'I thought I had gone back in time'

Blitz veterans' stiff upper lip made coping with Katyushas easier.

katyusha haifa 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
katyusha haifa 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Bomb shelters are nothing new to Haifa resident Wendy Blumfield. After all, she was born in one. The year was 1940 and the place was London. It was the middle of the Blitz, when Nazi Germany rained explosives on Britain and families such as the Blumfields built shelters in their gardens. It was in such a structure that Blumfield's mother gave birth to her third child and only daughter. Blumfield is one of a handful of British immigrants who lived through the Blitz only to find themselves dodging Hizbullah missiles six decades later. Their experience, they said, made it easier to face the recent war. "When I heard the sirens, suddenly I was back in a shelter as a small child," recalled Blumfield while sitting on her porch, whose sweeping windows overlook Haifa Bay. Throughout her life, when she heard noises that reminded her of the "threatening sound, like a wailing" of those air-raid alarms, she would get a bad feeling in the base of her spine. But when the sirens sounded in Haifa, for a real attack, she found that she really had the stiff upper lip the British are famous for. "I thought, 'We just had to get through this,'" she said, and despite pleas from loved ones to leave, she and her husband, also British, stayed put. So did Stuart Palmer, who was born in Hull, England, in 1938. The city's port made an attractive target for German planes. Palmer spent many of his nights in the family shelter while his dad, a fire truck driver during the war, sped around the city putting out blazes begun by enemy bombs. When the attack on Haifa came, he said his childhood experience "contributed to the calm. I wouldn't say that we were at all tense." Blumfield felt calm enough not to head for a bomb shelter every time the sirens sounded. There wasn't sufficient time to get there, she explained, and she wasn't interested in wasting any more time in a small, confined area. She and her husband would crouch among an alcove of bookshelves in the center of their apartment until the rockets had landed. The first five years of Blumfield's life were spent in and around the shelter, and to this day she feels uncomfortable when she smells the scent of raw brick, since it reminds her of the walls that surrounded her every night as a toddler. In one case, when she was only two, a bomb landed so close that the force of the blast blew her out of the cot on which she was was sleeping. "It must be very traumatic because my memory goes back that far," she noted. A counselor for new and expecting mothers, as well as an occasional contributor to The Jerusalem Post, Blumfield found herself, between rocket attacks, rushing to help pregnant women as the stress of the fighting induced early births, and to work with new mothers for whom the increased tension created problems with nursing. "Between the sirens, I was running to Carmel Hospital, and I thought I had gone back in time," she said. "It gave me a feeling of deja vu." But some aspects of this war and the Blitz were less similar. For one thing, the war in Lebanon was much shorter. And unlike England, everything shut down in Haifa while the combat was raging. "Life went on as normal. Schools were open. Businesses were open. It's not like what happened here, where for that month, everything was closed. Because the war went on so many years, things went on," Blumfield recalled. "Things didn't come to an absolute stop. They couldn't." And then there was the vastly variant feelings once the two wars ended. Palmer described the "euphoria" he felt when World War II was over. As a seven-year-old, that was symbolized by his bike, which he could ride far from home once he didn't have to stay close enough to dive into the bomb shelter at a moment's notice. "I remember we had freedom, we could go," he said. "I could cycle to areas I could never go before." In contrast, his feeling when the cease-fire with Hizbullah was declared was one of "disappointment." It was "a feeling that we had only done half the job and we're going to have to do the rest of it sometime in the future." "Germany was totally defeated and that was the end of it, whereas this isn't the end of it for us," Blumfield agreed. But should another attack come, she still has her past to draw on. "Being brought up with all the stories and seeing how people coped left me calm," she explained, "because I realized it wasn't the first and it wasn't the last."