This is a true story about a boy’s good spirited journey through life, and the slow transition from being a naive, innocent, and wild eyed kid in the London blitz, to a somewhat reflective and philosophical old man residing happily deep in Cornwall. It is a path that all men tread more or less, but having the good fortune to follow a seafaring career, topped up later with a world wide shipping career, makes this a varied and somewhat gifted life. The time spent at sea, and in the Bank Line in particular, had a deep and lasting effect, and why wouldn’t it? It was far more than a set of job descriptions. Meeting so many nationalities at all levels, from the Pacific islanders to the urchins of Asia and Africa , and grappling with ever changing demands at sea and in port made for a rich education. The only thing that never waned throughout all the years was a love of the world and its people, and a breathless admiration for the sheer beauty of our surroundings, coupled with boundless enthusiasm and optimism.
Chesham was near the American air base at Bovingdon, and the high street always had many smart uniformed Americans. My memories of the airmen and the activity are still vivid. In the town, the flyers couldn’t have been more generous to us scruffy lads. They parted with gum and money, which we asked for shamelessly. ” Got any gum, chum ? ” were the magic words that did the trick, and I can still hear it ringing in my ears. It never failed to work. In later life, I read all the books on the air war I could find, fascinated by the horror and torment of the daily battle. It gave me a slight appreciation of what those young smartly dressed American boys were going through mentally, and I could imagine what their thoughts might be as we youngsters held out our hands. They sacrificed so much more than mere gum. A major attraction at this time, was the display of crashed German planes In the park. The centre of the bandstand was used for wrecked German planes placed on display, and linked to the ever present need for money for the war effort. This area, with it’s swings and the lake was our playground, and I was attending the church school that lay next to the church bordering the park. Suddenly, it was the town focus, with war bond drives, and displays of all sorts, all designed to stimulate the flow of cash. There were endless campaigns, characterised by a huge wood and cardboard thermometer in gaudy colours placed near the planes. This colourful creation had a moveable column of pretend Mercury which was raised in line with the daily contributions. Buckets were distributed around for the money, which people gave to generously. A target was set at the top of the display, and there seemed to be yet another giant wood and cardboard thermometer towering over us in the park, when the previous target had been met. The downed planes were beyond fascination for young boys! We were allowed to sit in the often battered cockpits, and the smells and sights of the instruments, together with the weird and wonderful array of knobs and levers made this an unforgettable moment. It was heaven for lads of the right age, like me. We fought to climb into the magic pilot’s seat. Best of all for me was the seat in the Perspex bubble, either at the nose or on top of some of the exhibits. There were fighters and bombers, and we eagerly awaited the next arrival, which came on the back of a trailer towed through the town centre. At that age, there was never a thought for the poor soul who may have lived and died at the controls.
I think the most emotive part of this experience was seeing the swastikas plastered all over the wings and fuselage.