On Christmas Day 1944 my mother Peggy was in the Maternity Ward at the Royal Northern Hospital in Holloway, North London waiting for me to arrive. I was already two weeks overdue and the story goes that the midwives were gathering round the bed and pointing at my mum’s impressive bump saying ‘We know you’re in there. If you don’t come out immediately, we’re going to come in and get you!’
My Dad, Acting Sergeant 5256501 Frederick Day of the Worcestershire Regiment was at home at the time on embarkation leave prior to an overseas posting. He didn’t know it but it was to be Palestine.
On the 28th December at 3.05 in the morning I was born, thankfully without any intervention from the assembled midwives. Mum said I was induced by the Nazis who were dropping V2 rockets on to London. Arrangements had been made for mother and child to be evacuated to Dunmow in Essex but the weather was appalling, desperately cold with dense snow so Peg and Fred said we should take the risk and stay at home. The local ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Warden suggested that they should leave me, the newly born baby, in the air raid shelter at the bottom of the garden… “just in case!” My dad thought by ‘just in case’ the ARP man wanted to freeze me to death in a corrugated metal hut under two feet of snow so they put me in my cot in front of the fire in the kitchen covered by a shove ha’penny board. (If you don’t know what a shove ha’penny board is ask your granny.)
Just before lunchtime on the 8th January 1945 my dad went up the road to the local coal depot where he had worked before the war to see if he could scrounge an extra bucket of coal. I am sure as he went he was practising his line of patter… ‘Freezing cold, new born baby, mother still recovering, one bucket won’t hurt you etc etc’ but nobody can remember his speech because just as he was about to deliver it a V2 rocket, one of Hitlers ‘Vergeltungswaffen’, landed at the top of Sydney Road, about 200 yards from where I was fast asleep, in my cot, under a shove ha’penny board. The blast from 1 ton of Amatol high explosive blew down a row of houses and smartly removed our front door and most of the windows. It also brought the kitchen ceiling crashing down on top of me and my shove ha’penny board. I survived and so did the shove ha’penny board. The scrounged bucket of coal made it too.
By Christmas 1945 things had changed. The front door had been replaced along with the missing windows and the kitchen ceiling had been repaired. The War was over, Dad was in Palestine, driving a Bren Gun Carrier up and down the beach trying to control the growing number of Jewish refugees coming ashore and Mum and I finally made it to Dunmow in Essex. As for the shove ha’penny board it finished up where it had originally started, in a dusty cupboard under the stairs. What with COVID-19 flexing its muscles and the horror that is Brexit turning up in 8 days’ time maybe we should be getting the shove ha’penny board out ‘just in case’ and seeing if we can scrounge another bucket of coal. God bless us, everyone.
– from Martyn Day