Memories of the summer of 1940

[by Leonard V. Bullock, 1939-41]

     Some time ago I found at the back of a drawer an old diary which I had maintained for the entire year. It recorded the common-place everyday events of life at Loughborough Grammar School, but also contained references to important topical events as reported on the radio and in newspapers. Not particularly unusual you might say. However, the year in question was one which shaped our destiny more than possibly any other this century.

     The year was 1940. I was 15 years old.

     Term started on 10th. January in the midst of severe weather. Snow, ice and extreme cold. On the 21st. I noted that "all taps frozen up,  even hot water ones !"

On the 30th., "Trowbridge came back," the only entry. The undertones were ominous. Mathematics would now have to be taken seriously.

     The war, which had been 'on' for some five months, still does not get a mention. The diary continues with the mundane, until suddenly, in capital letters on 9th. April, "GERMANY INVADED DENMARK &  NORWAY" and on the 13th., "WARSPITE & OUR DESTROYERS SANK 7 GERMAN DESTROYERS IN NARVIK FJORD." So the Battle of Narvik was recorded as it happened. I was not to know that five years later, as an R.A.F. radar operator on the Kent coast, I would have the rare treat of plotting the venerable battleship 'Warspite' on her way across the North Sea to her last positive operation against German positions on Walcheren.

     On the 17th. April, "...had 100 yards open heats. Came in 2nd. from last. Ball won final. Harris was first in junior," and on the 24th., "Had long jump. I did 16 ft. 8 in., but Standley did 18 ft."

     On the 3rd. May, "I was put in detention by Bill during Physics." Bill was Bill Srawley of course. Can anyone beat that ?

     On 10th. May things were looking black. Germany had invaded Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Prime Minister Chamberlain had also resigned on that day. However, I had Sports Day to look forward to on the 18th., and training fully occupied me until the great day.

     Saturday 18th. "Finished at 11.45. Went to sports. Won 100 yards shuttle in my heat and our house [South] won ! Did 17'3" long jump, and with Carter, we won the long jump. Harris broke his own high jumping. Lovely day." Eat your heart out Jerome K. Jerome. Harris was - still is - Alf Harris. Now living in retirement with Una in Felixstowe after a career in the Civil Service. He served in the R.A.F. during the war as a radar mechanic on Sunderlands and Liberators syndromes both in the UK and the Bahamas. We were mutual best men at our weddings and we still visit regularly.

     Back to the diary. On 25th. May, the fact that the Germans had captured Boulogne and that bombs had been dropped on Yorkshire came second to a report on a school practice match, 12-a-side. I made 2 and was stumped. Carrington, however, scored 4. The following day, a Sunday, was a Day of National Prayer. This followed the B.E.F. evacuation from Dunkirk. I went to chapel in the morning unaware that a Day of Prayer was just about the best that we as a nation could manage at this time.

     15th. June, "GERMANS MARCHED INTO PARIS." Saturday 22nd "...saw 1st XI draw with Old Boys. Holden scored 45." The following day, underlined heavily, "FRANCE SIGNS ARMISTICE WITH GERMANY." We were on our own. On 25th. June, "Had first air raid lasting from 12.30 to 3.34. We don't start until 11 a.m. if there's a warning the night before." After  this the warnings came thick and fast. They couldn't stop cricket or, for that matter, French tests !

     Saturday 6th. July. A purple patch. "Played North 1st. XI. We won, scoring 46 for 2 to their 44. I made 26 not out and returned after hitting ball into the cemetery for second time for six. Carpenter made 19." After a week of exams in mid July, "Latin was awful", the first mention of the Battle of Britain. On the 26th. July, "28 German planes brought down round the coasts today. " We broke up at 11 o'clock.

     All through August I kept careful notes of air raid warnings which were usually at night. They were such a regular feature that on 2nd. September I said, "No air raid warning last night." On the 6th. I went to Nottingham to see a Junkers 88 bomber which was on display.

     School re-started on 18th. September. "I am in UVB. Lefevre in UVA, Carrington in UR." Air raid warnings  were still in evidence virtually every night. These culminated on 14th. November with a warning which lasted from 9.15 p.m. until 6 a.m. the next day. The glow in the sky was ominous. The reason was the devastating raid on Coventry. My entry for that day speaks of many killed and injured and of one German bomber which crashed near here. The bomber had in fact come down at Burton-on-the-Wolds, killing the crew. The following day, a Saturday, I went to see the remains of the Dornier 17. On the 18th., "saw funeral of four Nazi airmen pass here this afternoon." We lived on Leicester Road, opposite the Burton Walks. The airmen were buried in the cemetery.

     Then exams again at the beginning of December. On the 3rd., "In the middle of the English exam, in the afternoon, we had a warning from 2.40 to 3.25 p.m. Missed some of the exam. Sang [!] in shelter. John lost his voice." John was John Richardson, my next door neighbour, and one of the small number of boys who are referred to by their Christian names. He emigrated to Australia after the war and sadly died there some years ago. On the 16th. December, one of my few references to school work : "Did not know Chaucer because of warning last night from 8-10 p.m." Sounds rather a lame excuse to me ! We broke up on the 18th. "Came 5th. in form." Christmas Eve was brightened by the fact that "Italian prisoners now total 36,000." The North African Campaign was the one bright spot at the timer. And so the year came to an end.

     I never kept another diary. Perhaps no-one ever gave me one again. A shame perhaps. My one regret is that Colin Tivey is not mentioned directly. However, he did teach us the tune and words for a First World War marching song, "Madelon" which I can still remember with the assistance of a half-decent claret. It came in very useful when I was stationed in France with an R.A.F. mobile unit some 50 years ago and fascinated the locals no end. As a footnote, on 16th. October, "Tivey left today." Not much, but it pushed a report of a House 1st X! football match into second place !