I have earlier mentioned my uncle Bernard as being a figure comparable to Indiana Jones. This description is of course more of a picture, one could make of someone somewhere out in the world, who as a boy I seldom put my eyes on. A more true description is of a witty and contemplative academic with a degree in Sociology!
What I have learned from him recently is that my grandfather Joseph Ineichen used to serve as a warden on top of Pollard’s Hill during the Second World War.
During the Blitz, at the beginning of the war planes flew over London with different intentions. Some of them were set on bombing the city. The warden’s job was to recognize these different planes in order to warn and give the alarm so people could go down to their shelters.
The very young Bernard took an interest and studied a chart at the Warden’s post with pictures of different models. One day the Chief Warden came to visit and as he had heard of my uncle’s collected knowledge he decided to put him to the test by covering up the names on the different airplanes. After correctly identifying the Spitfire, Messerschmitt 109, and Junkers 88 there was an Italian plane that had never flown over London. The chief warden couldn’t name it but the young Bernard could.
We can only imagine the worries in the family as my grandfather was out all night on duty, whilst the rest of the family could from their beds or shelters hear as bombs crushed down not far away.
How many do you recognize?
My stays at Pollard’s Hill North were in the summers. Coming to London in the late fifties, early sixties was a special experience. For a start, transportation there, was by plane. A time when private flying was still rather exclusive. Propeller plane BEA (British European Airways) the largest British airline that ceased in 1974. The flights started at night and the arrival was in early morning when invariably we were met by some rain in sheer contrast to the Lisbon hot weather.
Not far from my Grandparents’ house one could still see ruins from the Second World War. Most homes had a shelter in their gardens. It was all very interesting. My grandfather went off up the road to play Bowls…A game as exotic as Cricket but perhaps with more accessible rules. I think you needed to be over a certain age in order to participate. At a distance you could catch a glimpse at the “old boys” dressed in white! Perhaps children were not allowed as the game of Bowls requires concentration.
I stayed in my Uncle Bernard’s room. Uncle Bernard Ineichen was not anyone you ever met. He was just the most exciting person anyone could imagine. An Indiana Jones of the period. In his room there were to be found relics of far away destinies. Things collected in Africa on mysterious expeditions. Photos in uniform in some Mediterranean hideout! Uncle Bernard’s life was an adventure and it was so I perceived it!
Google Earth is an amazing tool! I decided to look for my grandparents’ home in Norbury, London. Suddenly I was there. The hill top, the church at the bottom of the street… It was here I played in the living room with a sofa with large cushions. They were huge so a house could be made out of them. Sadly I have no memory of my grandmother. My grandfather was a City gentleman that I thought was quite jovial and he certainly lightened up when the ice-cream appeared on the table!
There was an older neighbour boy, that somehow got into my life during this summer visit. Could his name be Barry? He had a bike and I am sure that it was in this street that I learned to cycle, on a bike with wide tyres.
This neighbour boy had a Terrarium. He kept lizards at home! This was to me the weirdest and most fascinating hobby. After all in Portugal lizards were everywhere and in the eyes of young boys something you threw stones at.
A vivid memory I had was that he took us by bus to South Kensington and a visit to the Natural History and Science Museums. This was any boy’s dream. I particularly remember the whale and all the type of contents that could be found in its belly: The science Museum was even more fantastic with all the buttons you could press and the enormous collection of cars, trains, planes and other technical advances humanity had put together up to the sixties.