Katheryn Steventon – A father in Dad’s Army
My mother didn’t much like my father being in the Home Guard – there was no glory in that. My father being a bit mature for the services and having a protected occupation, he was very much a member of Dad’s Army. His daytime work was in London deciding which bit of Regency wrought iron railings were to be kept, and which would go off to the furnaces of the war effort. He hated doing this, for him all railings were worthy to be kept.
His train journeys were often in the dark because of the Luftwaffe and many a time he missed or nearly missed his station. When he got home he rushed off to the Home Guard, with maybe just enough time for a hasty meal, he’d spend his nights in dugouts armed with only a wooden replica rifle, waiting for the German planes to pass overhead on their way to London, and would report this to headquarters.
Mother got fed up with this night after night, and one evening locked him in the bedroom while he was changing into uniform. This didn’t stop my father who scaled down the front drain pipe of the house. Of course there was an awful row in the morning when he came off duty.
My father said his platoon had many plans if the Germans ever managed to invade Britain. One of these was putting dinner plates upside down on a bridges and they covered them with earth etc. The point being that the German tanks would stop, thinking the plates might be mines, and when the Germans looked into this the Home Guard would go around the tanks putting sugar in the fuel tanks to make them inactive.
This has all been told to me but one thing is for sure, while I was growing up there was always a magazine of rifle bullets in one of the draws in the dining room side board.
Cynthia Hammond – Coming to post war England
On arriving in England June 1956 from Jamaica I saw the aftermath of World War II. My parents lived in North London and at the bottom of our garden in Islington was an Anderson shelter. We were told it was used as protection against the many bombings during the height of warfare. Growing up in London , this about World War II were taught to us at school. Every November along with Guy Fawkes night we were taught to remember the fallen and to quote Sir Winston Churchill “At the rising of the sun and the sunset, we will remember them.” We would then wear our poppies with pride but not knowing the full penalty those fine young men, who paid the ultimate price for a free Britain.
Jennifer Edwards – A Story of Butter
Squares of cold toast with thick butter that showed my teeth marks, made for me by my aunty Alice, she was my godmother Alicia Patricia Ermintrude Longford Griffiths. These toast treats were given to me when I was about four or younger, just towards the end of the war when butter rations were very sparse. The love of butter never left me. They were eaten in her tiny kitchen which was four doors down from our house – a new house built just before the outbreak of war. Alicia Patricia Ermintrude Longford Griffiths, better known as Alice, loved her Woodbine cigarettes, everyone smoked forty a day. Now she’s dead and gone, but I remember, seventy years on, her toast and butter.
Jennifer Edwards – WWII Poem
A shelter in the garden,
Ration books, Home Guard,
Pork & bacon arriving in brown paper
Wrapped with thick string through the post,
Sent by Gramma Fran their Welsh farm,
Soldiers fighting, bandages,
Lit up skies
Air raid sirens
Rubble in Birmingham
A soldier at New St Station
An American handing me gum
I was four, never tasted gum before
News reels of burning cities
Blackouts. Then it stopped.
Fran Littlehales – Parachute Underwear
My grandmother was a seamstress – and could literally make anything out of anything. She could make two blouses out of an old pair of pyjamas. Every now and again – late at night there would be a knock on the door and someone would give my grandmother a large brown paper parcel. Later on she would go out with a bag of small parcels – or ladies would come to the doors and take a small parcel away.
My mother didn’t know what was happening. Years later the subject cropped up between my Grandmother “Hilda” and my mum. It transpired that the parcels were German parachutes! And my grandmother made underwear out of them – the parachutes were 100% silk and the Germans’ were white – whereas the British ones were a mucky brown colour. I pity any German airmen dropping down in Merseyside and having a bunch of Scouse kids mobbing them for their parachute.
Fran Littlehales – Isobel & The Chocolate
The people of Canada sent a shipment of drinking chocolate to all the British children so every school was given a certain quantity and if you brought an empty jam jar you could take some home. Isobel said she never had it as a drink, her mother always put it in cakes, puddings and so on.
Fran Littlehales – The Americans are coming
When the Americans joined the Allied Forces – a lot of them came to the UK via Liverpool and had to be billeted until they had their dispatch orders. So Merseyside was awash with “Yanks.” My mother and all her friends would shout when they saw an American soldier “Got any gum, chum?!” The Americans soldiers always had gum and chocolate – they’d give the gum out in strides and say “Have you got a sister?” My mother was an only child, but she always shouted “Yes!” took the gum and ran away.
Fran Littlehales – The under-stair cupboard – memories of mum
She was terrified of small spaces – my mother told me that when it was very cold or raining hard – her mother wouldn’t go down the street or to the Anderson shelter. Instead she would make my mother go into the cupboard under the stairs – I think this was what started my mother’s fears of small spaces, and being crammed up against other people – like in lifts. She said the bombs hitting the surround area would make the house shake and she wondered if the house would be strong enough to survive the blast. She did not believe that the staircase would be strong enough to start intact if there was a direct hit. She didn’t like the dark, and there wasn’t enough space to light a candle. A true account of why my mother hated lifts, and caravans!
Fran Littlehales – The Bomb!
My dad Norman Parry was sent up to Scotland for the whole of the war as his mother died in 1939 – and he was only 6 – so he went to live with his grandmother and an aunt.
During that time his father – my grandad Bob Parry was an Air Raid Warden and when dad got back to Birkenhead – his dad was living in a “Prefab” bungalow with a strange assortment of furniture he had found in the rubble of bombed houses – his own house had been destroyed by a bomb and he had only been able to rescue a few bits and pieces. Amongst Grandad’s assortment of furniture was a “Tall boy” – a tall chest of drawers – with a large bottom drawer.
My dad had heard lots of stories about what his dad had got up to during the war – including carrying an unexploded “butterfly bomb” out of a school.
My dad didn’t believe most of them especially the bomb in the school story – one day he was looking for a shirt and went through gran dads tall boy, until he reached the bottom drawers which he dragged open and found an unexploded bomb! He sat outside on the doorstep until Grandad came home – and castigated him for keeping a bomb in the house! My Grandad said “If it hasn’t gone of when it went though the school roof, it wasn’t going to go off now.” I don’t know how my dad or his dad disposed of it.
Fran Littlehales – Fish Head Stew
My mother was taken by her mother to a WI meeting on how to create recipes and meals on rations. The woman that was giving the talk was very posh and had one of those BBC accents. The women attending were mostly “dockers” wives or the wives of the shipbuilders at Cammell Lairds ship yard. The woman was describing how to make a meal out of fish heads, and asked if there were any questions. My mother said that a large Irish lady stood up, folded her arms and said in a loud voice “What I want to know is, what happened to the rest of the fish?!” The meeting collapsed into a riot of shouting and clapping – and the woman who was giving the talk disappeared off the stage. My grandmother grabbed my mother’s’ hand and scuttled out of the room, saying how rough the WI had become nowadays.
Fran Littlehales – Down in the tunnel
The bombing of Merseyside got so bad that the Anderson shelters were not safe enough to sleep in during a raid – and the Germans were dropping huge bombs that could destroy a shelter and kill everyone in it – so new instructions were given by the air raid wardens that there would be an early warning siren to give people enough time to get to the Mersey Tunnel and sleep down there during the really bad bombing raids. My mother was afraid and she hated going down in the tunnel – she said that some people were hysterical – and there was a lot of noise – and some people were robbed while they tried to sleep. Some soldiers/airmen who were wounded were sent down in the tunnel to try and keep order. There was some Polish airmen and they sang Polish songs and one of them had an accordion and my mother said she would always be able to remember the sound of the airmen singing “sad” polish songs.
Janice Boyett – My Parents
Mary and Jack met at the Bell in Northfield and married in 1934. By the time war broke out in 1939, they had 3 small girls Mary, Jackie and Patricia. Jack was one of the first to go with the British Expeditionary Force because he had been a “regular” and so was in the reserves. When France fell to the Germans, thousands of men were trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk in France and in Belgium. Jack was one of them, he never told me the full story because he died when I was only nineyears old. But I heard him say he followed the North Star to lead him home and that a Belgium fisherman brought him and his friend home across the Channel to England. Mom had been told that he was probably dead if she hadn’t heard by then but then his mother, my gran got a telegram saying he was safe. Mom wasn’t pleased that Gran heard and she hadn’t but obviously pleased that he was alive. So Dad came home to fight another day and then off to Burma he went. He was in the 14th Army – called the Forgotten Army as they were left out there long after the war finished. Again, he never talked of it except to mention that the Japanese Soldiers would call out “Johnny!” so that when a John ( there were a lot of British soldiers called John) answered they would shoot them. Also reference to cutting off people’s ears! Other than that, he preferred to forget the war and move on with his life. The war in Europe ended in May 1945 and Mom was asked to light the street party bonfire, as a consolation because dad was still away. War with Japan ended August 1945 and mom and my 3 sisters made a banner, “Welcome home Johnny”. Xmas came and went and the banner was tattered and torn but he still wasn’t home.
At last , one morning, mom was cleaning the ashes from the grate, her hair was tied up in a turban and she was in her oldest clothes. She heard footsteps and a whistle “Are you working” – dad’s special whistle, her heart stopped and she ran to the door. There he stood smiling, arms outstretched, he was home at last.
Later, they walked to Trescot Rd school to meet Mary, Jacqueline and Pat from school. Out they ran and stood looking shyly at dad. Mom said “Well girls, do you know who this is?” smiles all round and the little one said “Is it our uncle?” There wasn’t a dry eye among those moms at the school gate that day. But mom didn’t care because she was had Jack home for good, or so she thought, (but that’s another story).
Janice Boyett – Family Story
I’ve tried to tell a bit of my family’s war experiences although as I was born after the war, they are only what were told to me. But I also feel that we should remember the contribution that many of the Commonwealth soldiers made and that in fact this led to some of them settling in Britain after the war. My father in law and his brother, Samuel Boyett and Leonard Boyett were amongst these. They were born and grew up in India in an Anglo-India family – an Anglo-India mother Regina McGowan and British father, Thomas Boyett. We know little about their war service except that it took them into Burma where Leonard was captured by the Japanese around 1943 and spent the rest of the war as a POW in Thailand. Sam talked a little about the Chindits so may have been with them – we don’t know but after the war the Boyett family settled back in Britain where their father was originally from. Len never talked about his POW days and he was a quiet, reserved person and I think he held a lot of sad memories. Many of the McGowan family also settled in Britain as well as in Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and the US.
This is an extract taken from ‘Britain’s Betrayal in India’ by F Anthony which is about one of the McGowan cousins.
George Charles McGowan (known as Charles) an Anglo-Indian lad of about 20 years of age, was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry in Burma. A few details of his exploits make interesting reading. He was dropped in the rear of the Japanese as a Commando. He and a companion were, after some time, surrounded and captured by the Japanese. One night, when he heard the Japanese soldiers carousing, Charles decided to escape from his shack. He attacked the Japanese sentry with bare hands. Before he succeeded in strangling the sentry, the latter managed to bayonet him and partly disembowelled the lad. His hands were also cut to the bone by the bayonet. After killing the sentry, he got hold of a tommy gun. With this he attacked and wiped out a number of the Japanese soldiers. Wounded severely, hungry and worn out, he wandered in the jungle for 11 days before being picked up by British troops.
I know many of the British soldiers including my own father had a great deal of admiration for the Indian soldiers, especially the Sikhs which perhaps should be remembered today.
Gloria Jones – A Story of Being Bombed – Kings Norton Seniors
Dad was a little late coming home from work that night so after giving me a hug he changed out of his overalls and was about to eat his tea when those dreadful sirens went. Dad quickly put on his coat and picked me up along with my red siren suit. Mom slipped her coat on and picked up her handbag and dad’s dinner, and we all hurried out of the back door and into that horrible dark cold air raid shelter at the bottom of the garden. I could hear the sound of people hurrying down the road to the big shelter. We were lucky we had our own. Mom had tried to make it comfortable with blankets and pillows but it was dark and smelly. Then it started – the sound of the guns pop popping and the drone of the aeroplanes and the woosh of the bombs falling. There was one very loud bang that night and Dad said ‘O God, that’s near’ and then the noise on the shelter as bricks and wood fell against it. Someone was screaming and someone was running and the noise of glass breaking and the windows falling out.
We had been down in that horrible shelter for hours and the bangs were louder than ever. Mom had cried and was shaking. Dad held us both so tight he had hurt my arms, but I couldn’t tell him I was so frightened. It seemed to go on for hours but I must have fallen asleep in the end and all was quiet when I woke up.
Dad said “Come on love let’s go.” He looked round as he stepped out into the garden and said “I hope they were down in the big shelter.“ It was quiet now except for the sound of someone crying. The air was full of dust. Dad was in a hurry and Mom was cold and looked so worried as we almost ran down the entry and into the road. A man shouted “Stop who goes there!” as we passed the next entry. Dad told him it was Harry and his wife and daughter and we were OK. They wouldn’t listen. They wouldn’t listen. They just wouldn’t listen to me as I tried to tell them I had no shoes and socks on, and I tried to miss all the broken glass and bricks – they just hurried down our road. The ground was covered in bricks and wood and dust. It was only when we turned the corner out of Palace Road and passed a shop where an old couple were standing just outside, that they listened.
The lady said “Come on In I have got some shoes and socks that’ll fit your little girl.” Dad grabbed me in his arms and carried me in crying. “I’m so sorry darling,” he said, “I know you were trying to tell us something. O my baby!,” he cried as he hugged me to him. The lady sat me on the wooden counter and then gave me a little kiss. Mom and dad thanked them and Mom said “We are going to see if Mom’s OK and then see if we can stay with a cousin away from the worse of it – we just can’t take it anymore.” The lady said “Good luck and I hope you find her OK, it was a bad one tonight, several houses down here have been hit.” She hugged mom as we walked away Dad carrying me in his arms…
We went round to my Gran’s and had a cup of tea – She was so frightened too – then dad said “we’re going to see Ethel, I can’t take anymore. As soon as we can we will fetch you and my Dad.”
I can’t remember how we got to Rowney Green but I was so glad we did. It was a little country village with one shop and a post office, a small school for just 5 children which included me, two cousins and the teacher’s daughter. There were 3 farms in the village too. We stayed with Ethel for a couple of weeks she was kind enough to let us have a bedroom with a single bed and they put two dining chairs together for me to sleep. It wasn’t as comfortable as my own little bed had been but a lot better than sleeping in the air raid shelter – and it was quiet except for the cock that crowed in the morning and the cows and the sheep in the fields. Another of Mom’s cousins living there gave mom some of her daughters clothes for me as they couldn’t go back and fetch anything out of the house as we had a bomb which didn’t go off land on our house the next night so we were told.
It was heaven at Rowney Green, it was the start of a new Beginning. They all laughed at me in the shop – when I heard an aeroplane go over I just pulled Mom down into the floor and we waited for the bangs,. They didn’t know what is was like to be so frightened. They had only had one bomb drop in the village and a plane came down at one spot, so they hadn’t known how frightening it was for a 3 year old. They used to stand at the top of the hill and watch as the bombs dropped over Birmingham and fires started. It took me a long time before I could stop being so scared of the aeroplanes, but for me it was heaven living in the country away from all the ammunition factories that were the main target for the bombs and the sound of the animals in the fields were wonderful and it was even more wonderful for me when My Nan (Mom’s mom) and my Grandad (Dad’s dad) were able to come and live with us in a little cottage we had been able to rent off a farmer, with pink roses growing up the front and round the bedroom window. It was so nice to smell them when we opened the window, no dust in the air there, no air raid shelter, no broken building and no people crying when we went out in the morning.