Doris or Mary, my Mum, has always told stories of the war years and how many times she ran away from school, so I thought I’d share some of her best recollections with you. She was born in 1933 and celebrated her 90th birthday in January this year.
2ND WORLD WAR – 1939 – 1945
In her own words…
What are your first memories of the war?
I was 6 when war was declared. I think it was a Sunday in September and we were living at Auntie Elsie’s in Birmingham. My Mom and Aunty Elsie were in the kitchen with the radio on and they heard Neville Chamberlain say…
I remember, Mom and Aunty Elsie standing in the kitchen crying. It had been brewing for some time but when they made a decision, it was still a huge shock. I remember my dad was in the allotment at the top of the garden. My sister, Dorothy, would have been only 20 months old.
Was there any discussion about being evacuated during the war?
We, as children, weren’t asked. Mom and Dad said no and took the decision that we would stay together, so myself and my sister weren’t evacuated like lots of other children. Some were sent to Canada, others to the countryside.
What do you remember about rationing?
Rationing didn’t come in right at the beginning of the war. When it was introduced, we were issued with identity cards and a number – QBKF5/3 (I was third in the family). We also had ration books with coupons that Mom would cut out and put in a tin. All food was rationed, like sugar or jam, butter or marg and meat.
Offal wasn’t rationed but we were on a rota at the butchers for that. She used to put a notice in the window, S-W. I used to pass the window on the way home from school and tell my Mom if our letter was shown. Then, she used to go and get sausage, liver, kidneys, which wasn’t on the ration. Cheese was rationed and we got one egg a week.
Bread wasn’t rationed to start with but if the U-boats sunk ships then we were short of bread.
Can you recall your school years?
1939 – I went to a school near Sheldon airport where we lived before it got bombed. It was a white 2-storey school building near the airport, which must have been a target. However, it wasn’t a target during the day. My Aunty Elsie would take me with Jean Baker from down the road. If she didn’t come with me, I’d get half way down the road, think I was going to be late and I’d run home. Aunty Elsie would then take me and get told off for taking me too late!
Then the school was bombed so we stayed at home until they sorted out another school. In the meantime, they’d only bombed the top half so we went to the ground floor. There was always a burnt smell but we just go on with it and did half days.
1940 – We were still living with Aunty Elsie and Uncle Tom when they sorted out a new school for me to go to at Yardley. I was 7 years old and had to go on the trolley bus. I got off in Yardley on the main Birmingham, Coventry road, crossed over the road and went down to the school. That was an old church school and guess what? I didn’t like going to that one either!
Every weekend, we’d come over to Wolverhampton on the train, after school on Friday. We’d have to walk through the fish market by New St station and it always stunk! We’d stay with Grandma and Grandad at the Staffordshire Knot Pub for the weekend. If there was an air raid whilst we were there we’d go down into the cellar and sleep between the barrels. We’d take our gas masks with us but thankfully, we never had to use them.
What do you remember about the air raids and the Blitz?
We always slept in the pantry because it was too much of an upheaval to go into the air raid shelter next door, and we could hear the planes coming over, which was mainly at night. The German planes had a different sounding engine so we could tell it was them. They did come over in the day sometimes and one lunchtime one flew low and machine gunned all around. I was in Aunty Elsie’s house at the time. I’ve got an idea my mother was upstairs and she came down the stairs in one leap and bundled us into the pantry! It was just something we lived with.
￼Our first holiday in 1941
In August 1941 we went on our first holiday during the war, to Borth / Landre in Wales. We caught the train from Birmingham Snow Hill or New St and I think it was full so we sat in the corridor on the suitcase. It stopped at Landre and we got off. I was 7 and my sister, Dorothy, was 3 years old.
We stayed in a wooden clad bungalow with a Mrs Richards and it was a long walk to the beach unless my mother managed to get us a lift. She’d hear a car coming or occasionally a bus and stick her thumb out and we’d spend the day on the beach.
Did you ever enjoy school?
In 1941 I went to St Jude’s school and never ran home from school again. I was quite happy there. I didn’t like school before then. My favourite subjects at school were reading, arithmetic and I don’t remember doing much else. No music instruments. PE, we didn’t do anything like that. There were 60 of us in a class and we used to run and up and down the air raid shelters in the playground. Was 60 the usual number? No but a lot of teachers had had to go to war so classes were larger. Mr Taylor was in the first world war so he wasn’t called up because he was too old and all the other teachers were women.
In 1944, I left St Jude’s school at the age of 11 to start senior school and go onto learn secretarial skills and shorthand and typing!
To be continued…