Peter Carroll is the author of Queen of Misfortune – A Lady Jane Grey Novel and Doodlebugs & Spitfires. For more information, see his website.
Tibby was truly a super cat. A mongrel and mischievous ginger Tom. He was a wartime cat and shared my adventurous childhood.
Unlike humans, war cats weren’t affected by food rationing. Birds and mice were always in plentiful supply but we still ensured Tibby had enough to eat Mum regularly managed to pick up scraps from the fishmongers like heads and tails which she boiled in a large saucepan especially used for the purpose. When cooled the contents gelled and kept Tibby going for a week.
He shared our traumatic lives under the frightening cloak of World War Two in North West London when sirens wailed almost every night in 1941 and I was just seven years of age, sending us all scurrying to the Anderson air raid shelter at the end of the garden.
Tibby was always there with my parents, elder brother and me. Soon I would have another brother, my mother was pregnant. When the German bombers came invading our ears with their droning heavy laden engines his ears flattened and he scurried and hid under thee lower bunk until the noises of war stopped and the all clear siren sounded.
“You can come out now, Tibby” and as sure as you like his little face appeared, pushing his nose to mine as I bent to greet him.
Summer days were spent in the garden playing enchanting games that cats play with balls of wool, balloons and soap bubbles. It was great fun – and always that special kiss, the rubbing of noses afterwards when he decided he’d had enough of the midday sun and found the shade of an apple tree.
I couldn’t imagine a life without Tibby. He was always there and contributed much to my childhood. The stroking, the touching of noses, purrs and sometimes, if I was a little too much for him, the gentle touch of a clawed paw or nibble of a finger a when his jaw quivered. But that was as far as he ever went – just a mild warning, he never drew blood. He was generally good natured and docile unless confronted by a strange cat entering his territory, then all hell was let loose.
Occasionally, Tibby emerged looking the worse for wear. Bits out of his ears, bleeding legs, he ,looked a right mess. During such times I was closest to him. So gently stroking and pampering him, whispering to him that he just had to get well soon because I was missing the games we played. He would hang about for days until, his wounds had healed. He chose to lay in a little space under the coal bunker and one could see his head peeking out. After school I sent lots of time with him until mum called me for tea, waiting for those strong vibrating purrs of approval which were quick to come. Given this careful treatment, he was soon back to normal, ready to pounce again on any intruder
One night the German bombers came early and the anti-aircraft guns were very noisy. My family and I were comparatively safe in out shelter but Tibby was missing. I wanted to go and find him but dad wouldn’t hear of it. “But, Dad I must find poor Tibby, I can’t bear to think what might happen to him!” but my pleading was in vain. “And anyway,” dad reassured – “Tibby is more agile than you, he will know all the nooks and crannies to keep him out of harm’s way, he’ll be okay.”
But tears quickly came as I listened to the noise and plunder outside. For a moment there was a strange eerie silence I shall never forget. I thought heard Tibby’s meow, but the sound of war started again and the bombers seemed to be in their hundreds above us. Dad said they must be after the factories nearby. Too old to fight in the war he did night watch duties at the Kodak factory. He recalled how a German land mine parachuted into the Kodak grounds. Fortunately for him it failed to explode and I still had a dad, unlike many of my mates who lost theirs fighting on the war front.
I shall never forget the awful sounds of the bombers’ droning engines, As soon as they released their bombs the tone of the engines lightened. We heard the bombs shrieking down, they seemed to be everywhere. I saw the grim expression on dad’s face in the flickering candlelight We were all so scared. I only hoped Tibby was tucked safely away somewhere. If only I knew where he was, that he was safe.
The earth was vibrating following several large explosions nearby. We heard the sound of breaking glass and people screaming. Someone was yelling about a direct hit on a house nearby. When the ‘all clear;’ sounded, we all climbed out of the shelter. There was a bright full moon but the sky was reddened by three large fires nearby. Two bombs had fell harmlessly into a field adjoining our garden and I saw two huge craters. There was debris everywhere. My parents and elder brother rushed off to see if they could help those who had suffered in the bombing and I found myself alone in the smoke and debris, intent on finding Tibby. I was absolutely devastated; I just had to find him.
I used my special call, the call he would recognize – a very rapid repetition of his name – “Tibby, Tibby, Tibby – come on putty cat, let me see you. Let me at least hear you?” all those special sounds we used to call our animals.
All my attempts were in vain. A few hours passed and I feared the worst: it was unlike Tibby to stay away that long. I spent the rest of the night in tears, listening for his meow, sometimes running to the window if I heard something. By the morning I had almost given up hope, it was so unlike Tibby to be away for so long.
* * *
Mr Bray was an air raid warden and not at all popular with my parents. He was always yelling: “Dowse those bloody lights. Don’t you know there’s a war on!?”
Blackouts were used during the war, fixed to window frames to conceal the light inside. Tibby rather took to the thick sacking material, he enjoyed jumping up at the blackouts and clinging to them. Occasionally the blackout came tumbling down and of course it always happened when Mr Bray was nearby. He was on the spot like a referee at a football match. Of course he was only doing his job but my parents’ patience was often stretched and more often than not, a few harsh words were exchanged. My mum called him ‘little Hitler.’
But our feelings towards Mr Bray were about to change…
The following morning, after the bombing down the road he knocked at our door and mum was ready for another battle of words.
But it was a different Mr. Bray standing on the doorstep. He was still and calm, covered in mud and grime, holding something in his outstretched arms.
“I believe this lucky scavenger belongs to you” was all he said. It was Tibby! We learned later he was in the branches of a large oak tree which came down during the bombing. He was unable to move because he had a six inch piece of shrapnel embedded in his stomach. The local vet managed to patch him up, but said if it hadn’t been for Mr. Bray Tibby would have died.
Tibby survived the ordeal but he was never quite the same. He was unable to jump up at the blackout that was for sure. He was the perfect pet and his great charisma is cherished and remembered until this day.
Eventually his turbulent nine lives were spent in 1952 when he died peacefully at the age of 14.
DOODLEBUGS & SPITFIRES
Memories and Short Stories by Peter Carroll
“Doodlebugs & Spitfires” is a delightful collection of memories and short stories written by Peter Carroll, the author of “Queen of Misfortune,” in his trademark poetic and profoundly thoughtful style.
Most of his stories, previously published in limited form in local English newspapers and magazines, like “Brave New World”, “The Forties Street Tradesmen”, “Doodlebugs”, or “The Christmas of 43” evolve around his childhood in the Northern part of London during and after World War II. He describes the horrors that came with the V1 flying bombs, nicknamed the “Doodlebugs.” Heroic British pilots in their “Spitfire” airplanes would attempt to divert the flying bombs from the populated areas, sometimes successful, and sometimes not.
Doodlebugs & Spitfires is available at Amazon.Com and its Kindle store, Amazon.co.uk and its Kindle store, Barnes & Noble, and any other good bookstore.