War! what is it good for – I remember it well

Looking at the reports from Syria, brings back memories from when I was a child. Seeing the children being taken away from their homes.

The destroyed homes, the heartless caretakers the clinical removal of people from their towns and cities. The children’s reaction to the bombing – how they hardly flinch at the sounds of explosions. .It has become their way of life.

When I was a child I lived in London. I am sure you have all heard of the Blitz. The Blitz was in the winter of 1940 /1941.


When Hitler could not defeat the Spitfires and Hurricanes, he switched to bombing London. This was in the Autumn of 1940 and by Christmas the bombing was extensive. Over the New Year the last day of the year and the beginning of 1941, the centre of London was ablaze. There was not enough water to quell the fires and the hoses were pushed into the river Thames and the water pumped out to fight the fires.

Most fully able men were already in the armed services. The London fire brigade was made up of regulars and volunteers. Many brave men and women did not survive the bombing of London, but far worse was the number of fire fighters who after the war would not discuss the terrible sights they had witnessed.

There were other groups of men and women called the heavy brigade. Their jobs were to pull down the ruined houses and search through them to rescue the injured and recover the dead. When you survived a bombing, you were left with nothing. Only the clothes you stood up in. You reported to a ministry department who issued you with vouchers for clothes and food. If any of your furniture survived it was taken to warehouses – stacked on the floor, and a white line was drawn around your belongings.

After trying to find another place to live, you returned to the warehouse only to find your things rifled through and reduced to rubbish.

Social Workers were (like everyone else) randomly selected from the good and the hard. When reporting to these social workers on the day after the bombing, the first words we heard from them was, ‘your Mother’s critical and your sisters dead’ – it would have been tough for the Social Workers too.

When I see the terrible situation in Syria, all these memories come flooding back. It is difficult to feed, clothe, and find accommodation for all the homeless in Syria – and of course how do you treat the injured whilst the bombs continue to fall.

Back to London and the stories of the Blitz. The Blitz lasted a relatively short time (around 8 months…long enough), but London continually bombed for five years. Even in the last month of the war in 1945, a V2 bomb fell in south London killing hundreds of men, women and children.

The Germans could not sustain a long bombing campaign against London by planes, but they could and did continue to send over flying bombs through out the war.

Most homes in London had bomb shelters, but as the war dragged on the, populace began to ignore the sirens and stay warm in front of the fire and listen to the radio. Just as the children in Syria have now become accustomed to the blasts and the noise of war.

In the city at weekends, my family and I would rather go to the local cinema and watch the latest films from Hollywood and ignore the air raid sirens.

In 1944, the high street was full of tanks and armoured cars and trucks. Soldiers from all over the world could be seen in the local pubs. They were all heading south to the coast.

I went to school most days climbing over the bomb sites and discovering exciting finds. Water tanks sinks taps, couches and settees, lamps, tables and desks…it was an exciting time for a young boy.


For grown ups it was a time of frustration. A journey to work which in normal times takes thirty minutes, could take up to three hours. The journey home often would mean a very long walk in the dark. ‘Put that light’ out was shouted at anyone showing even a glimmer of light.

We were fortunate as we lived near an underground station. The tube trains ran throughout the war and seldom were delayed by bombing.

Men and women would be expected to help out on the home front. My father worked from six in the morning until six at night at his job, and then went out to man the big guns in the local park all night. He was in the home guard, and would stand and watch as the V1’s dropped over London.

You couldn’t see the V2’s – they were unstoppable.

Its a bit like the people in Syria. They too cannot stop the bombs.

We were finally hit by a Doodlebug in August of 1944.

So you can understand how I feel sympathy for those in Syria, and anger against the Russians and Assad for placing politics ahead of humanity.


At Christmas time, Tiny Tim said, ‘God bless us all everyone’ – but I think it will take more than God’s blessing to have peace in Syria.

by Professor P.T. Brown


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