In my post .. “Too close for comfort” .. I referred to my dad “pottering about” in our back yard, which may have made some of you wonder why he was not “away at the front” like many of my young friends’ dads.
Well, my father was born the same year that Queen Victoria died, which meant that he was too old for military service when World War II started in 1939. It also meant that he missed conscription during the 1914-1918 War as he had just been ‘called-up’ when it ended. So you might say that he was lucky, which was true when it came to ‘The Great War’, but I’m not so sure when it came to the 1939-1945 conflict.
Even if my dad had not been too old to join the armed forces in 1939 he would still have remained a civilian because he was in what was referred to as a “reserved occupation”. He was a railway worker, and was required to help keep the trains running in the face of enemy bombing. He also volunteered for the ARP (‘Air Raid Precautions’, later renamed ’Civil Defence’) and served thoughout the war as a ‘fire guard’ in a ‘Civilian Fire Team’. During the London ‘Blitz’ his railway repair work took him into the heart of ‘The City’ where he must have seen some terrible sights.
Although my dad didn’t talk a lot about his war-time experiences, when he did it was usually in the form of amusing anecdotes, like ‘rescuing’ an old lady’s false teeth. He even made it sound funny when he recalled the time that he ran for his life when being machine gunned by a German aircraft.
I do, however, remember him recalling an incident when he was talking to a policeman during an air-raid. They said “goodnight” and went off in different directions. A few moments later there was an explosion in the direction which the copper had taken, and my dad rushed to the scene. All that he found was the metal number from the policeman’s uniform collar.
My father was awarded the Defence Medal, but he either didn’t know of his award or never bothered to collect it. Many years after his death it was sent to me from the Cabinet Office on behalf of The Home Secretary.
I was reminded of my dad when I read the following …
“… it was not unusual to find a man with several stars (campaign medals) who had never heard a shot fired in anger. Conversely, a man with only the Defence Medal who earned it, for example, whilst serving in the fire or rescue services in London or any other city subject to constant air attack, wears a medal worth having …. only the man who wears the medal knows how it was earned”.