A Memoir From The Home Front
By Martyn Cooper (b. 1961) from the tales of his parents and grandparents.
There is only one person still alive who has first-hand knowledge of my family’s experiences during WW2. That is my mother, who was born the day before Chamberlin returned from Berlin, proclaiming “Peace for our Time”, in 1938. I have put this memoir together with her help, but it is largely based on the tales both my parents and grandparents told me as I was growing up. As a young boy/teenager I was fascinated with what my family had lived through and was so glad that I have never had to experience “total war”. Like any aural history this is subject to the vagaries of human memory, but I have fact checked where possible.
The family’s situation at the outbreak of war
Grandad Cooper’s tale - a Conscientious Objector
My paternal Grandfather was a deeply religious man; a member of The Brethren church. His interpretation of the 10 Commandments and especially the commandment “Thou shall not kill” meant he could not in all conscience take up arms to fight. I don’t know what options he was given by the authorities, but he ended up having to work on the land to help produce food – a vital part of the war effort. [Incidentally, a generation down my father volunteered for the Royal Army Medical Corps for his National Service. He saw active service in what was then, in the 1950s, Malaya during the Malay Crisis.] So, a significant part of my Grandfather’s war, in addition to his school teaching, was spent travelling out to farms just outside London and undertaking the role of a farm labourer. I am proud that he took a principled stand even if it was not what I would have done in his place.
Grandpa Aylesbury’s tale - a reserved occupation and ARP
The role of strong women - Grandma Aylesbury & Grandma Cooper
Children in Wartime – Evacuations, Air-Raids and Adventure
Many of London’s children were evacuated during the war but my family did not participate in the Government organised evacuations. Instead for part of the war at least they went to stay with relatives in what were thought to be safer parts of the country. My Mum and her two younger siblings went down to South Wales and stayed with her father’s family. If my memory is correct there was at some point 17 people staying in a 2up/2down miners’ cottage (as needs must). Despite the hardship these were happy times with plenty of tales of fun had climbing the mountains above the village, picking wimberries. My father was not so fortunate, when he had been bombed out in London he was sent to stay with an uncle and aunt in Shirley, Southampton. Because of the docks and the railway infrastructure Southampton was also subject to heavy bombing. Another time they stayed with relatives in Bournemouth.
As you can tell from this account none of my immediate relatives saw military action during WW2. However, their lives were intimately affected by the war. In their own way they took a stand against Hitler and the evils of Nazism. I am tremendously proud of this part of my family’s history.
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