Fragments

As I was caring for my mother, Maureen Stow (née Jordan) in the final year of her life, she remembered being a child in Hull during the Second World War

Our north east coastal city of Hull, England, endured almost five years of bombing raids. It became the second most bombed city outside of London. An estimated 1,200 civilians were killed, 3,000 seriously injured and 152,000 made homeless. Ninety-five per cent of the city was destroyed or damaged.

My mother and my grandmother, Olive May Jordan (née Bertholini), were the only two members of our family at home. Olive’s husband, Alfred, my grandfather, had survived being shot in the First World War and was again a soldier at the front in France. Her brother, Harry Bertholini, was lost at sea, his boat torpedoed by a German U-boat. One son, Leslie, was serving in the Royal Navy. Daughter Kathleen was serving in the WAAFs. Olive’s youngest son, Ronald, was due to be called up. A day before he turned 18 he was gassed in a tragic accident at a Hull chemical works.

My mother was aged just four, and nine when the war ended. She wasn’t evacuated with other schoolchildren to the coast; Olive refused to let her go. So during the bombing raids they hid beneath the kitchen table or in the communal bomb shelter. Maureen remembered putting on her Donald Duck gas mask, the wurr-wurr of the Doodlebug bomb as it dropped from the sky and soot in the sugar bowl. They emerged from the bomb shelter to streets of broken homes and broken lives. Now I understood why she hated the howl of the wind, the clap of thunder, and was often afraid.

My grandmother died when I was five. She left no letters, no diary, no thoughts. Her knowledge of being a young woman during WW1 and a mother during WW2 died with her. I am left with fragments of how they lived, managed and coped with war and fear on their doorstep, and how they rebuilt in the aftermath. They didn’t tell me, and I didn’t ask, until it was too late.

With these fragments I piece together what is left.


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