My Story continues; you can read it from the beginning, starting here.
That July morning, three people were killed, and about thirty injured, by the bombing. What became clear, however, was that it would take more than Hitler’s bombs to break the community spirit; more raids followed, mainly at night. Archie, and all those like him, were put into a rota; the jokes about fire practice had now stopped. Across Britain, it wasn’t just a matter of ‘keeping the home fires burning’ (the ones in fireplace grates) but of putting out those started by air-raids.
As a fire-fighter, Archie soon became known for his cool head and amazing bravery; his RFC and RAF discipline seemed to kick in instinctively. He would make decisions based on need and safety (not always his own) in a split second, and work in co-ordination with others. Many victims of the raids owed their lives to him. And then, there was a part of his ethos for which some admired him, others criticised him: he could never just ‘walk away’ at the end of a gruelling night’s work. In his own time, in the following days, he would visit the hospitals, inquiring after the injured or burned victims he had helped to safety, especially children. It was a part of him; in the shipyard, or out of it, every job was his baby.
Official policy, of course, discouraged this; but how could a ward sister snub a man who had taken his life in his hands for the sake of one (or several) of her patients, probably several times on the same night, when he had scarcely had time to swill the smuts from his face?
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, war-time austerity was biting hard, but community spirit and resourcefulness ran high. A lot of presents were home-made; Archie’s friends and relatives did well, because he could make toys and other items from the ‘firewood’ he was allowed to bring home! He would joke, too, in an affectionate way, about the steady clicking of Jenny’s knitting-needles. They managed a little family party when Leslie got a few days’ leave, shortly before the end of the year.
And so life went on…
You can read part five here.