My Birth

Donald Shephard

After Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939 the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. My father, who was 33, married with two daughters, was called-up into the Royal Army. Rationing began early in the New Year. I was conceived sometime in the middle of February, 1940. My nervous system, brain, digestive system, ears and arms began to form. My heart began beating about the first week of March. Between the middle of March and the beginning of April my nostrils, eyelids, nose, fingers, legs, feet, toes, and bones began to form. My cardiovascular system was fully functional and less than 1 inch long.

On April 9, 1940 Germany invaded Denmark and Norway. Denmark surrendered immediately but the Norwegians fought on with British and French assistance. At that time the growth of my chin and other facial structures gave me a human face and profile; my head was still dominant, but my body was lengthening to about 1.5 inches long.

Germany invaded Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands on May 9th. Neville Chamberlain resigned and Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. He was about the age I am now. I began blinking my eyes and sucking my lips. My body began to outgrow my head and my mother could feel the activity of my muscles. I was about 5.5 inches long. This was her fifth pregnancy. My sisters were alternated by two still-born boys. Old Dr. Bell had told her that it was obvious she could not have male children. My younger brother and I beg to differ. In May, both the Netherlands and Belgium surrendered to the Germans. On the thirteenth of the month, my mother listened to Churchill’s “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat” speech. No doubt I could hear it and no doubt I did not understand it.

Beginning on May 26, my mother listened to Operation Dynamo, now popularly known as Dunkirk. By June 4, when the operation ended, 350,000 British, French and Belgium troops had been saved by the Royal Navy and a flotilla of privately owned small vessels. Six destroyers had been sunk, along with eight personnel ships and around two hundred small craft from a total of around 860 vessels of all sizes. A further 220,000 Allied troops were rescued from other French ports bringing the total evacuated to 558,000. They left all their hardware behind. The Germans had taken over a million Allied prisoners at a cost of 60,000 casualties in three weeks. Churchill warned that “wars are not won by evacuations” saying it was a “colossal military disaster”. But the British public took a huge boost in morale from Dunkirk perhaps because he also said, “We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets; we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.” By then my limbs achieved their final proportions; my eyelashes and eyebrows were present; and I was about 6.5 inches long.

Italy declared war on the United Kingdom on June 10th and on the 14th, the Germans entered Paris. At that time I had a substantial increase in weight; my skin was wrinkled and red; and I was about 13 inches long. The Luftwaffe launched the Battle of Britain on July 10th which lasted until September and resulted in the indefinite postponement of Operation Sealion, the German invasion of Britain. Frustrated by losses in the Battle of Britain, Hitler tried to crush the British people instead. He started the London Blitz. About 43,000 civilians died during the Blitz. Almost 140,000 more were injured and a million homes were damaged or destroyed. Among those damaged was my family’s apartment.

The United States and the United Kingdom signed the Lend-Lease program giving Britain fifty much needed destroyers. On September 27th the German-Italian-Japanese Tripartite Pact was signed. As the Blitz continued, my fingernails and toenails were present and I was 14.5 inches long. Air raids continued over London and the south-east of England into October but the German bombers were losing planes faster than they could repair or replace them and switched to night-time raids.

On November 15, Germany bombed Coventry to destruction. I was born four days later in my aunt’s apartment. My mother was moved there because it was on the ground floor, ours was upstairs. They wanted her close to an underground Anderson Shelter in case there was an air raid. There was no question of going to a hospital as soldiers filled every available bed.

Millions had died, thousands were maimed. Millions who appeared intact were emotionally or mentally wounded. I was a healthy baby boy oblivious to the carnage around me with five years of war to live through before my emotionally fragile father would rejoin my mother and their four children. That is the story of the days leading up to my birth.

Back to ... College of the Redwoods Creative Writing Class Assignments | Home page