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A Wartime Birthday Story
by Hilda Graham

This being Memorial Day, it brought back this memory of World War II.

I recall that my friends and I were giving a birthday party for one of the GI's who was going to be twenty one, and as you know, in England that was considered a coming of age party (it may be changed now, I am not sure).  It was sad because his outfit got moved and we did not find out in time.

My father suggested that my friends and I who were going to a dance before the party may be able to find a couple of young men to share in the party celebration even though the one it had been planned for had been transferred. Some of the other girls had boy friends that were still going to be able to be there. The reason we decided to go ahead with the party was because friends and neighbors had given us some of their rations, sugar, flour, etc. so we could make a birthday cake, and we wanted to share the cake. Also we had managed a few sandwiches. 

So off we went to the dance. We were to be back home no later than 9 PM, as the dance started at 7 PM but we needed a little time before the boys were to return to base, by 1200 PM or 2400 Hrs.  When we got to the dance, word got around and we ended up with about eighteen, counting my friends.  I remember my father grinning when he opened the door and commenting he did not expect all the army.  There were about ten American airmen, two Canadians and a British airman.  We had our little party but we noticed the men were constantly watching the time as they had to be sure to get back to base by 12 PM and could not be late.  I might add that the base was only a few miles away and they had a truck to return them to base. The Canadian boys were twins and very entertaining, amateur magicians; we sang a few war songs. A good time was had by all.

The next day we found out that the raid they were going to fly that night was to hit a very essential plant in Germany which produced ball bearings, and this was to be the first raid to destroy the factory. This raid became known as Black Thursday. I believe the date was October 13th, 1943. Sixteen bombers left for that raid. One aborted due to technical difficulties and of the remaining fifteen, only two bombers returned. One crash landed on the south coast of England and only one returned to base at Chelveston, which was about 12 miles from my home. We learned in the next couple of days that 8 of those boys including the 2 Canadians had all been killed.

It is difficult to describe the sadness and shock we all shared to think just a short time before this horrible tragedy they had all been laughing and singing. Alas this was wartime and things like this happened daily. Sorry to end on a sad note.

Copyright Hilda Graham, 2005 

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