My dear wife Betty passed away on the 28th of April 2010 after a short illness. Don Lucking
At the beginning of World War Two, I like many others was evacuated to North Wales. No bombing took place at first and my parents` decision to take me home to Birmingham after only three weeks resulted in my being witness to horrific and unforgettable scenes.
The first air raid on Birmingham happened on August 9th 1940 and a major raid on August 23rd wrecked much of the city centre. Night after weary night through the following winter, I and my family took to the Anderson shelter at dusk, emerging each morning to more and more devastation. We never knew what to expect.
The Market Hall was ruined together with part of the Bull Ring. My father stood helplessly by as his own office burned and the local cinema the "Carlton" received a direct hit, killing all the brave souls who had sought a little light relief from their dreary existence. Water mains burst making fire fighting almost impossible. I was part of a human chain stretching from top to bottom of the street, passing buckets of water hand over hand in a desperate attempt to quell the fires caused by incendiary bombs. By the end of it all the city was on its knees, with two thousand people dead and nearly seven thousand injured.
Our house took the full blast from a bomb which demolished three houses on the opposite side of the road. One was the home of my best friend.
I stood with my mother in the cold damp street as a neighbour approached.
"All the Claytors are dead. Suffocated in the cellar."
It registered immediately. My friend was gone. I burst into tears and the well-meaning neighbour rammed a toffee - a rare treat, into my mouth. That was me dealt with. Their chat seemed more important than my instant grief. As a child I had no words to express my feelings, I could only cry, and as I stood shivering the salt tears ran into my mouth mingling with the sweetness of the toffee. I thought I would choke. The awful acrid smell of dust and debris was everywhere and a pall of smoke hung over the city. Small groups of people stood helplessly by, their pinched grey faces dull with fatigue.
That night I cried until my head ached and my throat was on fire. My parents must have offered some comfort but I don`t remember it. I can only recall the deep terrible hurt and an overwhelming feeling of loneliness knowing that my friend was gone, along with our childish games and innocent secrets. For the first time in my life I had to face emotional turmoil alone, for I knew that whatever anyone said or did, nothing would be the same again. No one could help me. All I really had was myself. The next morning I saw things as they actually were, not as I wanted them to be. I had turned a corner and was well on the way to growing up.
That day my parents were busy trying to salvage what was left of our home. The blast had ripped through the house blowing doors off their hinges and breaking all the windows. The result was wall to wall glass in thousands of tiny splinters. Clothes spilled out of overturned wardrobes, all the china was broken and there was no gas to cook by. Our breakfast that morning was a slice of bread and dripping and water from a tin mug.
I went to school, picking up odd bits of shrapnel as usual. My head ached and I was not looking forward to another day shivering in an icy unheated classroom. The week before, I had fallen down half a dozen jagged stone steps in the blackout and the cold bit into the sores and abrasions on my legs. I was so tired and cold, I half hoped the school wouldn`t be there but it was still standing alongside the pathetic concrete structures called air raid shelters which littered the playground.
The teacher glanced at the empty seat beside me.
"Kathy was killed" I whispered .
That morning extra prayers were said, then the teacher instructed the class to write a poem about the war. She told us to put our feelings into words, explain our loathing for the Germans and describe what we would do if we met one.
All the vitriol I could muster was poured into my effort. It was read to my peers and displayed on the notice board. Now of course, I am not proud of that. At ten years old I had castigated and written off an entire nation because I knew no better. Worst of all, it was seen by my teacher as an excellent piece of work. Such was the collective hate whipped up against the enemy during those six years of carnage.
Twenty five years later, in a café in Germany, a man struck up a conversation with me. He was with a German bomber crew during the war. He rolled up his trouser leg, pointing to the scars that were his legacy. He wanted to talk about his experiences and it soon became apparent that he still carried his bitterness along with his war wounds. He had bombed Birmingham – a prime military target – and he heard that the damage was major. I sensed pride in his voice. Then he asked me where I had lived during the war. I told him all.
"Perhaps I killed your friend," he said quietly.
Sadly he pushed a glass of schnapps across the table towards me.
"I`m sorry," he said.
"I`m sorry about your leg."
"It doesn`t matter. It doesn`t seem to matter at all now."
For every action there is a re-action. It may not be immediate, it could be in fifty years time, but sooner or later there will be one.
Copyright: Betty Jean Weaver-Lucking 2002
-Addendum for KathyI have Kathleen`s little black bible-all that was left of her possessions. It lay in her desk at school and was given to me for safekeeping. Her father was away on active service.
It is time now to pass the bible on to someone related to the Claytors who lived at Newton Road, Sparkhill, Birmingham, England.
At last I have made contact with Kathy`s cousin.
I am delighted and have now sent the little bible "home" to Birmingham.
The man looked into the eyes of the boy
A beggar of seventeen summers,
A young man trapped in poverty
In the year of eighteen ninety three.
The woman looked into the eyes of the girl
A beggar of seventeen summers,
Despair was all that she could see
In the year of our Lord two thousand and three.
Copyright: Betty Jean Weaver-Lucking 2003.
Bring light into the earth-the light that shines from heaven.
Cast your troubles upon the seat of darkness and they shall
lie forgotten. Do not despair. Keep heart and faith, and love
your fellow men, for within us all lies the power to give
and serve. We shall not cry, our souls shall never weep for
lost desires. Remember, in the darkness of your solitude
when all is still and you are calm within yourself this time
was given by the Monarchy above to you, a peaceful hour
for reflection, soul searching and plans for future
kindnesses. Think hard. What you have to give may well
bring tears into your eyes for giving gives the soul much
joy and sweet surprise. Conquer your thoughts of evil.
Hope for good. Remember God is Life and Beauty. We are
sustained by spirits ever present calling out for us to spread
the Joy of Life. Rest well. Give thought to all these things.
Joy go with you in the life that is to come. Prepare yourself
and keep direct. Emanate this joy I speak of, Remove doubt
and fear of the hereafter, for it is there and God is waiting
in the Garden of Life. He knows your fear and gives most
graciously his love and loves your soul.
Don't weep. Remember in the darkness of the night stars
shine for all who wish to follow on the path to peace.
Agnostic thoughts may cross the souls of men. Forgive
them, and help create a Heaven here on earth. When that
day comes and earth can measure up to Heaven's delights
you shall see God enraptured by the love of all his people-
His goal achieved.
Copyright: Betty Jean Weaver-Lucking 1964. (See BETTY`S explanation for this piece)
3. Number 9
They tore its heart out, the house where I was born,
Because it was old.
It rumbled as it crumbled, cried and sighed beneath ruthless indifferent hands.
I watched it die, the house on the hill, I stood in the rain, stunned and still.
Anyway it was just an old house too tired to stand,
Why should I care?
Even so if I don`t walk that way I can pretend it`s still there.
One consolation, it didn`t feel anything – not like people!
Or did it ?
Copyright: Betty Jean Weaver – Lucking 2002
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This piece was the result of a strange experience shortly after my father died in 1963.
I was alone in the house when I suddenly became very tired. I sat down neither asleep nor awake. It has occurred to me since that it was some sort of trance although I’d never experienced anything like that before. (SCEPTICAL)
I became aware of words flying into my head and felt compelled to write them down. With no paper to hand I jotted on the edges of newspapers and used envelopes. It was slightly scribbled because the words came so fast, but it was my scribble as no hand had guided me.
Putting the words together, when fully awake I realised that this was some sort of message.
I never spoke to anyone about it. I accepted it for what it was and dismissed it as inexplicable.
Several years later the written incident came to light again and I discussed it with my husband who approached a friend at Hull university to find out if the work could have been written before. Word came back that it could not be traced to any other writer but it was akin to the writing of a medieval monk.