It was the final war to end all wars. That was the optimism that was spouted after the end of World War One. But after hostilities ceased, a battered war worn and decimated Europe seeking to castrate once and for all the military might of a constantly aggressive Germany, decided to bring together a number of concerned nations who had already suffered much under German domination that it never be allowed to happen again. The plan was to bind Germany into an economic treaty that would ensure the country would never again be able to provide the wherewithal to mount another foray into the lives of those nations who wanted nothing more than to live in peace and tranquility.
That proposed Treaty/Agreement became known as the Treaty of Versailles. It was literally loaded with every kind of debt and reparation imaginable, a financial straight jacket that completely emasculated the already faltering economy of a now ruined and desperate country. Germany now began its descent into Hell, further weighted down by the enormous payment of sums levied against it by the Treaty. Needless to say, anger began to rear its ugly head and riots erupted throughout the country. Frustration fueled by desperation spawned violence which, in turn, brought down the already feeble government unable to free the country from the agony it found itself in.
In 1933 the German Nation Party (Nazi) took over and Adolph Hitler was elected Chancellor of the country and, as Leader of his Party was elevated to Fuhrer, he would be in complete control of the country.
The seeds of the next war were already being shown.
In 1939 I was 11 years old when the war started and a 17 year old when it finished. To enumerate all the privations heaped upon us by these Berlin Butchers would be tantamount to a rewrite of the the Tolstoi novel "War and Peace." Passing over some of the horrors that our flesh was heir to during this time would be a blessing in itself, so I will just illuminate the more mundane atrocities these people committed.
Every night, as a hundred bombers would arrive, we would speedily seek shelter in our Andersen Shelter erected in our back yard and supposedly there to improve our chances of survival. (British Government) Between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. they would arrive and unload land mines, rockets launched from France (our allies), with just enough fuel to get them where they were going. When that was spent they would fall from the skies and the results would be catastrophic. Along with their conventional bombs, incendiary bombs were shoveled from these aircraft willy nilly and guaranteed to incinerate anything or anyone if in the vicinity of one as was my mother's brother as he was helping to extinguish fires started by others. And so it was for an interminable length of time, until our American friends came and joined the fray and helped us to turn the tide.
Because of the scarcity of commodities themselves, not because of the shortness of money, we were allocated one egg a month, one every six weeks in winter and, if that were bad - too bad. Meat was strictly rationed, and if you were planning a sumptuous meal two ounces a week would have to be hoarded frozen, if you were lucky enough to have a fridge. Neighbors with families would surrender what they couldn't use and barter was the order of the day.
We were very much encouraged to Dig for Victory, and I shudder when I think back to those days when we had potatoes and carrots almost interminably to eek out those other vegetables that were hardest to grow. All had to be scrubbed and washed; peeling and scraping was tantamount to a betrayal and strictly taboo.
Clothes were high on the list of everyone's fashion nightmares. Make Do and Mend was considered a national pastime and entered into with zeal and enthusiasm especially when sewing bees were becoming popular and a grand opportunity for those in the know to impart the latest exclusive and shocking (mostly hearsay) piece of scandal.
Vacations were taken and restricted to those that entailed a visit within the confines of the British Isles. The Germans had the whole of Europe, compliments of the Fuhrer.
At the beginning of the war there were many rules and regulations we had to observe. Every window had to be fitted with blackout screens, doors had to be reasonably blocked so that light could not escape into the street after dark. Every street had to have its Home Guard Watch who was responsible for overseeing that all of those requirements were met. He also had the onerous duty of monitoring the poison gas detector at the end of his street. Gas masks had to be carried at all times when one ventured out into the street and it was an offense to be caught without one. All buses and trains were forbidden to display destination panels and sign posts were eliminated. We were warned not to give directions to anyone we did not know.
Fear of a German invasion began to subside after the Allies began their thousand bomber raids over Germany and there were encouraging signs that their bombing raids were gradually diminishing but German High Command still thought they could accomplish a coup-de-grace right to the very end and, finally knowing that the end was near, and it was, the German War Machine collapsed in on itself. Peace followed soon thereafter with the coming of V. E. Day.
After six long and harrowing years it was over and we were able to do and go where we pleased. There never was any thought of capitulation or compromise, just an ardent desire to prevail and rid the world of a maniacal tyrant.
March 4, 2005