7/15/2012 12:01:00 AM Boy of the Blitz: Prescott man describes growing up
in London during WWII
Matt Hinshaw/The Daily Courier
Tony Beere shared his experiences growing up in London during the German Blitzkrieg attacks Wednesday at the Las Fuentes Resort Village.
Those aren’t lunchboxes the children are carrying – they’re gas mask cases. All London residents during World War II were exhorted to carry or wear gas masks at all times.
Lisa Irish The Daily Courier
As the Olympic flame makes its way to London in time for the 2012 Olympic Summer Games that start on Friday, children can be seen lining the way waving flags and cheering.
But 72 years ago in World War II, those children would have carried gas masks in cardboard boxes strapped to their backs and been in trouble if they didn't go straight home each afternoon from the underground shelter at the school that they spent their days in, said Tony Beere, a Prescott resident who spoke about what life was like as a 7-year- old boy in the small village of St. Paul's Cray during the Blitz on Britain.
"Right now, London is getting all decked out in its finery for the 2012 Olympics that start in a matter of days, but 72 years ago the place was nothing but rubble," said Kent Jewell as he introduced Beere Wednesday during a presentation at Las Fuentes Resort Village in Prescott.
On Sept. 3, 1939, Beere said he was with his parents at a seaside resort in Kent on the coast of England.
"War had been declared at 11 o'clock that morning," Beere said. "That meant that what we saw was a squadron of aircraft flying across to France. Well, we immediately came back home and the first thing we heard were the air raid sirens going off."
People prepared for war, and that included setting up air raid shelters, Beere said.
"If you earned under five pounds (about $7.78) a week, you got the air raid shelter free; if you earned over five pounds a week, you had to pay seven pounds for them," Beere said.
Beere's family had an Anderson shelter - resembling a small steel shed - in the yard that was covered with earth to absorb the impact of any bombs. Beere's wife, Anne, who passed away last year, lived just two miles away during the war and had a Morrison shelter inside their house that was made of steel and used as a table. "When the air raid siren went off, you went underneath and it had wire mesh all around," Beere said. "And as long as you didn't get a direct hit on your house, they were very safe."
In July 1940, Adolf Hitler commanded the bombing raids to begin in London and other major cities before the Nazis planned to invade, Beere said.
"I have vivid recollections of the daylight raids with hundreds of planes going across the sky, bombing, and the damage in London," Beere said.
Beere said his wife, Anne, told him about a time she was playing outside with another child when an aircraft came machine-gunning at them, and a woman in the house across the road dragged the children into the house to safety.
That same woman was killed one night when a bomb destroyed her home, Anne told Beere. The blast blew out the windows in Anne's home while she and her brothers were sleeping in their shelter, and the brothers slept right through it, Beere said.
At that time, many children were being evacuated from London and nearby villages, Beere said.
"We had trainloads of kids moving out from London. Some went to the far north of London. Many went up into Scotland into safer areas," said Beere, an only child. "It wasn't compulsory; it was a decision your parents made for you. I stayed with my parents the whole time during the war."
When the daylight raids finally came to an end, the London Blitz started on Sept. 7, 1940. For 57 straight days the Nazi Luftwaffe bombed London and the surrounding area, killing more than 40,000 people and destroying and damaging over a million homes.
Las Fuentes resident Goodwin Berquist asked if the bombings affected them greatly in their little village, and Beere replied they did.
"We had to carry those gas masks at all times. They were hot and terrible, but they were necessary," Beere said. "Thank goodness, we never had to use them.
"One of the things we used to do as kids those days, we used to go around collecting all the shell casings, and pick up the shrapnel from the bombs," Beere added.
During the blitz, Beere said he spent every night sleeping in the Anderson shelter in their yard with his dog, Peg.
Beere said his father worked the night shift as a nurse at a local hospital, and his mother slept in another shelter right next to his with a neighbor woman to keep her company.
School continued during the war, but mostly in an underground shelter, Beere said.
"When the air raid sirens would go off, we'd go down into the long tunnels with pallets on the floor because they got very damp from all the rain," Beere said. "We got the three Rs - reading, writing and arithmetic. Couldn't do to much else down there."
Beere said his mother cooked at the school canteen, and they'd make soup and sandwiches for the kids to eat in the shelter during lunch.
When the all-clear sounded, the school day was over and teachers would tell students to go straight home, Beere said.
"Of course, 9- or 10-year-old kids didn't want to go straight home," Beere said. "A good friend of mine about two months older than me, we'd go up into the woods to go climb a few trees. I must have given my parents nightmares, wondering 'Where are you?' But you know what boys are like."
Although everything was rationed and the ration books were extremely important, Beere said he never went hungry because his mother had a garden and his father raised chickens and rabbits.
"During the war we never saw an orange or a banana, and there were no candies. Not until the American troops came over did we get chocolate," Beere said. "Our ration was a little square of meat for two weeks, but England being an island nation, fish was never rationed. We used a pickling thing to put eggs in that you could keep eggs in there for six months."
The concentrated bombings on 16 cities continued until May 16, 1941, when the Nazis decided against invading England, and focused on invading Russia. Still air attacks continued up until the end of the war, Beere said.
"I didn't understand everything that was going on," Beere said. "As a kid you saw it differently from an adult. It was a game until it got close, and then it got extremely scary.