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Robert Frederick Morris's Personal Memories of WWII

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posted on 2024-06-05, 19:20 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

1. In 1942 I was 4 years old, my first memory is of myself and 3 siblings sleeping on the living room floor by the fire; I was nearest the fire and we lay in age order.

2. If the air raid siren went off we would be moved to the cupboard under the stairs; I would be put in first, then my next older brother, Alan, then Nicholas and sister Gwynnie, who was like an adult to me. Father was always working in munitions in Leicester and was an ARP Warden.

3. I only knew one grandparent, my paternal grandfather, John Charles Morris, born about 1870, who was totally blind and was crippled with arthritis, his legs were locked in a crossed position. When there was a siren he remained seated in his rocking chair, wearing his bowler hat for protection. When Mum asked him to go under the stairs he said 'I didn't move in the first war for the Kaiser, I'm not damned moving for that little corporal. His eyes were just white, milky discs. We got a radio through the RNIB for him. He'd been a miller / farmer.

4. My father was too young to fight in WWI and too old to fight in WWII, but my 3 uncles, Reginald and Ernest, who survived, and William Hubert, who died - allegedly without firing a shot; I was annoyed to discover, when I vivited his grave in Givenchy, Guards' Cemetery, Cuinchy, that his middle name was recorded as Herbert.

5. That air raid siren always terrified me; I was convinced that a German bomb was going to fall on my head - no matter how much mother tried to reassure me. I'm still affected now.

6. There was a child's piece of clothing called a 'siren suit'; I don't know why it was called that, but whenever Mother brought it out I used to go rigid. I think I must have associated it with the air raid warning.

7. The gas mask - I was born on 2/7/1938; as a child I had a child's mask. It had a floppy nosepiece, which I detested.

8. When I was 4 or 5 we lived in Stafford Street, Barwell and we were allowed to play out in the street. Mother always said that if the air raid siren sounded I was to run home as fast as I could.

9. She always warned us that if we saw a sweet lying on the ground I should leave it, as it could be a poisoned sweet thrown out by German aircrew.

10. Perspex - my friends and I used to scour the streets looking for perspex as it would, or could, be from a German 'plane. I never found any, but an older boy found a chunk slightly bigger than an old penny and we ere in awe.

11. Street games - Let's play war games. We would get our ideas from Movietone News, there was a vicious hatred of Germans among adults and children. We imagined we had Tommy guns and would mow down legions of imaginary Germans. We'd use crab apples as hand grenades. We never felt the same about the Italians or Japanese.

12. Allied to that, the Home Guard used to drill in the field at the top of our street and they dug a trench. We used to circle around through a neighbouring field and sneak up on the Home Guard in the trench and believed we had outwitted them.

13. I recall the school railings and pots and pans being given up to make Spitfires, but years later it transpired that it wasn't used as it was no good.

14. We were also encouraged to gather newspapers and magazines. Depending how many you recycled you got rank badges. I got to Sergeant, but my brother used to nick some of mine and he got to be a Captain.

15. When we were older and went out in the fields we were ordered to take jam jars with us and get blackberries, mushrooms and crab apples. Mum used to make blackberry vinegar, crumbles and she would fry the mushrooms and give us a slice of bread to mop up the gravy.

16. When the U.S. entered the war there were lots of Yanks and the local girls were looked down on for associating with them, but a friend of my sister's married an American soldier and went with him back to the US and had a very successful marriage. I was forbidden by my mother from begging for gum, but the other boys used to approach the US soldiers and say 'Got any gum chum?' She always said she'd flay me alive if I did it; but one day I did and was given a stick of Wrigley's and the sugar taste was like nectar.

17. In early 1944 I was playing out with friends when there was a huge clanking noise; it was an armoured column that stopped outside George Ward's factory in Stapleton Lane.
I believe they were on their way South for D-Day. I think they were probably Royal Tank Regiment or Royal Armoured Corps. Lots of women came out to give them cups of tea or a bottle of beer.

18. I mentioned my sister, Gwen, earlier; she was forbidden to associate with the Yanks, but when she was 18 she went to a local dance and met and became close to Fred Kelly, a lovely chap who was a rear gunner in a Lancaster. A message came through that he'd been killed and Gwen was crying; I was making fun of her and Mum threw me out and told me not to come back until she said so.

19. VE Day - we were playing out when an older boy ran up saying that the war was over and we'd won. He said we could have free rides on the fairground. We did, but in the evening you had to pay.


Item list and details


Person the story/items relate to

Robert Frederick Morris

Person who shared the story/items

Robert Frederick Morris

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

This story relates to the contributor.

Type of submission

Shared at Millennium Hall, Leicestershire on 17 September 2023. The event was organised by the Burbage branch of the Royal British Legion.

Record ID

106059 | BUR003