Extract 1

A Child's Christmas in Wales

by Dylan Thomas


It was on the afternoon of the day of Christmas Eve, and I was in Mrs Prothero's garden, waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, was as white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. Sleek and long as jaguars and horrible-whispered, spitting and snarling, they would slink and sidle over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes.

The wise cats never appeared. We were so still, Eskimo-footed arctic marksmen in the muffling silence of the eternal snows - eternal, ever since Wednesday - that we never heard Mrs Prothero's first cry from her igloo at the bottom of her garden. Or, if we heard it at all, it was, to us, like the far-off challenge of our enemy and prey, the neighbour's polar cat. But soon the voice grew louder. "Fire!" cried Mrs Prothero and she beat the dinner-gong.

And we ran down the garden, with the snowballs in our arms, toward the house; and smoke, indeed, was pouring out of the dining room, and the gong was bombilating, and Mrs Prothero was announcing ruin like a town crier in Pompeii. This was better than all the cats in Wales standing on the wall in a row. We bounded into the house, laden with snowballs, and stopped at the open door of the smoke-filled room.

Something was burning all right; perhaps it was Mr Prothero, who always slept there after midday dinner with a newspaper over his face. But he was standing in the middle of the room, saying, "A fine Christmas!" and smacking at the smoke with a slipper. "Call the fire brigade," called Mrs Prothero as she beat the gong.

"They won't be there," said Mr Prothero, "it's Christmas."

There was no fire to be seen, only clouds of smoke and Mr Prothero standing in the middle of them, waving his slipper as though he were conducting.

"Do something," he said.

And we threw all our snowballs into the smoke - I think we missed Mr Prothero - and ran out of the house to the telephone box.

"Let's call the police as well," Jim said.

"And the ambulance."

"And Ernie Jenkins, he likes fires."

But we only called the fire brigade, and soon the fire engine came and three tall men in helmets brought a hose into the house and Mr Prothero got out just in time before they turned it on. Nobody could have had a noisier Christmas Eve. And when the firemen turned off the hose and were standing in the wet, smoky room, Jim's aunt, Miss Prothero, came downstairs and peered in at them. Jim and I waited, very quietly to hear what she would say to them. She said the right thing, always. She looked at the three tall firemen in their shining helmets, standing among the smoke and cinders and dissolving snowballs, and she said: "Would you like anything to read?"

Extract 2

Lost Times

It was at this time of year

We went up on the forest

And sunk

Bright boots through sheets of frosted leaves

Into the boggy

Earth which ran beside the stream,

Catching our breath on blades

Of icy air.

Barrels of warmth we rolled on matted bracken;

Flesh spindles, senseless, clumsy through layer upon layer

Of woollen insulation.

Then as our heat was lost we jumped about

More furiously than before

And often reached the car cold, choked on angry tears.

Streaming eyes and noses, steamy windows,

We drove home wedged into the back seat,

Then round the fire we



Shedding scarves and gloves and surplus socks, drip-

ping into mugs of chocolate,

Clutching cake in clammy fists,


The world

Was small

"Time" was something adults worried about.

(For us there was too much)

Now the forest echoes

Other voices.

I'd go back there again tonight,

But know I'll stay instead, to write.

Extract 3

Animal Farm

by George Orwell


When the downtrodden animals of Manor Farm overthrow their master Mr Jones and take over the farm themselves, they imagine it is the beginning of a life of freedom and equality. But as a cunning, ruthless elite among them starts to take control, the other animals find themselves hopelessly ensnared as one form of tyranny is gradually replaced with another.

...The animals were all at work weeding turnips under the supervision of a pig, when they were astonished to see Benjamin come galloping from the direction of the farm buildings, braying at the top of his voice. It was the first time that they had ever seen Benjamin excited-indeed, it was the first time that anyone had ever seen him gallop. "Quick, quick!" he shouted. "Come at once! They're taking Boxer away!" Without waiting for orders from the pig, the animals broke off work and raced back to the farm buildings. Sure enough, there in the yard was a large closed van, drawn by two horses, with lettering on its side and a sly-looking man in a low-crowned bowler hat sitting on the driver's seat. And Boxer's stall was empty.

The animals crowded round the van. "Goodbye Boxer!" they chorused, "goodbye!"

"Fools! Fools!" shouted Benjamin, prancing round them and stamping the earth with his small hoofs. "Fools! Do you not see what is written on the side of that van?"

That gave the animals pause, and there was a hush. Muriel began to spell out the words. But Benjamin pushed her aside and in the midst of a deadly silence he read:

"Alfred Simmonds, Horse Slaughterer and Glue Boiler, Willingdon. Dealer in Hides and Bone-Meal. Kennels supplied." Do you understand what that means? They are taking Boxer to the knacker's!"

A cry of horror burst from all the animals. At this moment, the man on the box whipped up his horses and the van moved out of the yard at a smart trot. All the animals followed, crying out at the tops of their voices. Clover forced her way to the front. The van began to gather speed. Clover tried to stir her stout limbs to a gallop, and achieved a canter. "Boxer!" she cried. "Boxer! Boxer! Boxer!" And just at this moment, as though he had heard the uproar outside, Boxer's face, with the white stripe down his nose, appeared at the small window at the back of the van.

"Boxer!" cried Clover, in a terrible voice. "Boxer! Get out! Get out quickly! They are taking you to your death!"

All the animals took up the cry of "Get out, Boxer, get out!" But the van was already gathering speed and drawing away from them. It was uncertain whether Boxer had understood what Clover had said. But a moment later, his face disappeared from the window and there was the sound of a tremendous drumming of hoofs inside the van. He was trying to kick his way out. The time had been when a few kicks from Boxer's hoofs would have smashed the van to matchwood. But alas! His strength had left him; and in a few moments the sound of drumming hoofs grew fainter and died away. In desperation the animals began appealing to the two horses which drew the van to stop. "Comrades, comrades!" they shouted. "Don't take your own brother to his death!" But the stupid brutes, too ignorant to realise what was happening, merely set back their ears and quickened their pace. Boxer's face did not reappear at the window. Too late, someone thought of racing ahead and shutting the five-barred gate; but in another moment the van was through it and rapidly disappearing down the road. Boxer was never seen again.

Three days later it was announced that he had died in the hospital at Willingdon, in spite of receiving every attention a horse could have. Squealer came to announce the news to the others. He had, he said, been present during Boxer's last hours.

"It was the most affecting sight I have ever seen!" said Squealer, lifting his trotter and wiping away a tear. "I was at his bedside at the very last."

Extract 4

Honey Bees


Honey bees are brown or brown and yellow and generally slimmer and smaller than bumble bees. In Europe they are kept by beekeepers in hives so that the honey they produce can be collected at the end of the season. In the wild, honey bees nest in cavities in buildings, rocks or hollow trees. However, there are fewer and fewer feral (wild) colonies in Britain and now the bee is fast becoming dependent on mankind for its survival.

It is only a queen bee that can lay eggs; she can lay a thousand eggs a day – more than her own body weight. Queens can live for four or more years, much longer than worker bees. A colony of honey bees, at its height, will typically number something like:

1 queen (female)

300 drones (males)

25,000 older workers, foragers (female)

25,000 young workers in the hive attending the brood that might consist of:

9,000 larvae requiring food

6,000 eggs (from which the larvae hatch)

20,000 older larvae and pupae in sealed cells which need no attention except to be kept warm at around 35°C.

In nature the colony will make its nest in dark cavities. Honey bees that are kept by beekeepers all over the world are offered purpose-built homes called hives.

The main part of a bee’s life is spent finding nectar and pollen, an activity known as foraging. Nectar is the sweet liquid plants produce to attract insects, and even birds and bats, that they need to ensure that pollination, (part of plant reproduction), takes place. Nectar provides the bees with carbohydrate and is converted into honey for storage. They also collect pollen which is the bee’s only source of protein essential for the growth and development of the brood.

There is no doubt that beekeepers worldwide are still experiencing heavy losses of honey bees. Some reports are quite heartbreaking where individuals whose livelihoods depend on bees have had between 50% and 90% of their colonies wiped out and many hobby beekeepers have experienced similar losses. Colony Collapse Disorder, (CCD), which is characterised by the disappearance of adult honey bees in a hive while the immature bees and honey stores remain, first came to prominence in the USA at the beginning of 2006. There has also been a decline in bee health over the last quarter century with the occurrence of new pests.

In approximately forty years, it is estimated that the number of honeybee colonies in the USA has declined by half; a similar figure would apply to Britain. This is a result of a combination of factors, such as the spread of towns and cities and the infrastructure associated with them, changes in farming and land management practices, the use of pesticides, the spread of pests and the increasing average age of beekeepers. There are not as many beekeepers now as there used to be!

Obviously, such a serious loss of bees is a major threat to crops and ultimately to the nation's food supply as fruit orchards and vegetable fields go unpollinated. One third of the human diet comes from flowering crops, and honeybees are responsible for pollinating about 80% of them.

The need for action.

Not surprisingly then, there is a sense of urgency. In Britain, the government has been lobbied to provide urgent new funding for the research into the decline of honey bees, which has wreaked havoc in the USA, Brazil, Canada and possibly in parts of Europe. In Europe, a committee of leading scientists has established a forum, known as COLOSS, to share results and findings.

Possible causes of CCD could be the widespread use of pesticides-these are prime suspects in bee killers. The varroa mite is the most destructive invader of honey bee colonies, (they suck the honey bee’s body, so causing open wounds that are susceptible to infection). Poor nutrition and drought also seem to be common factors of CCD. Scientists also need to assess the effects of climatic change on bees, as these amazing creatures are most important in sustaining the world’s natural life cycle.

Extract 5

Driverless cars set to roll out for trials on UK roads

By Gwyn Topham


The Business Secretary believes trials in Greenwich, Bristol, Milton Keynes and Coventry, backed by £19m worth of government funding, could lead to a £900bn industry.

The prototype driverless cars to be tested in the heart of four British cities are unveiled on Wednesday, with the government claiming the nation is uniquely placed to lead the development of the technology.

An autonomous shuttle traversing the North Greenwich plaza beside O2 Arena will mark a small but significant step on the way to what ministers and engineers hope will be a safer, less-congested, driverless future.

The Business Secretary said the trials, backed by £19m worth of funding from the government, would keep the UK at the cutting edge of automotive technology and should bring more highly-skilled jobs to the UK.

“The projects we are now funding in Greenwich, Bristol, Milton Keynes and Coventry will help to ensure we are world-leaders in this field and able to benefit from what is expected to be a £900bn industry by 2025,” he said.

A Department for Transport review of road laws has given the trials a green light. Three different autonomous vehicles will start operating from spring in public urban spaces, in tests that will assess the public’s interaction with the vehicles as much as the evolving technology.

The Transport Minister said: “These are still early days but today is an important step. The trials present a fantastic opportunity for this country to take a lead internationally in the development of this new technology.”

An autonomous Meridian shuttle in Greenwich. Photograph: Graham Turner/the Guardian

In a sneak Guardian preview of the self-driving Meridian shuttle – a kind of elongated golf buggy with no clear front or back – the public reaction in Greenwich was mixed. Some passers-by stared open-mouthed while others remained engrossed in smartphones, inadvertently testing out the vehicle’s automatic object detection and emergency stop. The vehicle is operated by selecting a programmed route on a touch pad, and with the aid of radar, cameras, light detection and ultrasonic sensors to ensure the path is clear, off it goes.

“It works like a bat,” said the managing director of Phoenix Wings, which developed the shuttle. His aim for this technology, he said, was “to remove private cars from being parked on the streets – but find a way of connecting people from the tube or train to work and residential areas.”

Eight of the Meridian vehicles will be trialled over the next two years.

An electric two-seater vehicle made in Coventry, emblazoned patriotically with a Union Jack livery, will also be unveiled. The pod’s sensory apparatus is linked up to a Macbook Pro in the back, which over three years will create 3D maps of its Sisyphean journey along the pavement between Milton Keynes railway station and the shopping centre.

The chief engineer at manufacturers RDM, which will build 40 more of the pods, said: “It’s possibly more difficult than the challenge that Google are taking on, because a pavement is not such a predictable environment as a road, with kids running about.”

The pod’s sensory apparatus will make 3D maps over the course of its three-year trial. Photograph: Graham Turner/the Guardian

The technology is similar to Google’s but at “magnitudes lower cost,” according to the chief executive of the Transport Systems Catapult, which is leading the Milton Keynes trials. He said: “It will be a while before the public are on it. It’s the start of a journey – this is square A1.”

The pod, while designed to be autonomous, for now retains a steering wheel and will have a driver during the tests. But the leader of Milton Keynes Council, sees in the prototype an eventual potential solution to dwindling public transport budgets. He said: “We’re making £22m of cuts and a lot is from bus services. How can we get people around without using 60-seater vehicles? This could be a cross between a taxi and a bus.”

He added: With driverless cars, everyone imagines you tap in your destination, sit back and read the paper and off you go. We’re about 10 years from that.

The technical leader of the Greenwich project, agrees. “There are still technological obstacles – it doesn’t work well in snowy or foggy environments, and we are running vehicles here with a maximum speed of 12mph.” But he says, the more substantial challenge now is getting people, regulations and the driving environment ready for the change.

The Wildcat, a third autonomous vehicle that has been long in development by BAE systems, will be tested in Bristol.

Extract 6

Winston Churchill

by Tejvan Pettinger

Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, (30 November 1874 – 24 January 1965) was a British politician and author, best known as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. Churchill was famous for his stubborn resistance to Hitler during the darkest hours of the Second World War.

Winston was born at Blenheim Palace, Oxford, to an aristocratic family – the Dukes of Marlborough. He was brought up by servants and friends of the family. He rarely spoke to his father and his mother rarely saw him when at boarding school. Churchill went to Harrow school. He wasn’t the best student, having a rebellious nature and slow to learn; but Churchill excelled at sports and joined the officer cadet corps, which he enjoyed.

On leaving school, he went to Sandhurst to train as an officer. After gaining his commission, Churchill sought to gain as much active military experience as possible. He used his mother’s connections to get postings to areas of conflict. The young Churchill gained postings to Cuba, and North West India. He also combined his military duties with working as a war correspondent – earning substantial money for his reports on the fighting.

In 1899, he resigned from the military and pursued his career as a war correspondent. He was in South Africa for the Boer War, and he became a minor celebrity for his role in taking part in a scouting patrol, getting captured and later escaping.

Churchill returned to the UK in 1900 and successfully stood as a Conservative candidate for Oldham, becoming an MP. In 1904, he made a dramatic shift, leaving the Conservative Party and joining the Liberal Party. Churchill had more empathy for improving the lot of the working class and helping the poor.

In the Liberal Party, Churchill made a meteoric political rise, during which time the government made a significant improvement to the life of the poor, and helped to address the inequality of British society.

What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?

– W. Churchill Speech at Kinnaird Hall, Dundee, Scotland (“Unemployment”), October 10, 1908,

In 1911, he was made First Lord of the Admiralty – a post he held into the First World War.

On the outbreak of hostilities in Europe, Churchill was one of the most strident members of the cabinet arguing for British involvement in the war. Churchill also used naval funds to help develop the tank – something he felt would be useful in the war. In 1917, Churchill was made Minister of Munitions – a job requiring strong administrative skills to manage limited resources during war. Churchill was considered an efficient and skilled minister.

In 1924 Churchill was appointed as Chancellor of the Exchequer by Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. In the 1930s, Churchill was often a lone voice in speaking about the growing danger of Hitler’s Germany.

After an unsuccessful start to the Second World War, the Commons chose Churchill to lead the UK in the war effort. Churchill was instrumental in insisting Britain keep fighting. He opposed the minority voices in the cabinet seeking to make any deal with Hitler. Churchill proved an adept war leader. His speeches became famous and proved an important rallying cry for a country which stood alone through 1940 and 1941.

“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."

Speech in the House of Commons (4 June 1940) Speech in the House of Commons, June 18, 1940

Churchill was involved in many aspects of the war, taking an interest in all areas. After winning the Second World War, Churchill was shocked to lose the 1945 general election, but served as PM from 1951-55 before retiring from politics. Churchill died in his home at age 90, on the morning of Sunday 24 January 1965. His funeral was the largest state funeral in the world, up to that point in time.


Gaining his commission – becoming an officer

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Extract 7

The Book of Beasts

by John and Carole E Barrowman


Scotland. September 1848.

Duncan Fox stood on the craggy hillside of Era Mina, squinting against the late summer sun drenching the Isles of Bute and Arran in a golden light. He was waiting for his canvas to dry, but his mind was elsewhere. With his hands deep in the pockets of his tweed field jacket, he was thinking of the recent brief visit from Sandie Calder and her children, Emily and Matt.

My family, Duncan thought. From a future I can hardly imagine.

He wondered if the hauntings he had been experiencing recently were a consequence of their trip.

The first time he had seen the strange figure, Duncan thought what he was seeing was a lucid dream: a state where he had solid awareness of his surroundings while he slept. He had experienced such dreams before, but never so vividly. One week ago, he had sat up in bed, drenched in sweat, a vague feeling of dread prickling the hairs on the back of his neck. A gust of wind from Largs Bay had swept open the curtains, carrying with it the smell of the seaside-salty kippers, crushed shells, briny sand. Reaching for the pitcher of water next to his bed, Duncan poured himself a glass, then promptly spilled it on the floor. A shadowy figure had stepped from behind his wardrobe.

Duncan hurriedly lit his oil lamp and held it above his head as the figure morphed from a ghostly presence to a fully fleshed man dressed in a brocade robe with a thick collar plate woven in shimmering golden threads - a Druid, magnificent and majestic. The Druid's robes were white with a silver helix embroidered on the breast. The vision wore a crown of twisted antlers, a fur cloak draped around his shoulders, and he gripped a sceptre cut from a length of knotty white pine, a carved peryton perched on its tip. Duncan could see the man as clearly as he could see the portrait of his own grandfather hanging on the wall behind him.

The figure had remained at the bottom of the bed until the light of morning banished him, leaving Duncan Fox with a vague feeling of unfinished business.

He endured this for three nights. When day four broke, Fox had called for his carriage and ridden alone on the coast road to Ayr to seek advice from one of the oldest Guardians in Scotland.

Frances MacDonald's fingers were gnarled with arthritis, but her eyes were bright and her intellect keen as Duncan carefully described his vision. She pointed to the first volume of The History of Religion and the Decline of Magic in Scotland.

"That was once required reading for our kind, son," she said. "You'd do well to read it now if you're looking for answers. Lift it down for me."

Duncan took the volume from the shelf she indicated and set it on the table. He waited as her fingers slowly turned the thick pages, his hands clasped behind his back, patient and respectful.

"Is this whose cumin' to ye in the dark?" she asked, stepping away from the table to reveal a full-page facsimile from an illustrated manuscript.

Duncan stared at the image. The white robe, the fur cloak, the wooden sceptre with its carved peryton. Every detail from the twisted crown to the silver helix on the figure's breast, was identical to the man at the bottom of his bed.

"That's him!" he said in astonishment. "Who is he?"

"He is Albion. The Guardian of the Beasts in Hollow Earth."

The old woman returned to her chair at the cottage's bay window and lifted her knitting on to her lap. Despite having twisted fingers, the knitting needles clacked with unnatural speed.

"Hollow Earth?" Duncan repeated.

"Aye," she nodded. "Hollow Earth. Many think the place a mere story told to children. But it is as real as this room."


Peryton: a mythological animal combining the physical features of a stag and a bird.

Extract 8



By Leon Garfield



He was called Smith and was twelve years old. Which, in itself, was a marvel; for it seemed as if the smallpox, the consumption, brain fever, gaol-fever and even the hangman's rope had given him a wide berth for fear of catching something. Or else, they weren't quick enough.


Smith had a turn of speed that was remarkable, and a neatness in nipping down an alley or vanishing in a court that had to be seen to be believed. Not that it was often seen, for Smith was rather a sooty spirit of the violent and ramshackle Town, and inhabited the tumbledown mazes about St Paul's like the subtle air itself. A rat was like a snail beside Smith, and the most his thousand victims ever got of him was the powerful whiff of his passing and a cold draught in their dexterously emptied pockets.


Only the sanctimonious birds that perched on the church's dome ever saw Smith's progress entire, and as their beady eyes followed him, they chattered savagely, "Pick-pocket! Pick-pocket! Jug him! Jug-jug-jug him!" as if they'd been appointed by the Town to save it from such as Smith.


His favourite spot was Ludgate Hill, where the world's coaches, chairs and curricles were met and locked, from morning to night, in a horrible blasphemous confusion. And here, in one or other of the ancient doorways, he leaned and grinned while the shouting and cursing and scraping and raging went endlessly, hopelessly on - till, sooner or later, something prosperous would come his way.


At about half past ten of a cold December morning an old gentleman got furiously out of his carriage, in which he'd been trapped for an hour, shook his red fist at his helpless coachman and the roaring but motionless world, and began to stump up Ludgate Hill.


"Pick-pocket! Pick-pocket!" shrieked the cathedral birds in a fury.


A country gentleman, judging by his complexion, his clean old-fashioned coat and his broad-legged lumbering walk which gimped out his pockets in a manner most provoking.


Smith twitched his nose and nipped neatly along like a shadow...


The old man's pace was variable: sometimes it was brisk for his years, then he'd slow down, hesitate, look about him - as if the Town had changed much since last he'd visited and he was now no longer confident of his way. He took one turning, then another; stopped, scratched the crisp edge of his wig, then eyed the sallow, seedy city gentry as if to ask the way, till he spied another turn, nodded, briskly took it - and came straight back into Ludgate Hill...


A dingy fellow creaked out of a doorway, like he was hinged on it, and made to accost the old man: but he did not. He'd glimpsed Smith. Looks had been exchanged, shoulders shrugged - and the old villain gave way to the young one.


On went the old gentleman, confident now in his bearings, deeper and deeper into the musty, tottering forest of the Town where Smith hunted fastest and best.


Now a sharpish wind sprang up, and the cathedral birds eyed the leaden sky (which looked too thick and heavy to admit them), screeched, and flew to the lower eminence of the Old Bailey. Here, they set up a terrific commotion with their legal brethren, till both Church and Law became absorbed in watching the progress of Smith.


"Pick-pocket! Pick-pocket! Jug-jug-jug him!"

The old gentleman was very deep in Smith's country now, and paused many a time to peer down the shambling lanes and alleys. Then he'd shake his head vaguely and touch at his coat pocket- as if a queer, deep sense had warned him of a pair of sharp eyes fairly cutting into the cloth like scissors. At last he saw something familiar...




consumption>: a disease of the lungs.

curricle: a smart, light two-wheeled carriage, drawn by two horses.

Extract 9

To: Members of the European Parliament

Re: Call the European Parliament to send a strong message to the European Commission to continue negotiations on NEC Directive (air quality).

Dear Honourable Member of the European Parliament,

This week you will be debating your position on the Commission Work Programme. As leading environmental, health, lawyers' and civil society organisations from all over Europe, we call upon you to oppose any delay in the negotiations on a revised National Emissions Ceilings (NEC) Directive. The Environment Ministers asked the Commission "to keep working on all the elements of the clean air package."

It is now absolutely necessary that the European Parliament adopts a joint resolution asking for the ongoing negotiations on the revised NEC Directive to continue and not be delayed.

Given the widespread harmful impacts of air pollution throughout the European Union, any withdrawal or delay of the revised proposal would be unacceptable. The Commission's current proposal would save as many as 58,000 premature deaths per year due to less air pollution, when the current toll is 400,000 premature deaths per year. It would also bring health benefits of £40-140 billion in avoided external costs and provide about £3 billion in direct benefits due to higher productivity of the workforce, lower healthcare costs, higher crop yields and less damage to buildings. Recent analyses have shown that a more ambitious directive would bring important additional benefits.

Thank you for your support.

Yours sincerely,

Secretary General of the European Environmental Bureau.


This account is taken from The London Journal of Flora Tristan, a French lady who visited London in 1839.

‘No longer does timber from the forests provide fuel for the family hearth; the fuel of Hell, snatched from the very bowels of the earth, has usurped its place. It burns everywhere, feeding countless furnaces, replacing horse-power on the roads and wind-power on the rivers and the seas.

Above the monster city a dense fog combines with the volume of smoke and soot issuing from thousands of chimneys to wrap London in a black cloud which allows only the dimmest light to penetrate and shrouds everything in a funeral veil.

In London melancholy is in the very air you breathe and enters in at every pore. …. your head becomes painfully heavy, your digestion sluggish, your respiration laboured for lack of fresh air, and your whole body is overcome by lassitude.’

Extract 10

Children of the Blitz

by Robert Westall


3rd September 1939

The Day War Broke Out.


Mr. Chamberlain’s broadcast was not impressive. I remembered him from the newsreels, coming out of his aeroplane after Munich, waving his little piece of paper and promising “peace in our time.” I thought he looked like a sheep. He talked about notes being sent and replies not being received. He regretted that a state of war now existed between Great Britain and Germany. He sounded really hurt, like Hitler was some shiftless council tenant who had failed to pay his rent after faithfully promising to do so.

That wasn’t the way to talk to Hitler; he should be threatened… I knew there’d be trouble…

There was. The sirens went immediately. We didn’t know what to do. We had no shelters, nothing but little gasmasks in cardboard boxes. We went to the front windows and stared out. Everything was peaceful and sunny.

The world seemed broken in half. The earth, houses, roses, sunlit trees were still England, but the air was suddenly German; there wasn’t a hurricane or a spitfire in sight. Soon the air would fill with the orderly black crosses of German bombers, with endless strings of tiny bombs falling from their bellies.

They cancelled school immediately “for the duration of the emergency.” Handy; I had a lot to do. There was a map of Europe given away free with the first copy of War Weekly, to pin on my bedroom wall; lots of flags to cut out: British, French, German and bafflingly, Russian. I also hung up scorecharts for German ships sunk, planes shot down, tanks destroyed.

Then me and Stanley set off on our bikes to look for the war…..