It's May 1941 - The Battle of Crete, which marked the first large-scale paratrooper invasion in history, was being fought, far less momentously, in bomb scarred Sheffield I was born, the youngest of five children. Raymond is ten, Maurice eight, Mavis five, and Barbara is three. And the pattern of 2 & 3 years which emerged between each birth, would continue... I was just four months into gestation during the blitz of December 13th 1940. But I do remember the devastation that Sheffield suffered during the war.
I know our memories can play strange tricks - can I really remember with such clarity, running down to the Anderson shelter in the dark, stumbling on the path, being picked up in a strong pair of arms and rushed to safety? The terrifying wail of the sirens, and inordinate fear of the barrage balloon, just above our house? I have strong pictures in my mind's eye that no newsreel could have provided. I can remember the addresses of the various houses we lived in, the neighbours, the games we used to play, even the clothes I used to wear! But certain things can become a little 'shuffled around' in our memories, and although I'm trying to ascertain the accuracy of names, places, events, it's entirely possible that my memory may stumble a little.
At fourteen I was making notes in the back of my school exercise book, recording events that were important to me, events that I felt sure I would want to recall later. At fifteen I received my first diary, a tiny thing which, as it transpired, would become crammed with excitedly written and now, almost illegible jottings. These 'jottings' became so prolific in later years that I would buy bigger and bigger diaries, until I gave up trying to cram daily events into such small spaces and bought loose-leaf notebooks, so that I could scribble away to my hearts content, writing in the date myself.
These diaries, kept in an old carrier bag, have travelled with me throughout the last three decades, often mislaid for many a year, then suddenly falling out from the back of a cupboard during a rare clear out. (I'm hopeless at throwing things away!) I'd sit down and have a good wallow in nostalgia, wondering at the amazing pace of my lifestyle then! At the number of famous people who came into my orbit, and the occasions when I so narrowly missed coming to grief! At the difference then, to our lifestyle today. I wonder too, that I did not write even more than I did, as these diaries serve to jog further memories that did not find their way into print.
But of course, I was not writing my biography - then. Just recently, I stumbled across this 'cache' of diaries yet again, and was concerned that they were rapidly fading (the first ones written in pencil on semi-shiny paper), and the loose-leaf notebooks, even looser than ever. I have often wondered what most precious things I would save if ever the house went up in flames, now I know that it would be my diaries and my favourite photographs - I'm sure the cats would be ahead of me...
So I decided to type up these precious memories and save them on disc, and to also include the memories not recorded at the time. It was then that I began to realise that what I was typing up was history - I mean real history!
From time to time, events were being resurrected in T.V. documentaries as being special moments in time and this was MY time, I had been there, I had experienced these events at first hand, they were talking about MY youth. Was it really so long ago? Had my youth gone down in the annals of history already? (Was I really that old??)
I turned to my older brothers and sisters for confirmation of certain events, dates and places. I was dismayed that my sister Barbara admitted sadly to being able to recall very little of our youth. It made me all the more determined to write about as much as I possibly could, reaching into the furthest corners of my memory to recreate our family life. I then turned to Maurice, and spent a couple of very satisfying hours on the phone, matching up our youthful memories. He was surprised that I could remember so much, and I was delighted that he was able to confirm that my memories were quite accurate, in fact he astounded me with the sheer width and breadth of his memory, being able to name not only every neighbour we'd ever had, but practically every one in the street! But he also told me something that differed greatly from what I had always believed and it made my heart pound! I then phoned my eldest brother, Raymond, where memories began to come into conflict in no uncertain manner and I realised that I was going to have to dig really deeply to get to the truth.
The one member of our family, Mavis, who really has the best story to tell, prefers to remain silent, which is a great shame, but I respect her reasons for this. It's understandable that, as she spent so much of her life under the microscope, she now wishes to continue to stay out of the limelight. But of course, not only would these memories be incomplete without any mention of her, but also the very fact of her being, and what she had to suffer through her condition, is a very relevant part of it.
Sadly, my parents are long since dead, and I no longer have any family living in Sheffield, consequently, I have not seen the amazing changes - which I have become aware of since reading Bob Horton's book - 'Living in Sheffield - 1000 Years of Change'. A real eye opener!
I look back and try to discover exactly where it all began - this urge to put words on paper.