top of page

Potatoes, a Balloon, and a Half Crown - WWII

Updated: Sep 20, 2022

A boy lay alone in an air raid bunker. Another nervously peered out of his bed covers. A young girl looked frantically in a pond. The President of the United States sat in a caramel-toned, leather, solid oak wheelchair. A man that stammered through speeches, pausing and hesitating, was King. And, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, crowned with a black, bowler hat, a cigar slotted out of his gritted teeth and a cane in his hand, prepared his country for victory. It was the Second World war, and life was changing for everyone.

One family affected were the Parkers. A family who are grateful for food.

Especially, a bag of hand-picked, dirty potatoes, tied at the top with roped twine that stopped the brown coarse canvas sack from spilling open. The bag sat inside a vestibule; an airlock space at the facade, which was between the front door and the body of the main house. The house sat in the town of Barrow-in-Furness, North-west England.

To anyone, it was just a sack of spuds collected from the community allotment across the road, and grown by an Air Raid precautions officer and engineer named Stanley Meakin Parker, who was also the owner of this small, two-storey semi-detached property, with a red brick base and a painted white top. But to his wife, Dorothy, the lady that was crouching behind this sack sitting in the vestibule, it was a safety jacket; a bomb-proof vest; it held her life in its woven fibre strands and its carbohydrate interior.

Peering from behind it, her eyes watched nervously as the bomb floated overhead, suspended by green ropes and tied to a matching-green parachute. Slowly, it made its way across the rooftops on her street, dodging chimneys, and travelling further up the road. It was night-time, but there was no sleeping.

Sirens wailed with noise as they screamed to the community a message of protection, ‘Take shelter now.’ The same alarming noises asked parents to distract their children with singing, and to warn of the imminent danger. Anti-aircraft guns repeatedly spoke in bullets that lit up the sky. And, bombs, like the one this lady was observing, gingerly flew by. It was like a shooting star as it crossed the darkened atmosphere, but without the promise of hopes and dreams. If anything, the only wishes those that witnessed it held, were that it would miss their property.

It was a bomb that was about to hit a neighbour, unexpectedly for that home’s inhabitants.

It was a bomb that was going to blow the hinges off the solid, wooden door that belonged to Dorothy’s son, an eleven-year-old boy named Norman. A boy that spontaneously decided to rest not on his bed upstairs, but on a mattress in the indoor shelter, which was established in the dining room; railway sleepers protecting its windows. And a door, so substantial that it would have crushed him when it landed flat on his bed. “Not a flimsy door frame covered in plywood”, the boy, now a 91-year-old man, recalled.

It was a bomb that was going to destroy the house it hit with hundreds of kilograms of explosives. A bomb that was hammered together by the German Luftwaffe, and would rain shrapnel, horizontally, through fences and up streets, shattering windows and the hearts of families each metal piece collided with. It was a bomb that was going to create such unearthly sounds and shockwaves, that house roof slates would rattle, and the foundations of the township would shiver in anxiousness.

It was a bomb that was going to create knives of shrapnel that penetrated the skin of a brown bag of potatoes, tied at the top with a thin piece of string, and of which a young mother of two children was hiding behind.

If it weren't for food, life would be very different for the Parkers.

In Manchester, children would play in the streets with broken sticks, chalk and stones, taking turns to scratch X’s and O’s into lines of line of three, and simultaneously, another battle of noughts and crosses was being fought above. Spitfires flew confidently in formation, with rounded ‘O’ emblems on their wing tips and bodies, outsmarting the German Messerschmitt fighter planes who were designed with juxtaposed ‘X’ cross insignia. Only earlier, a young boy named David stood mesmerised during a game of football, his head tilted back as he watched a German plane fly overhead creating bup-bup-bup noises. "C’mon Dave, we’re going!", his friends called out to him, before they ran off the field looking for safety.

That night, tucked in his bedsheets, David Hallworth started to scan his room, peering from behind the linen, his eyes like searchlights trying to find where the tapping was coming from. *tap* *tap* *tap* He began to examine the window, when all of a sudden a ghostly silhouette appeared. Unbeknownst to the seven-year-old who was now gritting his teeth in terror and yelling “MuuuUuummMm! There’s something hitting the window”, a shiny silver barrage balloon had broken from its harness and had decided to ask for help by tapping itself against the second-story window pane of a house in Winton, Worsley.

On the other side of the country, life was unravelling differently for a young girl. Bombs may not have been a threat to Cleadon Village, and air-raid bunkers hadn’t become an essential resort even though they littered back gardens, yet the war had taken away things dear to this girl’s heart: her father’s presence, her mother’s spirit, and her own innocence. She couldn’t change her parents, but tried to revitalise her own joy with a simple game and a coin.

Usually, it would stop. But the momentum it collected meant that it just kept rolling and rolling, until it arrived at the bottom of Sunniside Lane with a plop, paired with a panic. The panic rushed through the heart of the Joan Pelling, the girl who had rolled it, which now beat quickly and erratically. She had just been joyfully rolling that silver coin, watching it skip over leaves and rocks as it travelled down the path, dodging anything that would make it fall over and rest; ready for her to pick it up and roll it again. It ‘used’ to be fun, harmless fun.

As the coin came to an abrupt stop, sinking in the pond at the bottom of the hill, Joan, was now fearful. It was a Half Crown, and money was tight, especially since her father, Alfred J. Pelling, was no longer in the picture, and her mother, Hilda, wasn’t going to be happy that her daughter had just thrown away money.

Even though it was only a game and an accident, it was a DISASTER. The incline that the coin had rolled down may as well have been Mt. Everest, for each step back up the hill towards her home was a painful ascent with the knowledge that she would have to tell her mother the news.

Her mother, usually a very kind woman, but her current circumstances made her feel abandoned and vulnerable. She didn’t want people to know her family business, especially since her husband had walked out on them during this World War. So, when she had to hike back down the hill with her daughter, both wearing matching, black wellington boots on a mission to fish for the coin in a pond nestled on the edge of town, she hoped that no one would notice or ask any questions.

However, that was not to be, as a voice startled the pair with just that, a question. It resulted in red cheeks of embarrassment, as they stirred the pool of water looking for any glimmers from the silver coin. The voice’s owner was Mr Eggleston, the local farmer who would usually let his horses drink by the edge of this watery patch of grass in Cleadon, yet he wasn’t there for his horses, but instead, curious to why a mother and her daughter were carefully treading water.

Humiliated, they kept their heads down as they examined the mud-filled bed, their hands penetrating the water, scooping around and moving debris, hoping that it would shift the Half Crown just enough for it to provide an SOS, shouting, ‘Here I am’. But drenched in exhaustion, they failed to find the half-crown. For it now just remained money down the gurgler.

World War II had changed everyone.


If you enjoyed this yarn, please consider subscribing, leave a comment below, click that love heart, or you can even donate the price of a coffee: donate.

Thank you, James - Teller of Yarns

55 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page