What was it like to be deaf during the war? A strange topic you may think… However, over Christmas I was preparing lunch with Pete’s mum and asking her about her life. She will be 80 next year, although you wouldn’t know it – she beats me at boggle every time! Anyway, she would have been about 9 yrs old when the war started and remembers her friends running to take cover in Chiselhurst caves during air raids. Her Dad was in the Homeguard and had the job of ringing the church bell if England was invaded.
As she was talking I started thinking how all the alerts would have been focused on sound – the air raid siren, the church bells ringing. If you were profoundly deaf were you more likely to be caught by the German bombs?
According to their website, Chislehurst caves are 30 metres below the woodland so a very clever place to sit out the bomb blasts over London. They protected 15,000 people at the height of the blitz. Nowadays the caves are probably just full of bats, tourists and maybe the occasional owl.
As a result of the Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring, 350,000 to 400,000 disabled Germans are estimated to have been sterilized around the time of WW2, 17,000 of whom were deaf (http://www.rit.edu/ntid/ccs/deafww2/) I can’t imagine what it was like to experience those times. At college I read Victor Frankl who did experience the concentration camps and wrote this: “We … can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Anyway, after seeing Pete’s parents we drove up to Wales to see my family. One evening we heard an owl calling across the field behind the house. It was an incredibly beautiful, haunting sound. I don’t often feel sad these days about our daughters deafness but in that moment I felt what Pete would call ‘a hairline fracture in my heart.’ She was asleep, yet I so wanted her to one day know that singular, clear call, hanging in the night air.
Thinking it all through, I figured this is another case of having life in perspective. Smiling flower won’t be hearing the haunting call of the Welsh owl. But neither does she need to worry about hearing an air-raid siren, or fearing despotic leadership. We have our freedom – we can go midnight owl watching anytime we like. Birds in flight have always seemed synonymous with freedom for me. So when I take smiling flower owl watching, and she catches her breath at its silent swoop, I will try and remember to talk about these things. How fragile freedom is for a lot of the world, how precious her physical freedom is, and how the most important place to maintain freedom is within her own mind. I guess she will have to be a troubled teenager before we go owl watching and she takes in the enormity of that conversation 😮