“I can remember looking out of the bedroom window and seeing that the sky was brilliant red. It turned out the docks had been bombed and were on fire.”
Robin Dance, who has lived in Lightcliffe for more than 50 years, grew up on the outskirts of Slough and has vivid memories of a wartime childhood.
He was five when war broke out and air-raid warnings, rationing and doodlebugs were all part of his boyhood experience.
His father, Reginald, was part of the British Expeditionary Force and died in action at Dunkirk in May 1940. One of Robin’s most treasured possessions is the Dunkirk medal he later received from the Dunkirk Veterans’ Association and the letter of condolence to the family from King George VI. His father is buried in the communal cemetery at Les Moeres in northern France.
“I can’t really remember my father at all,” said Robin, now 78. “Looking back, it must have been hard for my mum. She took in washing for a time and worked as a cleaner to make ends meet before she remarried in 1944. But my memories of that time are mostly very happy. I don’t remember being scared, it was exciting. I had a certain amount of freedom and loved to be out playing with my friends round Cippenham.” Slough was an industrial town and that and its proximity to London made it a regular target for German bombs.
“I can remember hiding under the table and under the stairs until we eventually got an Anderson shelter in the garden - though I’m not sure how much use that would have been in the event of a direct hit.”
One of Robin’s most vivid memories is watching Battle of Britain dogfights in the skies over Slough in 1940, and of squadrons of Lancaster and Wellington bombers - many of them towing gliders - droned overhead on their way to Europe.
“There were so many of them that the ground seemed to vibrate with the noise of their engines,” said Robin who worked as a driving instructor for 35 years and is a keen artist in his spare time.
Robin also recalls being taught baseball by American servicemen who were billeted nearby and playing with his friends around the ‘ack-ack’ gun emplacement that stood at one end of the village and the searchlight at the other.
“There was evidence of wartime all around it but somehow, when you’re a child, you just accept it as normal.”
He was 11 when the second world war ended and in 1946 he was one of a number of British children picked to go on a six-week trip to Belgium, arranged by the Belgian Government to commemorate the liberation of the Low Countries. “I can remember my mum queueing for two hours at the end of the war to buy me some bananas which were just back in the shops.
“When I got it home I didn’t know what to do with it!”