THEY stripped off all the woodwork from the insides, burnt it on great bonfires, and wood lice and beetles scurried frantically away from the flames.
A steel hawser was wrapped around the walls and the bulldozer huffed and puffed and pulled the house down. The demolition crew crawled through the grey dust above the rubble like ghosts and filled their trucks with the broken bricks, slates and plaster...
Billy Homer was born in that house in a Black Country street of back-to-back houses built at the turn of the century.
The Homers shared an outside lavatory with the people next door and what a stampede there was on a Sunday morning when Billy and his brother, Terry, had been forcibly dosed with syrup-offigs.
It was a race to the bottom of the back yard with the man from next door, full of Saturday night's beer.
Some of the women in the street were called 'widows' and when Billy asked his dad why, he said "Cos they ain't got no 'usbands."
When his son enquired as to their whereabouts he looked into the fire and said, "They'm pushing up the daisies."
At six years of age Billy Homer didn't know about Dunkirk or El Alamien... Tilly Powis, the woman across the street was Billy's refuge from parental wrath. He was a little afraid of her because she talked to herself a lot. One day she gave him a football.
Billy's mother said it must have belonged to Tilly's husband, Sammy. Billy had to ask where he was of course; but by now the lad was beginning to understand that they were all 'pushing up the daisies.' Only grass and moss grew between the cobblestones in the street and he wondered why it took such a lot of men to make the daisies grow. It seemed a terrible waste to him.
One night, incendiary bombs were dropped on the nut and bolt factory at the back of the family home. They were separated from the blaze by just the backyard and the house got lovely and warm. The window panes started to crack and pop, so men wearing tin hats saying AFS on them, carried the children outside. Billy and his brother, Terry, had to stay the night at his pal Joey's house. It was on the opposite side of the street and the boys spent the time looking out of the bedroom window, watching the firemen draw water for their hoses from the canal at the end of Joey's back garden.
There was a photograph of a soldier hanging on the wall. It was Joey's dad. When Billy asked where he was, Terry shouted out, "Pushing up the daisies," so Billy clouted his ear, and with Joey and Terry crying so loud, Mrs Homer ran upstairs to see what all the fuss was about. Although he gave her a logical explanation she clouted Billy's ear. Now all three of the boys were crying and Billy began to form the opinion that women were unreasonable creatures.
The brothers used to run through The Duck Hole to school; rushing through this dark alleyway between the foundries and rolling mills to emerge at the school gates.
There were daisies in the classroom, gathered by the girls for their teacher and stuck in jam-jars on the window ledges. Billy told Miss Burton the soldiers would have to push up a lot more daisies if the girls continued to pick them in such great numbers but she only looked bewildered. Billy was disgusted that a teacher should be so ignorant on a subject even a child knew about.
There was a school outing to Kinver, and the children had a grand time racing, climbing, searching for birds' nests, and singing school songs. They held a picnic in a meadow and then crawled into the next field to terrorise the sheep.
The field was a snowy mass of daisies. Terry had a frightened look on his face.
"There must be a lot of soldiers buried under this lot," he said.
The boys didn't stay in the field for long.
One day the school nurse came to examine heads for flea infestation. Billy thought she would know about dead soldiers so he asked her if all their graves were covered with daisies. He told her he knew they made the daisies grow but she just laughed and called him a silly boy. Billy thought she was very callous about the whole thing.
One by one the street children grew up and sons and daughters left home. Slowly their families left the street too as the post-war housing regeneration programme began. The street had remained the same throughout those long wartime years.
The demolition gang cleared the area some time ago. Billy Homer was taking Terry to the railway station in his new car. As they passed the open stretch of wasteland where their house had stood, they gazed at the framework of the multi-storey council flats being built on the site. Billy carried a lot of memories with him.
Dad had walked out the front door when Billy was fourteen and they never saw him again. Pal Joey was killed on a motorbike. The canal at Joey's back door had been filled in years ago.
They stopped the car and had a long look at the old place. The thing that took Billy's eye was the pile of rubble at the end of their old street. The blue bricks lay half-hidden beneath a white cloak.
"I see they're still pushing up the daisies," he smiled and started up the car again.