Chapter 8, Pt 1 of 6
WAR TIME INCIDENTS
The battle of Britain started with vengeance. Wave after wave of German bombers thundered over us every night. Often the sky looked grotesque with the glitter of the strong penetrating searchlights, and the noise of the gunfire was deafening. These monsters of destruction were really heading for London, but it was possible that they might decide to drop some of their load over us. In fact our anti-aircraft guns were used continuously to drive them back or to bring them down before they reached the city. Many a fierce battle was fought over us while we hid in our shelters like primitive cavemen and women, hoping and praying that they wouldn’t drop their load on us.
How selfish one becomes when there is a real danger to one’s life. But no, this is not true of all people. Let me not forget the wonderful examples of self-sacrifice of so many men and women at that time. The Civil Defence personnel, the St. John’s and Red Cross men and women. The nurses and doctors, the fire watchers, the men behind the searchlights and the anti-aircraft guns, and even the servicemen and women everywhere. They were all facing danger at every hour of the day. They were doing that to ensure that the others, especially the women and children, might remain safe. What a wonderful spirit of self-sacrifice they had.
Some of the raiders used to escape through the searchlights and gunfire and rush towards London. But even then we couldn’t relax. We knew they, at least quite a number of them, would come over us on their return journey and would empty their remaining load indiscriminately. They meant to cause panic and fear in the small as well as in the large towns.
We had to shift our sleeping quarters from the well-furnished bedrooms to the shelter in the garden. It was a tight squeeze for five of us to sleep there. Mary the maid occupied the top bunk, and the children the bottom one, and Sheel and I slept on the bed made up every night by spreading an old mattress and the bedding on a thick mat on the door. Often I found one or two black beetles crawling over me during the night. That reminded me of my old home in India where these creepy crawly things are so numerous. But one can never get accustomed to them. I knew very well that they are harmless, and yet believe me, after finding one crawling over me I could not sleep for hours. What a relief it was to know that there were no deadly snakes and scorpions in England.
One evening a bomb fell only a few yards away from our back garden. Fortunately the only occupant of the bungalow, which had the direct hit, was an elderly lady who had, on a strong impulse, decided to spend that weekend with her daughter. There were certainly some miraculous escapes during that time.
Another day a time bomb fell and got buried in a back garden of a house not very far from us. A few voluntary workers got busy unearthing this deadly giant before it exploded. Suddenly there was a terrific blast and two of the men were lifted bodily and went up in the air, but lo and behold, within a few minutes they were down again suffering only from severe shock.
I recall a very alarming and somewhat amusing incident of that time which occurred in the road opposite to us. The panic started when a few people in that road spotted a parachutist slowly but surely making his way down towards them. As he came nearer to the ground it became visible that he was a German parachutist.
Someone ran to call the police, but the most amusing and never-to-be-forgotten part of the incident was when this unfortunate German soldier touched the ground, he found two ladies waiting for him. One was holding a cup of tea and the other pointing a large sharp knife towards him. What a vivid example of the diversity of human nature.
We had a terrible scare when one of the air-raid shelters in the next town had a direct hit and the whole family was buried in it and lost their lives while their home and precious belongings remained almost intact. That was no consolation to them. But even this shocking incident did not deter us from sleeping in our shelter.
One night we were awakened by the sound of heavy footsteps up our concrete path. Who could that be? It might be a German parachutist. I at once started picturing him with all his equipment and armament. The thought of him was so horrible that I simply held my breath. In the meantime the man reached the small opening of our shelter, the door of which could be pushed open.
“Are you there doctor? I am from the police. I have come to tell you that there is a lady in distress who needs your help badly. It is a maternity case doctor.”