“Up The Wooden Hill” is a historical memoir by Jill Schaefer about growing up in England and Germany before, during and after World War II, featuring two tales seen through different spectacles. Stories of love and war, tears and laughter, families, friends and foes. From school days fraught with sibling rivalry and controversies with parents, lives are rebuilt, the Deutsche mark revalued and a father de-nazified.
“In the autumn of 1940, when Hermann Goering’s Luftwaffe shifted its bombing of England’s aerodromes and radar stations to London, I was in West London with my parents and two brothers. Although we lived in the suburbs away from most target areas, errant bombs from the blitz began to make life very dangerous, said Jill Schaefer, the author of the book”.
“Across from the English Channel, just beyond Nazi-occupied France and Belgium, were other blitz babes. Among these innocents in the war were the German children, one of whom was my husband. His memories as a child in the war are somewhat grimmer than my own comparatively lighthearted ones.
“I recall sleeping under a massive iron table in our living room crafted to keep families safe in the event of an air strike. If the house collapsed in a bombing, it was thought that the iron cage would protect the sleepers. And that indeed proved true, as my father slept underneath it during an air raid (when my mother was taking us to our evacuation home) and survived a direct hit on our street.
“My husband’s father in Germany, on the other hand, was Chief of Police in charge of the civil and air defense of the city and who was assigned the task of organizing the construction of the six-story, cone-shaped, windowless concrete bunkers where families spent their nights during the air raids. After one particularly blitz of heavy barrage, Horst remembers rushing out when the all-clear siren sounded to see a whole new world as eighty-five percent of the city had been destroyed.
“From a family history and a photo album, I and my German husband, Horst, share our stories of ancestors, events and childhood pre, interim and post World War II. I was in the London Blitz and he in Nazi Germany: two tales of love and war, tears and laughter, families, friends and foes. From school days fraught with sibling rivalry and controversies with parents, lives are rebuilt, the Deutsche mark revalued and Horst’s father denazified. Both young people learn an apprenticeship, experience calf love and the beginning of a postwar world.
“The title ‘Up The Wooden Hill’ was chosen because in England it’s the title of a song that children sing as they go up the ‘wooden hill’ staircase to bed. As children place a foot on each step going up the stairs, they sing ‘Up the wooden hill, up the wooden hill’ (a refrain made popular by WWII singer Vera Lynn) until they reach the top of the hill/staircase. Horst and I sat at the top of the wooden hill when sharing our war-time stories from mementoes and photos fallen out of the attic.”
Comments by Jill’s daughter-in-law:
“The writer takes you back then forward as you grow up with these two people-from once opposing countries-and share in their culture and eventually in their meeting and marrying. For me one of the amazing aspects of this book was not just the wonderful story but also that these were two people’s actual lives and the tale told from two perspectives, two cultures and from two countries.
Often in school we get only a glimpse of the history of the World War II era, as told from U.S. military and political perspectives, but what intrigued me so much about this book is getting the firsthand, slice of life feeling of what it was actually like to be a young person coming of age in this time period. You get to learn not only about the challenges but also the optimism of these two growing up and looking for fun and adventures wherever they could find it.”