Gillian Howard was only 7 when the Second World War started; it was a chain of events that didn’t just wreck her childhood but many others. The observer got the chance to interview her as part of our elderly season.
I came into the warm living room for this interview and my surrounding are of ornaments and glass statues. This is because my grandmother, Gillian, is an antique collector, so to start this interview I nuzzle myself into the infamous black leather sofa ready for the interview. My grandmother entered, I immediately stand up for this is how you treat the elder generation, with respect. I greet her and I sit back down ready to question her.
I firstly ask her to just say a few interesting points that are important. She says she was born 1932 so was only 7 when the war started; Gillian lived in London at the time. Gillian still lives in London today and that is where we are now. When the blitz started in 1941 Gillian was evacuated from London and went on a train to Bristol. After that brief summary I proceed to ask her of when she felt most sad. Naturally it was when she was separated from her parents and evacuated.
She was crying and a group of soldiers came up to her and comforted her they were at the station too and were on the train to Bristol to go to the port to go onto a battleship. They sang to her the wartime songs all the way from London to Bristol she learnt them all. “But there is another event that really was sad and it just shows how the war tears families to shreds,” she said. I ask what this event is; she says “It was of course when my brother died in world war two, you see he was torpedoed by a German U-boat 4 people survived. He was one of them and he was on a chunk of metal torn away form the ship.
After 4 days without food in the scorching heat of Africa the U-Boat surfaced and left them there they took photographs and used them as propaganda saying they were actually good people for they had rescued 4 dying men. 3 days later my brother died and 1 day later the rest of the crew were rescued he was just one day to short.” It is a story I have heard many times before, but it still makes me feel awfully sorry for my grandmother and her family. I then ask what happened when she arrived at Bristol. She says the she and her other brother were to be taken to a boarding school. But wasn’t as easy as it seemed for it was an only boys boarding school.
Gillian got up to much mischief “in one event there was a sudden uproar of mice in the school, every single pupil had one and we hid them underneath the fold up old fashioned desks.” In another event Gillian describes the useless French teacher. She explains in this episode of how pathetic the teacher was and how all the children decided to trick her. She recalls the event, “You see the week before we had tricked another teacher by putting thin string all around the corridor and it tripped her up. All the teachers were on red alert so before class I went outside the classroom of the French teacher she was marking homework in the room and I pretended to tie up all these pieces of string outside. So we went into the lesson that is our class and pretended to jump over the strings.
So when the teacher left the classroom she was crawling over the floor, she thought there was string. If we had cameras back then that would be the time to use it!” I ask her if she ever saw the bombing. She then says that they only stayed at Bristol for one day before they were whisked away to the countryside. But in that night she saw the bombing. She says “In the night I was with my brother it was the most terrifying thing and all you could hear was the screeching of the bombs and huge explosions.”
I ask, “When the war was over was there a huge sense of relief.”
“When the war ended everybody was so cheerful I was in London on victory day but before this whole experience I was 7 now I was 13 a whole chunk of my childhood was torn out,” says Gillian. So were many other children’s childhood I think to myself.
“So after that I grew up in London and I met your grandfather Theo, at the age of 22, Theo was 29. So many people got married young in those days,” says Gillian.
Gillian and Theo now live in a large Victorian, house in Chelsea London. I ask if they both go out much. “I go out with our dog Bosie on a walk every day to keep him healthy,” she explains.
Bosie is the puppy born in august. He is very lively and is active so they go on a walk every day. “Do you have any hobbies?” I ask. She says that she collects antiques and has a very large collection of jewellery. Whenever we visit her she always shows my sisters her latest addition to the collection. At 76 Gillian still doesn’t have the same athletic ability she used to have but is still very fit for her age. When we go to the park she will be joining in with the football.
I therefore sum up this interview part of are elderly season with the same message as other articles of the elderly season week. They are elderly people must have respect they have come from a completely different world compared to us and therefore needed to be treated like that. The elderly are not boring, slow, dull people as depicted in stereotypical pictures they are full of years of wisdom and can tell you lots of good stories. Don’t fall for what those stereotypical pictures say… THINK!
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