United Kingdom / Story

Children’s perspectives of life in South East England


During the preparations for D-Day, civilians in Southeast England saw thousands of troops and vehicles descend upon their towns and villages in temporary marshalling camps. For the children experiencing this phenomenon, it was especially impactful, and recollections of the child’s view reveal the excitement and differing perspectives behind the impending conflict.

One young boy in Southampton had made friends with two American soldiers named Chuck and Joe who provided a supply of Hershey Bars. He was a little peeved when he saw the troops were on the move and couldn’t receive his essential chocolate ration.

By all accounts, the mass mobilisation of the troops marching through the streets on their way to the waiting ships was somewhat confusing. When adults said, “I think it’s happening”, there was little comprehension of what “it” actually was. The lasting impression of the sheer volume of troops, the noise, the waving flags and parents’ reactions at hearing that troops arrived in Normandy the following morning was the most impactful.  

Another young man, aged four, living in Portsmouth in 1944, stood on the garden path in amazement watching as camouflaged army vehicles stopped outside. The vehicles themselves were very exciting but the food stored within was especially interesting, with one solider sharing his boiled sweets. One soldier was especially kind after he became spooked when a vehicle started up and covered him in fumes. He was taken on a 400-meter ride in a Jeep back to his house, a real adventure. The excitement of their presence contrasted with the confusion of their sudden disappearance was difficult to navigate for the young boy, who asked lots of questions that went unanswered until all became apparent years later.  

For a young man living in Woking in Surrey, a rail freight yard was commandeered to house third-class carriages to act as temporary accommodation for troops, all Canadian. Despite being warned to not talk to the men, children would visit them on the way to school almost every day as the path they used ran by the yard. The young boy would take them home made food and made friends with a dispatch rider called Howard. Once again, the confusion of their being there one moment and gone the next was upsetting, especially as Howard did not even say goodbye and more questions went unanswered.  

One ten-year-old girl recalled being on Southsea beach on the morning of D-Day. She had been given a small bag of new pennies by her father and was playing with them on the beach. As a soldier boarded his boat, he asked for a penny for good luck. She thought it helpful to give all the pennies away to a few of the soldiers much to her father’s disapproval as new coins were quite rare at the time.