Chapters of Life: Blackout in War-Torn England

By Guest Contributor September 15, 2009 08:00

By George Sharrard

One night just after blackout restrictions came into play, the family held a discussion.

There was no need to anticipate what the subject would be: A few rolls of three-quarter-inch masking tape were in full sight close by. It’s to do with the chore of taping the windows with the masking tape to stop the glass from splintering during a bombing raid, and a family issue of importance: Who was going to lick the horrible-tasting glue on the back of the masking tape? Who would it be?

Windows on three floors of their home, each pane 11 inches by 11, nine to a whole window, there were 10 full windows to be taped. It meant that the entire number of 90 panes of glass were to be taped. Who would be the lucky person to draw the short straw? There was no need to draw straws; it came down to elimination, of who had the time? It was either parents or the older children. The two little ones escaped by age.

My father, Reginald, said he was the only one who knows how to cut the masking tape to size and shape, narrowing it down to three; Reginald wound up with the cutting job. Our mother, Alice, said she “had no time,” she had to take care of the two little children as always; she was therefore eliminated. Now it was reduced to two little Indians about to embark on a mission of licking the back of masking tape – my sister Mary and me. We had no time to delay the job – it had to be done in a hurry, but done correctly.

Mary and I were railroaded into the tedious and boring job, time-consuming to boot. It has to be done, and the bulk of the job was left in my hands. It’s miserable being the only person in the house who has nothing to do. I thought school was bad enough, but at this moment I  wished I was there.

Licking glue on the masking tape did not take long to make both of us sick to our stomachs. The taste was indescribable. It did not go away for days, leaving a feeling that one’s whole mouth was stuck together, while the taste kept coming back worse than an attack of acid indigestion. Drinking water with a dry mouth seemed to taste like muddy water from a cow’s drinking trough; it was too far gone for stomach pumping …

During wartime many strange things happen, out of the ordinary, but stupidity at times kicks in. One might ask why lick the masking tape when there is water in the tap? It was thought that human saliva would make it stick better to the glass, which was the most ridiculous item of the war! People’s weird ways of thinking, many guided by old wives’ tales passed down from generation to generation …

I had high hopes that the windows in our house would never have to be taped again. The licking that had been done should at least last for the duration of the war.

I went about my business, with my lips sticking together at times; the sickness lasted just about a week or so. The blackout would continue for the duration of the war. The day would come when the songs of Vera Lynn, sweetheart to the armed forces, came to reality once again: “When the lights come on all over the world.”

This young songstress thrilled her audiences night after night, rendering her haunting melodies; her picture hung on walls in barrack rooms all over the world. She made service men dream of keeping their hopes alive, of quickly returning safely back to where they belong, in their homes with their wives and children.

Winston Churchill, our prime minister, brought us a strong will to carry on with his nightly speeches. He held the country together in those trying times, making no bones that sacrifices would have to be made, but in the end, we would overcome our enemies and be victorious. Britain and the rest of the world were fortunate that such a man as Churchill was in command. His expertise and leadership could not be questioned; he was a man for all seasons …

He definitely was not the one who suggested the glue licking. Maybe it was Hitler, wanting to poison us all.

“Chapters of Life” is a regular feature in FAN. This issue draws from Crystal Falls resident George Sharrard’s 2007 memoir, “When the Rooster Crowed,” about his family’s life in war-torn England. The masking tape was no small matter: “Many people were killed by splintering glass and shrapnel during the air raids,” notes Sharrard, a native of Hucknall in the Nottingham region north of London. Son of a coal miner, he was 9 years old when the war began and 15 when it ended. He and his wife, Kathe, moved to the United States in the late 1950s and settled in San Jose, where they raised their four children. An electrical contractor, Sharrard served as president of the Bay Area British-American Club and was a longtime soccer referee until he finally hung up his cleats at age 75. In Tuolumne County, he has been active in senior causes, including expansion of the Senior Center on Greenley Road.

By Guest Contributor September 15, 2009 08:00
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