in a cupboard under the stairs each night, where I lay awake listening to the nocturnal percussion overhead.
Mercifully, the house in Hampton Lane was spared otherwise I would not be sitting here writing this but a bomb did fall at Mopley on the road down to Lepe and I remember being taken down there to see the huge hole caused by the impact. I can still recall the sound of the planes overhead, the splutter of the V1 flying bombs and the eerie silence as their engines cut out. But looking back on it all, the thing that strikes me perhaps more than most was my shoulder-shrugging innocent acceptance that that was the way life was, for I had had no other experience and it wasn`t until the war ended that I really became aware that there was another way of life after all. It was called peacetime and with it came an end to sleeping under stairs, to air raid warnings, to gas masks and it heralded new defining experiences nurturing a lifelong appreciation of life and all it has to offer.
By the time of D-Day in June, 1944, I had somehow managed to be just a month away from my fifth birthday and so the image of a seemingly endless stream of military vehicles and hardware thundering down Hampton Lane towards Lepe became etched forever in my memory. Lepe, just a couple of miles from Blackfield, played an important role in the D-Day preparations as a major departure point for troops, vehicles and supplies; as a construction site for part of the prefabricated Mulberry Harbours and as the main base for the PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) fuel supply.
I remember standing outside the house in Hampton Lane in short trousers and in all my urchin-like bewilderment as the convoys passed by and on one occasion being thrown a packet of gum and a few sweets from a passing American truck full of soldiers en route to becoming part of the invasion force. I gratefully picked them up but I wasn`t quite sure what they were or what to do with them.
So there we are - just a couple of reminiscences from a very formative boyhood which would immeasurably improve and develop once we moved from Blackfield to nearby Hythe and, at last, became a proper family. Now, I`m conscious that the world may be divided between those who like to live in and for the past and those who, perhaps like me, identify with the sentiments of Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield:-
Yesterday is yesterday
The past is dead and gone
Nostalgia just gets in the way
Let`s stop hanging on.