Then I saw a single Junkers, an angel of death in the sky…
Along with my older sisters Peggy and Joan, I lived with Mum and Dad in a two-room cottage at number 11, India Row, Monkton. We lived, ate and cooked in one one room and slept in the other. The living room had a table and five wooden chairs. Over the black range for warmth and cooking on the mantelshelf stood two photos and a clock. On the table, we kept the valuables tin with the money, the rent book and insurance documents and a bottle of whisky for emergencies.
I’ll never forget one night just after my fifth birthday. It was a bright night. The moon’s milk white disc loomed large over Pembroke castle and the flooded river looked like a lake of silver below the crumbling walls of the west tower. My father had just come home from working at Simonds moaning about something. Straightaway, as he changed into his Home Guard uniform for the evening, the siren at the police station went. Made by a machine that looked like a short, mediaeval siege gun, it droned that ascending atonal sound. It’s wailing output warned everyone for miles around jarring bones and fraying nerves.
‘Get your coats on,’ called Mum.
‘It’ll be a bad one tonight, what with the moon to help Jerry,’ said Dad.
At that moment, there was a knock at the door and in walked Uncle Edward wearing his gas-mask apparatus around his neck. Those two goggle eyes stared blankly at me from the middle of his chest. As usual, he had walked over from Pembroke Dock. He came to stay with relations away from the bombing or just to go into the sanctuary of our local church. He did this most nights, for Monkton was thought to be a safe place. With the siren wailing, he took Dad outside and smoking a cigarette, I heard my father talking urgently with uncle Edward.
‘It’s going to be bad tonight, George, Thank God you’ve got a long garden. Let’s get to the bottom of the garden away from the house,’ said Uncle Edward.
‘Are you mad? I’m taking the children up to the shelter at Orange Hall Farm opposite Ferriers. We had better get moving. Doris, bring the wee’un, Peggy, get the whisky and Joan, don’t forget to bring the tin box. Come on now everyone, get moving, chop, chop.’ He shouted his urgent instructions and everyone obeyed. ‘Chop, chop!’ It meant things needed to be done ultra fast.
‘Edward knock up the Jones’s from next door and the rat catcher at number 15 as we pass. He’ll be like the pied piper playing to the children to follow him,’ Dad laughed to lighten the sombre mood cast by the continued wail of the siren.
Quickly, in the milky moonlight, we marched up to Orange Hall Farm by Ferriers.
I kept looking to the cloudless sky. One hundred yards, no bombers. We all quickened our pace for the Orange Hall Farm shelter was nearly three hundred yards from our house. Then I saw a single Junkers, an angel of death in the sky. It’s black wings spayed out from its belly-load of destruction. Next, I heard the repeated explosions of falling bombs. Pembroke Dock was being heavily bombed. We could hear the crump, crump, crump, explosions of the falling bombs by the time we neared the shelter. Then there was this terrific explosion.
‘My God, that was close. They’re bombing Monkton. Get in that shelter now,’ screamed Mum. ‘Get in, get in the shelter, now.’ She repeated, and she started to run underlining her sense of panic.
Chasing alongside Peggy and Joan, I ran the last ten or so yards into the empty, dark shelter. ‘Beat you,’ I cried victoriously as I crossed into the dark shelter ahead of my older sisters. Then came Uncle, Mum and Dad, the Jones’s, the rat catcher and his wife, and the owners of Orange Hall.
‘Did you bring that candle, Joan?’ said Dad.
From the tin box, Joan extracted a candle and lit it. Its feeble light showed nervous faces made more anxious by the shadows on their lined expressions in the dark space as another loud explosion told us that Monkton had been bombed for a second time. Mum winched, Joan gave out a small cry of fear. Dad, Edward and Mr. Jones, the rat catcher and the owner of Orange Hall said nothing. We looked at each other and instinctively we comforted each other by putting our arms around each other’s shoulders as if that additional protection would help us survive. I mumbled a simple prayer, ‘Dear Lord, protect me and my family.’
The third explosion was closest. ‘That must have hit India Row,’ said Edward.
‘Stay here,’ said Dad, ‘The raid is still going. No one move.’
We sat in the semi-darkness and listened for the next explosion. The candle made it just tolerable, it’s flickering light cast dark, distorted shadows on the curved walls of the Anderson shelter.
After what seemed an eternity as we waited for another explosion, I saw Joan looking at her radium glow-in-the-dark watch. The second hand swept round once, twice and then it completed a third time when All-Clear sounded.
We all heard that the All-Clear sound but we didn’t leave the shelter. Father said, ‘Pass me that bottle of whisky, Peggy. I need a drink.’
Peggy passed him the bottle. He took a good two fingered swig.
‘This is not enough for everyone, it’s almost empty!’ He said holding up the empty bottle.
‘I brought the full one too,’ said Peggy.
‘Good girl,’ said Dad. He unscrewed the cap and passed the bottle around the half dozen adults. ‘We deserve this. Let’s finish the bottle, we’ve probably a long night ahead of us,’ he said. And we all sat and finished the second bottle of whisky.
That was the night that Monkton was bombed. Three bombs fell. One fell on the land between numbers 11 and 12, India Row and Short Mains. It was the land where we had our chicken runs. They died, of course, but Jimmy James had stayed in his house in Short Mains. Luckily, he didn’t get hurt.
One bomb fell up at the field owned by the smallholder Evans the milkman and one on the Shortman flats in Monkton.
It was a night I’ll never forget, for I had a first sip of whisky!