Remembering the noise and commotion of wartime

John Thornton was nearly six years old and the noise of war seemed all around them, when he and his mother sought shelter beneath the stairs of their home in a small town north of London, England.

“There was a lot of activity at night time with the convoys coming through, particularly the tanks that came through the main street where we lived,” he said, “like a minor earthquake that would shake and rumble the houses.”

During the Second World War, Nazi Germany carried out the strategic bombing of major British cities such as London between 1940 and 1941. It was known as the London Blitz.

From the milestone outside his rural home in Stony Stratford, northwest of London, Thornton would look to the sky above London lit up by exploding bombs from the Blitz. When officials began evacuating women and children away from London, many ended up in Thornton’s home town and would join him in school.

“With the threat of the Germans using gas, we all had to be fitted with gas masks and were required to carry cardboard boxes around our necks as covers,” he said. ”We could see the tragedy in their situation,(but the gas masks) were an intrusion, so to speak.”

Despite the uncertainties of the war, Thornton recalled when U.S. troops arrived en route to Europe. He remembered how he and other children would call out to them, “Any gum Chum?” for chewing gum, while they would approach British soldiers and scrounge for bully beef and hardtack. Even today Thornton has a passion for corned beef.

Before D-Day, when the Allies invaded France in June 1944, double summertime was introduced, when “days were longer for farmers who couldn’t use lights and equipment at night” and Thornton became fond of the 6 o’clock anchorman who supplied a 15-minute program on radio detailing battle information and activities of the war.

As Thornton grew older, his fascination for tuning in to the shipping channel on the radio grew.

“When you played around with the dial on the radio,” he said, “you could pick up a lot of transmissions from different areas, and broadcast out from the BBC (the national radio station) you could tell they were coded messages.”

As it had been during the bombings, and the Blitz, it was the sounds of war that Thornton seemed to remember most.