River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Memories of the 1940's Part 3

July 2014

Having won a Junior County Scholarship I joined Alleyn’s School in Dulwich in September 1942.  I was not particularly happy.  I had no wish  to go to a rotten grammar school, I would be leaving all my school  friends, it was going to set me apart from the local kids, I was going  to have to do homework, I was expected to stay until I was sixteen when  all my friends would be leaving school at fourteen and at work earning  money.  I was going to have to go to school on Saturdays and, worst of  all, I was going to have to wear a school uniform, the only good news  was that I was going to wear long trousers, every boy was keen to get  their first pair, it made them ‘grown up’.  (When I got them they had  the new ‘41’ utility mark and obeyed the new rule that forbid turn-ups.)

So I started with a feeling of resentment, made worse when I discovered that I had to learn Latin, what was the point in that?  I wanted to  know.  There were a number of scholarship boys in the class but there  were also some that had been to prep school and they were irritatingly  much more on the ball than I was.  Getting to school was a problem,  public transport could take up to an hour.  Alternatively I could go by  bike, much cheaper and took only 35 minutes, but not so good in the rain.

The feeling of resentment did not help in that first year and, although I managed to keep up with the work, I did not shine in class.  Daylight raids were now fairly rare, but nightly raids were quite frequent, we  did not sleep in our beds, and homework was sometimes difficult.  In the second year I overcame the resentment and knuckled down more and did a  little better.

My reading habits had broadened somewhat and I read Champion and  Hotspur, my favourite read was learning of the exploits of ‘Rockfist Rogan RAF’.   Another incredible hero was a character in a radio serial ‘Dick Barton Special Agent’.  Every evening he was left in an impossible predicament and I thought he will never get out of that, he is a gonna  for sure, but, needless to say, the next evening he did get out of it.

Of course by this time the whole country had settled down to the war situation, the nation was now well organised, almost everybody, it  seemed, was involved in the war effort.  The coalition government had  little or no opposition and acted in a dictatorial way, if they decided  that they were going to build a new airfield they would build it, they  would not listen to any protests, and so with everything.  Women were being conscripted into a service of one type or another, including the  land army.  There was a Ministry of Food that controlled food  production, distribution and rationing.  Lord Beaverbrook, as Minister  for Aircraft Production had achieved miracles, it seemed that, even as  early as the Battle of Britain we were producing aircraft almost as fast  as we were losing them, from then on we went from strength to strength.

Everywhere I went the war was obvious.  Bomb sites were always cleared  and tidied quickly, one in our street was used for a barrage balloon crew and we could watch this monster wallowing about as it was launched,  which happened regularly because it had to be re-inflated quite often.   Another site had been concreted over and  a brick wall about 4ft high  built around it, sealed with tar it was filled with water and the  letters EWS painted on the wall (Emergency Water Supply).  Following the  Blitz the need for better access to water to fight fires was recognized  and these emergency supply tanks appeared everywhere.  Transport was  difficult, queues for buses were a way of life, hitch-hiking carried on  on a grand scale, office girls could often be seen going to work on the  back of a lorry.

We lived without weather forecasts, presumably this was to avoid helping  the Luftwaffe, in some ways that made life a little more interesting.   We did have a character giving out advice every morning, the Radio  Doctor, he was pretty good but I suspect some of the things he said  might be frowned on today.

There was now no doubt whatsoever in people�s minds that we would win  the war, things were looking good in North Africa after El Alamein.  The Russians were turning the tide in the east and the Americans were now in  the war.

Getting back to my situation, in 1944 the main part of the school  returned from evacuation and things tightened up, discipline was tougher, minor misdemeanours were punished with Saturday afternoon  detention (normally sports activities), more major rule breaking would  warrant the cane by the headmaster.  I remained something of a rebel, regularly breaking rules that I thought were inappropriate, and spent  many a boring Saturday afternoon as a consequence.  At about this time I  was nearing fourteen and stated my wish to leave school, but was  pressurised to stay.  The importance of sport was emphasised, but  because my medical record (which included rheumatic fever) frightened  them, I was unjustifiably banned from any strenuous or exhausting  activities, it suited me, but I did not get away with much I had to  umpire cricket matches and be linesman at football.   We had an OCTU at  our school, (Officer Cadet Training Unit), I thought this title was both  presumptuous and offensive, but they existed in many of the ‘better’  schools, (later the title was dropped in favour of Junior Training  Corps, JTC).  We had uniforms and guns (but no bullets) and our own army  lorry, some staff were ex-officers and they acted as our officers, once  again I was excused any strenuous activity, on outdoor exercises I  usually remained at HQ (the lorry), that was annoying because these  exercises could be fun, but I didn’t mind that so much when the weather  was bad, as it nearly always was.

By 1944 the air raids had more or less stopped, there was D-Day and we  began to think the war would soon be over, then, in late June, we had  the ‘doodle bugs’.  I was never really frightened by the air raids, taking a somewhat fatalistic approach, but I did find the flying bombs  stressful and frightening, partly because there was never any let up, no  ‘all clears’, it wasn’t like air raids it was a bombardment, they just  kept coming and we were very much in the line of flight, doodle bug  alley it was called, school was out of the question.  The worst aspect  was the wait to see if the engine would stop and even worse the wait  after the engine had stopped.   Many flew over us, but quite a number  didn’t, we had a number land close by and each one proved much more  destructive than most of the bombs dropped during the blitz, one  doodlebug could destroy as many as 20 close built houses and damage over  100.  It was all finally too much for my mother, she took our 12month  old sister and my younger brother and fled to her sister in the country, there was not room for my sister (15) and me so we stayed with our  father, but he was at work most of the time.  Tens of thousands of people were killed in London by the blitz and almost 7000 were killed by  the doodle bugs in a matter of a few weeks.  By September the defences  had improved and many of the launch sites had been overrun, but then  came the V2 rockets.  These came with no warning whatsoever, you never  saw or heard them, the first one knew was a huge explosion that shook  the ground.  Depending how close you were to the impact there would be a  short delay after the bang before the sonic boom, then came the noise of  the rocket approaching, a deep roaring sound like an express train, all  this noise echoed around the hills and rumbled for some time as a  thunder clap sometimes does, then the silence, then the sound of the  emergency service vehicles.  The V2s were very destructive, the mass of  the vehicle travelling at these very supersonic speeds would have been  enough to do considerable damage without the explosive war head.  I did  not find them so frightening, however, as soon as you heard it you knew  it had missed you and once again I took a fairly fatalistic approach.   There was no defence possible, they were launched from mobile launchers  so that it was not possible to attack the launch sites, both these  weapons were a notable engineering achievement on the part of the  Germans. Also in 1944 we learned of the death of my cousin in Burma, he had lived  close to us in Brixton and was like a big brother to me, it was a  grievous loss.

The end of the war came in 1945, defeating Germany was the real end for us, but the war against the Japanese went on and the war effort was now  fully directed against the Japanese, fortunately the atom bomb brought  that war to an abrupt end.  There was euphoria, of course, when it was  all over but there was soon a feeling of anticlimax.  People had been ‘all in it together’, but for a time they were lost when the reason for  this united effort had suddenly disappeared.

In 1945.very soon after the end of the war, a petrol ration was introduced so that ‘leisure’ motoring was again possible.  The ration was not very generous, varied according to engine size and aimed at allowing just 90miles/month.  Nevertheless it reawakened the interest in  cars.  We went to see our ‘20 Triumph.  When we opened the doors of the  lock-up we found that a nearby bomb had caused the roof to fall in on  the car and it had lain there surrounded by bricks and debris, but not  seriously damaged.  We dug it out and, surprisingly, with a new battery  it started easily and, with some new tyres and a quick re-spray it was  soon on the road.  All the other rations continued, some became even  tighter, and many went on into the 1950s.

In the fourth form, lower fifth and fifth forms I managed to come top in  the class each year and took a number of school prizes.  We took the  School Certificate exams (GCE) in the fifth form.  After School Certificate I had to decide what next, I had expressed an interest in  engineering.  The school pressed me to stay on in the sixth form for the  ‘Higher School Certificate’ and try for a State Scholarship, they were  of the opinion that I stood a very good chance, these were valuable and  rare scholarships and obtaining one was good for the school, it also  meant the holder would stand a good chance of a place in Oxbridge.  The  school advice was ‘get a scholarship and study engineering at  Cambridge’ - but  it seemed to me that there was a risk, it meant two  more years at school dependent on my parents, they were not happy,  grammar school was one thing, but university?  Not for the likes of us, and what if I didn’t get the scholarship?  Nevertheless I did go into the sixth form.  I soon had my seventeenth birthday.  I knew how to drive and had had some practice off road.  On my birthday I applied for my provisional driving licence and my driving test at the same time,  and, with some instruction from my father, took and passed my test in the old Triumph just 8weeks later, the Highway Code was much shorter  than it is now but the actual driving test was not very different. Ron Watts

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