I think it’s tougher to live through a war for an ordinary citizen than a soldier. A soldier in the battle field has little else to worry but about the next battle combined with his own fate. What’s more, a soldier always believes that the final outcome of the war can be influenced by his actions. Therefore he has a sense of participation and assurance to the results. However, for a civilian, a person detached from the field of action, there is nothing to do but to wait and hope.
Many would say this situation is far better than to risk life in the battlefield; however, my personal experience says that the feeling of inaction and helplessness that comes being a civilian is choking. There is nothing more depressing than listening to war news while being unable to influence its outcome in any significant way. I was suffering from stomach ulcer when the war had started and the military doctors had refused to accept me in the services.
It’s true that as a wartime civilian I actively engaged myself in health institutions, where serving the wounded gave a sense of contribution to the war efforts and belongingness to the conflict that had so deeply afflicted the lives of over 10 million people. The first phase of the war Although we had declared war upon Germany in ‘39, there was no feeling of anticipation of war or sense threat anywhere in London. No one really took the announcement any more serious than a brawl between two children (Wilson, 41).
I was a teacher in a boy’s school and the shining and exciting faces of children represented as if an exciting cricket match was awaiting then. Then everything suddenly changed. I heard with a growing sense of threat the advancements that belligerent German armies made through continental Europe Wood and Depster, 155). It was incredible how nothing seemed to stand before them. Belgium, Poland, France, each falling like a pack of cards before. And then the first bomb struck London in September ‘40.
So far I can recall, there was no panic, but a doomed sense of determination that we all felt, eager to carry out our own duties in the process (Fusell, 29). The local authorities had tutored us well on the use of gas masks and bunkers in times of raids. Blackouts were everyday event. Whenever there was a raid by German warplanes, which was daily, the entire city switched itself off, plunging everything in absolute darkness. It was a unique experience-a sense of thrill combined with dread as our warplanes rose high to combat the German bombers.
(Fusell, 15) I took shelter in a large bunker that was built in the back park. Many people, with a garden space in their home, had built Anderson shelter and stayed put there. Many like me, choose the public shelter. I don’t know about others, but just sitting there quietly with so many people around inspired me with comfort and security (Air Ministry, 16). Public shelters were less safe of course, and being of larger dimensions they were easily prone to attack. As it happened, unfortunately some of them were struck by bombs and many innocent lives were lost (Fusell, 15).
If anything this further resolved us to face the flying German menaces. Every morning when I left the shelter and moved through streets of London, smoldering buildings, shattered vehicles and running ambulances met the sight. I knew people had died during the German raids and it gave me a guilty feeling, having survived the night when many of fellow citizens could not. The bombing lasted for two full months and every day I followed the same routine of spending the night in the dark, blacked out shelter. After the end of bombing by end of October, I thought perhaps things would return to normalcy. I really wanted that.
The scarred face of London, the wreckage of buildings and lives lost filled me with disquiet. But as news came pouring in of German advances and expansion of war in Africa and Asia, I did not see any end to the conflict (Wilson, 65). The daily life had suddenly changed its character. In almost a complete reversal of the situation, the security, comfort and ease of former days were replaced by a continued sense of urgency and parsimony that pervaded the entire London Wood and Depster, 155). Gone were the days of daily parties, weekly sojourns, weekends at country houses, and the luxuriant English life style.
I had personally been only occasionally involved in these attractions, but as I used to travel from my school to home in the evening, music and revelry were heard from many of the pretty bungalows and houses-this was in the pre war day. It had all suddenly died out. Most of the men had left for war, and women had stepped out to fill the vacant positions Wood and Depster, 155). England did not produce sufficient quantity of food to meet its own requirements and imported most of the food grains and items for its consumption (Wood and Depster, 155).
Wartime conditions had severely restricted the food supply and we saw implementation of rationing system, where food was allocated through family quota (Gorrora, 71). I was never a glutton, but over the years, tea had become one of my daily requirements. With war, rationing and quota, tea vanished from the market. Other items of daily requirements-sugar, beef, and milk also became extremely scarce. No one complained of the scarcity, but everyone felt the pinch of it. After the London bombing I volunteered to join an emergency medical camp, which brought a constant engagement and action in my life.
But it was not the type of engagement I could cherish. Meeting severely injured men, women and children, soldiers who had lost their limbs or were dying due to diseases, gangrene and fatal wounds was an unbearable exercise for my will and personal stamina (Wilson, 71). However, despite my personal sense of despair, there was a rising hope within England that it would stand against the Axis powers and this hope in itself was a motivation enough for me to work in the hospital day and night. There were many nights in continuation when I hardly closed my eyes for an hour
Our hope and endurance finally paid off when after 5 years of bloodshed, the war finally culminated. We were already prepared by the general tidings for this news, but the immense relief brought by even this known information is indescribable (Wilson, 101). It appeared that after being buried alive for years, I had once again appeared on the surface, free to breath the fresh air, free to see the sun, free to live again. Reference Wilson, E. Dangerous Sky: A Resource Guide to the Battle of Britain.
Greenwood Press, 1995. 128 pgs. Wood, D. and Depster, D. D. The Narrow Margin: The Battle of Britain and the Rise of Air Power 1930-40. Hutchinson, 1961. 538 pgs. Air Ministry. The First Great Air Battle in History: The Battle of Britain, an Air Ministry Record of the Great Days from August 8th to October 31st, 1940. Garden City Publishing, 1941. 56 pgs. Fussell, P. Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World WarBook; Oxford University Press, 1990. 330 pg Burdett, Gorrara, C and Peitch, H. 1999. European Memories of the Second World War. Berghahn Books, 1999. 338 pg
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