Eric and his banjo lifted spirits as bombs fell over England

BALLINA'S Eric Bacon hasn't played his ukulele banjo since 1943.

But there was a time when his performance lifted the morale of hundreds of people in fear of their lives.

The 89-year-old Ballina man has kept the banjo which was given to him by his mother Mabel.

As a 14-year-old, Eric strummed tunes and lifted the spirit of crowds with songs in his local air-raid shelter in Surrey as bombs dropped over England.

It was the Battle of Britain 57 years ago.

"I'd entertain them (the people in the shelter) and they would sing so we couldn't hear the drone of the aircraft and the bombs falling," he said.

MORALE BOOSTER: Eric Bacon used his ukelele banjo to lift morale in air raid shelters in 1940.
MORALE BOOSTER: Eric Bacon used his ukelele banjo to lift morale in air raid shelters in 1940. Graham Broadhead

It was a daily routine, during the battle fought in the skies over England for five months from May to September 1940, for folks to head into the air-raid shelter each night.

"We just took it in our stride," Eric said.

"You could hear the bombs getting closer and you thought the next one might be yours."

Eric left school to work as an apprentice mechanic for Morris Motors, maintaining army vehicles.

Two staff were rostered on each night to stay at the workplace to alert firefighters of any blaze.

Eric took his turn too, and would watch the aircraft play out the battle in the night sky.

He would also see the vapour trails left above London.

The air raids continued throughout the war.

But during the Battle of Britain, Eric said it was difficult to get much sleep and most people were exhausted, but spirits remained high.

Eric joined the Royal Navy and served in the D-Day operation in 1944.

He stopped playing his banjo simply because his life became too busy, after he married an Australian and they raised a family.

But he has always kept the gift his mother gave him.