Nan babysitting our daughter in 1971. She and her husband, Ralph, would keep her while we went out.
We moved away when Heather was seven.
Nan, a long time friend of the Stowell family, and my friend, prayer partner, and sister in Christ, was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She lived there during WW II. She was nine years old on September 9, 1939, when war was declared. Her sister Alice was six. Her father, Andrew, wanted to enlist but had poor health. He worked at the shipyard as a driller. Later he came down with meningitis and died after going to the hospital.
In 1940, Nan and her sister Alice, along with her maternal grandparents, were evacuated to her great uncle’s farm in Portadown, Co Armagh. They attended school there. After morning prayer the teacher would ask what part of Belfast they were from and then would tell them if the area was bombed the night before. When the American’s arrived they set up camp behind her uncles farm. After Nan’s father died her mother brought the two girls home to be with her in Belfast. Their Uncle Chris would come and check on them after the ‘all clear’ signal.
In the school in Belfast they had to learn many defense measures. First they were timed to see how fast they could get home from school. If they were fast enough they could go home when the air raid siren blew. If they couldn’t get home quickly they were taken to a shelter in the playground at the school. Each child had an identification number. Nan’s parents had bracelets made for the girls with their numbers on them. They practiced jumping out of a two-story window. They had to bend their knees so they wouldn’t break their backs. They were issued gas masks. Nan could still remember the smell of that horrid rubber.
Families and communities clung to God during the dark years and sang hymns and songs to each other to keep up their courage.
Each week a group of children from different schools would be taken to the City Hall to sing on a radio broadcast. They sang hymns like:
Eternal Father strong to save,
Whose arm doth bind the restless wave,
Who bids the mighty ocean deep,
It’s own appointed limits keep.
Oh, hear us when we cry to thee,
For those in peril on the sea.
They would change the words to “For those in peril in the air,” referring to the Royal Air Force.
Another song Nan remembered went like this:
God is our refuge be not afraid,
He will protect you all through the raid.
When bombs are falling danger is near,
He will protect you to the “all clear.”
They also sang this:
They’ll always be an England while there’s a village street.
Wherever there’s a cottage small beside a field of grain,
There’ll always be an England and England shall be free,
If England means so much to you, as England means to me.
The siren was a warning of a raid. Another different sound was for “all clear.” There were two air raid wardens for each street. They patrolled the streets to make sure no light was showing from the houses. Everyone had to install dark blinds. No street lights were lit at any time. The houses were all joined together. The wardens knew everybody on that street. After a raid, if you got separated from your family, the air raid wardens helped you find them. Everyone dreaded moonlit nights because as the enemy bombed they could see the animals in the field and would machine gun them to devastate their food supply. They also had to put sticky tape on their windows. It was supposed to keep glass from flying all over if they were blown out.
One older lady in their neighborhood refused to go to a shelter. She would hide under the stairs in her house. Each house was required to leave the doors open so in case of a bomb landing near by the explosion wouldn’t destroy the house. One moonlit night the moon went behind a cloud. She peeked out and said, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph they shot down the moon!”
One family thought that they would be safer in the hills rather than in a shelter. One sister was married so she and her husband would run and get the other sisters and hide. One time one of the sisters yelled that she had forgotten her teeth! The brother-in-law yelled, “What the hell do you think they are dropping, sandwiches!”
Ration books were issued for food, books, blankets, and clothing. New toys and household goods were not manufactured as all the factories were used for the war effort. Nan remembered a neighbor who wanted to give her small daughter a doll buggy as a Christmas gift. Nan gave her the one she had used as a young child. The mom painted it, made a new pillow and blanket, and the child was delighted with it.
This is getting long. I will continue the rest of the story in my next blog. If you have any corrections or additions add a comment.