Brian Kiernan's Story


Gerry raised the interesting subject of smells that bring back strong

memories. For me one of the most evocative smells of the World War II is

that of burning painted wood. As an eight-year old in London in 1943 I

played on bomb sites which often were still had smoldering fires. On

occasion, the clean up crews would collect all the combustibles at the

site and have one great bonfire, which, of course, we kids thought was


It was not until much later that I realized that the very pungent and

distinctive smell was due to the fact that painted wood was being

burned. There have only been two or three occasions since the war that I

have come across that distinctive smell, but it always brings back

memories of the bomb sites in South London. Since open burning has been

banned in the States for at least the last twenty years, it is unlikely

that I will come across that smell again unless, of course, I start my

own illegal bonfire!

One smell we definitely will not come across again is that of the London

pea soup fog. Does anyone remember the great fog of 1947(?) that killed

five thousand people and was instrumental in bringing about the banning

of coal fires in London? As I recall, it lasted at least three or four

days, was green in colour, and had an absolutely awful smell.

Brian Kiernan