Wednesday, August 20, 2014

WWII: History or Too Close to the Present?

by Elisabeth Marrion

Why write about World War II in the History section? When does the present stop and history start? 100 years, 150 or as little as 50 years. Who decides?

I have asked the same question on relevant Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Linkedin sites. The common belief is, yes World War II is now classed as History.

Strange that, because in World War II History we can still ask some of the people who experienced it first-hand. No need to only rely on the internet search engines, libraries or reference books. Even at school if the history teachers are so inclined he or she could still invite a member of the public for a live debate. There are many who would love to share their stories, I am quite sure. I hope we don’t miss the only chance we have and go right ahead. Ask them: ‘What was it like where you lived? Did you run and hide in an air raid shelter just like Annie and her family did in Liverpool Connection? Your building--was it destroyed? What about rationing? What about everyday life? Was there such a thing? Did you go to school? Were you evacuated?' And the biggest question of them all, and yes we can still ask this directly today although it is 70 years since end of the war, 'Did you go to war? Did you have to fight?’

My novels are all about that time in our history. It is a time still close to me although I was born in 1948. But it is more complicated than that. My mother was a German war widow, her husband, a young officer, fighting under Field Marshal Rommel. My father however, was a Lieutenant in the RAF.

Liverpool Blitz: This is the name now given to the air raids carried out on the town. It was the heaviest bombed town outside London with a total number of 4,000 lives lost. Second only to London which suffered a loss of 30,000.

The first air raid on Liverpool was carried out the night of 28/8/1940. Liverpool was attacked by one hundred and sixty bombers, and the raid continued for three further nights just when most families of evacuated children were debating whether they should come home. By now the mothers believed the government had acted too hastily with the order to send children from possible target areas to safety in the country. The attacks on Liverpool continued relentlessly for three months, the most memorable being the Christmas Blitz which started on the 22nd of December 1940. ~

“Is it a false alarm again?”
“This one is for real, Annie! Grace, give me your David. Come on you, hurry along now.”
“I can’t see anything”
“Yes, we can, look.”
A flush of bright light through the corridor window. They stopped in their tracks. The light was followed by an ear-splitting noise, and the building seemed to move.
“Hurry, Hurry, Hurry, to the shelter, now!” shouted the warden. Jeffrey and Grace ran past Annie and were already out of the door. Dorothy still clinging to her mam.
Outside on the right side, a fire was burning. The heat made Annie take a step back. She covered her mouth with her hand, trying to avoid choking.
“Dorothy. Run!” She managed to shout before she started to cough.
Aircraft noises drowned out Annie’s instructions. She hurried after Dorothy. A whistling sound, silence, then a massive boom, which seemed to be really close by. The earth shook under her feet, and Annie hit the ground, dropping Derek as she fell.
“Derek!” Nobody heard Annie’s cry for help. She was alone, flat on the ground, unable to move. From fear or shock, she did not know, but her legs refused to carry her weight. Burning rubble near to where Derek had fallen.

My father’s (Joseph) first assignment in England (after a spell in Hong Kong) was manning one of the towers in July 1940 when planes were spotted off the channel and Portsmouth harbour was under attack. Later he was on one of the crews of 227 Lancasters and 8 Mosquito bombers on a raid on Hildesheim (my home town). It was destroyed in a 15 minute raid on the 22nd of March 1945. My mother (Hilde) on the ground, ran for her life, trying to protect her family and friends. They survived.
After the end of the war, only just over one month later, Joseph volunteered to be stationed there since it was now in the British Zone. He helped in rebuilding the town where met my mother.

“Have you seen that English soldier outside Hilde?”
“What soldier?”
“The one across the road, see over there, he is lighting a cigarette. He has been here before, he keeps looking at you.”
Hilde walked over and stood next to Maria, who had moved the curtain for a better view.
“No, Maria, he is looking at you.”
“Hilde, go and ask him for a cigarette.”
“Maria, we don’t smoke.”
“He does not know that.”
“But I don’t speak English.”
“You can say Cigarette, please, don’t you?”
“Of course. But why?”
“Hilde, I know it’s hard, but we are running out of supplies and have very little left we can trade with. We can get butter for a few cigarettes. Plus, despite your old clothes, you look lovely, please go and ask him.”

Their story is told in my books The Night I danced with Rommel (in English and German) and Liverpool Connection. I am now working on the third book, Cuckoo Clock.

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