Wartime Childhood

I can recall, in canny Shields, the fish-quay and the football-fields, the sound of sirens in the night, the air-raid shelter, small and tight

I can recall, in canny Shields,
the fish-quay and the football-fields,
the sound of sirens in the night,
the air-raid shelter, small and tight,

the drone of planes, the silent wait,
sometimes the thump, the heat of hate
and, in the morning, bleak and bare,
the space, when once a house was there.

I was a child and couldn’t know
the meaning of the mortal blow
and, with the other kids, would play
among the rubble and decay.

We’d take ourselves to Tynemouth beach,
so readily within our reach
to cop a breeze and kick a ball
and scarcely have a care at all,

immune from wickedness of war,
with ruin so wretched and so raw
and desolation and despair,
of which we were so unaware.

How little did we comprehend
the poverty that did attend
each daily bread-and-dripping meal
that caused no single squawk or squeal,

for modest meals should satisfy
and Rationing ruled the food-supply;
sometimes some sausage or an egg,
no need to borrow or to beg,

with woollen-mufflers round our throats
and beds topped up with winter-coats
and warmth from firewood-and-coke
to shock-absorb our Sunday-soak,

with queued-up kettles on-the-boil
and no retreat and no recoil
from the torture in the old tin-tub,
succumbing to the weekly scrub.

Hauled, heavy-eyed, from night’s embrace
and hastened to that back-yard place
as soulful sirens wailed once more
for absent dads away at War.

Dream-shadows darken distant days,
adult-awareness weeps for ways
now to redeem and not restore
that time on England’s north-east shore.

Which words of wisdom and goodwill
may engineer and instil
the perfect peace that prayer has sought,
that peace for which our fathers fought?

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