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Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Coronavirus diary, Tuesday 14 July

In my television interview yesterday, I was asked: what was the difference between life during the coronavirus crisis and the dangers and difficulties of life during the Second World War, 1939 to 1945?

Difficult to answer in a few minutes and off the cuff. But it has set me thinking. 

In my experience, uncertainty and fear of expected dangers and our future were common links. 

One major difference is that in the war, while everyone's life was affected and endangered, it was children who suffered even more than those today while it is the elderly who this time are the most exposed and threatened generation. 

I was nearly thirteen when, two days before war was declared on 3 September 1939, I left home in London in the mass evacuation of children from British cities. 

In 'Operation Pied Piper' one and half million people were evacuated, three quarters of them children, plus some mothers, pregnant women and disabled people. Thousands of teachers and helpers joined them. There was  just one day's notice.

At 5am railway stations were crowded with children, packed bags and gas masks in cardboard boxes on their shoulders, tearfully waving goodbye to their parents as trains took them to destinations around the country.

They did not know where they were going, what was going to happen to them and if and when they would see their home and parents again. Total uncertainty, and fear. They felt lost and bewildered.

Many had never before been out of London or other big cities  to the countryside. Some had never seen sheep or cows.

How Oswestry, Shropshire's local paper reported on the evacuation, 1939
They feared that their homes would be destroyed and their families killed in air raids, expected at any time. And the first sirens sounded in London within hours of the declaration of war - a heart-stopping false alarm.

Mercifully, there was a long lull - the 'phoney war' period of many months before the massive bombing raids of 1940 and 1941.

By that time, despite pleas from the government, many thousands of parents, their youngsters hating life in the country, let them come home. Out of the frying pan into the fire. 
Devastation: Cardiff's blitz

I was one of them, although fortunate in having been evacuated to my mother's family in  Cardiff. We endured the relentless mass London raids of 1940 but escaped the later V raids in 1944 and 1945 by moving to Cardiff.

My education, like that of millions of children today, was disrupted. Apart from the bombing our lives changed almost as much as in today's 'war', but in some ways differently. This time, instead of being driven from home we have been marooned in them for months, There is no food rationing.
Fathers and sons are not leaving for battlefields.

More women than ever are working, not making munitions or in a land army.  

We elderly are at far greater risk, even those of us in care.
In some ways, today is even worse than those war years. This time the world is fighting an unknown, unseen  enemy. 

There will be no defining date for victory - no VE (or VC) day.

Just, we all hope, a normal home life.

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