Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bright Summer - Dark Autumn by Robert Barltrop (Waltham Forest Libraries and Arts Department 1986)

And, in the height of the summer, the 'red' air-raid warnings began in the daytimes. There was a siren on the island in the road junction near us, at the top of a very tall grey post. At the shop we heard the deep metallic growl as it started up, rising to the harsh wail which went on for a couple of minutes. People scurried away, and the shops closed; the streets were nearly empty by the time the siren finished sounding. Nothing happened. As a reminder that it was not a meaningless warning, bombs were dropped on Croydon and killed sixty-two people. Sometimes on cloudy days when the warning was on we would hear the throbbing of an aeroplane engine, hidden and persistent as if hovering not far away.

Yet, in this threatened state, normal activities and recreations went on. On their afternoons off the shop assistants were going to the West End to see Gone With the Wind (they said it was too long - we were used to films which lasted an hour and a half). The dance bands and comedy shows on the radio: Jack Warner playing the Cockney soldier in 'Garrison Theatre', Robb Wilton, 'Itma' with its fund of catchphrases; Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters singing 'Bei Mir Bist du Schoen'. Pubs flourished, as did dance halls. There was said to be a boom in reading the classics of English literature, and I suppose the black-out nights were an opportunity which many people had previously lacked for reading. The book I remember from those weeks before the Blitz was a paperback novel called This Bright Summer. Several of my friends were reading it; it was well written, and passionate in places, and in my mind it belongs to the summer of 1940.

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