Our air raid shelter was at the bottom of the garden. It was also called a dugout, literally dug out of the ground. It stood on a thick slab of concrete and was covered with corrugated iron that curved over it like a tunnel. When it rained it sounded like thunder.
Inside it was pitch dark until you were inside with the door shut. No light could be shown outside to give aid to enemy aircraft. Once inside you could put on your flashlight which showed a bench running around the side, and a sort of well in the middle, big enough for a small child to lie down in. This was my crib where I slept, when it wasn’t too noisy, during the air raids. It was also where I learned to pray.
The youngest of five, I was the only one not to be evacuated from our town on the outskirts of London. Being in the shelter was the safest place to be, better than my bedroom on the second floor of our house which was more exposed to the enemy planes with their deadly load of bombs.
At bedtime I would hunker down under the covers and listen to the sound of the planes droning overhead and pray they were “ours.” If they weren’t, the sound of the anti-aircraft guns would usually be accompanied by the wail of the siren. That was my cue to put on my shoes and take a blanket for the trip to the shelter. My dad would carry me down the garden path, with the sound of planes overhead and bombs exploding somewhere nearby, to the safety of the shelter.
Inside we lit candles and then it was time to climb down into my crib and kneel down to say my prayers.
First, I sang the children’s hymn:
Gentle Jesus meek and mild, Look upon a little child,
Pity my simplicity. Let a child come unto thee. Amen
Then: Dear God, bless ……. ( all the names of my family), and keep them safe, and make me a good girl. (He‘s still working on that one.) And bless the soldiers and sailors and airmen, and keep them safe. For Jesus sake, Amen
It was not the most carefree of childhoods but I still felt I was safe and being taken care of, despite the unpredictability and insecurity all around me. I credit those simple prayers with giving me the beginning of a faith in the divine power of a God who cares about us and for us, who listens to our prayers, simple or profound, who is close by.
As I recited those prayers in that shelter, I knew God heard me. A child’s simple faith is not to be scorned but rather to be sought after as the essence of spirituality. To know God’s presence without question is to be on holy ground, whether in a shelter under bombardment or a home in lockdown from Covid-19.
That early childhood during the blitz left a lasting impression on me, of deep gratitude for the people, military and civilian, who worked to keep me and millions of others safe. For those men and women, so young and naive, who volunteered their services to fight for freedom, and for the many who gave their lives in the ultimate sacrifice; for the people who put their own lives at risk to rescue the victims of bombing raids; or acted as air raid wardens, or ran soup kitchens, or manned first aid stations. So many helping hands that managed together to pull my beleaguered homeland out of danger, and I can never take that victory for granted.
And now, on this Remembrance Day, November 11, 2020, we stand on guard for Canada, a country that gave so many young women and men to fight, and even to die, for the cause of freedom, and we honour their memory with thanksgiving.
At the going down of the sun,
and in the morning,
we will remember them;
we WILL remember them.