The little girl lay in the dark. Her eyes were wide open as she listened for the sounds of the buzz bombs. Her three older sisters lay side by side next to her in the large double bed they all shared. Her two older brothers slept in the room next door and the baby slept with her parents. When her baby brother was old enough, he would join her two brothers in their double bed.
The family had enjoyed tea together after the blackout sheet had been put up over the living room window. They had all sat gathered around the table together, in the only room with any light in the house, and eaten their simple tea of bread and jam. They were lucky, they also had milk to drink and extra cheese as their father was a dairy farmer. The milk was slightly sweet and had a thick layer of cream on top of it. The family also occasionally had fresh butter, which came from the black market. This was an incredible luxury at this stage of the war. Luxuries of any kind were few and far between. Food and clothing was rationed and only 1 shilling and 2 pence of meat per family member each week. Bacon and ham was also rationed to 8 ounces per family each week. Game was available and in this respect, the family had an advantage over many others. Their father was able to shoot the rabbits and other vermin that come onto the farm. Rabbit stew was heartily appreciated as a mid-day meal. The little girl had never seen a banana, orange or lemon. Dried fruit was also rationed and the little girl’s mother saved up the family’s ration of this for the whole year in order to make the cake and pudding at Christmas time. If you described a banana to her, the little girl would not have believed that such a fruit existed. She did know about oranges as she had heard the American soldiers at the local US Army Base ate this fruit. The taste of oranges was, however, unknown to her at this point in her life.
On this particular night, the darkness was soon shattered by the high pitched sound of the air raid siren which heralded the approach of the destructive flying buzz bombs. Everyone in the family swiftly moved into action. The older children wrapped blankets around themselves and got ready to go out into the garden to the air raid shelter. The little girl’s father came into the room and rapidly wrapped her up in her blanket and lifted her up into his arms. They exited the bedroom and joined their mother, who was carrying the baby, and their brothers. Within a few minutes they were outside in the freezing cold, climbing down the few steps to the bomb shelter.
The bomb shelter was made from galvanised corrugated steel panels, bolted together to form the body and ends of the shelter. The whole structure was partially buried in the ground and had a concrete floor. The arched roof of the air raid shelter was covered with a layer of soil. The little girl’s mother had planted the top of the air raid shelter with vegetables thus it served a useful purpose as a productive part of the garden.
There was a rough wooden bench that ran along one side of the shelter for the family to sit on. The little girl sat on her Father’s lap, head resting against his shoulder, waiting for the air raid to end. She thought of the American soldiers who were living in temporary dwellings on Bungay common. They would be in their bomber planes and flying through the night to protect the Norfolk and Suffolk coast from the bombs.
The baby was sleeping and the little girl’s mother and sisters were knitting. Sometimes they knitted all night. Tonight, the all clear siren sounded fairly quickly and the family were able to go back into their home and climb shivering into their warmer beds. This was a welcome relief to her father who would have to get up at 4am to start milking the cows and bottling the milk ready to deliver it to the folk of the town. This was also rationed and each family was only allowed a certain amount of milk.
PS I made the tank cake with the soldiers for Michael’s tenth birthday last year. This boy is obsessed with warriors, soldiers and knights!
Robbie and Michael Cheadle are the co-authors of the Sir Chocolate Book series and Robbie Cheadle is the author of Silly Willy goes to Cape Town (coming soon)