The searchlights fingered the night sky, their beams crisscrossing in their frantic search for the bombers. Suddenly they caught one in their bright beams and the instantaneous burst of canon fire was deafening. Almost as loud was the cheering heard from the entire neighbourhood. To us children, it was all so exciting and fascinating.
Of course, I would not admit that I was also very scared. This was no time to be a “baby”. My brother had already calculated where it might come down. If it landed not too far from us, we would run there tomorrow morning to pick up any plane fragments or bomb shrapnel. Hitler encouraged everybody to save, re-use and recycle. One of his recycle programs was to trade shrapnel for an army steel helmet. We all wanted one. After breakfast the next morning my brother and sisters were getting ready to go out and hunt for shrapnel.
“Wait for me” I yelled. “Ah, you stay home, this is no place for babies” my brother said. “Who are you calling a baby? I’m six-years-old and can outrun anyone of you,” I protested, putting my hands on my hips. That made them laugh so hard that they had to take me along. And a good thing it was too, because I found shrapnel that all of my older siblings had missed. We found enough shrapnel around the site to fill half a pail, in spite of the competition from all the kids in the neighbourhood.
In the next few weeks we collected enough shrapnel for only one helmet. I was allowed to try it on only once and only after reminding my siblings vociferously of my contribution to the shrapnel haul. The helmet came down over my eyes, causing my less than charitable siblings to tease me mercilessly. “Look, a blind soldier! Who you gonna shoot, blind soldier?”
I was used to being mocked but never gave them an inch. I knew I was small but deep inside me I also knew I had the“right stuff” — long before Hollywood expropriated that term.