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BLOG: Life During Uncertain Times in WWII Britain

One thing upon which we can all agree--the past year and a half has been the 21st Century's first major year of "uncertain times". The Coronavirus outbreak created a fear of catching and fear of spreading, not completely understanding how to handle it, and the intense spreading of the disease had everybody uncertain and unsure of ordinary activities: giving hugs, shopping, going to the doctor, placing loved-ones in nursing care facilities...

I could go on and on. While growing up, my parents told me about their experiences in World War II. My father served in the Pacific, and my mom was a young unmarried woman, having to work to support her widowed mother. Those days were uncertain and for many people, absolutely terrifying.

With WWII in mind, I want to introduce this week's guest, author Keith Stuart. This week, we'll begin with his bio and move on to his blog, covering some of WWII's extremely "uncertain times--specifically the uncertainty of sending one's children away to protect them.

Keith Stuart, Author

Keith taught English for 36 years in Hertfordshire schools, the county in which he was born and has lived most of his life. Married with two sons, sport, music and, especially when he retired after sixteen years as a headteacher, travel, have been his passions. Apart from his own reading, reading and guiding students in their writing; composing assemblies; writing reports, discussion and analysis papers, left him with a declared intention to write a book. Pied Piper is ‘it’. Starting life as a warm-up exercise at the Creative Writing Class he joined in Letchworth, it grew into this debut novel.

Pied Piper Blurb

In September 1939 the British Government launched Operation Pied Piper. To protect them from the perils of German bombing raids, in three days millions of city children were evacuated - separated from their parents.

This story tells of two families: one whose children leave London and the other which takes them in. We share the ups and downs of their lives, their dramas and tragedies, their stoicism and their optimism. But. unlike many other stories and images about this time, this one unfolds mainly through the eyes of Tom, the father whose children set off, to who knew where, with just a small case and gas mask to see them on their way.

Living In War-Torn Britain

by: Keith Stuart

My novel Pied Piper does not really feature the blitz but it touches on the experience of living for months in fear of having one’s home, place of work or family destroyed in a way that no one had experienced before. The millions who died in the First World War, the ‘Great War’, the ‘war to end all wars’, did so, largely, on the battlefield. But the frightening new feature of WWII was that being a civilian was no protection against being directly part of the war and the possibility losing one’s life.

In 1939, when war was declared, the Government of the day was immediately fearful that the German air force had the capability to drop bombs directly on London and other key cities. Planning must have been going on for some time because, within weeks of the war starting, hundreds of thousands of children were evacuated, away from the cities to the countryside. Instructions were given for parents to deliver their children to a particular station where they would be loaded up and transported to … somewhere. Parents had no idea where that might be: they remained and set about blacking out their windows, criss-crossing the glass with tape to limit the shattering, creating shelters in their gardens and under their stairs. In London, if they couldn’t get to the underground stations in time when the sirens went off, then they were to shelter at home, like families in places like Hull – the city which suffered the greatest destruction in the blitz.

I remember in the 1970s, during the Cold War, leaflets were distributed, and grim films were released, explaining how we could protect ourselves in the event of a nuclear attack by painting our windows white, hiding under a table, under the stairs, or, at worst, under a door frame, with a brown paper bag over our heads! Schools were designated as hospitals or food distribution sites and headteachers provided with hotline phones for early warning and told they would be armed to prevent people stealing water from the bins that would be provided. It is, and was, laughable and it’s hard to imagine how whoever thought up what was presumably designed to reassure couldn’t see that it actually exposed the hopelessness.

But the evacuation, and the advice regarding shelters in WWII, were realistic and useful. It must have been unbearably frightening at first, though, I imagine, almost routine after weeks and weeks of it, when the sirens began to wail. Many of the bombs rained down and destroyed whole areas with their own destructive powers and the ensuing fires, but post war streets could be seen where just one house was destroyed, or where a house became the new end of terrace, now propped up with great wooden trusses. People in the cities saved their lives by huddling in Anderson and Morrison shelters, in cramped cupboards under their stairs or crammed onto the platforms of their nearest underground station. Whole nights would be spent wrapped in coats and blankets, with crying babies, fearful children, often managed by women whose men had been called up.

As is often the way in times of trouble, stories of friendship and camaraderie, kindness and stoicism emerged. 2020 has provided us with similar examples, but the sheltering in the Blitz must have been a noisy, fiery but strangely social and shared experience as opposed to 2020 which has been for many a rather silent, solitary one.

Connect with Keith

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*This novel is free to read with #KindleUnlimited subscription.*

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