John Green’s family moved to Lee-on-the-Solent just in time for the outbreak of war in 1939. For a seven-year-old, war sounded like an exciting adventure, but as he sheltered with his mother and sister under the stairs during an air-raid, someone said they thought they heard machine-gun fire. They all held their breath and listened, but the noise turned out to be the rhythmic rat-a-tat of his mother’s trembling knee knocking against the panelling.
In this delightful memoir, John W Green describes what it was like to grow up in a ‘village of two halves’, with the western end inhabited by well-to-do families, and the eastern end by the people who served them. It was commonly thought that the shopkeepers reserved the better-quality groceries and nicer cuts of meat for the west-enders and for the officers’ hoity-toity wives.
He vividly describes how he became a rebellious child, going bird-nesting, running wild in Court Barn, scrumping apples, collecting ammunition, scavenging on the Ranges, and ‘borrowing’ a boat to row on the Alver. As he grew up, his hang-outs changed and he met his friends ‘up the Tower’, at the Bluebird Café or in the amusement arcade. Despite his reputation for being a rebel, John followed in his father’s footsteps by joining the RAF before becoming a ‘Marconi man’ in the merchant navy, sailing to every corner of the world.