Watching the D Day Commemorations encouraged my mum to share some memories I don’t think I have heard before. This is surprising, because she does share a lot of memories – a lot of times (joke Dad).
Mum was aged 14 on D Day. Her own dad, whom she always refers to in a rather Enid-Blyton-esque way as Father (and her mum as Mother), served in both wars. We children called our grandfather Bampy. He started out as Grampy but that was hurriedly changed when we thought it very funny to call him Grumpy.
I don’t know why we called him Grumpy. I don’t remember ever finding him so, although other members of my family may differ in their opinions. My memories of the man – a somewhat straight-laced fellow with a military air, who is now long gone, having passed away at the age of 99 – are of sitting on his knee while he pressed his warm, smooth, pocket watch to my ear to hear it tick. Later I recall his delight at my visits from Sheep Country, especially when I brought my new daughter toddling across his threshold (she is 30 now!)
In WW1 Bampy was at Ypres. I have a copy of the Wipers Times brought back by him when his time in the trenches was over. When he got home he stripped off and told Nanna to burn his clothes. He slept outside for some time. Perhaps the peace and birdsong acted as a balm.
In WW2, as an architect, he had a reserved profession so escaped active service. Instead he became part of the Home Guard.
Because he had military experience he was made a Sergeant and found himself in command of a gaggle of men not unlike those in the 1960s and 70s TV series, Dad’s Army.
From what I can gather, the Home Guard was very similar to its depiction in Dad’s Army. Bampy’s men had little idea of what constituted a platoon, or indeed the meaning of discipline or rules. On one occasion they were given a rifle. I don’t know where it came from but Bampy was responsible for training his men in its use. One man held it to his shoulder and focused his eye through the sight at whatever he was aiming at. The rest of the group gathered around to watch.
At the last minute, one hapless (or is it stupid?) fellow, decided to check the view the gunner would have. He put his head in the line of fire and was shot through the nose (sideways, not into his brains – assuming he had any).
On another occasion the platoon was to practice an assault on a neighbouring village. The plan was for Bampy to spend the night in a guest house in the village and creep out at night to meet the rest of his motley band. Don’t ask me why he had to stay in the village, or where the others were. Anyway, at the allotted hour he rose from his bed, dressed in camouflage and tiptoed along the landing, to be confronted by a snarling German Shepherd dog at the bottom of the stairs. This brought the operation to an abrupt end.
The family lived in Burgess Hill, which was within a certain number of miles from the sea. This meant that access was restricted. All the beaches were covered with loops of barbed wire, and some were also dotted with land mines.
Mum went to school outside the zone. She travelled by train. When she stepped onto the platform on her way home she was required to show her ID. Bampy commuted daily to London and was subjected to the same rule. Their ID’s were different . His was for an adult and hers for a child.
Nanna’s sister, Gladys, was married to Clifford, a dim and alcoholic chap who also served on the home front as part of the anti-invasion force. His duty was to watch for enemy ships and planes from a pill box (Who knew there was so much to learn about pill box design?)
One man stood on the roof while the other, in this case Clifford, remained inside. I don’t know if Clifford was bored, or perhaps he was practising his gun skills, which I doubt he learned from Bampy. However, Clifford managed to fire his gun through the roof of the pill box, narrowly missing the poor chap above, who was minding his own business studying the horizon.
When at home, my mum, as a member of the Girl Guides, would carry out duties to support the war effort. These included delivering local mail and picking up litter. Knowing all these small details helps me to visualise her life and I am grateful that these moving D Day commemorations have allowed me to hear her stories.
Thank you Mum xxx