I spent a great deal of time with my Grandfather when I was young. I used to go and spend my weekends at his house being totally spoilt and listening to some of the stories he would tell me when we were alone – or at least when my Grandmother was out of earshot. The stories he told me from his youth in Oldham and his years of running a shop in Birkenhead were always enthralling but I think my favourites were from the war. It always makes me laugh when I watch Only Fools And Horses on the telly because every time Uncle Albert mentions the phrase; “During the war…” everyone would run for cover fearing another of his war-time stories. I was the complete opposite and could listen to my Grandfather for hours.
During the war, my Grandfather had a reserved occupation and so could not be called up as his job was vital to the smooth running of the country. So my Grandfather volunteered as a fireman and after he finished work during the day he would head for the fire station in the evening to wait for Hitler to fly over and drop a few bombs on the shipyards of Birkenhead. I should imagine it was quite scary driving around trying to put out fires while bombs are raining down from above and everyone else was safe and sound in the air-raid shelters.
I have no idea why but my grandfather told me they always thought they would be alright as long as they kept moving. I suppose this was working under the assumption that a moving target was harder to hit. One day they were heading down Borough Road during a raid when they turned up towards Charing Cross. Just as they got to the top of the incline their fire engine spluttered to a stop and refused to restart. They were a sitting target out in the open not being able to move in the middle of Charing Cross. One of the other firemen, I assume to keep up morale amongst the firemen, suddenly announced; “Don’t worry, you will be alright as long as you’re with me”.
No sooner had he finished that sentence than a massive incendiary bomb went off over the other side of Charing Cross – roughly were my Grandfather’s fire engine would have been had they not broken down. From that moment forward, that fireman’s nickname was “Lucky” but more importantly my Grandfather was safe.
I used to think about this story a lot when I was young. If that fire engine had not broken down when it did, I would never had known my Grandfather. In fact, I may not have been here at all because my mother was born in 1943 and I am not sure if this happened before or after she was born.
So, I guess I am alive today despite the best efforts of the German Luftwaffe!
It does make you think about the consequences of a small action all those years ago and how many things would change if they had worked out differently.