On the Home Front

On Remembrance Day, while I’m thinking about our veterans and our honoured dead, I’m also thinking of their families who were left behind and recognizing their sacrifices as well. And whenever I’m having a bad day, I think about my mother’s experiences during the war years and I marvel at her strength and resilience.

In 1941, my father volunteered for the Royal Navy Submarine Service. My mother was not happy that he had decided to join one of the most dangerous branches of the Navy but nonetheless in the summer of ’42, he sailed away aboard HMS Saracen. It would be three long years before she saw him again. Now she was on her own with three small children and one Scottish terrier.

My family lived in Monkseaton north east of Newcastle On Tyne. Newcastle was a shipbuilding centre and consequently a target of German air raids. After bombing the city, the planes would turn and head for home, dropping any remaining bombs before they reached the North Sea. When the air raid sirens sounded, my mother struggled to gather up the kids and the dog, a typically uncooperative terrier, to get to the safety of the shelter. Often times, the all-clear was sounding before she managed to reach it. On one occasion though they were there in record time. That particular night, the dog was the first member of the family to the shelter. It was the closest the bombs had ever come to our house. My mother said if there had been one more bomb, they would have been hit.

Looking after three kids by yourself is challenging at the best of times not to mention exhausting as well. On the days when my mother reached the end of her tether, she called her next-door neighbour who would take the kids off her hands for an hour. In that hour, she would hop on the bus and ride all around the town, just relaxing, ’til she had to return.

In August 1943, my father’s submarine, mortally wounded, was scuttled and the crew taken prisoner in Italy. Mum received a telegram stating that her husband was missed presumed dead. As she sat on the bed crying, my eldest brother tried to console her saying “Have a Craven ‘A’ Mammy.” (A doctor had prescribed cigarettes for her anxiety! Quite common in those days I believe.) She always believed that Dad was alive even when she started to receive her widow’s pension. For an entire year, she held out hope for his survival and was rewarded when she received another telegram confirming her suspicion that he was a prisoner of war. It would be yet another year before he finally returned home to his family.

In spite of it all, she preferred to remember the good times when friends and neighbours united to help one another in difficult circumstances. She always said the war brought out the very best in people. So when I think I’m having a tough time, I think of Mum and all the hardships she endured during the war. I see once more her warm smile and feel her comforting hugs, and I carry on.

Copyright 2017 Anne Corke

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