PMGenesis: Chapter 4

Peter Milward's Autobiography: Genesis of an Octogenarian (2008)


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Who is Peter Milward?
0. About PM Genesis of an Octogenarian
1. Attempt at an Autobiography
Pre-conscious World
Local Patriotism
Wimbledon in Wartime 
Pastoral Peace
Pastoral Philosophy
7. Life at Oxford
Between England and Japan 
9. A New Language and Culture
10. Rural Japan
Pastoral Theology
12. Teaching Shakespeare in Japan
13. A Missionary in Japan
Student Revolt  
A Floating University  
16. Literary Pilgrimages  
A Scholar's Paradise  
To and Fro in Japan  
Words, Words, Words  
Annus Mirabilis  
21. Renaissance  
Lost Years  
Two Papal Pilgrimages  
Two Peninsular Pilgrimages

More American Adventures
26. In the Footsteps of Hopkins and Newman  
Two International Conferences  
Catholic Shakespeare  
Last Words  
Bibliographical Afterword  








 Cat at Home











Thomas at Richmond












Blog Brittonia

All About Francis Xavier


Who are the Jesuits?

Joining the Jesuits in Japan











 A Lifetime with Hopkins  by Peter Milward














     Jacobean Shakespeare
by Peter Milward















 A Lifetime with Hopkins by Peter Milward




































4. Wimbledon in Wartime


Looking back over the 1930s, I can’t help feeling that those were the days to be alive, at least in England, and most of all in Wimbledon.  Our elders were no doubt worrying about the international situation – in Spain, in Ethiopia, in Austria, in Czecho-Slovakia – while we boys were allowed to bask in the bliss of ignorance.  As for myself, I was only interested in current events in so far as they bore fruit in maps in the daily newspaper.  Apart from geography, however, and occasional visits to the Imperial Institute in Kensington, where the glories of the British Empire were presented in detail with photographic brochures for visitors, I was a confirmed Little Englander.  My father may have spent his early years in Ceylon and Malaya, and then gone with my mother to the Far West of Canada, but I strongly felt that there was no place like home.  No doubt, he too with his various experiences afield agreed with me.  Or was it I who agreed with him?  Those were golden days in a golden world, but that world was destined to pass away, thanks to one man whose name was Adolf Hitler.  So when war eventually broke out in early September 1939, one of our first concerns was by what name to call this war.  The one in which Dada had fought and been captured by the Germans was the Great War.  So the present war, it was considered, should be Hitler’s War, a war for which one man was responsible.


It was, I remember, about midday, shortly after the Prime Minister, Mr Neville Chamberlain, had broadcast the news to the nation that we were now at war with Germany.  Hardly had he finished speaking than the air raid warnings began to sound.  Fearing the worst, we crowded into the narrow space beneath the stairs and waited for the bombs to begin falling.  We waited and waited, but nothing happened.  Then the all clear sounded.  It was a false alarm, owing to an unidentified aircraft having been sighted over the North Sea, but it was a foretaste of things to come.  For the time being Hitler’s attention was taken up with his invasion of Poland, and then with his further invasion of Denmark and Norway.  We were all expecting things to happen on the Western Front, between the impregnable fortifications constructed by the French along the Maginot Line and those constructed by the Germans along their Siegfried Line.  But nothing happened, apart from the recurrence of the same map of the Franco-German frontier in our daily paper day after day.  It was so dull, so tedious, so regrettably uneventful.  I longed for something exciting to happen.  And so it did, with the German invasion of Belgium, which caught both the British and the French armies by surprise.  So we had to retreat to the Belgian coast at Dunkirk, where there took place the famous “miracle of Dunkirk”, the organized retreat of some 250,000 troops in some 900 ships of all shapes and sizes on a clear, calm day without any opposition from the German enemy.  Now it was England’s turn to occupy the front line of battle against the Germans along the South-East coast.  What, we wondered, would happen next?  No one knew, but we had to be prepared, like Boy Scouts, for anything.  Now there was no room for schoolboy excitement.  The grim reality was too close and too threatening.  Day after day we waited, and day after day brought fresh news, some of it encouraging but most of it depressing.


Then on June 25 something happened to raise our spirits, at least at 11 Devas Road.  My youngest brother John was born.  It happened during one of the first air raids over ondon.  Amid our preceding gloom the announcement of a baby, followed by his appearance in our midst, came like a ray of light and hope.  “Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom. Lead thou me on!”  I couldn’t help thinking of those inspiring words of John Henry Newman.  However dark everything might seem to be all round us, here at home we had the light of life in the form of a little baby.  He couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment, just as, in the words of GK Chesterton in his Ballad of the White Horse, “the sky grows darker yet, and the sea rises higher.”  I was already in my mid teens and going through the discomfort of what is called “the space of life between”, when my life at school – especially as I wasn’t so good at games, not even cricket, and especially in time of war, when everything that seemed to make life worth living had been cut down to a minimum – was in process of becoming (as for poor Hamlet) “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable”.  Now, however, with the baby I could feel young again.  Now whenever I looked on the gurgling, or even the bawling, of this little baby, the weight of years dropped from my shoulders and I could recall my own infancy.  Now I could respond with fellow feeling to Wordsworth’s magnificent “Immortality Ode” and his praise of infancy, as well as to Chesterton’s chapter on “The Ethics of Elfland” in his Orthodoxy, which I was then reading for the first (but by no means the last) time.  Now I could make my own what he calls his “first and last philosophy”, which he says he learnt in the nursery, but which I now learnt in my little brother’s nursery, the philosophy of fairy tales.  For him, he declares, “fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense”.  This I found all the more evident in contrast to the madness of the world around me.


That summer the “Battle of Britain” broke out.  From the vantage point of Edge Hill, both the Church and the College, I felt myself sitting on the front seats of a drama being played out before my eyes in the valley below.  In that valley was the aerodrome of Croydon.  From it our planes went up one after another to engage the enemy planes in the clear blue sky above.  We could see the lines of white exhaust from the planes as they criss-crossed high up in the sky., and we could hear the rat-tat-tat of their machine-guns, till one after another the planes fell down to the ground, most of them (we hoped) enemy planes.  It was all very exciting and the closest I came to an actual experience of the war, as eye-witness though not as participant.  Meanwhile, at school we were being prepared for armed combat in the JTC (Junior Training Corps).  After classes were over we would put on our army uniforms, even in the heat of summer, and parade up and down the school grounds.  At times we had to go on route marches across the Common.  What I chiefly remember from them was the perspiration brought on by the heavy uniform and the weather combined, and blisters developed in my feet from the ill-fitting army boots.  It was so arduous and painful, and what made matters worse was the gruffness of our army sergeant.  Some of the boys seemed to be in their element, but for most others, including myself, it was hell.


Then the air raids over London began.  They continued on a nightly basis almost without break for the best part of six months.  Fortunately for us Wimbledon wasn’t regarded as strategically important by the German Luftwaffe (or Air Force).  It was just a suburb of London, but it lay on their route not just to London but to almost anywhere in the Midlands.  They made their way first to the Thames just to the North of Wimbledon and Richmond, before branching out to their several destinations.  The railway in the valley below Wimbledon Hill was used by our anti-aircraft guns, which could thus move up and down without being fixed in one place.  Thus the railway attracted most of the enemy bombing, and some of their bombs fell on houses along Worple Road on our way to the College.  For this reason every morning on our way to school we would pick up bits and pieces of shrapnel from the anti-aircraft shells.  Further along the road there was a place where an enemy plane had actually come down, destroying the house at the corner.  I was at home when it crashed, and as it fell from the sky with a zooming crescendo it seemed to be coming down right upon us.  When it fell, there was such a strong thud, it was as if an earthquake had taken place.  Almost all the raids took place at night, so we could continue our classes during the day.  But when a raid took place in the daytime, we had to troop down to the cellars and amuse ourselves with improvised games, such as one called “Battleships”, a more sophisticated form of “Noughts and Crosses”.


It is strange how soon one gets accustomed to such tragic events, and boys are remarkably resilient creatures.  After that first false alarm in the very moment of our declaration of war against Nazi Germany, it didn’t take us long to become inured to the real thing.  Whenever the air raid warning sounded, I would go upstairs to our bedroom window once we heard the ominous sound of the diesel engines of the German bombers.  There from the window I had a splendid view of a nightly fireworks display, with the searchlights moving to and fro and occasionally lighting up one of the bombers, the flashes of exploding shells here and there, and the stream of fire proceeding from a plane that had been hit and came falling down.  The following morning, as I looked from the same window towards London, I might also see the effects of the bombing on the city, when the whole horizon might be lit up as if all was ablaze.  Once it merely turned out to have come from a paper factory near Wimbledon, which had received direct hits from the bombs.  It was more an appearance than the reality of disaster, though the real disasters in the city were by no means few or insignificant.  As for our house, it remained unscathed, apart from bits of shrapnel falling on the roof.  But all round us, at a distance of some 200 yards, we could draw a circle of the places where bombs had fallen and demolished whole houses.  Evidently, we were living inside a charmed circle, thanks to our nightly prayers to Our Lady of Quito and St Jude, the patron saint of lost causes.


Because of the air raids at night, we had to keep all our windows at home blacked out, so that not a chink of light on the ground might be seen from the sky and provide a clue to the bombers passing overhead.  Once the air raid was in progress, of course, it would have been dangerous to venture outside without the protection of a helmet against the falling shrapnel.  Indoors, we had to keep to one or two rooms which could be completely blacked out with heavy curtains.  For this reason the kitchen became both dining and living room, and once the evening meal was cleared away we sat down at our respective places at the table to get on with our homework.  This was a time when the presence of John was less acceptable to us than when he had first come.  As a little child, he naturally wanted to have someone to play with him.  But we were all too busy to comply with him.  So he became troublesome and pulled at our sleeves, trying to force us to come and play.  Then I discovered an infallible remedy for his tantrums.  I would get up from my chair, take him between his armpits and put him down on the floor with the command, “Stay there, till I tell you to get up!”  He was so astonished that he could make no protest, but he stayed there without a whimper.  Subsequently in Japan I have resorted to the same method in dealing with obstreperous little boys, and with much the same success.  It may seem a little cruel, but as Hamlet says, one “must be cruel only to be kind.”


During the German invasion of England by air, there was talk of infiltration by German spies coming in secretly from the South or the East coast.  So we were all issued with identity cards and told to carry them about on us at all times.  In fact, I was twice challenged to produce my ID card, each time by a pair of soldiers, one demanding my card while the other stood with his fixed bayonet pointing at me.  On neither occasion, however, did I have my ID card on me, but I was so obviously no spy – a spy would surely have come supplied with such a basic article of equipment – there was nothing for the soldiers to do but to let me go.  It was so ridiculous!  But then so many ridiculous things were happening up and down the country in the name of the war and the war effort.


Then what did I think of it all, as a boy in his mid-teens?  Of course, I was convinced, like the great majority of my fellow countrymen, that the war we were fighting against the “nasty Nazis” (as Winston Churchill liked to call them) was a just one.  If they had gained supreme mastery of Europe and then the whole world, as at one time after Dunkirk they had seemed to be on the point of doing, surely that would have been the end of humanity, or of what we still called “Christendom”.  It was almost a religious war, in the sense not of aiming at any expansion of Christian dominion, but of defending our Christian heritage against an anti-Christian, inhuman aggressor.  At that time Mr Churchill made one of his famous wartime speeches, claiming that England was now the only champion fighting on behalf of the world against the power of evil – that is to say, England together with her Empire.  On the other hand, for the sake of eventual victory we were expected to endure every sacrifice.  We were all, willy-nilly, patriots.  To be otherwise was to be a traitor.  It had been the spirit of England in 1588, when we were threatened by the power of the Spanish Armada.  About this time there was also the famous movie version of Shakespeare’s Henry V under the direction of Sir Laurence Olivier, culminating in that king’s victory over a larger French army at the battle of Agincourt in 1415.  It seemed to catch the essence and the appeal of our wartime patriotism.


Among the many sacrifices we had to endure was the fundamental matter of food.  We were all issued with food coupons, so that we could only eat so much of this and so much of that.  The practical outcome was that we got to eat all the food to which we were entitled, whether we liked it or not.  Meat and fish were particularly scarce, needed as they were to supply the military with the necessary proteins.  Whenever we passed a queue along the pavement in front of one or other shop, we naturally concluded it must be for fish, as there was so little meat available.  At this time there appeared a cartoon in the comic magazine Punch showing a long queue and a lady half way along the queue asking the one in front of her, “Excuse me, but could you tell me what this queue is for?”  By then it had become almost an instinct for housewives to join queues in the hope of finding something to sustain their hungry families.


 In this respect my mother worked wonders for us at home.  When we came home from school at midday, she always had something for us to eat.  But how she managed it, we could hardly tell.  We took it for granted that she was a worker of miracles, when it came to food.  Needless to say, she made a point of cultivating the good graces of the various tradesmen who came to deliver the food at our back door.  She never merely took what they brought and paid for it, but she invariably invited them in for a cup of tea and an exchange of gossip.  Then they would bring her choice bits and pieces of this and that, which they reserved for their better customers.  What they brought her she used to good effect in the meals she made for us.  She was such a good cook, the best (to my way of thinking) in the whole world, though she protested she wasn’t fond of cooking.


What made matters at home even worse was that at this critical time my father was out of a job.  His previous job as traveling salesman for J&J Paton, visiting schools up and down the country throughout the year, naturally required petrol as food for his car.  But now not only was food rationed for human beings, but petrol was even more severely rationed for cars.  So without a car, my father was out of a job.  Fortunately, after a little time he managed to find a good job with Shell thanks to the kind recommendation of a friend.  Then, instead of getting petrol for his car, he found himself directing oil-tankers along the waterways of the world, with little flags pin-pointing the positions of those tankers on the five oceans.  While he had been out of a job, things began to look really gloomy for us, and the climax to our gloom came when my father, in jest, suggested that, if the worst came to the worst, we might kill our pet rabbit named Charles for rabbit-pie (with memories of Mr. McGregor and Peter Rabbit).  We were all so angry at his suggestion, as if he were tempting us to become cannibals.  What!  Kill poor little Charles, just to satisfy our appetite for rabbit-pie?  It was unthinkable!


Yet even with my father working for Shell, things were still going from bad to worse, as they usually do in wartime.  For one thing, he soon reached the age of retirement, and he had to look for further employment, which he found this time with a Polish shipping broker, whose temper was quite unreliable.  For another, Hitler, not satisfied with his bombing of England’s cities, now resorted to a new secret weapon known as “flying bombs”.  These were directed by radio from across the Narrow Seas.  They moved with a weird humming sound over the houses, till their engine was shut off, and then they would fall with an even weirder sound.  They were altogether unnerving, much more so than ordinary bombs and bombers.  The story came to my ears of a priest preaching in the Sacred Heart church one Sunday on the uncertainty of death, when his sermon was suddenly and effectively interrupted by the sound of a flying bomb.  Then there wasn’t any need for him to continue his sermon.  The sound of the bomb was sermon enough!  It only came to my ears some time later, since by then I had left school and had gone, for the sake of fulfilling my childish desire to become a priest, to the Jesuit noviciate in North Wales.  This step of mine had, needless to say, been decided on long since, and I had received exemption from military service for the purpose.  But it wasn’t long after I went, with my Mass-playing companion, to the College of St. Beuno’s in the lovely Clwyd valley, that the flying bombs began coming over London and terrorizing Londoners.  There at St Beuno’s we had no need of food coupons, as we had a farm attached to the college, and we ourselves as novices had to spend much of our time working in our kitchen garden and orchard as a condition for military exemption.  By all means the war effort had to go on!

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