WW II, a British focus



Memories of Gerry Martin

Gerry Martin used to attend Wimborne Infant School but has lived for nearly forty years in Australia.

My name is Gerry Martin. I am sixty one years old . I came to live in Australia in 1962. A retired Melbourne Firefighter, I live in the mountains in a little stone cottage in a place called Kobyboyn, Central Highlands, Victoria, Australia. I have sixteen acres of land, with lots of visiting wildlife. I have two quite revolting looking little pug dogs, who snore quite a lot! Adder and Zac. God! They are ugly!!

I was born in Crofton Rd., Milton, Portsmouth. My father was a master builder and my mum was Irish farmer's daughter. In those days families were much larger. I was the youngest of nine children. Consequently we were not what you could say rich, but we never seemed to go without. There was lots and lots of laughter, and heaps of cuddles.

What is the first thing you can remember? My earliest days are rather hazy. I can remember the smells of fresh baked bread, hot milk ovaltine, and rain on a hot day.

The second World War changed everything. We in Britain were not prepared for what happened. Everything we called progress came to a sudden stop. Electric, wireless,motor cars, trucks and lorries all seemed to disappear overnight!

Iron railings on the front walls of houses were cut off and taken away to be transformed into tanks and bombs.

Some things that happened were quite fun to us kids.

Milk and bread were delivered by horse and cart. It was really something to have a ride up on the cart. I can clearly remember a great big "Foden" steam traction engine towing a trailer full of huge barrels of beer and unloading them into the cellar of the pub on the corner of Winter & Goldsmith Ave.

Some of the corporation double decker buses used to have a trailer with a fire in it making coal gas with a pipe going up to a huge silver coloured bag on the roof of the bus where it was stored to run the bus instead of using petrol.

In those times we had double summer time which meant it stayed light until about 11 pm.!!

At the outbreak of the war we were living in Alverstone Rd. After one nasty air raid a bomb landed quite close by and damaged a few houses including ours. So we moved to 54 Carisbrooke Rd where we stayed until the end of the war.

The sky was always full of barrage balloons.... massive great silver things that reminded me of elephants without their trunks. These were attached to the ground with thick steel cables. The idea being to stop the German bombers coming in too low.

The council provided corrugated iron air raid shelters to everybody. We had to put them up, or in our case, put them under the ground in the gardens of the houses. There were several Public shelters in the park where you could go if caught in a raid.

I recall little blue vans that used park on a corner with a nurse that used to give us injections and a huge spoon full to the top with cod liver oil and orange juice!! It just looked like a raw egg, and tasted really `orrible!!! All us kids used to hide when the van was sighted,and all you could hear was threats of what a hiding we will get when we do come out!

Other blue vans use to set up in Milton Park and show newsreels and films on a screen on the side of the van.

Many a time I watched soldiers and sailors and ladies dancing at the rotunda. Up on the centre stage there would be a big Royal Marines Band playing dance music. None of the Rock and Roll, I must admit. They did what they called the Jitterbug. I guess that could have been the start of it all, though!

One Saturday morning my Dad gave me a second hand "all steel" pedal car. I really loved that bloomin` thing. Can you imagine my feelings after just a few minutes playing in it, the Air Raid warning sounded (a continuous wailing). We all ran for the shelter. After the All Clear there was a gigantic lump of concrete about the size of a Volkswagon that had flown through the air from the tennis courts in Milton Park and landed right on top of my pedal car!!!!! Mr Hitler wasn't a popular man at all!!

My Dad was a master builder working in the Dockyard during the war. Being so young at the time of the Dunkirk evacuation I can only recollect snatches of conversations between Mum and Dad. I know he was terribly upset whilst working at Southsea Beach during that time. Crews of builders were employed erecting and repairing temporary scaffolding piers which were occasionally belted out of shape by very enthusiastic Masters in a hurry to unload troops and return to Dunkirk for more (IOW, Gosport and Hayling ferries all took part in that miracle).

Dad was quite upset that some of the dis embarking troops wre German POW`s " Taking up space some of our lads could have had the poor buggers"

I know during this time Dad was missing for days on end. We only saw him when He came home for a meal and a bath, Often interrupted by an air raid. Funny that, he`d never go down the shelter, ("they drove me underground in the first lot. If our lads can take it so can I.")

Ambulances and army vehicles just clogged the roads of Portsmouth for days. After a while we started to notice a lot of men in wheelchairs, Walking sticks were common. And to us small children not understanding, the sight of the terribly burnt features and shell shocked men terrified us. (To this day I feel ashamed of our reactions to these Heroes!) They were all dressed in a light blue suit, and mostly concentrated in the Cosham area.

We occasionally went Blackberrying? in Rat Lane. That is were I saw my first German POW. There was a camp at the rear of the Green Farm? in Copnor Rd. (I got quite socially disoriented on my last visit, (pissed!!) when I found a Pub there!). You see, some Nostalgic thoughts can give you an awful hangover!

Old Pop (Dad) was also involved in some other 'hush hush', at the time dirty decoy tricks. They were building a decoy Pompey out in Langstone Marshes, hoping German bomber crews were not too good at navigation I suppose (Like the yanks!!!!). Dad again used to come and go at very odd hours (work restricted by tides I guess?). And sometimes return with a sackfull of winkles and cockles, (You can still get them at a little house near the Old Mill Pub at Langstone). The girls used to use the lids off the winkles to emulate so film stars beauty spot!

Some Sundays we would walk to the Odeon Gaiety via the old Southsea Rail track (Devonshire Ave to Highlands or Albert Rds.). The skies around Portsmouth were cluttered with all sorts of aircraft coming and going. Strangely enough not many directly over Pompey, So the RAF must have kept `em off !! Whilst walking the track one day Mum and Dad were mumbling "Go on son keep it going, God bless you. You can make it son! An aircraft trailing smoke was heading inland "Poor little bugger" only to realize it was a bleedin` Doodlebug!!!! My first brush with the enemy occurred whilst helping my sister Cynthia (wilson) delivering news papers in Velder Ave. She said DoodleBug, I said something like `aw shit, keep running' and broke into a run (Pointless really now I think about it!). Gazing upwards at it, I Hit a cast Iron lamp post at approx. 38 mph. On awakening I felt a warm feeling down my leg (You guessed it!). My knowledge of current affairs at this time was mainly due to the Evening News! It was printed on a very thin newsprint which was duly cut into squares and nailed to the wall in the outside. Never in any sort of order of course! So hence my quite disjointed view of things important at the time.

After some raids whole areas of town looked quite pretty draped in thin strips of tin foil (Radar ??). Unlike school bullies of today in those days they always grew the biggest tomatoes! The result of thumping nine bells out of me when us kids raced out with bucket and shovel to collect horse poo!! only once I can remember obtaining the precious additive after a punch up. Quite proud I was of my half bucket of steaming poo! Blood nose and all!

Regards, Gerry Martin.