Christmas ‘Get Together’ at Joan’s
December sometime in the 1980’s
“Tea anyone,” Aunty Joan stuck her head through the kitchen hatch and announced to the tightly packed room. “Over here Dick and George are dying for a cup’pa”. Val calls back. “I’ll come and help you these two have started on the War again.” Val squeezes out from between the two old veterans and picks her way through the heaving mass of Children squirming on the floor. “I didn’t hear anyone mention ‘The War’, John I bet it was you.” Robin remarks sarcastically “What’s that not the Martello towers on the Romney Marshes again?” Peter says looking up from the family tree unfurled in front of him. “That’s your Great Aunt Beet do you remember her she worked in the Coop in Lee Green.” “Two sugars in mine Val.” John chimed in from under a mass of giggling humanity. “Its time to go for a walk isn’t” Robin gestures putting an imaginary pint to his mouth. “Good idea any one for a walk, leave us old solders in piece.” Dick interrupts his story to direct the many children in front of him out of the room to get ready for a walk.
It was the annual ritual at Aunty Joan’s Christmas ‘DO’ after a luncheon of cold meats and salad. One of us usually Cousin Robin suggest that we take the children out for a walk. Robin always suggests that we are going to a Pub for a drink but we never do, somehow we respect Aunty Joan’s Tee Total principals. Usually after much confusion we get the show on the road with assorted numbers of off spring, anything between ten and twenty assorted Smith’s and Spencer’s. “Usual route then Mottingham Lane Robin?” John asks. “Yes and we can pop in the Porcupine.”
Field Hospital some undefined area on the French Belgium border area 1940
“Ok, chaps the situation is this Jerry is over the other side of that hill and will be on us by dawn tomorrow, I have orders to evacuate the walking wounded on all available transport then ask for volunteers to stay with the critically wounded and surrender to first advancing troops.” “Under the Geneva convention all medical staff and wounded to be left unmolested in areas of conflict”. “I will be leaving with the transports the rest of you are to make track as best you can, I will leave maps and supplies for those who volunteer to stay to the last.” “Corporal Smith your go can up the road as spotter while we evacuate.” “What do I do if Jerry comes throw stones at him?” “Don’t be daft man, let us know.” “You’ll know sir if you see a cloud of dust disappearing down the road in that direction it will be me followed by a Jerry tank.” “OK! Smith that’s enough.” “Sir, what’d we do with map cut it in little pieces and share it out among us and hope we’ve got the bit marked ‘ome?” “Still here Smith?”
“They never came you know Dick the officers left us to surrender and the Jerry’s never turned up, so we hung about for a day and then left the Padre with the dying and legged it into the woods” .The story was being related by Uncle George to Dick while they sat in the now quiet room after the mob had finally left for their walk. “Days we were on the run, nicking eggs and bread from the local farms, finding a barn to hide in during the day then moving on over night.” “While you were over there we had to do basic training on Salisbury Plains, that’s before we took over at Dymchurch on the Romney Marsh”. Dick added his bit to the story. “Dick is Rene OK there?” Joan asks “Rene you alright thought you might have quietly died on us for a minute.” George interrupted. “Is little Oliver here, you know little Oliver Cromwell.” Rene wakes up and realizes that the kids aren’t in the room any more. “They are out on a walk with Robin”. Dick shouts across the room to where Rene is sitting. “All right Dick no needs to shout”. Rene replies “Tea Rene”. Joan is standing with a large tray full of an assorted collection of cups. “Lovely thanks.”“Leave them to their stories we can talk about the kids”. Joan goes and sits with Rene. Val, Trix, Susan, and Maureen join the circle and start comparing notes on the grand children.
Hythe Kent 1940
“Halt” the squad of young soldier’s stops as instructed in front on the railway station. “Here Smugger seen this train, they must be joking?” It was Chalky he’d just seen the miniature train pulling into the station. The Engine was buried under sheets of steel amour plating and there was a small gun mounted on the last carriage. But the soldiers manning it appeared to be too big for the train. “It’s toy town.” “Shut up you lot that’s your transport so get in those carriages.” “Move over Smugger I got to get a rifle in there”. Chalky was trying to squeeze into the tiny compartment that was built as a fun ride for tourist. The men had to crouch to get into the carriage then ,the taller men had to tuck their knees under their chins. With their equipment squashed between them. “‘Ere hope this isn’t a long journey. Sarg’ got a tin opener to get us out the ‘uver end?” Dick was making fun of the situation.
Fortunately they only went one stop to Dymchurch. “All out! This is home for you lot for the foreseeable lads, look lively.” The sergeant major was ushering his men of the train and getting them in order out side the station. “Fall in.” The squad formed up and marches off towards the sea front. “Here’s your new ‘ome lads.” “It’s a bloody Lighthouse”. Dougy exclaimed “Where’s the bloody light then?” Chalky quipped “It’s a dark house that’s what it is.” They are in front of a squat round tower that looked like a truncated lighthouse. It is obviously some form of ancient fortification the rendering on the side had large chunks miss. “It’s a Martello tower Chalky, built to keep the bloody French out during the Napoleonic war must be 150 years old.” Dick was showing off his history. “Bloody hell how do we get in?” Chalky was looking at the featureless face of the tower in front of them. High up one side was the only door with one precarious metal ladder bracketed to the side further up where two small slit windows. “OK! Lads there is another way in through that bunker the sappers have up graded it for your comfort. Wellingtons men only had a wooden ladder that the pulled up behind them, you lot of softies, have it cushy.” The Sergeant replied. “You should know Sarg. You were there”. “Lets get to it this place is a mess.” The sergeant was ordering the men as the explored there new billet.
Later after they had settled in they had to clear the roof area so that they could mount the ‘Bren Gun’ and set up a sand bag redoubt. The flat area on the roof was covered with large pebbles thrown up from the beach in a recent storm. They started shoveling them over the side but soon turned the activity into a game trying to see who could hit an old tin stuck in the sea defense. The beach was a mass of barbed wire and steel obstacles in which the sappers had planted mines, some of these had already been washed out and lay dangerously exposed on the shingle. “What are you lot up to?” The Sergeant shouted up the stairs. “Just a bit of————–, Dicks reply was interrupted by a resounding explosion. The hollow tower shook, seconds later the sound of pebbles clattering onto the roof, then a second and a third explosion. The roof party flew down the stair adding to the noise and confusion. More pebbles rattling on the roof. “Christ you lot back to that gun we are under attack.” “No Sergeant. Smugger has hit a mine on the beach.” Chalky quipped from his prone position on the floor. “Luck none of us was killed.”
“It took us hours to get that roof ready for the gun after that we where on fatigues for a week he had us polishing the brass stair rails and painting all the curbs out side the tower.” Dick was well into his second cup of tea by now. “George do you want a sausage roll just heated them up for the kids when they get back.” Trix emerged from the kitchen with a plate loaded with hot sausage rolls. “Thanks I won’t say no.” George was looking at the family tree that Peter had left lying on the table. He had been researching the family for a few years and had managed to trace the Smiths back to a village in Lincolnshire, and was busily looking into the other branches of the family. He had been all over the country looking up distant Aunts and Uncles. “We got to Switzerland before we where caught by the Germans you no Dick”. George said as if he hadn’t heard the story before.
A group of young soldiers where squatting behind a hedge overlook a river it was the best cover they could get in the flat lands they found them selves. On the other side of the river Lorries where hurrying towards the smoke arising around the town. George crawled down to the river he had been volunteered to swim to the Swiss side. He was the only one who could swim. Its flowing to swiftly I’ll be swept downstream if I try, we need to find a boat. George dodges back to the others only to find they have moved back to their makeshift camp in the woods. “Halt” George is greeted by a German infantry officer and a small patrol of men. “We have been waiting for you; you took our chickens last night that was our supper.” “Sorry George they were waiting for us when we came back for our packs.” Rob apologized. “Enough move.” Thus George’s started his life as a POW.
“The way those two go on you’d think we didn’t live through the same war back home.” Joan interrupted the story tellers, “You weren’t around when Blackheath village took a direct hit from a Rocket”.