At the start of the Second World War, my grandparents ran a fishmonger and greengrocers shop in Birkenhead. My Grandfather was also a fireman which meant he was not constricted into the army because being a fireman was a reserved occupation. Because my grandfather and grandmother were both at home during the war years they didn’t want their daughter, Beryl, evacuated to Wales as part of operation Pied Piper. This was despite Birkenhead being bombed heavily by the Germans because it was home to Camell Lairds and other industry contributing towards the war effort.
During most of 1940/41 my Grandmother would be down in the air-raid shelter with Beryl while my grandfather worked as a fireman putting out fires caused by the Blitz. The Blitz continued from August 1940 until May 1941 when the German raids diminished because Hitler turned his attentions towards Russia. The last air-raid in the area took place on the night of 10th January 1942 by which time 442 people had died in Birkenhead and a further 332 people in Wallasey.
In May 1941, Winston Churchill visited the area and said: “I see the damage done by the enemy attacks, but I also see the spirit of an unconquered people.”
My Grandparents and Beryl had survived the worst that Hitler could throw at them.
Despite the ending of the Blitz, the country was still at war and things were still difficult for the people of Birkenhead. My Grandparents had always wanted more children but decided not to because of the continuing war and even when the war was over, they knew there would be a long period of austerity while the country was rebuilt. Because of this, they threw all the love they had at their one and only daughter and sacrificed any thoughts of more children.
Then in May 1942, Beryl died from Diphtheria.
My grandparents were grief-stricken following her death. Made worse by her surviving all the perils of war only to succumb to an illness which most children would have survived even back in those days. However, she suffered complications which blocked her airways and she died.
My Grandparents changed their minds about having more children and more-or-less nine months later my Grandmother gave birth to twins – my mother and my uncle. The rest, as they say, is history. My mother went on to have three children – myself and my two sisters – and my uncle went on to have five children.
I have always wondered what Beryl would have been like. She would have been my Auntie, of course, and would have been around 80 years old now, if she were still alive. So, would she have been a kind old Auntie? How would she have liked her nieces and nephews? Would she have married and had children of her own? All questions I will never have an answer to.
Then the paradox hits me. If Beryl were alive then none of us would be here today. My grandparents would not have had any more children if Beryl had lived so I am here on this earth because she died.
It takes a little getting your head around that one.