Edwin Cook was born in 1931 in Queen Anne’s County in Maryland. He was around the age of ten when the war began. His family lived on a farm in Centreville, and most of his time during the war was spent tending to the farm and attending school. On the days that he and his siblings weren’t doing chores on the farm, he would go into town to try and watch a movie at the local theatre. His mother worked as a teacher right until she got married since married women could not be teachers anymore. Eddie loved to read and eventually read all about the war as he got older to understand more about the monumental event.
In this interview, Eddie recalls his life when he was a boy. He discusses farm life in great detail and all the chores and jobs. Additionally, he discusses race relations, particularly as it pertained to the farm; involvement via food production; his opinions of FDR and Winston Churchill and other miscellaneous topics.
In the interview with Eddie is a childhood friend, Charlie Carter. Eddie invites Charlie to participate in the interview to share some of his stories of growing up in Centreville during the war.
Parental/Social Discussions on the War
Heard my mother because when she went to church, and that was a big gathering back in those days, that’s where they went to get their news. ‘Course there was other farm families who had boys that looked older than us that was in the service. And they would talk, and she would repeat to us what so-and-so—, where the son was stationed and how secret this is. And we worried because they never knew, you know, back then. “Loose lips sink ships,” and they lived by that rule. And rightly so, because you never knew who was listening. You’ve heard all about the German subs coming up on the coast and what happened to them.
Black Helpers, Prisoners of War, and Displaced People
Adding to that, on the farm help was scarce. And this was, it wasn’t any joke—all the able bodied had gone into the service or they’d gone to Baltimore to get a good job in the defense plant. All the farm labor then was old, Negro men and young, white boys. That was 90% true. That’s what we grew up under. And then during the war, not one, but you had three groups of people—they’d come over to help you with the farm work. You had the Jamaicans, they came over. Can they speak perfect English? And then you—guess what? You had these young, German prisoners that were sent over here. You had prison camps; there’s one on 213. They came over, and they worked on the farms. And then you had what they called DP’s, Displaced Persons, from the Ukraine. So we got to experience all that.
CC: Yeah, after the war, Ukraine didn’t have a country. So they called them DP’s, Displaced Persons, and farmers would apply for them. There’s quite a few of them around.
Plane Spotting Stations and Blackout Headlights
And also we had stations around where people would volunteer. And there was that little building—You’d go there, and any airplane that came over, you’d take a record of it. And you had a sheet that you filled out, what kind it was. People did that around the clock, I guess to be sure it wasn’t foreign. We used to go down with my parents and stay there when they did their shift. It was interesting. And our headlights on our cars were painted, the top part of the light was painted so they would shine on the ground in case planes came over and all.
Women Using Feed Sacks to Make Clothing
Silk has gone to war. You know, they made parachutes out of silk. So here they come out, and you should seen some of the designs that these old farm ladies—most of them were perfect seamstresses—the clothes they made for kids and for young girls and all. You know, they washed these feed bags. This feed bag company would come out with these beautiful printed feed sacks with flowers all over them. And it was unbelievable. You should seen some of the pictures, these younger women who wore these dresses made out of feed sacks. Yeah, that’s how it was.
I’ll say something about the tin cans and all. Periodically, you’d have a free movie. You had to take a piece of aluminum to get into the movie. We collected aluminum to make planes and stuff all over the country. Well I know, I mean that it didn’t cost any money, is what I mean. But, yeah, you had to have a piece of aluminum, yeah. We called it free because we didn’t have to pay. But, that was one way of collecting.
Opinions of FDR and Winston Churchill
Being too young to really understand, ‘course he turned out to be a big hero. Here’s a man guided us through the greatest Depression we’d ever seen. And then we had this sneak attack at Pearl Harbor. And the man was elected four terms. And we have a special amendment passed that you can’t serve more than two terms. But FDR, he had a voice, and ‘course do you know a thing about his background? The Roosevelts, wealthiest family that ever came here, see. But, he was a masterful speaker. And I can hear him now, “I hate war, and Eleanor, she hates war! And we’ve become the arsenal of democracy!” But my favorite angry speaking man of all time was Winston Churchill. There’s no match. He could say something embarrassing, but he was so—. He said, “The art of diplomacy” (I love this one) “is to tell someone that’s he’s wrong, but he will not have any offense against you”. But another one, I like as a country boy, “The art of diplomacy is to tell someone to go to “H” and make him feel happy that he’s on his way.” You know how country boys are.