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  • Print publication year: 2021
  • Online publication date: April 2021

1 - Childhood


I CAN't REMEMBER my mother ever giving me a hug, which prompts me to conclude that one forgets all too easily the pleasant things in life. However, I am sure I enjoyed a reasonably secure childhood, at least until I was eleven, when on April 27th 1942 a Nazi plane dropped a huge bomb (one of many that fell that night on what I had come to think of as my home city Norwich) in the garden of the house next door, blasting the roof off and blowing out the windows of our own home in Stone Road. We were inside but survived unhurt, thanks to the protective steel cage provided by the Morrison shelter which had been recently installed under the stairs. I remember my mother's gasp when she emerged in the morning and could see the sky through the shattered rafters.

It was only recently that it dawned on me that my parents’ marriage must already have been at breaking point for some years, since in August 1939, just before the Second World War started, my mother took me and my young brother Rodney to Salisbury to live with her pacifist friend Dorothy. The reason given me for our family ‘evacuation’ was that Norwich was too close to a possible invasion site, but in retrospect swapping one cathedral city for another does not make much sense. What I have since worked out is that the war coincided with a personal crisis in the Burton family. My mother, Kay, had a friend named Ted Harris. He was a conscientious objector whom I assume she had met in Norwich at a Peace Pledge Union meeting, since she was an active pacifist. Ted had left Norwich to work on a farm at Teffont Magna, not far from Salisbury. Later in the war I spent a summer working with Ted on that farm and a happy experience it was: riding on combine harvesters, helping with the threshing and chasing rabbits when they were trapped in the middle of the harvested field.