The sounds of peace

Born in December 1936, Dad was eight years old on VE Day. Born five months later, Mum reached her eighth birthday on 1st May 1937, just a week before the day that marked the end of the war in Europe.

As is the case of any childhood memories, their recall of the war years has always been impressionistic.

Dad would recall with vividness his fear on VE Day. Living in Chiswick in west London, he had grown up with a familiarity with air raids. VE Day was marked with a cacophony of noise, church bells that had been silent were rung, there were celebrations in the streets, and the air raid sirens were sounded. Dad would recall rushing to hide under the kitchen table in the belief that the bombers had returned.

The sounds of peace for him were sounds without the drone of Luftwaffe aircraft, without the engine noise of a Doodlebug, without the bells of fire engines and ambulances in the night air, without the sound of ack-ack guns. For him, peace was the sound of oarsmen’s blades cutting the surface of the Thames, barges going down the river, voices of people playing games on the polytechnic sports ground. Peace sounded very different.

Mum grew up on a farm at Pibsbury, between Huish Episcopi and Long Sutton. If one had to pass a war anywhere, Somerset seemed a quiet spot: except that it was far from quiet.

Starting school in 1942, she remembers journeys by tricycle to the primary school on Long Sutton village green. The shortage of petrol meant there was hardly a vehicle to disturb the journey of the two eldest Crossman girls as they made their way to school. To transport things, my grandfather had a trailer he pulled behind a bicycle; work in the fields was done using a horse.

Sometimes, though, the silence of daytime would be broken by the rumbling sound of an army convoy. Dozens and dozens of green lorries would pass the two little girls as they rode schoolwards or homewards. Soldiers would call “hello” from the open back of canvas-roofed trucks.

More ominous than the trucks was the sound of aircraft, the naval air station at Yeovilton and the RAF station at Weston Zoyland were busy with operations. Aircraft from further afield would fill the nights with the sound of their journeys on a mission.

The sound of peace for Mum was Somerset returned to the place it had been.

Only when the former times are lost do familiar sounds become something for which to wish.

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