INSIGHTS ON IVOR
Going back now to December 1941. This was when Japan made their surprise attack on Pearl Harbour and Americaentered the war. This was a momentous occasion which President Roosevelt described as ‘An act of infamy’. Winston Churchill, who had a close working relationship with Roosevelt – it was the President who had sanctioned the supply of ships, guns and other weapons of war to aid Britain earlier in the war, but due to political pressures within America at the time held back from actually taking his country into war – immediately condemned this barbarous act and joined Roosevelt in declaring war on Japan. But at the same time Churchill admitted that he was elated and voiced the opinion that at last, and because, we now had the colossal military strength of American behind us the war was over!
After Pearl Harbour it wasn’t long before Britain was ‘invaded’ by thousands of American troops. They were a welcome sight, particularly to the ladies and the children. Their smart uniforms and general easy going nature made a refreshing change for the war weary people of Britain. Some of the British servicemen were slightly wary and to be honest a little jealous due to the big difference between the wages of the American troops compared to the British. This enabled the Americans to be generous, which they always were, with nylon stockings, perfumes, lipsticks
for the girls and dishing out chewing gum, candy for the children as well as putting on parties for them. It was fun for the children to ask the American soldiers ‘Got any
gum chum? The request was usually successful.
Another attraction the Americans bought was their accents whether from the Bronx area of New York City, the Southern States, or from Deep in the heart of Texas (all give four claps now). As far as we were concerned they all sounded straight from Hollywood and therefore they lived either in big houses, surrounded by white picket fences, drove big gleaming cars or they lived on ranches with houses that had veranda’s where they’d sit in rocking chairs on the porch, sipping from a glass of mint julep watching the red face of the sun as it retired for the night and slowly disappeared below the sage bush on the prairies.
American personnel were based all over Britain in places such as Burtonwood in Lancashire and East Anglia, which due to its flattish landscape provided ideal conditions for the many Bomber bases used by the RAF and the USAF. The RAF would carry out night bombing raids over Germany including Berlin, whilst the USAAF covered the daytime raids.
Before the arrival of the American forces Britain had already called for help from its vast Commonwealth countries. Not that they needed much calling. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Rhodesia, India, Jamaica and many others had already rushed to our aid. In addition, others like the already oppressed and overrun peoples of Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Free French also quickly responded to the call.
Living in Greenford we saw, and heard, many American airmen from the base in nearby South Ruislip.
It wasn’t long before the attraction between the American troops and the ladies grew with the girls living under the illusion of living the American dream, as stated above. They were swept off their feet and this led to many engagements and weddings between them and the G.I.’s as they were called (meaning General Issue). Unfortunately many of these G.I. brides were bitterly disappointed and disillusioned when they later left Britain to start a new life in America. They expected their new homes to be palatial as depicted in the films but many were run down houses, apartments or even worse a broken down shack with terrible, if any, sanitary facilities. This naturally, but sadly, led to heartbreak and many subsequent divorces.
Some of the films I remember from this time are Bambi, Mrs Miniver, which won a Best Oscar award for Greer Garson, Holiday Inn – in which Bing Crosby introduced
Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’ to the world which in time became the best selling record of all time. This was superceded in 1973 when ‘Candle in the Wind’, part written, and recorded, by Elton John displaced Bing’s record at the top, at least in Britain that is. But it was impossible to keep the old Groaner (Bing’s nickname) down because it just wouldn’t be Christmas without Bing telling us that he’s dreaming of a white Christmas would it? Whilst many of us wanted to hear Bing sing White Christmas actors Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman wanted to hear another song, called, ‘As time goes By’ because they kept asking pianist Sam to play it in the 1942 classic film ‘Casablanca’.
One of the biggest disasters of the war occurred on August 19th 1942. This was the ill-fated Allied raid on the French port of Dieppe. The raid was carried out in response to a request from Russia’s leader, Josef Stalin, for the Allies to open a Second Front on the continent because his own troops were under extreme pressure fighting the Germans on the Eastern Front.
The Allies troops consisted of 5,000 Canadians, 1,000 British and 50 U.S. Rangers. The Canadians had well over 3,000 casualties, of which there were over 900 dead and the rest wounded or taken prisoner. The British Commando’s whilst having the most military success of the raid still lost 275 men. In addition there were many ships and planes lost in this fiasco. It was total carnage and if you’ve ever visited this port you will know how easy is was for the German forces, high up in their vantage positions to machine gun the troops as they landed on the beaches.
It was subsequently claimed by the military ‘planners’ that although the lose of life was regrettable lessons were learned as to the best way for any troops to carry out any future amphibious raids from England across the channel to France, which of course this is what was done on D-Day 1944.
By April 1943 massive preparations along Britain’s south coast were under way with Military vehicles, glider planes, and thousands of British, Commonwealth and American troops assembling for the Allied invasion of Europe.
My wife, although only a schoolgirl at the time was living between Southampton and Fareham, Hampshire, saw many of these troops, particularly Canadians sleeping under their trucks and tanks all ready for the big day. One night, during a severe air raid, some of these Canadian soldiers were commended for driving their burning armed vehicles away from their village base to minimise casualties. She also remembers asking the Canadian troops ‘Got any gum chum? a request which, like the American troops, always brought success.
May 17th 1943 was the date when the daring Dam Busters raid by the RAF’S 617 Squadron led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson took place. Their ‘bouncing bombs’ invented by Barnes Wallis, didn’t inflict as much permanent damage to Germany’s war production machine as had been hoped. Our casualties were high but the sheer daring and inventiveness of the surprise raid certainly shook the enemy and did wonders for the Allies morale. Sadly eighteen months later Guy Gibson, who received the VC for his part in the raid, was killed when his plane ran out of fuel and crashed near Steenbergen in the Netherlands.
D-Day finally arrived on June 6th 1944 when at long last the Allied invasion to free Europe from the tyranny of the Nazi’s began.
A week later on June 13th the first V1 flying bomb landed on England. There are many claims as to exactly where it landed, from places such as Swanscombe in Kent, who claim one landed there at 3.41 a.m. on the 13TH, to London’s dockland area.
I can still recall the chill that went through me when I heard the BBC news referring to these new ‘pilot less’ planes. As a twelve year old I wondered how on earth a plane could travel without a pilot. I don’t mind admitting, it scared me a little. We eventually got used to the eerie sound of these ‘buzz bombs’ or ‘doodle bugs’ as they were named. They were capable of speeds up to 400 mph and carried one ton of hi-explosives. Designed to run until they ran out of fuel at which time they would then stall and around 15 seconds later would crash down to earth exploding on impact. At night the rocket, for that was what they were, emitted an orange flame as it went on its murderous mission. As long as you could hear the drone of the engine you were safe but as soon as that drone stopped you could only pray that the bomb wasn’t heading your way. Because of this they were also known as ‘Bob Hopes’, you bobbed down and hoped for the best. The sound of silence was deafening and frightening at the same time.
In July the danger from these V1 attacks was so bad that parents in the inner London area once more decided to evacuate their children to the safety of the countryside. After having killed over 6,000 and severely injuring 18,000 people the attacks stopped on September 2nd.
A short respite was followed by Hitler’s final plan. This was the launching of his more deadly V2 rockets. These were capable of supersonic speed and flying at over 50 miles high. I believe Chiswick, west London received the first one on September 8th killing three people and injuring 22. Unlike the V1 these machines had no engine droning to alert you of their presence. When they ran out of fuel they just left the heavens and brought hell on earth without any warning. The heaviest casualties were 168 people died when a V2 landed on a Woolworth store in New Cross, London in 1944. But fortunately for us these weapons were unreliable. Many either exploded on launching or they completely missed their target when they did come down. Nevertheless, of the 5000 launched, about 1000 reached Britain killing nearly 3,000 and badly injuring 6000. The attacks finally ended on March 27 1945 when the last one landed on a street in Orpington Kent killing 34 year old Mrs Ivy Millichamp, the last British civilian to die from these silent killing machines.
On May 8th 1945 Germany surrendered and the war in Europe was over. This was followed on August 15th when, after America had dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, they also surrendered. These two historic days were named VE Day (Victory in Europe) and VJ Day (Victory over Japan). Although there was plenty of celebrations all over the country not everyone felt the euphoria. These were the people who had lost loved ones and still felt the loss too much. There were others who seemed to have forgotten how to have fun. One story tells of a lady who overcame that problem by suddenly deciding to put the kettle on and in a fit of devil may care attitude opened a tin of pears she had kept stored on a shelf!
Who would have thought of this wondrous victory day (over Hitler) back in the dark days of 1940 when we were preparing for his armies to invade Britain? At that time the threat was so great that Anthony Eden, the Minister for War at the time appealed for volunteers to join a new fighting force he planned for the home front. This force was to be called the Local Defence Volunteers, LDV for short. There was a huge response, many veterans from the First World War signed up. By the next day a quarter of a million men had enlisted. The experience of these older men bought forth a little humour with them by suggesting some alternatives to the proposed name of this new force. For instance they suggested that the letters LDV could mean ‘ Long-Dentured Veterans’ or even ‘Last Desperate Venture’ but for me the best, although maybe a little unpatriotic, suggestion was ‘Look, Duck and Vanish’ But none of these suggestions were implemented as Winston Churchill decided this new fighting force was to be known as the Home Guard.
This name remained until actor and writer Jimmy Perry (1923-2016) teamed up with BBC producer, director and writer, David Croft (1922-2011) in 1968 and bought one of the most successful television shows to our screens. Jimmy Perry had served in the Home Guard himself and decided to write a show based on his experiences. His original title was The Fighting Tigers but this was changed at the suggestion of the BBC Head of Comedy at the time, Michael Mills, to Dads Army and the rest is history. The television series ran from 1968-1977 and is still showing repeat episodes at the time of writing this, (2016). There is also a full length film version made in 1971. In my opinion Dads Army ranks alongside The Good Life and Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister as the best television programmes ever made. They are beautifully written, superbly cast and acted and just as importantly, they are still funny after all these years. As Captain Mainwaring might have said ‘Well done men, Britain is proud of you all. Wilson, tell the men to stand easy, that means you too Pike, stupid boy’’
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