Flavour of the Month
We were all a bit racist during the war. We were allowed to say stuff you’d never be allowed to say these days. We hated the Germans, of course, but we didn’t like the French much either. To be fair, they didn’t think we were the flavour of the month; they accused us of running away at Dunkirk. That was a bit of a cheek, as they’d only been involved in two wars in recent history and they’d run away in both.
My Aunty Flo, a cantankerous old sow, who had been to France as a girl, said they lost the war because they have no proper standards. She used to rant on about the state of their toilets. ‘Nothing more than a hole in the ground.’ She didn’t like the fact that they drank wine and ate soft cheese, either. Mum used to argue with her and say that our toilets aren’t much better, being stuck at the bottom of a garden in a draughty, brick, outhouse, with a six-inch gap under the door and a flushing mechanism that had been used since Roman times. We had never eaten soft cheese, most of the stuff we got had an inch-thick, rind on it that was tougher than steel. Fritz used to say it was so hard, we should use cheese rind to make tank armour.
One day, Mr Churchill came on the radio to say, ‘The battle of France is over, the Battle of Britain is about to begin.’ That really spurred us on. We began to patrol up and down our street and any stranger was challenged and reported to the authorities; (the authorities being PC Barton who lived on the next street.) Fritz kept a list of people we considered to be suspicious. I can’t remember any name ever being struck off that list, even when we found out that the person in question was genuinely there on official business. One, nailed on, German spy, was actually the gas meter reader. What made him particularly suspicious was his black peaked cap and dark grey mackintosh. He also had a pair of round spectacles like Himmler, that he looked over the top of when he was jotting down information into his Gas Board book. To us, that was a dead giveaway, he obviously didn’t need glasses at all. He also carried a sack of shilling coins that he took out of the meters. We were convinced that he was sending it all back to Berlin to help buy more bombers.
Our patrols sometimes took us onto the street that ran parallel to ours. That’s where the Germans were, and we attacked them whenever we could, playing out our very own Battle of Britain. The enemy. lived on Fisher street, which proved they were Germans, as Fisher was a German name. I later found out that to them, we were the Germans, though that was mainly because we had Fritz whose surname just happened to be Fischer. They always complained that he should really be on their side with a name like that. When we attacked, he used to shout, ‘Aufgeben oder sterbento,’ (Give up or die.) They either did or didn’t, depending on whether we’d hurt them enough with our Angry Nade brick bombs, or our catapult bullets. Usually we won. There were more of us anyway, and we were tougher.
Some of the kids had mothers who worked at the munitions factory and they used to steal bullet casings when they visited in the lunch hour. One lad got hold of a real bullet, which he set off by hitting the thick end with a hammer. That brought the Home Guard out of their hut, pretty sharpish. I’ve never seen grown men look so scared, they all thought the invasion had started.
We all got into trouble over it, even though it was Rusty, Rod, the redhead lad from Fisher Street who fired the bullet. We were made to clean out the Home Guard hut for a fortnight. I was given pot washing duties because I was a girl. I was really offended by that, and when they told me I had to make tea for them in the evenings, I was furious.
So, me and Fritz hatched a plan. I peed in an empty tin…. It had to be me, because Fritz couldn’t aim his stream at it for more than two seconds. (Why are boys so hopeless at that? None of my brothers could keep their aim on the lavvy pan at home, Mum was always having to go down there with the mop.) Anyway, once I’d filled the empty spam-can, I tipped it in the tea urn and served up a brew. They never asked me to do it again. I can still see their faces as they lifted their tin mugs to their eager lips. ‘Christ, girl,’ said the sergeant. ‘This tastes like cat’s piss. Where did you learn to make tea, France?’
I was a bit worried about what I’d done afterwards, but Fritz said he’d read a book about a group of French Foreign Legion soldiers who were lost in the desert for two weeks and survived by drinking their own pee. Fritz reckoned they’d have been quite happy doing that as, if the sergeant was right, their tea tastes like cats piss anyway.