Lightly Done – August 2019

The Bouncing Bomb

Some reports claim that July 2019 was the hottest since records began.  My childhood memories tell me that during world War II July was a month of very long hot days, days of hay making and double summer time.  The grownups forgot about putting us to bed, getting the hay in was all important, children were released from school for harvesting crops, health and safety had not been invented.  If a job needed to be done, you did it.

To escape from the world of grownups my favourite place was still under the table where, without interruption, I could enjoy my new found skill of silent reading. Above my head the wireless would be talking to itself.  It was powered by an accumulator, a square glass jar filled with some sort of acid which had to be topped up every week or so to keep it going. Ever since the battle of Torbruk and the sinking of the Ladybird I had come to think of the man on the wireless as my personal friend.

The most important moment of the day was one o’clock when the grownups would gather round in silence to listen to the news.  The same silence was required on the special occasions when Winston Churchill was talking,  I can still recall the sound of his voice. It was as important to me that the wireless was kept going as it was to the grown up world around me.  At the age of six when the accumulator  needed attention I was considered quite old enough to take it down to the village on my way to school and leave it to be ‘topped up’ and collected on my way home in the evening.

 Watching the television reports of the threatening collapse of Whaley Dam brought an early image of cars fleeing from the flood waters following the collapse of the Möhna Dam in my six year old mind from May 1943.  

RAF 617 Squadron was formed under the command of Wing Commandeer Guy Gibson at Scampton in Lincolnshire with airmen from Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Americans serving in Commonealth air forces.  I knew that he had been born in India which gave me, at the age of six, a  feeling of connectedness with him for I too had been born overseas.  This bouncing bomb was unlike any other, it had been designed on a principle that any child familiar with the sea shore could understand.  Instead of being dropped and going straight to the bottom it would bounce like a pduckie stone skimmed from a beach across the water.  The principle was tested along the Fleet, that stretch of water that lies between Chesil Beach and the main land giving it special meaning for a Portland child.  The BBC Home service report explained there were three dams in the Ruhr Valley and the aim was to bring chaos to the heartland of German industry. The bomb dropped by Guy Gibson fell short, the second attacking aircraft was shot down. Wing Commander Gibson then flew along the dam to draw German fire enabling the bomb dropped by the third aircraft to break it the dam under water.  The pilot was interviewed and described how 1,300 people were killed in the resulting flooding, mostly civilians and prisoners of war.  As I listened the pilot told us how he saw the stream of cars driven by people trying to escape, the headlights were white at first, then as the flood water became deeper they lost their shine and became mustard coloured, then purple and finally the lights went out.  The fear of rising flood water has been with me for seventy six years. 

These childhood memories are stories waiting to be told.  If you are beginning the journey of creative writing you will find that journals and old letters are of immense value.  (Don’t ever throw anything away!) Always keep a note book with you, even beside your bed.   I have a friend who writes all her best poems at 2am, they arrive in finished form just as she wakes up. It is never too late to begin! In the next two weeks Wiloughby’s Will – the first of the Greyhound Trilogy – will join Phoenix House and Moss From a Rolling Stone In the collection of my work available from Amazon.  

We thank God for our heritage
And the heroes of the past
For Admirals and for Captains
And the boys who climbed the mast
May we who in their memory
Are gathered here today
Show forth our gratude to them
In all we do and say.
Let us give thanks for food and wine
And ask God’s blessing as we dine.

I wrote this grace for the first Guest Night Dinner I attended at RNH Haslar as Lay Chaplain in 1990.