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Pamela's story

Stolen fruit - a London childhood

It wasn’t much fun being a small kid at that time. It was too scary. London was a smoggy city, filled with gray skies, gray fog, rainy days and one seldom saw a blue sky or sunshine. Or so it seemed. And indoors, it always seemed to be night. Everyone had black curtains on the windows so that no light would escape into the street, and more importantly, be seen from the German airplanes flying overhead. Lights could show them a good place to drop a bomb. Besides, electricity was expensive, and not to be used if not necessary.

My Dad was away in the army, somewhere in Europe and my mother was very nervous. She was a young woman in her mid 20’s, with a little girl (me) and a new baby, and she wanted someone to look after her, and there wasn’t anyone to do it. So she cried a lot, and when the siren would go off to warn of an air-raid, she would scream in fear. I always felt responsible for her, like I should be her mother and take care of her. But I was only three and four and five and six and didn’t know how, except by not being a burden.

In the beginning, the bombing was at night. She would tell me to quickly! quickly! put on a sweater or coat and shoes and run downstairs. I would hide under the kitchen table until she had dressed herself and wrapped up the baby. Then we would run through the long, narrow garden to the air-raid shelter. It seemed always to be night, and dark, with sirens screaming and wailing.

The shelter was simply some corrugated steel sheets made into a shed against the brick, garden wall, with a sloping roof. It had a dirt floor and two wooden benches inside on which to sit. No heat, no light. Mother brought candles if she remembered, or else we sat in the dark. If a stranger was on the street when the sirens began, they could knock at any house door and be taken in to the shelter, and spend the night in the shelter.

Mother was always complaining about the rations. She wasn’t a good cook and didn’t know how to make exotic things like puddings or any treats, so our food was very simple. Mostly something boiled or fried. There was often nothing - nothing at all - to eat and we got used to being hungry.

One afternoon I went down to the bottom of the garden and found some boxes so that I could climb onto the roof of the air-raid shelter. Then, from there I could climb onto the top of the brick wall between our garden and that of the old lady next door. She had a pear tree, loaded with fruit. With a long stick I was able to reach some of the branches and bring them over the wall. Then I picked off the pears and tossed them down into our garden. She saw from her window, and came out waving her walking stick at me, telling me to leave her pears alone! I quickly scooted down off the wall, down the roof of the shelter, onto the boxes and back to safety. Whew! A close escape - and five beautiful pears to eat! I ate three right away, and took two inside to give to mother.

Other thefts occurred. At the end of the garden was a gate to an alleyway. On the other side of the alleyway was a fence, and behind that fence, the train ran by.

The stationmaster had a little hut there, and he planted strawberries in the ground between the railroad tracks and the fence. Strawberries! Beautiful, red, sweet strawberries, right there in the city! Amazing. So, with a bent stick, and lots of patience, I could slowly, slowly bring a vine close enough to the fence to put my fingers through the fencing and pick a strawberry. Oh, it was so delicious! Heavenly. But then the stationmaster would see me there, and come out with his fist raised, shouting “Leave my strawberries alone!”, and I would escape to the safety of our garden.

The City Authorities would regularly send people (women with small children) out of the City, into the country for safety. During one of these exits from the city, we were staying with a woman and her four daughters in a big farm house. These pretty girls were being dated by American soldiers and one day one of the soldiers brought an extraordinary treat to the house. It was something I had never seen before and that the girls had not seen in 4 or 5 years - a fresh orange! The orange was peeled, with everyone standing around the table watching. Then, it was carefully divided into segments, and each person got one segment. First we licked it, so no drop of juice could escape. Then, we took tiny nibbles, letting the juice come slowly into our mouths, and held it there. Don’t swallow too fast! Then take another tiny nibble, until finally, the whole slice was gone. How terrible that there was no more. Seeing what a great success the gift had been, the soldier decided he had to be a hero to the nth degree.

A few days later he came back with his friend, and a carton, a whole carton of cans of sliced peaches. 12 cans. 12 CANS! Wow! What to do with such booty? Urgent conversations took place. Suggestions made and discarded. Finally, with everyone watching, the carton, less one can, was taken down into the cellar, and buried under the heap of coal. Then, everyone was sworn to secrecy. No one must tell what was hidden there.

Some time passed, and one day there was a knock at the door. Military police. They wanted to search the house for stolen contraband from the PX. My heart was racing….. would we go to jail? Would the soldiers be arrested? What would happen? They searched everywhere, but did not want to get dirty moving the heap of black, sooty coal, and so the peaches were undiscovered. But we all felt horribly guilty whenever a can was opened, and it spoiled the pleasure in eating those sweet slices.

10th October, 2001

Pamela found that many English people were capable of thoughtless and cruel treatment towards Jews. To read about that just click here.

In contrast she found the American soldiers then arriving in large numbers in England very attractive - click here to find out why.

Pamela and her family eventually emigrated to the US and she now lives in New Jersey. She is a member of the TIMEWITNESSES Panel of Elders and you can write and ask her questions if you click here.

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