The day the war began

Are you aware that last Sunday (3 September), was the anniversary of the start of World War Two?

There had been talk of war for some time. Although only a child, I was both an avid listener to the radio and a keen reader of newspapers, and I can recall the headlines when Chamberlain returned from his visit to Hitler at Berchesgarden. At that time Mr Chamberlain used a phrase I learned later was from the ancient Book of Common Prayer when he said there would be: “Peace in our time.”

However, Germany invaded Poland on 1 September, and the British Government gave Germany an ultimatum to withdraw. Two days later, Chamberlain said on the radio: “I have to tell you that no such undertaking has been received, and consequently this country is at war with Germany.” .

When war arrived, we did not realise, of course, what it would mean. But of one thing we were confident. It would be short-lived.

I was seven years old, and was out walking with my twin brother and some friends on the afternoon of 3 September 1939. Each of us related how our parents have been speaking to us about the war, and I laughingly asserted that Hitler would be defeated in a very short time.

“Just think of our Empire,” I told them. “Just wait till the Germans meet the soldiers from Canada or Australia. Just wait until the soldiers from India march to Germany on their elephants.”

I spread my arms out in an attempt to impersonate an aeroplane, and I make a whirring sound. “And just wait till the planes from South Africa or New Zealand start dropping bombs on Berlin!”

My friends laughed and whooped and cheered. Later in the afternoon, I told my Dad how certain I felt, but he was not as confident.  He was a youth when the First World War began — he was only eleven years old — and he told me wars are always much easier to start than they are to finish.

In the weeks to come we heard bands playing and saw processions of soldiers marching towards the troopships at the Liverpool docks.

On one occasion, I had just emerged from a shop after spending a few pennies in buying a bar of chocolate when a procession of soldiers marched by.

I was so full of gratitude to the King’s forces, that I rushed up to one of the soldiers in the ranks and pressed my chocolate into his hand. The soldier marched on without missing a step. He muttered something, no doubt a word of thanks, but kept looking ahead.