To be honest I can’t really remember when I first became fascinated by the subject of wartime history.
I think I was about 8 years of age when I saw ‘strange’ structures along a section of beach on the south coast. A family friend who was with me said they were to stop Tanks driving up the beach and on to the roads nearby. Tanks from the war. A war I had only seen details of in films.
Carved in to the concrete were names and shapes of badges. Who did these names ‘belong to’ and why were they there?
On return from that summer holiday I forgot about the strange structures and the names carved in to the concrete.
Fast forward about six years and a week’s holiday in London at my grandparents’ home in the East End reignited my interest. For here it was that I played in a local scrapyard where there were all sorts of exciting finds to be had. Spent shells, bits of aircraft and car steering wheels. Granddad said a lot of scrap from the war was taken to this yard where it was sorted and then loaded onto trains at the nearby sidings. I discovered some helmets and the old gentleman who seemed to be in charge said I could take one as a souvenir. Later one of the lads I made friends with gave me a gas mask because, as he said, ‘I got loads of them.’
I still have these items in what has now become quite a collection of artefacts and ephemera.
From those childhood days until well in to my working life I ‘dipped into and dipped out’ of my interest in history. Then came the day in the 1990s when the opportunity arose to buy a wartime Jeep. A number of my friends had classic cars and old military vehicles and I joined them at various shows and events. I soon became hooked on all things WW2, although now I had the chance to learn more specifically about life in wartime Britain for I was meeting Veterans and others who were keen to share their knowledge.
John Leete, 22 January 2018