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Two Generations, Two Lives: life post-war and in peace time

Vivien, another student from Holland Park School, has been chatting to her grandmother and has kindly documented it and sent it to us. Remember, please feel free to do exactly the same – and with the advent of smartphones, its so much easier to record a conversation. Everyone has a story to share!

It has always been fascinating listening to my Grandma share stories about her life as a little girl growing up after the end of the Second World War. Her upbringing has naturally been affected by the experiences of her Parents – my Great Grand Parents. They had just got married when Europe became engulfed in another World War and my Great Grand-Father joined the army, while my Great Grand mother stayed at home, holding the fort at their small holding and waiting for him to return home so they can start a family.

Over the years, I have heard so many captivating stories and anecdotes from my Grandma, and as I am getting older myself, I have decided to write them down so others can enjoy them.

It seems people had so little back then, materially at least, but they were so rich in life experience which cultivated the resilience needed to restore all that the war had devastated, both for them personally and for the nation. What you are about to hear is an interview with my Grandma, from whom I have learnt so much and who has shaped to a great extent my values and my outlook on life.

Grandma, tell me about what life was like when you were little?

– Well, I was born in 1945, a year after the end of WW2, which in Bulgaria, where I grew up, ended on 9 September 1944. I remember a large portrait of my Father, that is your Great Grand Father, had a pride of place on the wall in our sitting room. He looked very distinguished in his uniform and all his medals. Here is another portrait of him when he first joined the army as a young conscript before he earned his medals. (Show photo).

We had so little of everything, food was being rationed and we could only buy groceries and provisions with coupons. These weren’t the coupons of today where you get money off, they were a permit to buy food. Also when I was about 8, you really still felt the aftermath of the war, people were equally jubilant and sad. Happy that liberation had come but as so many had died, those they left behind were still in mourning.

How many coupons did you have?

– You couldn’t buy anything without coupons and you were only given so few each month and sometimes every 3 months. I don’t remember the exact number but they were only for the essentials: flour, butter, milk, sugar, very rarely for meat. You have to remember that, unfortunately, Bulgaria was forced to join the Axis Powers (Germany and Italy) so the country had been totally plundered by the Germans. They had been taking all produce as provisions for their army so the country was left devastated and in ruin, much more so than the rest of Europe.

Grandma, did Great Grand Dad tell you any stories about the war?

– Oh, yes, he was nearly killed in the war but lived to tell  the tale. He had been injured, and later captured by the Nazis but managed to escape and return home to his wife. I don’t know how much  you have learnt about the WW2 so you may know that when the Italian invasion of Greece failed, Germany demanded that Bulgaria join the Tripartite pact it had signed with Japan and Italy, and allow German forces to pass through Bulgaria to attack Greece in order to help Italy.  Great Grandad was sent to Alexandroupoli and later Serres and Drama but despite being part of the Axis Powers, Bulgarian troops refused to participate in the invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece. While in Serres, he used his position in the army to acquire guns and ammunition and joined the Partisan resistance fighters. In Serres he caught malaria, and weakened by battle and injuries, he was captured by the Germans. There was a camp near Kavala where he was kept for 8 months but he was helped to escape by a guard who knew him from when they were young. The guard gave him a bicycle and risked his own life to help him.  He rode all the way back to his home in South Western Bulgaria on that bicycle and he made it home battered and bruised.

This clearly demonstrates how hard life was for all who experienced the tragedies and aftermath of war, and what toll the war took on their lives. No television, food shortage, relying on tiny pieces of paper called “coupons” for life’s necessities – I honestly can’t imagine how the youth of the 21st century could manage.

What has Grandma taught me in life?

Grandma has passed on her values to me: she has taught me to value my family, to respect myself and stand up for my convictions, and to never give up. She has taught to me to respect what I have and to be ambitious without being greedy. She has taught me to value life and to look forward to all adventures that  it brings.

Vivien

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