In Search of Yesterdays
Les feuilles mortes
The falling leaves drift by the window
The falling leaves of red and gold
The little boy was curled up in the curtain at the left hand side of the bay window. His name was Choo, the spelling is unknown but he couldn’t pronounce his own name and had adopted that. Memory is said to begin about four, so that would be his age and this would be one of his earliest.
A little girl was curled up in the curtain at the right hand side of the bay window. She was his sister and was two years younger. She had a beautiful name but he did not think she merited it yet so he called her Podge.
They were both watching the leaves fall from very tall trees on the far side of a large overgrown lawn. As a leaf floated from side to side on the wind their eyes would follow it lost in the wonder of their dreams.
All was at peace with their world. The room was now dark and unlit. The afternoon was drawing in and soon their Nanny, Lily, would arrive with something sweet to eat. Lily was about sixteen and from the village. She accompanied them everywhere, even on holiday. That meant their mother could keep elegant and happy for them untroubled by the daily chores of childcare. It must have been after four o’clock on an autumn afternoon in the Cotswolds.
An autumn of 1943 when war was tearing the world asunder.
YANKEE DOODLE WENT TO TOWN
Yankee doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony
He stuck a feather in his hat,
and called it macaroni.
Lily and the little boy stood by the road to watch the columns of American tanks roll by.
The GIs threw chewing gum and chocolate for them. The little boy had never had chocolate before. He ran to pick it up. When Lily said that it was for her the little boy replied that that was a silly idea; she was only a girl and of course it was for him. Such is the pragmatic confidence of a child.
There were Canadian soldiers on the farm. But they were Empire and not yanks and Choo would go and talk to them seriously about guns and things. The guns were as tall as he was.
Choo had a Shetland pony. He and his friends would take it to ride around the woods and hills and fields. The world might be at war but a little boy could still walk his native land without fear.
One day more Americans came to the farm and used some outbuildings as offices. They were making a film and they wanted some children with a pony in their film. So Choo and his friends signed up. Each day in the evening they would line up to be paid. A lovely big piece of silver. Always a half-crown.
Capitalism felt good. They did nothing as they were on standby. This lasted two weeks, but Choo couldn’t count time, and they had got bored and went back to going over the hills. When they came back one day they found the scene had been shot without them. The producer had had to rustle up some village children and Choo lost his chance at stardom.
And such was the exploitation of England’s children by the yanks during the war.