Living Between the Lines

Then and Now…

The war years, 1939-1945, have been very much in my mother’s thoughts of late. Our telephone conversations have often turned from this week’s shopping list, to “Did I ever tell you…?”
If she has told me these stories before, I am only too delighted to be told them again. I feel I should soak up as much knowledge of her past as I can for it is my past too of course.
Since telling me all about Chester, (she still insists his surname was Isermann or Eisermann, whereas my uncle is certain it was, Ackerman) my mother has re-told a few more tales including this:
In 1939, when her elder brother, Peter, was barely 17 years old, he was determined to do his bit for his country and joined the Royal Air Force. He didn’t tell the RAF that he had had Rheumatic fever aged 11 and had almost died. An extremely clever boy, Peter did well and once trained, he became a Radio Operator/tail gunner, flying at the very back of a Lancaster Bomber. This was recognised as the most dangerous spot to be, as enemy aircraft tended to approach from behind and fire. The average life expectancy of a Tail-Gunner/Radio operator was just 8 weeks or 11 missions. The tail of the plane was often the first to go and with it, the Radio Operator.
Luckily or unluckily for Peter, he was invalided out of the RAF with a heart murmur—a forgotten relic from the Rheumatic Fever days—before the end of the war. I don’t know how many missions he flew but we are thankful he survived.
Not so lucky, was his Uncle Donald who was killed in action on 7th November 1917, In Egypt. He was 31 years old and left his wife, Daisy and a son, Jack, aged 2. I never met Donald of course but I knew Daisy, Great Aunt Dais, well. She never remarried.
Here they are in happier times – at my Great Grandparents’ Golden wedding in 1936:

My Great Grandparents' Golden Wedding 1936.My
My Great Grandparents’ Golden Wedding 1936.My mother is the little girl in the front, aged 10. her younger brother, Michael is to her left and Peter, in his suit to the far left.

My mother also told me this little tale which made me smile.
During the war years, my mother turned 16. Living in a small village outside Chelmsford, she often stayed at the home of Mrs Clarke who owned the fish and ship shop. One night, there was a commotion above them and going out to see what had happened, Mrs Clarke and my mother looked up to see that a Barrage Balloon had come down on the roof of the fish and chip shop, its wires trailing all over the building like giant tentacles.
Having stepped into their midst, my mother found herself tangled up with the wires that trailed on the ground and was in a state of near panic until Mrs Clarke cut her free.
Being naive regarding most things, my mother was sure the wires were dangerous.
In fact, Barrage Balloons were merely large balloons filled with lighter than air gas and anchored to the ground by several long wires. The presence of the balloons deterred enemy aircraft from flying in too low and left less chance for a surprise attack. According to, the presence of the balloons:

• forced aircraft to higher altitudes, thereby decreasing surprise and bombing accuracy;
• enhanced ground-based air defences and the ability of fighters to acquire targets, since intruding aircrafts were limited in altitude and direction; and
• the cable presented a definite mental and material hazard to pilots.

What a shame they did not come with a warning for unwary, 16 year old women to avoid becoming tangled up in them when they fell to the ground. My mother must have been very frightened.

I am looking forward to visiting my mother again very soon. Our recent conversations have taken place over the phone, but I would love to go through the photographs she has of that era again. I will make sure I have pencil and paper with me to jot down anything of interest that she comes up with.

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • Hilary

    Hi Debbie – that’s such a good idea to jot down your thoughts on her stories .. and perhaps take a tape recorder .. so you have them and can access them later on. I tried to get my uncle to do that – and perhaps if I hadn’t been looking after my mother too I’d have had more luck … he did jot down some ideas – but not stories and I’d have loved to have those .. hindsight is ‘great’ isn’t it ..

    So take every opportunity you can … and how unfortunate about your mother being caught up in the wires .. I’m sure she’d have been terrified too … but interesting aspects about the barrage balloons, which I hadn’t known ..

    I hope you can let us know some more of her stories … fascinating … cheers and enjoy the summer weather now it looks like returning on and off for a while .. I’ve been glad of the rain! Hilary

  • Hilary

    Stupid me .. I didn’t add about the photo – lovely to have it to be able to show us .. and Peter was lucky, sadly not Donald … but great to see them – H

    • Debbie

      Thanks Hilary, I will take every opportunity from now on. Life races by when you have a family or are caring for an ageing relative, I know, it is hard to take the time to listen. 🙂

  • Andrea Carlisle

    What a handsome family in that photograph. And they look happy. So many people from that era wouldn’t smile for photographs. This group looks as if they know they’re going to enjoy looking at this picture later. It’s great that you’re getting your mother’s stories. It’s too late after they’re gone, and the stories gone with them. Alas, poor Donald, but I’m glad Peter returned from his dangerous job. Isn’t it strange how much some young men want to go to war? Please keep on sharing these things with us, Deborah.

    • Debbie

      They do look as though they are having a good time don’t they? I remember my grandmother had a wicked sense of humour so I expect it ran through the family! 🙂 I will share as much as I can as it is also a good way of keeping track of things myself. Much as you do with Alice of course. Your blog continues to amaze and delight me 🙂

  • Teresa

    What a beautiful photo. It is so nice to see the faces behind the stories. It is interesting that your uncle says the American’s name was Ackerman.
    I can well imagine your mum’s terror at becoming tangled with those trailing wires! It’s lovely that you are writing these stories down so that they will never be forgotten. Thank you for sharing them with us x

  • John Cowton

    You are so right to take a pencil and paper, or even ask her if you can record her reminiscence on your iPhone or iPad ought to do it. How I wish I had either written or recorded my older relatives.

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