Lisa's Reviews > Popeye Never Told You: Childhood Memories of the War

Popeye Never Told You by Rodney Hall
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's review
Nov 06, 11

bookshelves: australia, memoir, 21stcentury
Read from November 05 to 06, 2011

This is an amazing, poignant book, beautifully written. It’s Hall’s memoir of a childhood in rural England during WW2, a book I had bought earlier this year at the Woodend Arts Festival. This is an excerpt:


the explosions are so close the bench shivers and i can feel the shivers through my bottom, and now a whole lot of children rush down the steps and come clattering in, but they stop once theyre in the door so that the ones coming behind have to crowd up against them, and theyve got runny noses and theres this bossy woman who lines them up and she hunts around to find room for them to sit, but they still crowd together like idiots and ready for trouble too and they stick their hands in their pockets and sniffle, and she rolls her eyes at me when she sees me watching but im not going to side with her,

‘are they orphans?’ i whisper to Mike,

‘i expect so’ Mike whispers back ‘evacuees’


a crack zigzags down the wall from the ceiling to the floor and people point it out,

‘we shall be alright, see?’ says Mum ‘the walls holding up’

but two little orphans start wailing and theyre girls and theyre smaller than me, and each ones got a label pinned on her jacket so maybe theyve been bombed out already and they wail and sob,

‘ssh, you two’ says the old bat ‘i shall be with you when i can’

but Mum drops her cigarette on the floor and unfolds her handkerchief and she goes across to wipe their tears and she wipes their noses too and she tells them to blow, and afterwards she drops the handkerchief on the ground and leaves it there, but she lifts one child on each arm and brings them back to us, and their shoes make smudges on her skirt and i try to point this out while they settle their heads against her shoulders and bury their grubby faces in her fur collar, just where i want to be, and they turn their eyes up to look at her. (p39-40)

Perhaps this strikes an emotional chord with me because my father and his little brother lost their home in the Blitz, and had a rough time as evacuees. But I defy anyone to read those lines without a lump in the throat.

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