MORAN — Diana Ross’ home on the west side of Moran, with bungalow features, would fit nicely into the English landscape, just like the home where she was raised.
Today Ross, 80, lives a quiet life, typical of small-town U.S.A. She volunteers four days a week to prepare meals-on-wheels for others of Moran’s elderly, likes to knit and crochet and “I love to do jigsaw puzzles.”
She doesn’t drive, so getting out to help with elderly meals is a treat.
All that she does today is far different from her youth, although even that changed dramatically in 1939, when World War II broke out in Europe.
At an age when she should have been planning make-believe tea parties and dressing dolls, Diana found herself often huddled in a bomb shelter near her rural home 72 miles north of London, occasionally spending the night when German planes came in waves to attack four nearby air bases.
Coming of age included discontinuing formal education after grade school — her parents couldn’t afford to send her to high school — and going to work in a shoe store.
Her father worked on a nearby farm, putting in “long, long hours, quite often 16 hours a day,” to help the nation keep up with demand for food exacerbated by German submarines sinking many ships carrying food for the U.S. Need for food quickened when the United States entered the war and American soldiers and airmen began to mass in England in preparation for the June 6, 1944, invasion of Europe. And as the war wore on, there also were German prisoners to feed, including hundreds kept a few miles from where Diana lived.
“Food was rationed,” she recalled, with most meat and eggs commandeered by the government for military use. “What meat we had went with Dad to the fields,” so he could work those 16-hour days.
“But, we never went hungry,” Diana said. “After vegetables were harvested on the farm, we could pick up what the machines missed and we got wind-fall apples and pears. The government took fresh eggs from our chickens, but Mom made scrambled eggs from powdered eggs that tasted like the real thing.”
Bicycles were the transportation of choice, for young and adults alike.
“Dad rode a bicycle to the farm every day,” she said, and on patrols several nights a week to make sure everyone was observing the blackout. Vehicle lights, and those on bicycles, were taped or painted over, with just a sliver of light escaping and heavy, dark curtains were pulled tight over windows in homes.
The fear was even a smidgen of light would alert the enemy and German bombs would rain down.
TWENTY YEARS ago, on the second of two trips she has made to England since moving to the U.S. in 1957, Diana looked out over row after row of snow-white crosses in a World War II American cemetery. Tears welled up and streamed down her cheeks.
Thoughts of all the young men who gave their lives during “those ugly times” came to mind.
She recalled going outdoors with her brother and father as dusk approached each evening to watch hundreds of American and British bombers rendezvous, form into “big black T’s” and head across the English channel to bomb targets throughout Germany and occupied Europe.
Before the sun rose the next morning, “Dad would come and say, ‘Wake up, let’s count them back,’” Diana said. “We’d wait for the planes to come back. Ones with wounded on board would have red lights,” to alert medical personnel. “They’d land first, and then the good planes, ones that weren’t damaged.”
Last to land were those with tattered wings, parts of tail sections missing and other obvious damage.
“We couldn’t see them land, and we had our hands clasped,” prayer-like. “We could hear them when they crashed,” Diana said, choking back tears nearly 70 years later.
Innocence lost and memories etched forever, “some good and some bad,” came years before they should have for the little British girl.
HER STORIES of war-torn England, doing without and fearful of what tomorrow might bring, follow one another as she talks about the war.
Here, in Diana’s words, are several:
My first memory of the war was going to get my gas mask.
John (her brother) was 5 and I was 8. He was young enough to get a Mickey Mouse mask, with a red nose on it. I had to get an adult gas mask, a hateful black thing that I had to hang on my bed at night and take with me when John and I rode our bicycles to school each day. It was three miles and we had the masks in cardboard boxes, hung around our necks with a string.
The masks stayed with us all the time. Everyone was afraid Hitler would drop gas onto us.
Dad and a neighbor dug a bomb shelter near our home. We spent a lot of time underground. Mom and Dad made it as nice as they could. We had puzzles and bunks along the walls.
On moonlit nights we’d stand in the shadow of the shelter and we could see the swastikas on the German planes when they came to bomb.
Some nights Dad would be gone on Home Guard duty, making sure everyone’s windows were covered, so no light came out.