As TLH and his immediate family are not me, I'm not sure quite how much they're happy for me to say about the situation. Believe me, there's a lot and it's a situation I'm sure many, many other grown-up children with elderly parents have gone through, but they're not mouthy, like me. They have a family dynamic which is so unlike mine in many ways that I find it endlessly fascinating but I have to take their considerations into, um, consideration so, all you need to know for now is that I'm at home alone.
Which means I can watch what I want on the telly! So, tonight, accompanied by half a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and at least one of the cats at all times, I decided to catch up with a TV series I taped that was shown in January. Some of you may have watched it - "Shooting the War" was a 3-part series based around home movies filmed by both British and German families during World War 2.
I have a slight obsession with WW2 - it was such an enormous event that convulsed the whole planet that is within living memory. My sister-in-law still has a heavy-duty concrete, extremely impressive air-raid shelter in her back garden (I'll ask her to take some photos and send them to me so I can post them here for you all to see - I don't have the car otherwise I'd take them myself). There are pillboxes dotting the English countryside (usually along river tributaries) and tank traps looking like large pale grey individual segments of Toblerone (there are some near where I live - I'll take pictures tomorrow and post them. Give me a reason to get out of the house as well. *Edit* - photos now taken and posted below).
Pillbox close to River Wey
View through pillbox gunsight across Lammas Lands towards the church
Tank Traps on the hill above the River Wey. This is now a railway embankment and is fenced off.
Tank Traps on the railway embankment - I managed to lean around the fence!
These Tank Traps are down by the River itself.
Most families have tales from wartime - my mother was born in 1938 and raised in Cheshire along with her 4 younger brothers and sisters so they didn't need to be evacuated. They lived in a very rural place called Twemlow Green where they had to fetch water from the village pump. When she talked of it, my brother and I used to shamelessly go into recitations of Monty Python's Four Yorkshiremen sketch ("We lived for three months in a brown paper bag in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at six o'clock in the morning, clean the bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down mill for fourteen hours a day week in-week out. When we got home, our Dad would thrash us to sleep with his belt!" and so on. Sorry mum, but it was very funny). Her dad, my grandfather, was a baker at the time and hence in a reserved occupation so he didn't go to war. He used to breed rabbits to show and any that weren't good enough, went in the pot. Mum remembers the time they ate nothing but lamb for weeks on end because a bomb landed in the field at the back of their house, which was full of sheep at the time....
I'm not sure what my dad did. He was born in 1936 but I know he spent most (if not all) of his childhood being looked after by his grandmother (my great grandmother) in Eastbourne, but as he died in 1991, I can't ask him so will never know.
TLH and I asked his dad a few months back exactly what he had done during the war. He'd been born in 1914 and was at University at the time, Queen Mary Westfield in London, studying engineering and, rather fascinatingly, he said that, had the Germans successfully invaded us, it would have been his job to push the button that would have blown up Battersea Power Station - isn't that interesting?
Anyway, I digress.
"Shooting the War" was extraordinary - it was like a moving scrapbook of film shot by ordinary people who happened to be there at the time. A short series, there were only 3 hour-long programmes, and I watched them all tonight, in one go. The first episode was about Men and focused on film shot by soldiers at the D-Day landings or by a German soldier during the ill-fated Operation Barbarossa campaign to invade Russia in 1941. The second was about Children and, as the title suggests, was about childrens' experiences. But, for some reason, it was the third one, Women, that really got to me. The half a bottle of wine might have helped but I don't usually get quite so lachrymose after only half a bottle, so it must've been the telly.
I don't know how they did it. The women left behind. Separated, in many cases, from their children if they were evacuated. Separated from their husbands who they might never see again. Just how the bloody hell do you keep a stiff upper lip in that situation? Can you just imagine the pain of separation, the sheer, undiluted fear of what might happen to your loved ones? I sat and watched the footage and listened to the old women they interviewed whose youthful faces appeared in the black and white films under discussion and the tears fell down my face. How did they do it? How did they hold it together?
The Second World War holds a privileged place in the British psyche. No other country seems to afford it as much... what?...reverence?...as we do. Germany has seemingly all but managed to wipe it from its collective memory (along with the 1966 World Cup, but that's another matter entirely). They think we're a bit odd to give it as much importance as we do. But, to us, it truly is still seen as 'Our Greatest Hour'. A time when the country really did pull together as one. The sense of 'community' was never, and has never been, so great as it was during wartime. There was a common enemy and everyone knew what they had to do. It must have been an exciting time to be alive. Unwelcome, but exciting. Everything was concentrated - you would not know if you would ever see again the handsome soldier boy you were dancing with the night before he got posted abroad. It must have been intense, to say the least.
But I'm so glad I live in a time when I know, Insha'Allah, that I shall see everyone I love from this day to the next...
PS. I've just realised this is my 100th post!