This morning we were lucky to have a visit from Mr Polonis (Mrs Polonis’ father-in-law). He was only six years old when the war started and had a lot of stories, facts and interesting anecdotes to tell us about his and his families’ experiences of world war two.
He started by telling us about his dad being called up to serve for the Royal Navy Reserves which is kind of like the current Territorial Army. He served on HMS Courageous, an aircraft carrier which was the first ship to be sunk by the German U-boats in WW2. Read more about it here. Over six hundred men lost their lives but thankfully for Mr Polonis, is father survived. The captain made the decision to turn the ship into the wind to launch aircraft which left it in a perfect position for torpedo attack. Mr Polonis’ dad had to swim in the English Channel for over 24 hours before being rescued.
When his father was away in the navy, he was left at home with his mother and older brother. He showed us a photo of them during the war. He lived in Weir Street in Greenock when the Germans first started bombing the area. He remembers the first night of the blitz he heard the whistle of the bombs, then silence just before the bombs crashed to the ground. His building was left standing but the windows were blown out.
A decision was made by the local authority to move people out to places of safety. His family moved in with his grandparents in Broomhill, Greenock. His grandmother had been involved in a domestic fire and her legs were badly burned. The second night of the bombings they decided not to go to the bomb shelters because they didn’t want to leave their grandmother. Unfortunately, a bomb hit the house next to theirs and the settee that Mr Polonis and his brother were sitting on was thrown on top of them like a tent. His cousin who was also staying with them suffered from a bad facial injury, his mother became deaf from the bomb and sadly his grandmother died two days later from her injuries. He explained that 280 people were killed in Greenock, 1200 were injured and over 10,000 homes were destroyed.
The rationing was severe due to the ships being torpedoed. He remembers a terrible Norwegian tin called snook. He loved getting his sweetie coupon and his favourite was and still is Rowntrees Fruit Gums (which his father said he ate like a seagull!).
At night they had to make sure there wasn’t a slither of light in case the Air Raid Wardens came round and gave them into trouble. He told us that you had to carry your gas mask everywhere and if you forgot to take it to school you were sent home to get it. They had to try them on every morning which was a bore but one plus was the fact that you could make rude noises with them and the teacher never knew who was making it!
He told us about the red brick bomb shelters which had no windows or doors. He vividly remembers a neighbour playing songs on his accordion but he was so bad it was like he was playing with boxing gloves on! They had to make their own entertainment by playing football in the streets with a tennis ball or rolled up paper. They didn’t have all of the fancy football kits and equipment we have now so they would make do. Once his friends used red dye to make red shirts to play against other ‘teams’ but when it rained it all ran and they looked like tomatoes! His dad once brought back a pair of skis which was quite unusual in the east end of Greenock. But his brother and him made the most of them and made them into a sledge which went like a rocket. An hour later his brother ended up in hospital with a sore face. Oh dear!
He remembers when his dad came home his brother and him would raid his kit bag to see what he had brought home. His dad said that working in the Arctic ocean was so cold he couldn’t shave so he grew a beard which they didn’t like. Although his dad received many campaign medals (Atlantic Star for the HMS Courageous, the Arctic Star – received just over one yea ago). He said that his dad is not a hero – he was only doing his duty. He is sure that everyone would do the same today if the circumstances were the same. What an interesting thought.
Mr Polonis is now married with two children and five grandchildren. He is envious of all of the toys and gadgets that we have today but they made do with what they had. He answered all of your questions with detailed responses and has obviously learned a lot about the war since it ended. He said that he was never scared during the war because he was too young but he can remember his neighbour Mrs McGee shouting ‘The Germans are coming!’ when the sirens went off. Another reason they weren’t scared was because the British government hid a lot of information from them and only broadcast positive news to keep spirits up.