Children of an eastern suburb of London, who have been made homeless by the random bombs of the Nazi night raiders, waiting outside the wreckage of what was their home. September 1940. New Times Paris Bureau Collection. (USIA)
Exact Date Shot Unknown
NARA FILE #: 306-NT-3163V
WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1009

From The Book of Gran

Bashing The Bishop

By 1942 the war was in full swing. Europe was so crowded with soldiers that there wasn’t enough room to fight properly so Mr Churchill and old Adolph decided to move some of their armies to Africa and let them fight where there was more space. I was twelve by then and Fritz was just fourteen. I was still a child, but Fritz was growing up fast. He had begun to take an interest in other girls, older girls. I have to admit I was jealous. We had always been best mates and nothing had changed in our relationship, but I was forever catching him looking all gooey-eyed at teenage girls and even grown up women. He was particularly fixated with breasts. I put up with it for a while, but when I found him looking dreamily at my mother’s chest while she was hanging her knickers on the line I felt I had to say something. I mean, my mother is a very good looking woman for her age, and I was used to men fawning over her, especially our half-hour-uncles, but Fritz wasn’t like other males, he was my mate. I began to get worried that he might want to join my mum and play her parlour games in the back room.
One very warm, summer afternoon, I came back from an errand to find him, Tin Ribs and Fat Ernie crouched down behind our garden wall looking through the gaps where the mortar had fallen out. Fat Ernie was rubbing away at his front of his trousers. I crept up behind them and craned my neck to see what they were gawping at, but all I could see was mum stretched out on a blanket doing a bit of sunbathing with my big sister, Josie. Mum was wearing her usual black brassiere and faded blue bloomers, her girdle lay on the floor alongside. Josie was wearing a short, fawn coloured slip. They had rigged up a temporary screen on the one side they could be overlooked, by pegging a tatty old blanket on the washing line. They had obviously forgotten that people could look over the back wall if they wanted to.
Fat Ernie was sweating like a pig, and sounding like one. I had never heard anyone grunt like that in my life, even when we sang Old MacDonald’s Farm at school.
It was then that I first heard one of those weird phrases that only boys seemed to use. One that made absolutely no sense to my twelve-year-old female brain.
‘I tell you what, Tin Ribs. I’m going to give the Bishop a right good bashing when I get home.’
‘I reckon I’ll give the Bishop a bash too, Fritz,’ replied Tin Ribs. He looked away from the objects of their desire and stared hard at Fat Ernie, whose face had turned a deep shade of purple. His breath came in gasps. “Looks like Ernie couldn’t wait.’
I was about to call them out, but this news startled me a bit. I didn’t even know the Bishop was in town and I had no idea why they would be planning on beating him up. Especially without letting me know about the plan. We made group decisions normally.
Had the gang wanted to go up the road a bit and bash the Vicar, I would have understood. He was a snidey-faced bugger, with narrow eyes, a long skinny nose and the thinnest lips I’ve ever seen on a face, they looked like they’d been drawn on. He threatened us all with Hell Fire and Damnation if we didn’t change our filthy, perverted ways. None of the kids liked him. He lost half of the members of the boy’s choir in the first six weeks. He used to make them sing in their vest and pants if they didn’t perform to his satisfaction at choir practice.
He had only been in the Parish for a few months. Our old Vicar had died when a German bomb made a direct hit on one of the houses on Beast Hill. He shouldn’t really have been in there at two o’clock in the morning as the Vicarage was three streets away. They found his body in an almost undamaged bed in the back garden. Mrs Dawkins, a married lady who used to help clean the church, and whose husband was in the army, somewhere in the desert, was in the bed with him. Our near neighbour, Mrs Mathewson, who would never hear a word against the church, told my mum that he had been administering to her needs when the bomb hit. Mum said she’d never heard it called that before. Old Mr Robinson at number 37 who didn’t have a religious bone in his body, laughed and said the Vicar had died breaking twenty percent of God’s commandments in one go. Coveting a neighbour’s wife and plain, old adultery.
At the last Harvest Festival, we kids carted our meagre baskets of fruit and veg down the aisle of the church, singing, All Things Bright and Beautiful, while our parents looked on with smiles and some regret about the amount of food they had donated. Most families would have made good use of the food we were giving to the poor. They would have to have been seriously poor indeed to be any worse off than us. Still, it was an annual ritual and no one wanted to be seen shirking their charitable duty.
The vicar walked the aisle among us, me on his right and our Josie just in front. As I looked across at him, he put in an extra little step, his hands fell forwards and found their way to Josie’s bum. He fondled her cheeks for a while, then took a smaller step, fell back in line with me, and raised his hands to his chest again as if he was praying as he walked. No one else seemed to have noticed. Josie didn’t even look back, she must have thought it was me. When we got to the front of the church he stepped to the side and gave her left buttock a hard little pat as he walked by. Then he made his way to the pulpit and faced the congregation.
‘Dear Lord,’ he began.
‘Why was you feeling our Josie’s arse just then?’ I demanded.
The Vicar turned his steely eyes on me. ‘What in God’s name are you blithering on about? Have you gone completely mad, girl?’
‘You felt our Josie’s arse on the way down the aisle, then you slapped it before you got up there,’ I replied. ‘Don’t deny it, I saw you.’
The Vicar’s face turned a strange shade of purple. He coughed and spluttered, but no more words came out.
My eyes sought out our mother, she was standing in a row about five feet away from me.
‘Gladys,’ she hissed. ‘Shut up.’
I held my hands out in front and made kneading motions with them. ‘He was doing that,’ I said. ‘To our Josie’s arse.’
Mum closed her eyes, groaned, then opened them again and spoke with a pleading tone in her voice. ‘Don’t,’ she said. ‘Please?’
I looked back at the Vicar accusingly. ‘You did,’ I said. I held my hands up and made the kneading motion again. ‘Like that.’ Then you slapped her arse. Didn’t he Josie?’
Josie stared at her feet and nodded her head. ‘I did feel something,’ she said.
‘Well, he certainly felt something,’ I replied. ‘He felt your arse.’
I could almost feel the heated glares from the majority of the congregation. I heard angry whispers around the church.
‘Little, brat. If I was her father, I’d take the belt to her.’
‘She doesn’t have a father,’ hissed a female voice.
‘That explains it then,’ added another.
A few people eyed the Vicar suspiciously. Probably the parents of the choir boys who had to sing in their underpants in the middle of winter.
The Vicar seemed to be having a problem with his voice box. He opened his mouth to speak but only a little high-pitched squeak came out. An eerie silence came over the church.
‘I might… I might, have brushed against it,’ he admitted finally. ‘But it was an accident.’
‘No it wasn’t,’ I said, making the kneading motion again. ‘You did tha…’
‘All right,’ shouted the Vicar. ‘We don’t need the amateur dramatics. I have admitted that the back of my hand may have inadvertently brushed against Josie’s bottom, but it was a complete accident. Now, leave the aisle, go and sit with your mother and, SHUT UP.’
I opened my mouth to argue the point, but before I could say anything else, a long arm reached out from the pews and I was dragged away from the scene of the crime. I made my way to my mother’s side and looked up at her angry face.
‘Just wait until I get you home,’ she snarled.
Later, after the shortest Harvest Festival service on record, we left the church and found the Vicar waiting for us outside.
‘I’m terribly sorry for that, Mrs, Potter,’ he said. ‘I can assure you it was an innocent accident.’
Mum narrowed her eyes, but forced a smile.
The Vicar shoved a basket, full to the brim of fruit and veg, towards her.
‘I hope, I, er, I hope this will help make up for the unfortunate incident.’
Mum turned away, tossed her curls, and snapped, “Come along girls,’ and started down the path to the gates, then she had second thoughts, turned back and with a curt,’ thank you,’ snatched the basket from the Vicar’s skinny hands.

Back at our garden wall, Fat Ernie closed his eyes and let out a deep sigh. A large damp patch appeared on the front of his trousers ’What’s so fascinating about my mum in her drawers?’ I demanded to know. ‘And why has Ernie wet himself?’
Fritz and Tin Ribs were so fixed on Mum and Josie that it took them a full ten seconds before my words sank in.
‘More importantly,’ I continued. ‘Why are you making plans to bash up the Bishop without me?’
Tin Ribs made up a lame excuse about thinking they’d seen a German spy in our garden. Fritz couldn’t lie to me though. He looked at his feet and said nothing.
‘Well? I insisted. This thing with the Bishop. What’s he done to deserve a bashing?’
“it’s just a saying,’ muttered Fritz. ‘Like, choking the chicken, or, having a Churchill tank,’ he could see I still didn’t get it.
‘It’s what boys do, when they’re on their own,’ he said.
‘Why can’t girls do it?’ I said. I felt I was missing out. ‘Why can’t I bash a Bishop?’
‘Because girls don’t have the equipment,’ said Fat Ernie who had recovered from his exertions. It’s not your fault, but you don’t have a… well, you can’t do it, it’s impassible.’ I looked at the wet patch on his shorts. He covered the mess up with his hands and blushed.
I felt tears well up. I was angry. I felt I was being excluded from a group activity for the first time.
‘Where, can I get the equipment, then? Tell, me, please, I want to do it too.’
Fritz stepped forward and put his arm round my shoulder.
‘Don’t get upset, Pansy. He leant close to my ear and whispered. ‘You don’t have a willy, that’s what bashing the Bishop is. Pulling at your willy.’
I sniffled.
‘Why would you want to do that?’ I asked.
‘Because it feels nice,’ whispered Fritz. ‘You do it in bed at night when you think of girls.’
‘Do you bash your Bishop when you think about me?’ I asked.
Fritz looked incredulous.
‘No,’ he said, ‘I couldn’t do that, you’re my best mate, it wouldn’t be right.’

I dried my eyes and looked at Fritz gratefully. “i’m still your best mate then? I’ve been a bit worried about that, recently.’
‘You’ll always be my best mate,’ Fritz replied. ‘I can’t imagine my life without you in it.’
Tears flowed again. I gave him a kiss on the cheek which made him go as red as Fat Ernie had been a few minutes before.
‘You can think of me when you bash your Bishop,’ I said. ‘I don’t mind, honestly.’

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