Climbing out from our air raid shelter one dark morning after a night of listening to German aircrafts droning overhead on their way to systematically bomb London, we were amazed to find the sky filled with what appeared to be black snow. Plucking a flake as it drifted by it crumbled to dust in our hands. Gingerly catching a larger flake and looking at it closely we could make out words, words in English, so presumably it was safe!
Looking towards the east end of London we saw the unusual column of black smoke from the night’s activities and a red glow on the underside of the clouds. We later learned that a large paper storage depot had been set on fire and the whole of North Kent had been covered in this ‘’black snow’’.
Sometime later, probably just before Christmas 1942, we woke up to find the apple trees in our garden, the hedge across the road and the field beyond festooned with strips of black and silver paper. The strips were about a foot long and one inch wide with black paper on one side and silver paper on the other. It looked harmless enough although on reflection I suppose it could have been contaminated with something nasty, but nevertheless we gathered it up in armfuls and put it into the garden shed in case it could be traded at school for a desirable piece of shrapnel or an empty British bullet case which rained down after every dog fight. The Germans, rather unfairly we thought, took all theirs home.
My mother, who had been trained as milliner and could make a hat or decoration out of virtually anything, immediately saw the potential of their black and silver strips. Simply stick the two black sides together leaving silver on the outside, from this into loop, link this to a similar loop and, hey presto, a silver Christmas paper chain still made today by generations of children. Cut some strips into even thinner strips, pull it across the blade of a pair of scissors and it curled up into a silver spiral just right for decorating the Christmas tree.
We later found this stuff we called ‘window’ and thrown out of aircraft to confuse the early radar systems. It is still used today but called chaff and has the same effect on incoming missiles. Years later I asked a wartime airman why it was called ‘window’ and he said ‘’That’s where we threw it out’’ but I don’t think that is necessarily true!
The same Christmas we somehow obtained a goose for Christmas dinner, probably not from the local butcher as we had to pluck the thing in the kitchen. Down and feathers everywhere. These were sterilized on trays in the oven and then used to fill our sagging pillows on the bed. My mother kept most of the larger feathers and these appeared dyed different colours on various hats throughout the war.
Geoff Greensmith, December 2019
More details on chaff: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaff_(countermeasure)