A Little Girl with a Counter-Invasion Plan
Anne Bell, The Wirral
In 1940 I was five years old and living with my parents in Waterloo, an outer suburb of Liverpool. I had three adult brothers who joined the armed forces in 1939 and a sister (18 in 1940) who went straight from school into the Land Army. I mention this because it probably meant that I was perhaps more aware of the war than other children of my age.
One day in 1940 I went down to the bottom of our road where there was a low wall with an opening onto the Mersey shore. I was astonished to discover that the firm, damp sand of the beach (as distinct from the soft, dry sand of the battered remnants of dunes where I played with other children) was spiked all over with wooden poles - probably the trunks of young pine trees. In our play area there were just two poles with a cross bar; whoever had installed the poles had kindly thought of the children who played there. We perched on this construction and turned somersaults over the cross bar.
At the end of the road there were concrete blocks: a cylinder with a piece of rusty metal protruding from it, 2 pyramids - there may have been a couple more. I remember an intrepid playmate who ran up a side of a pyramids and perched on one tow on the top, with her arms and legs extended in balletic pose.
I asked my father about my discoveries. I could trust him, more than most adults, to tell me the truth. The poles, I learned, were to stop planes landing, and to impede the progress of tanks up the beach. The concrete blocks were anti-tank defences. ‘Where would they come from?' I asked and was answered ‘From Ireland maybe'.
That piece of information completely wrecked my invasion scenario. I looked at maps and in our atlas. The green and brown place was Europe and part of it was France, where the Germans were. In an invasion the Germans would obviously start at the bottom of England (the far south coast) and work their way up. By the time they reached Liverpool, if they got that far, we Liverpudlians would have devised a cunning plan to put an end to their invasion. But if the Germans were sneaky enough to come from Ireland ... well, I'd just have to keep watch on the beach, when we were playing there, and as soon as I saw anything suspicious I would have to take to my heels and run as fast as I could to the big old merchant houses, in Blundellsands, where soldiers were billeted, and let them know. If the Germans came when we were not playing on the beach - well, we lived in the middle of the road and they would start at the bottom, knocking on doors with rifle butts (see ‘The Girl's Book of Heroines' a picture of Edith Cavell when the Germans came to arrest her). There would be a lot of noise and I would have to run even faster to fetch the aforementioned soldiers. These improbable imaginings soothed my invasion fears. I never mentioned them to anyone.
I was well aware of the invasion panic. My parents had come through the 1914-18 war and felt it was their duty to set an example to younger people. They showed no sign of panic, which was reassuring for me. A woman living in our road was visibly anxious, weepy and trembling. Eventually she moved to her sister's home in Wales where she recovered.
After the war, one of my brothers brought home reference books for the German army. They were very detailed with maps and photographs and descriptive text of all regions of the UK. We found the account of the area in which we lived and were amazed by its accuracy.