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Our Childhood 1939 - 1945
At the outbreak of the Second World War my brother was eleven and I was nine and so were seventeen and fifteen when it ended. We were away on our summer holiday the week before war was declared and came home three days early so that we were able to hear Mr Chamberlain the Prime Minister declare war on Germany.
At 11.00am on Sunday morning September 3rd 1939 we sat round our dining room table and turned on the radio to hear the news and no sooner had he spoken than an air raid siren went off and I remember being frightened and thinking what would happen to us all in the future. It was to be eight years before we had another holiday.
Our house, situated some four miles out of Croydon, had a very long back garden which climbed up into a steep bank two thirds of the way. The next door plot to us had quite a thick wooded area. From the moment we arrived back from holiday Pop decided to build an air raid shelter into this steep bank up against our boundary fence next to the wood. He dug out a long passageway and then a square room at the end of it which he lined with wood and also dug out a section off the passageway large enough for him to sleep in.
Next he made bunk beds for us, the room was heated and lit by paraffin lamps and I can still remember the awful smell they gave off. We slept in this shelter every night for the duration of the war. We tried one night sitting in deck chairs in the kitchen but the air raids were so close we had to return to the shelter.
Where we lived was constantly bombed and though we were lucky that our house didn’t have a direct hit we were always having our windows blown out and ceilings collapsing. My brother and I went to schools in different parts of Croydon. If an air raid siren went while we were at school we took our lessons in the school basement but were not permitted to leave the building and go home after school if there was an air raid on, unless we had written permission from our parents.
Very few people owned or were able to use a car as petrol was rationed and so we made our way to school on buses in the morning but when we could we both preferred to walk home in the afternoon as we had only a few pence each for pocket money, it meant we could save our bus fares. We also had to carry a gas mask at all times in case of a gas attack. These were supplied in a square cardboard box on a strap that you put over your shoulder, babies had ones large enough to cover them completely.
It is very hard for anyone who didn’t live through this time to understand what is was like to be a child during the war, you lived never knowing whether you were going to be bombed or killed from one day to another and this took an awful toll on a youngster, today there are counselors to help but there was no such service in those days.
There were no street lights and every house had to have blackout curtains that were drawn before you put a light on; if you showed even a crack of light you could be fined. What use to frighten me, was when aircraft flew over before the bombers came, they would drop their flares which lit up all your neighbourhood allowing the planes that followed to see their targets and when you saw your house and the surrounding area standing out in a bright light with everywhere around you in darkness, it made you think that you were about to be the target that night.
All signposts were removed and railway station names were taken down and it was drummed into you that you shouldn’t give stranger directions if you were asked, as they might be an enemy or spy which today sounds quite ridiculous. Iron railings were taken from gardens and footpaths and melted down for munitions.
During the last eighteen months of the war Germany changed their tactics and sent over flying bombs or ‘doodlebugs’ as we called them. These were unmanned and my brother and I use to stand on our lawn and watch them. Should their engines cut out before they came overhead, we would rush like mad to our shelter but if they passed over with the engine still going, we would watch them come down and explode in the distance.
The only electric appliance we had in our house was one radio, there were no washing machines, fridges, freezers, dishwashers or TVs; can you imagine living like that today?. Food was rationed and even though the war ended in 1945 rationing continued until 1952 and the amount of food we had was minimal unless you could grow it yourself in your garden or on an allotment.
To give you an idea we had only 2oz butter, tea and sugar and 8oz of meat per person per week, we eat more than that in one day now. We gave up our egg ration for chicken feed so that we could keep a dozen hens and that meant we always had fresh eggs. Tinned food and some fruits and vegetables were limited as they could not be imported and food such as biscuits, flour, dried fruits etc were allocated on a points system, from memory about 20 points a month, sweets were also rationed.
Clothing coupons were issued which would probably be just enough to buy our school uniforms during the year and the quality would have been poor, we had very few clothes other than our uniforms though my mother tried to sew or knit us extra garments. All manufacturing companies were turned over to making war weapons.
We played mostly in our garden or local parks and on wet days when indoors we spent hours with board games and any toys or books our parents could get hold of but they were always within short supply.
Surprisingly we were pretty happy, we had lots of school friends who were all in the same boat as us and we came to accept the way we lived as there was nothing we could do to alter the situation. Many people were far worse off than us, Pop was too old to serve in the Second World War as he had fought in the First War so he was at home whereas many of our friends had their fathers in the services and there were many fatalities.
How one Austrian Corporal could have change my life is incomprehensible. On a night in late August or early September a four year old and his very pregnant mother waited in Euston Station. The great STANIER Pacific locomotive rumbled and growled, blew a bit of steam and waited patiently to haul the night train to Glasgow. I dont know if it was the Royal Scot but I like to think that it was. The whistles blew and we boarded,bound for one of lifes great adventures. The train slowly wended its way from under the broken glass dome and out thru a bombed out rail yard. The only light was supplied by a watery moon. We left the Greatest city in the world and gathered speed, sweeping across the Midlands, past Morecambe Bay pasing by the Lake District and on to Carlisle and finally over the boarder to Glasgow.
I dont remember too much of Glasgow or boarding the ship but I do remember going past the loading cranes and docks. Our ship was the Anchor Lines "Cameronia" and she carried a mixed passenger list of evacuated children from the Continent. Mostly German children whom I feel must have been of Jewish heritage. There were also a large group of Scots and a handful of British children like me. Should any one who was on that trip be able to fill me in on any particulars please contact me.
I understand that this was an escorted "CRUISE" one of His Majesties Cruisers and a couple of Destroyers thrown in for good measure. What else did our ship carry? Or who? There is a write up in the NEW YORK TIMES archives from Sept 1940 available on the internet.
I was playing in the garden with my mate Norman in 1944 we were about nine I think. As we played we were interrupted every now and then by a doodlebug going over, we always watched them as we did the Spitfires and Hurricanes doing their bit, then this one buzzbomb seemed to draw our attention a bit more intensely because it's Rocket stopped as it was coming towards us and you know what that meant,yes, divetime. We never dived anywhere for cover we were transfixed, like the Rabbit in the headlights thing.
After it dissapeared through the trees there was deafening explosion and Norman said that's my house. We ran off through the woods at breakneck speed,it was about 3/4 mile to Norman's road and what a sight met us there were about six houses demolished and Normans was in the middle, he tried to run past all the rubble, and Bob and Alan Sceal sitting dazed and covered with plaster dust, he was stopped by an ARP Warden. Yes poor Normans mum had copped it, but she managed to throw his baby sister into the Anderson as the bomb hit.
I saw Norman this year first time in forty three years, he told me that Eileen his baby sister had died of Cancer some years ago we hope to see each other abain this year I will look foward to that, I'm 67 now, my, does'nt time fly.
Frank E Davies
SUNSHINE TO SADNESS
I felt a twinge of guilt as I smeared the lard on my rusting bike chain. Lard was on ration, but oil and grease being hard to come by left me with little option. I pumped away at my treadless well-patched tyres (acquired from our local rubbish tip) trying hard not to notice the numerous cracks and bulges which grew alarmingly with each stroke of the pump. I tightened the strand of wire (substitute for a missing brake rod) and as my back brake blocks had disintegrated some time ago, hoped that the single remaining front blocks would at least help slow me down in an emergency! I then tightened the string holding on my front mudguard and with a sigh of satisfaction, declared to my friend... "I’m ready." It was Sunday, April the 8th, 1945. A beautiful sunny spring morning. Birds were singing, buds were bursting & temperatures were rising.
We had decided to take a ‘bike-ride’. So, with tyres resembling Python snakes that had swallowed a colony of rabbits, we set off along ‘Cut-throat Lane’, (Coleman Road) towards Evington Village. We rattled and clanked our way past ‘Blacky Fields’, scene of many ‘raids’, onto farmers potato clamps to supply requirements for our campfire feasts, and then eventually Shady Lane P.O.W. camp. It was here, only a year before, at the age of twelve, I had the unforgettable experience of tasting my first Wrigley’s Spearmint Chewing Gum. Tents had appeared over night, like Magic Mushroom's... and within these miniature Aladdin’s Caves, Trestle tables groaned under the weight of ‘Camel’ Cigarettes, Chewing Gum, tins of exotic meats and foods we had never seen or tasted before. These ‘Treasures’ were dispensed by ‘Gods’ (who spoke like the ‘Dead End Kids’ and ‘Roy Rogers’ combined) to the hoards of grubby, green-candled nosed, ragged trouser-bottomed ‘Dennis the Menace’ and ‘Just William’ look-a-likes who descended on the camp like locusts... Yes... The Yanks had arrived!
On to Stoughton Airfield. Scene of many a fascinating hour, watching the Dakotas and gliders taking off and landing in almost round the clock training for D.Day and the Rhine crossing. With the absence of traffic and petrol fumes we were able, above the rattle of our bikes, to take in the fleeting sounds of Family Favourites, hand pushed mowers, cows mooing and lambs bleating. Which mingled and blended with the tantalising smell of roasting beef (evidence that the locals and farmers were not restricted to the meat ration.) Newly cut grass, blossoms and farmyard manure all produced a cocktail of sensations, which could only portray a typical peaceful English summer Sunday. The war was coming to an end, rations were easing and it felt good to be alive.
We arrived at the junction of Station Road and Uppingham Road. Our bicycle inner tubes were porous, as well as being the wrong size, so we decided that we needed to stop for a rest and feed our tyres with a few more ‘rabbits’. Looking over the countryside toward Scraptoft, there was a simmering haze covering the rolling green fields and in the distance we heard, then saw, a Lancaster bomber with an accompanying Spitfire tagging behind, droning majestically towards us. We had seen many bombers over the years, but as always, the sight never failed to arouse our interest. We turned our attention back to our bikes.
A minute or so later the drone of the engines changed abruptly to a high pitched scream. We looked up in alarm and to our horror as we saw the Lancaster in a vertical dive, descending at terrifying speed toward the ground, only a few yards from where we stood. We tried to run, but our legs could not move. We were rooted to the spot. Just when we thought that our end had come, a miracle happened, with engines howling, the plane suddenly began to pull out of its dive, as if trapped inside a giant invisible U-bend of a waste-pipe. The wings bent to breaking point as it swooped over Station Road at tree top height and began a vertical climb over Coles Nurseries. Our fear changed to relief and then to anger and indignation where we found ourselves shouting abuse at the pilot for ‘acting the fool’.
Our anger, however, was short lived, and quickly turned to horror when we witnessed the plane, high over Thurnby Railway Station, turn on it’s back and plunge earthwards once more in another vertical dive. We saw its black silhouette disappear below the horizon of the railway embankment and a split second later a tremendous Orange/Red/Black mushroom of fire clawed its way into the Blue sky, followed by a delayed hollow booming thud. Our legs came back to life, and with childish visions of heroic rescue of airmen from burning wreckage we sped down Station Road, over the embankment, and ran along the back of gardens where people were standing like statues. I passed a woman with a baby in her arms. Tears were falling from her cheeks.
The site of the crash was covered in a layer of smoke, but as we got nearer we were confronted with an incredible sight. There, in the meadow, stamped as if by a giant’s hand, was a scarred outline of the Lancaster. A large crater was created by the fuselage, with four others made by the engines. Unbelievably, the leading edge of the wings, tip to tip, could be clearly seen, marked purely by scorched but otherwise undamaged grass. The field was strewn with small pieces of debris no larger than the page of a newspaper.
Our hopes of rescue vanished as we jumped over the small brook and ran to the edge of the main smoking crater. As we looked into this pit, ammunition was exploding, sending puffs of ash into the air like a volcano ready to erupt. We were not sure if any bombs were in there, so we retired to a safer distance. It was then that I saw that the local ‘Bobby’ had arrived. Up to this point it had been as if it was all a dream, but now reality and shock began to filter through my brain and I felt sickened, sad and helpless.
The accompanying Spitfire returned to check the scene… I could clearly see the pilot as he banked his plane to view the smoking craters below. The sound of bells announced the arrival of the fire engine and at this point the ‘Bobby’ asked us to leave.
The day had changed... Sounds of music, animals and mowers were abruptly replaced by the thud and crackle of exploding ammunition, fire bell's and tears. The smells of the countryside had dissolved into an unforgettable stench of burnt fuel and flesh... The summer haze now acrid smoke... We made our way slowly to Station Road. The woman with the baby was still rooted in the same spot... I found myself thinking of the unfortunate families of the airmen, who were soon to receive those awful, heartless, Buff Telegrams... ...We regret to inform you... I don’t remember the journey home.
Terence C. Cartwright
I must have been one of the first people to be evacuated from a hospital at the beginning of the war. I was born in 1936 with a congenital spine and spent 3 years at Biddulph Orthopaedic Hospital in the Midlands. I was in Plaster cast which covered me from the neck to the bottom of my spine in a V shape I was told I used to spin round on it on the floor.
On September the 3rd in the afternoon my mother answered a knock at the door when she opened it a nurse swept in carrying me wrapped in a blanket, she then stripped me of the blanket, left me in the nude and said the beds were needed for the forces; when my mother asked why they had not been informed the Nurse said don't you know there is a war on. They did not send any of my soft toys or other possessions with me we never knew what happened to them.
My arrival at home was quite traumatic to the whole family as my elder brother and sister did not know of my existence and I had been thoroughly spoilt at the Hospital needless to say my mother must have found it quite difficult to find clothes for me as my sister was 2 years older and I was very small for my age, it appears that I used to scream when ever my siblings came near me.
Although we were in land in Lancashire we still got the airraid sirens going off and my mother was an Air raid warden, when we had a raid on I was wrapped in a crocheted blanket and put in the tin bath under the stairs at the top of the coal cellar I still have that blanket and used it for many years when I went camping; we had 2 bombs dropped on the town one in the Park and the other on the outskirts of town.
In 1944 my mother had to take me to London to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for children to be seen by the specialists there, that night we stayed at my great Aunt`s house at Luton, my sister, mother and I were in a bed in the attic, and it was was with great fascination that I watched the searchlights scan the sky and catch the enemy planes in their light. The next day we went to the market where my uncle bought us 3 little chickens to take home, but alas they all died before we even left Luton.
I also remember collecting ship Halfpennies for the war effort and on reaching a certain number, your name was placed in the local paper.
I had never seen my father he was a miner but he was also in the territorial Army and was called up before war was officially declared he served in Ireland and went to Burma. When the war was finally over because of his occupation he was discharged early from the Army. At school my sister and I were called to the headmistresses study and sent home, when word came that my father had arrived home we dashed home to my Grandmas but was told Dad was at our house; all the way home when we met a soldier in uniform I would say to my sister "Is that my Dad?"
I remember my mum telling me to get my coat on because there was a load of kiddies from London and we were going to get one. I was so excited. I didn't have any brothers or sisters and this was as close as I would ever get to one. (We lived in Warley Road, Halifax.)
My mum, Norah Hooson, was a 'no nonsense' type, small, about 5' 00 but feisty. I walked around the church hall and found a girl near to my age, a little older but then beggars can't be choosers. When my mum came over and told her we were going, she started to cry because she didn't want to leave her 2 sisters. My mum told them that as long as they didn't mind roughing it, she'd keep them all together. I remember Patsy and Joyce slept in the big bed with my mum and me and Maureen had the little bed. But they were all together and that was the most important thing.
Later the girls told mum about a friend that was being mistreated. That was enough to fire my mum up and it was "Get ya coats on and let's get this kid NOW!!" off we went down Parkinson Lane, knocked on the door and I can hear my mum now. Ivy...get yer stuff, your coming with us, and that was that. We got an old mattress and Ivy Bridges. We had a lot of nothing but laughs.
I now live in America, but often wonder what happened to the Bygraves sisters...and do they wonder about Auntie Norah and Ann?
Ann Eckroth (nee. Hooson.)Ann would love to hear from her wartime "sisters" if you know them please get in touch.
I was born in North Shields, an only child, my parents were Jane Henighan (nee Turner) and Joseph Henighan. My father was in the Royal Navy, so like many children I had no idea who he was, other than a photograph on the wall. My mother was from a large family (one of nineteen). We lived on Little Bedford Street, as did my grandmother (maternal) and two of my mother's brothers and a sister. I attended St. Cuthberts School on Albion Road.
1941 was not a very good year for our family - on February 18, 1941, my father's youngest brother Eddie (aged 22) was a casualty on board the S.S. Black Osprey that was torpedoed off the Irish coast, also on board was my mother's oldest brother Bill (aged 45), the priest came to my grandparents' house to break the news. Then 11 days later, March 1, 1941, the priest came to visit again, my father's second youngest brother Albert (aged 25) had met the same fate in the same place, on board S.S. Effna. They were merchant seamen doing the North Atlantic run, bringing supplies back home. The Royal Naval vessel my father served on was also torpedoed, but he was one of the lucky ones. These memories are still quite vivid, even though I was only five, there are some things that stay with you always. I couldn't understand why everyone was so upset, but I knew it was something bad. Of course with no bodies there were no funerals, which meant no closure, my relatives had a hard time dealing with this. As children, we were able to bounce back to normal within a couple of days.
Then came Wilkinson's shelter disaster. The reason I remember it so clearly is because my aunt and uncle lived on Queen Street, with their three children, and the night of the disaster my uncle Peter ( who worked at Tyne Dock, South Shields) was out at work, leaving his family at home. My two uncles (Albert and Alex) who lived next door to my mother were still at home (one worked at Smith's Dock and the other on one of the tugs on the Tyne). They were both ARP Wardens, and as soon as the siren sounded they were down on what we used to call the bank top at the end of Little Bedford Street, which overlooked Clive Street and the river. We heard the bomb explode from inside our shelters, and I remember my grandmother saying it was very close, she thought it was down on one of the shipyards. Then my uncles came in and said there had been a direct hit on Wilkinson's Shelter, and they had been told to go over to help with casualties, the ironic part was they had forgotten that my aunt and her children used Wilkinson's shelter.
My two uncles described the scene as something they would never forget for the rest of their lives. They were lined up outside the shelter passing bodies, or in some cases pieces of bodies, as they were being dug out from the rubble. My uncle Peter was one of the lucky ones, his wife had arrived at Wilkinson's shelter and had been told it was full when she got there, so she left and headed to another shelter. My mother's relatives who were killed in the shelter were a family by the name of Chater, they were cousins. I didn't know much about them. The feelings of my relatives after the disaster were hard to determine, as they went on, as normal as possible, about their business and kept things to themselves. Of course, it could be that the bad things about the war were not discussed in front of children. Most of the information I gleaned from the odd discussion I heard about the war, was when I was older. They just didn't talk about it.
The war carried on, it seemed like there was a raid every night, no sooner did we go to bed than the siren sounded. My mother tried to ignore it because she hated going into the shelters, but my uncle would come to the back door and bang on the door until she opened it. I remember him saying, "I don't care what you do, but give me that child," and I was wrapped up in a large tweed cape, which had belonged to my father's mother, and hauled down to the shelter, with my grandmother and my aunt. My mother used to turn up eventually. The street we lived on was just above the shipyards, so after each raid we used to go out on the street to look for shrapnel, because most of the bombing was targeting the shipyards. Not knowing how bad it really was, to a lot of children the war was like a big game.
I remember after the war was over I was outside playing with friends when I saw a sailor walking down the street towards my house. He walked past us and then went into my house, I had no idea who this was, and obviously he didn't know who I was; when I went indoors I found out he was my father, the person in the picture on the wall. It took a while to get used to him, but I was one of the lucky ones, my father came home from the war.
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