Ted's story

The Mickey-mouse gas-mask

I was born in 1933. My first memory of hostilities must be from 1938, at the time of the war scare which led to the brief reprieve of "Peace with honour" at the Munich conference. Two forbidding gentlemen came to our flat in Thornton Heath, south London, distributing gas masks. Adult gas masks were black whereas children had 'Micky Mouse' masks with red rubber pieces and bright eye piece rims. There were also gas helmets for babies into which mothers would have to pump air with a bellows I was given a Mickey Mouse mask, but when my mother tried hers on I screamed the house down.

My father was born 29 November 1900, and his call up papers for WW1 came just before his 18th birthday - but the Armistice was on 11th November. So he escaped that one. In 1940, his profession was needed on the home front, a "reserved occupation". His office was in Victoria Station House, and the partners must have felt vulnerable there because they moved everything to one of their holiday houses at Wittering on the south coast. I had to go too, of course, and attended a local school. But not long after, the school closed and many of the children left for Canada.

 

I never heard how many survived the U-boats in the Atlantic crossing, or how many were ever reunited with their parents. We lived right by the beach, and 1940 was a lovely hot summer spent building sand castles. Suddenly, the beach was out of bounds. Tank traps went up. My father joined the Home Guard. Once more, the partners got the jitters and off we went to Reading to another of their houses.

My parents rented a thatched cottage at the top of Steatley Hill, about 15 miles from Reading, with one water tap and no other mod cons. The land included a large orchard, and we kept chickens, rabbits, goats and pigs. I soon became expert at "mucking out" and making pig swill from stinging nettles, at plucking birds for the table, and making chicken coops. There was a wonderful forest to play at Hansel and Gretel, even without a sister to play Gretel. We had oil lamps, a huge copper to do the laundry and a mangle, a large black wood-fired cooking range. But this idyllic life came to an end when severe petrol rationing forced a move into Reading, a wretched flat over a shop with bed bugs. Because I was an only child, I was sent off to boarding school to be socialised.

 

Ted Webber
October 2002

You can read about Ted's experiences in the boarding school if you click here.

 

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