When the war started my school evacuated to a country town. Because Les had gone and Dad was due to go at any time I felt I should stay and look after Mum and Mabs. About October 1939 I got a job as a junior clerk with a big firm of wholesalers which had moved its accounts department out of London to its Nottingham branch. This is going to sound strange but the start of the war was a mixture of apprehension and relief. It had been inevitable for some years and now, at least, it had actually happened and it couldn’t end before it began. In 1938 we had all been issued with gas masks and we got a free steel shelter which Dad and I dug into the back garden.
In the unlikely event that anyone reading this knows much about World War 2 there was a period of some months when nothing much happened. In the spring of 1940 the German army conquered most of Western Europe in a few weeks and it was then poised just 22 miles away across the English Channel to invade Britain. By good fortune – the weather stayed fine – and much improvisation large numbers of British troops were evacuated from France but they left their stores, arms and ammunition etc behind. Our position was hopeless and we learned a few years ago that in May of 1940 several members of the cabinet wanted to surrender.
Winston Churchill wouldn’t hear of it. He defied the Germans. This was all a big bluff. If they’d come we’d have been a pushover. Thank God they didn’t come. With an invasion expected any day, around the weekend of June 14 I decided that, like most teenagers, I would resist any invaders to protect my home and if I was going to die I might as well do so with a rifle in my hand as without. This had nothing to do with patriotism, love of the flag or care for the monarchy it was an instinctive feeling that I should try to defend my home. I had two options. An organisation called Local Defence Volunteers was being formed. It later changed its name to Home Guard. To join that you had to be 17 and you joined at the police station. Also being formed were Young Soldier units of the army and for that you had to be 18. I decided that if I waited two months until I was 17 it might be too late. I also felt that I had a better chance of telling an Army Recruiting Office that I was 18 than of telling the police that I was 17.
On Sunday, June 16, 1940, I had a convenient “18th birthday”. The following day I went to join up and was sent away because they’d taken their quota for the day. So I went earlier the next day and this time was provisionally accepted. I was told to come back on June 28 ready to go. I would have a medical and if I passed that I would be in the army. The next ten days were fraught. I couldn’t tell them at work because I might not actually go. The doctor could rumble I was underage and I’d be sent home. With 3 or 4 days still to go my immediate superior at work got his calling up papers and was leaving. The boss told me that I was being promoted and did I have a younger brother who could do my job. I then felt obliged to tell them that I’d be leaving on Friday. They tried to talk me out of it and that was terrible.
On the Friday I had my medical. I’m sure the doctor realised that I wasn’t 18 but many of us were joining up underage and the country was desperate. He wrote on the top of my form “For Graduated Training Only”. This made not a jot of difference once I was in. Anyway the Colonel adminstered an oath and gave me two shillings. This was a day’s pay and an ancient tradition. In the old days recruiting sergeants went round the pubs, got young men drunk and persuaded them to join the army. The men accepted the King’s shilling, a day’s pay and a legal contract that they couldn’t break when they sobered up. next