History is, of course, what we are taught in schools. Or is it? If I subtract my current age from that at which I was born, then the Suez Canal had not opened, boys climbed and swept chimneys, there were no telephones, Britain still had its Empire, and no compulsory schooling. Oh! And registration of births and deaths was not yet mandatory.
This is some of the history which I was taught in school, and equally it is now the case that my grand children are being taught, in history, life as it was at the time I was born (and after for that matter). Those of my age tend to forget that this is history because, to us, it is still real.
So what was it like? Well, thank goodness, Britain still had its Empire because the second world war broke out very shortly after I was born, and for some years our only support came from its constituent countries. I was too young to remember the early part of the war, only from around 1943 onwards. I lived just on the edge of Salford, not far from the major industrial centre of Trafford Park, and the sound of bombs going off was not an unusual experience.
I was fortunate in that my father was in a 'reserved occupation' being a crankshaft turner at Gardners Diesel Engines. At this time the company employed a large number of women on the factory floor, mainly for the less heavy work. He also had to become a member of the Home Guard. He used to come home for lunch, and, often, that time, first thing in the morning, and some Sundays, would be the only times I would see him. A normal working week was then 12 hours a day for six or seven days a week.
Interestingly, Gardners made the engines for the midget submarines which were responsible for many attacks on European dockyards.
Being brought up in the 'blackout', so called because nearly all street lights were off, and the few that weren't were heavily shaded, we had one benefit which today's urban children miss. We could see the stars! Admittedly, this was only in the morning as we then had double summer time - clocks were 2 hours forward from GMT., so we went to school in the dark, and to bed in daylight. Imagine trying to get a kid to bed when it's bright sunlight!
It must have been 1946 before I first saw the streets lit up. My parents took me into their bedroom which looked across the fields to a main road where I could see the lights come on for the first time. It was like our personal Blackpool Illuminations - which didn't exist then, by the way! It was about this time that I met my first banana, I knew it must be food, but had to ask my mother what to do with it.
During the blackout it was not allowed for any house light to be visible from the outside, and the ARP (Air Raid Precaution) patrols would have very stiff words, or even take to court, any householder who committed such an offence. We had black roller blinds to cover all our windows, and care had to be taken to ensure that no light escaped from the edges. At that time most houses had coal fires, and it was also an offence to allow sparks to be emitted from the chimney. These lessons were drilled into us virtually from birth.
On going to school we had to ensure that we all took our gas masks in their brown boxes. Now and again there were collections for the soldiers of things like knitted goods, and books, which we also took to school for forwarding. In our early years paper and pencils were not available; we did our work using chalk on a slate! From time to time the air-raid sirens would go off , sometimes for practice, at others for real, and we would march in an orderly fashion to the shelter at the top of the school road, with absolute, but no doubt misplaced, confidence in its security.
Our leisure time was filled with the usual street games, not only football and cricket (skipping and rounders for the girls!), but hopscotch, hide and seek, and a variety of catching games. Instead of cowboys and Indians, which we really didn't come across until later, we had war games of goodies versus baddies. It had to be so named because nobody would play at being a German! Holidays were pretty well non-existent, mainly comprising day trips to more distant relatives.
In my next blog I will concentrate on life in the post war years.
© Ron Ferguson 2011