This is my only memory of the war. I wasn’t a soldier, I wasn’t a warden, I wasn’t even a shop keeper. I was a six year old child living with my parents in North Belfast. The year was 1941, the day was Easter Tuesday. We weren’t a rich family but during the war, who really had anything? Our chocolate eggs on Easter were actually only eggs that my fathers chicken had laid. We couldn’t afford chocolate, nobody could. There were no rations for sweets and candy, only the essentials. I believe I would remember this day forever even if it weren’t for the tradgedy that occurred. That day my mother brought each of her children, all 6 of us, an orange home. I’d never had an orange before, normally for Christmas I got an apple, they cost less. It was the sweetest thing I’d ever tried, I’d never tasted anything quite so sweet before. I thought it was the best day ever. That night we sat around the wireless radio listening to the news and waiting for the bedtime story to be read out. There were no lights on anywhere due to the blackouts. Wardens walked the dark streets every night to make sure there was no sign of life. You see, if there were any lights on the enemy would know there was a town below and that would be fatal. During the day however, it was impossible to hide a town.
What happened that night will live with me forever. My father always told me not to worry about the enemy bombing Belfast. Northern Ireland was so small in comparison to England that he said the enemy wouldn’t waste their bombs on us. I remember earlier that day, round about 3.30pm when my eldest brother Robert came home from the football match. I think Linfield were playing at Windsor Park. Robert told us that they had all seen one single German plane circling overhead but nobody had responded to it. My father told him not to worry and it probably only looked like a German aircraft. That must have been what the Government thought as well, and boy oh boy... they were wrong.
The radio presenter had almost came to the end of his story when the air-raid sirens went off. None of us knew what to do, there were very little shelters around Belfast and my father, being as proud as he was, decided to let others less fortunate than us take our places. We hid under the stairs. The noises were deafening, the screams were soul destroying. The panic that broke out in Belfast was horrifying. Nobody could have imagined this. I remember thinking that we will be safe because Percy Street was out of the way and small. I guess I can be wrong sometimes as well. A few moments later, our entire house shook. No-one in my family made the slightest sound, there was no crying or screaming. No last words, if you came into the house you would have doubted that anyone was there because the silence from our close family was impenetrable. We found comfort in each others silence. After a while, the good Lord only knows how long, the bombs seemed to stop and a hush fell on our city. My brother David left the stairs first, he went to look at the damage. This is the part of this story that will be burnt into my memory forever. David turned to tell us something, yet we will never know what it was because as he turned with a smile on his face, our entire house exploded. Brick, glass and wood were thrown about like they weighed nothing. There was a thunderous noise as the ceiling collapsed and rained slate upon us. Even then I could have sworn the area was in complete silence. Maybe the noise of the bombs stopped my hearing for a while. I don’t know but watching this demolition of our home seemed to be a silent movie. It didn’t feel like it was happening to me but to someone else. It wasn’t our family pictures being smashed but it was theirs. It wasn’t our belongings burning in the rubble but someone elses. I couldn’t believe this was happening to us.
Eventually the sirens went off again to tell us the end had arrived. I found out later from the news that this would have been roughly 5am. My father took me by the hand and we walked to where our front door once stood, a door that locked the badness of the world out, a door that could never have stood up to the evil that descended upon our little family. There was no Percy street anymore, there was only rubble and fire. There were bodies in amongst the rubble but the street was deadly quiet. It felt like a graveyard rather than the street I once played in. There were no birds chirping, there were no dogs running around scavenging for food. The only thing you could hear was planes. I remember looking up to the sky to find the planes. It didn’t take long as they stood out like a v of black swans in the blood red sky. There were 7 of them in total, I don’t know much more than that.
My youngest sister Anne came up to us and with the innocence of a child asked “Is it over now father? I’m hungry”. My father just looked at her and smiled and the final thing I recall about this memory is what my father said to me (which I later found out was a quote from an Eric Hoffer): “How frighteningly few are the persons whose death would spoil our appetite and make the world seem empty.”
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