VE Day: The day my Dad came home to Portchester
SEVENTY-FIVE years ago a little boy saw a soldier step off a bus in his home town of Portchester.
At just eight and half years old, Allan Chamberlain recognised his dad immediately.
His memory of VE Day:
‘Dad had been called up in November 1939 and was sent abroad immediately after basic training. Mum parented my younger brother David and me alone.
‘The day after this particularly successful German raid which trashed dozens of nearby houses, Mum had had enough. It was time to take up the government’s National Evacuee Programme to get children away from target city centres, and for her, that meant us.
‘So, having already survived 15 months of war and bombing, at just four years old, I went to a tiny mining village just outside Cardiff. I had to learn Welsh at Infants School.
‘Four long years later, in early 1945, we were able to go home.
‘A few months later, at 3pm on May 8, 1945 the country found itself listening to the radio announcement from Winston Churchill.
‘My grandmother (granddad away in the Royal Navy), her eldest daughter May (her husband abroad in the army), and my mother all lived within 100 yards of each other in Portchester.
‘The three ladies decided to take the children to church in White Hart Lane.
‘We walked off to the bus-stop, some 100 yards away. The green and white Southdown bus arrived packed tight with passengers.
‘As the they began to stream off, there came a soldier – kitbag, back-pack, small-pack, bullet-pouches, tin-helmet, 303 rifle, the lot.
‘I looked up at him – I was eight-and-a-half years old, and shouted “Hello Dad!”.‘My grandmother dragged me back saying “Come out of the way, Allan. Your father is three thousand miles away in Africa. Leave the soldier alone”.
My Dad was in the British Eighth Army, under Montgomery against Rommel – and one of the Desert Rats.
‘The Tommy looked down at me and said. “Hello Son. Are you Allan or David?” I was infuriated. I was his eldest, for crying out loud. Couldn’t he tell?‘Then he turned to my Nan, and said quietly “Hello Ma!”. She very near fainted and said “My God – it is you Fred!”. I can still truly see it as clearly today as if it was yesterday.
After a brief change of plan, it was agreed that the rest of the family would continue to the church, and that I would go back home with my father to show him where we lived.
I took his small-pack, with his ‘tin-hat’ encompassed between the straps, and, with the pack bouncing off my left-leg calf-muscle, raced away in front to get home before him.
‘I arrived at my home and bashed on the front door. The front door!! Strictly unorthodox for us kids. We always, and only, used the back door.
‘Mum came to the door, took one look at me and, all in one sentence said “Why aren’t you with Nanny - where did you get that pack? That belongs to a soldier!”
“It’s Dad, Mum”.
“Don’t be ridiculous – your Dad’s miles away…..” Oh – not you too!
“It’s Dad, Mum; He’s home. Come and see, come and see.”
'About now, my dear ol’ Mum , God rest her soul, started to put 3 and 3 together. The penny was about to drop!
‘Totally puzzled and confused, she followed a very excited me, hurrying alongside the long front path with its 6 foot high hedge, to our gate. It prevented her, at 5ft tall, seeing the junction with main road, until we arrived at the gate, just in time to see her heavily laden soldier-husband Fred come striding round the corner just 20 yards away.
‘I would remind you that, for this momentous moment in my mother’s life, she was dressed in her ‘Sunday best’, make-up in place, having prepared herself ready for church!
‘She screamed “FRED”, and took off over the 20 yards at a pace that would have shamed Usain Bolt, crying her eyes out at the same time.
‘Dad just had time to drop his kit-bag and rifle in the middle of the road before she smashed into him. Had he not, they would both be on the deck. It ended a break of over five-and-a-half long years apart. November 1939 to May 1945.
‘Aha’, I hear you say. ‘How then, as you hadn’t seen your Dad since you were 3 years old, could you possibly have recognised him well over 5 years later, now that you were 8 and a half?? ‘.
‘Well, at every mealtime, bar none, as we sat at the table for our meals, an enlarged photo of my father was always placed facing us at the head of the table – updated as often as Mum received a replacement during the war.
‘My Dad had come home!’