A Conversation for The Cuban Missile Crisis

The sirens wailed..

Post 1

~ jwf ~ scribblo ergo sum

For several days everyone at my high school thought of nothing else.
We were convinced we were going to die a horrible neuclear death at any moment because Halifax, Nova Scotia, a major seaport and naval base, would have been a bullseye of a first strike target. They told us we would have a twenty minute warning. Twenty minutes to live, once the sirens sounded.

Naturally everyone talked about what they would do with those last twenty minutes of life. Knowing for certain we would all die, most planned to do things they would normally never have done. For most of the boys it was a difficult choice between stealing a car or making love. The girls weren't that interested in cars and all seemed to favour the notion of 'doing it, once'.

Nerves were raw throughout the city so some clever civil servant thought it might be a good idea to cancel the weekly 'test' of the air raid sirens which went off every Wednesday afternoon at 4pm just in case anyone did anything silly or had a heart attack.
The radio and newspapers explained this and Halifax saw the first Wednesday afternoon since WW2 pass without the usual siren test.

On Thursday afternoon, some other eager beaver, wanting to make sure the sirens were not completely disabled, set them off manually. And could not shut them off as they had switched to a back-up power source.

We were idly walking toward the local YMCA where we often went to play ping-pong and cards after classes. The sirens wailed. We kept walking in silence. The sirens wailed and wailed, well beyond the usual test sounding of fifteen to twenty seconds. It seemed horribly obvious this was not a test! Some people broke down into tears. Others ran off toward home. No one stole a car. No one made love. No one said anything.

Nearly half an hour later, my friends and I were still knocking a ping pong ball around when someone finally pulled the power plug on the sirens, and we all realised we just might live after all.

The sirens wailed..

Post 2

Yowuzupman- New Top Speed 122 (thats mph you metric fools)

good god...

The sirens wailed..

Post 3

World Service Memoryshare team

That's an incredible ancedote jwf - mind if I add it to the entry? Yowuzupman that all right with you?

smiley - smiley Anna

The sirens wailed..

Post 4

~ jwf ~ scribblo ergo sum

I have never told that story before and the writing is a bit ..iffy, because I found myself choking up on the memories of a totally insane day-in-the-life and the inexplicable and unpredictable reactions of people around me. I've never come to terms with my own 'helplessness'.
It is a day most people don't or wont talk about.
Some refuse to remember it happened and others treat the subject with an all too casual 's**t happens' attitude and dismiss it.
Please, someone, have a go at making it flow better and sound less ..contrived. I was just trying to get the facts out succintly and the style went for c**p.
All help appreciated. And as always with anything I post, feel free to edit/share/use/exploit it anyway you will.

The sirens wailed..

Post 5

World Service Memoryshare team

Hey jwf,

I honestly think that what you've written expresses exactly how you feel and the rawness of that time is expressed in the style... this makes the account all the more valuable, if anything. I'm happy to tidy it up a bit, but I think that's all it'll need smiley - smiley


The sirens wailed..

Post 6

~ jwf ~ scribblo ergo sum

OK go for it! And thanks.smiley - smiley

But did you see the posting from Thomas the Nearly Sane under 'Reflections':

"It was an interesting time sitting in junior high classes that particular October wondering when (not whether) the Hard Rain would begin."

He says it all so succintly.
"When (not whether).." was the mood of the day. We all fully expected to die and were helpless to do ought but whimper.
Funny how most people's memories of that dismal reality, from a time before the Beatles, Dylan and the Love Generation, are lost and forgotten in the psychedelic cloud of the later sixties.

The sirens wailed..

Post 7

Yowuzupman- New Top Speed 122 (thats mph you metric fools)

by all means put it in!

The sirens wailed..

Post 8


Thanks for writing this. I had a similar, though maybe not as intense, encounter during the crisis and it really helped to hear someone else relate a tale I could identify with.

At the time of the Cuban Missle Crisis I was living in the US near Fort Knox, Kentucky. That site was also considered a prime target, not only because of the gold depository that most people will know about, but also Fort Knox was and is the main center for US Army tank testing and training of operators of those vehicles.

Anyway I was 12 years old at the time and a student at a Catholic grade school. Our teacher, a nun of the Urseline order, told us that morning that the nuclear bombs were likely to be flying today. She said if we heard the sirens we should begin to pray.

Of course we were nervous and scared. So when a fire broke out on the other side of the hillside which ran behind our school and the fire trucks began to approach with sirens blaring, you can imagine the scene in my classroom. Many were crying and some were on their knees. It wasn't until the firetrucks actually pulled into our parking lot looking for a way to the fire did we know it wasn't what we feared.

Since that day, I have had an unreasonable fear of sirens. I am never comfortable around them and always aware of them. Many times I hear them and I realize that those I am with do not even notice their sound. I know when they test the air raid sirens in every place I have ever lived because whenever it would happen I would have a 5 second panic attack until I placed it as being a regular test.

Be that as it may, thanks for sharing what I know couldn't have been a pleasant memory, and thanks for giving me a chance to share mine.

The sirens wailed..

Post 9

~ jwf ~ scribblo ergo sum

Consider it shared.
smiley - cheers

Fort Knox! smiley - yikes
The sharing is much appreciated.

Your teacher puts me in mind of a flock of nuns I remember vividly. I am not Catholic but when I was obliged to repeat my senior year of high school I was not welcomed back and had to attend the Catholic high school down the road.

On my first day, as I entered the classroom, all the students rose from their seats and got down on their knees. It was quickly apparent that this was not on my account but the effect was startling and I soon realised there was much I needed to learn about Catholic schools. Somehow I managed to cope and get on to University the next year.

But I will never forget that flock of flapping nuns who gathered round the principal's office Nov 22, 1963 to listen to the news from Dallas. They were weeping and wailing and helplessly terror struck.

For the first and only time in my stay there, these ear-pulling, knuckle-rapping witches were seemingly oblivious to my unholy presence. I had of course no business being out of class and hanging around the office radio, but I was damned if I was going to stay sitting in class like all the others if the world was falling apart. As it seemed to be for the second time in as many years.

smiley - peacedove
kerry on,

The sirens wailed..

Post 10

Yowuzupman- New Top Speed 122 (thats mph you metric fools)

Thanks for telling us about what it actualy meant to you. I find the best part of history is the personal stories because the actual history can be written and rewritten depending on who you want to fault for what. But the personal stories stay true because you never forget what you felt or what you did on that day. How you reacted when you 'knew' your life would be taken from you will always be a part of you, for better or worse. And that can't be changed by politics.

smiley - martiansmile

The sirens wailed..

Post 11

Saints 76

My Mum and Dad were in the Royal Observer Corps, during the Cuba Crisis. (They were an organisation tasked with plotting nuclear explosions should it happen) Dad told me years later they were on emergency call up, (to be at the base in as short a time as possible) Also I have heard lately that the UK's Vulcan bombers were fuelled up and ready to go at a moment notice during the crisis. As I was only 9 or 10 at the time somehow all this went over my head. It is only in recent years that I have come to realise just how serious the situation was..

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