In 2001 I was asked by the Cleveland and Teesside Local History Society to write my memories of the Second World War for publication in its quarterly journal. The article was also published in the Stockton-on-Tees Local History Society journal.
In more recent years several of my grandchildren and a prospective daughter-in-law, a teacher of history, have expressed interest in my war-time experiences. Evidently the war period is now included in the National Curriculum history syllabus. I thought the best way of dealing with these requests was to re-write the original article and include some family events which had not been previously mentioned. Also, as the earlier article was held in a loose-leaf folder, it seemed sensible to publish the new one in booklet form for easier preservation and reference.
My memories of the war in which I grew up are not unhappy although there were some unsatisfactory experiences which one learnt to live with. It was a time of shortages of everything and lack of variety in one’s daily life. There were air-raids in the earlier part of the war but we experienced them only over a period of a year or so. Living in Stockton-on-Tees in the north-east of England proved to be one of the safer areas of the country although at the beginning of the war it was thought not to be so. Thus my brother and I and other neighbouring children were evacuated to safer areas although we were to return before long.
It is hoped these memories will be of interest to the younger generations of my family and to students of the history of those times.
Brian G. Bucknall
For a six year-old child to be awakened in the night by one’s father to the accompaniment of wailing air-raid sirens, anti-aircraft gunfire and reverberating windows, would today be regarded as a traumatic experience. Although this happened on several occasions during the earlier part of the Second World War one was never frightened and took the experience as a matter of course. One put one’s trust in the family air-raid shelter and the nearby anti-aircraft gunners.
Throughout the war we lived in Stockton-on-Tees at 10 Grosvenor Road, a semi-detached house in a pleasant suburb on the west of the town. But Stockton, in the north-east of England, formed part of a major industrial complex of steel, chemicals and shipbuilding and was thus thought to be vulnerable to bombing.
Memories of the war are threefold. There were the events of the war, mostly air-raids, and as one grew older one took an interest in the progress of the war. Second, it is said war is 10% excitement and 90% boredom. Indeed, boyhood memories of the Second World War are much more that of boredom, deprivation, cold and occasional gloom. Third, for a short period, I and my brother aged three were evacuated from the believed vulnerable north-east to the safety of our maternal grandparents who lived on the west coast of Lancashire at Fleetwood.
The reason for this was probably because having lost our mother the previous year Father’s thoughts were that in the event of major air- raids he might be away and not able to look after us although we did have a housekeeper and maidservant* keeping house. My next-door neighbour** and close friend Kathleen Hart was also evacuated. She and her parents went to live at Windermere. Her father’s office had been evacuated there. Other children we knew were also evacuated.
*Many households employed maidservants in the 1930s.
** 8 Grosvenor Road
The Phoney War period
This is the name given to the period from the outbreak of war in September 1939 to May 1940. It was so-called because very little happened on land although there were naval and air activities.
Kathleen and I both aged 5 in 1939 had started school in the summer term of that year. Our start had been delayed by our contracting first scarlet fever and then measles earlier that year. In the days before vaccinations most children caught so-called childhood diseases. We and a number of other local children of ages 5-8 used to walk the half-mile or so unaccompanied to and from school twice daily since school lunches were not available. The school was called Hartburn School and had three mixed classes for pupils aged 5-11. It was located on the edge of the town in a semi-rural situation. The level of education was good.
When war broke out a week after the start of the autumn term a rota of mothers to accompany the children to and from school in case of air-raids was organised. The system sometimes broke down when we would then walk by ourselves. Just before the start of the war we were all issued with gas masks. After the declaration of war we had to carry them to school in special containers and if we forgot to take them we were sent home to collect them. They were placed alongside our desks and it was strictly forbidden to play with them.
At the outbreak of war the civilian population was quickly moved onto a war footing. A total blackout was imposed which meant street lights and electrical signs were switched off and windows had to show no light after dark. All our curtains had to have black lining material sewn on and for our hall windows which had no curtains Father made portable shutters. Car headlights had to be shaded. Wardens patrolled the streets and would knock on the door of any house showing a light. Sticky-tape was applied to windows to prevent glass shattering from bomb blast. Sandbags appeared at the entrances to believed vulnerable buildings. Identity cards were issued to the entire population. Schoolteachers were called in to help the authorities with this task. My brother and I were issued with identity cards at Fleetwood. My identity card number was NURM 181 3 and that of my brother NURM 181 4.
Food rationing was gradually introduced during 1939 and early 1940. This rationing system was administered by coupons contained within ration books. There were different coupons for each type of food, for example, butter and fats, cheese, bacon, meat, eggs and sweets. There was a separate coupon system, known as points, for tinned foods, biscuits, breakfast cereals etc. The reason for rationing was to ensure fair shares for all and that only one-third of the food eaten was grown in the U.K. The rest had to be imported in ships vulnerable to enemy submarines (U-boats). Petrol rationing for motorists was introduced.
My first memory of an air raid was a few days after the start of the war. The sirens sounded after we had gone to bed, possibly around 10pm. My brother and I were awakened and went in pyjamas and dressing gown, for the evening was warm, to our next-door neighbour’s (Hart’s) Anderson shelter which was a dug-out in their back-garden covered by corrugated iron sheeting which itself was covered with soil. Our air-raid shelter had yet to be built. All remained quiet except for the noise of the occasional aeroplane. Then the sirens sounded the all-clear and we went back to bed. The air-raid alert had been a false alarm. At the beginning of the war the radar system was in its infancy and could not always distinguish friendly aircraft. The following week while we were at school there was another air-raid. We had to sit under our desks until the all-clear sounded. This too was a false alarm.
A few days later my father took us by car to Fleetwood where we remained for about 5 months. Meanwhile Father continued with his job as an industrial chemist at ICI Billingham* and lived at home being looked after by the maidservant. He was joined by a neighbour, the father of another evacuated family**.
When I arrived at Fleetwood the schools had closed upon the outbreak of war but planned to re-open later in October. Many evacuees from Manchester had arrived in the town. For several weeks I was at a loose end but fortunately found another evacuee living nearby who introduced me to the board game “Sorry”. We spent most of our time playing game after game. Sadly this all came to an end when her family sailed for America and the schools re-opened. Blakiston Street Infants School was in a depressing urban area of Fleetwood and I don’t remember learning anything there. However a teacher who had known our mother aroused my interest in the piano.
* Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd had a large factory at nearby Billingham employing several thousand staff manufacturing industrial chemicals – ammonia, agricultural fertilisers, sulphuric acid, etc.
**The Evans family of 44 Grosvenor Road
On a number of week-ends and during the holidays I would travel alone to Blackpool on the interesting tram service to stay with my great-aunt and uncle, known as Auntie Nellie and Uncle Tom, a retired railway police inspector. Aunt Nellie was an elder sister of my grandmother, a kindly person who took me out and about including visits to the cinema. It was on one of these outings when I first came across an escalator which I found fascinating. It was in a Blackpool department store.
I suspect the reason for my visits to my great-aunt was to give my grandmother a break since she had to look after my younger brother as well. A lack of toys is remembered which made any stay rather boring. Christmas 1939* was celebrated at my grandparents’ house where we had a family get-together. Our father visited us nearly every other weekend bearing in mind petrol was now rationed and on one occasion he and I went to Windermere for the weekend to see the Hart family.
The only war-time incident at that time, which I can remember hearing about on the radio, was the Battle of the River Plate in December 1939 when the German warship, the Graf Spee, was scuttled. My grandfather was rather amused when I asked what was a pocket battleship.**
*At the time of writing (November 2014) there are 3 surviving members of this Christmas 1939 family gathering – namely my brother Derek aged 3, I aged 5 and our step-cousin Eileen Whitehead née Lancaster who was a nurse aged 21. Eileen celebrated her 96th birthday in April 2014.
**A small but powerful battleship built to conform with treaty limitations on tonnage and armament. The British press called them pocket battleships.
It was then decided that my brother and I were to return home. I was very pleased to return to familiar surroundings in early February 1940 a few days after a heavy snowfall had paralysed the Fleetwood district and resume Hartburn School. Kathleen, still in Windermere, was missed. But there were other children to play with.
I do not know the reason for our return but almost certainly it was because from the point-of-view of the war nothing much had happened and it seemed safe to return home. Many other evacuees did the same.
We continued to be looked after by a housekeeper and the housemaid but evidently housekeepers caused problems and left. Two periods are remembered when Aunt Nellie from Blackpool came to look after us for short periods until another housekeeper could be employed. Sadly, Aunt Nellie’s husband who had been wounded in the Boer War was in poor health and died in 1940.
The winter of 1939-1940 was severe and caused pipes and wash-basins to freeze. The road in which we lived was a cul-de-sac and at the end there was an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) post. After a heavy fall of snow all the householders one Saturday afternoon turned out to clear the road of snow to enable the passage of ambulances. There was a strong community spirit during the war.
There was also interest in the well-being of a neighbour’s son* who was in the army, initially in France where he was evacuated via Cherbourg shortly after Dunkirk, and then in Egypt with the Eighth Army.
*Gordon Stott of No. 9 Grosvenor Road. His father was our local air-raid warden.
1940 Battle of Britain period
Living in the north-east of England we continued not to be greatly affected by the war. But there was a major air-raid on the north-east mounted from Norway during August. This ended in disaster for the Germans because their bombers had no fighter protection. The Germans thought all our fighter aeroplanes, Spitfires and Hurricanes, would be in the south of England but several squadrons had been moved north for rest after weeks of continuous action.
One war-time event occurred around July 1940. The weather was hot and an afternoon thunderstorm threatened. The head teacher of the school said children who lived some distance away should go home early. I set off to walk home by myself. One of the nearby hydrogen-filled barrage balloons, of which there were many flying over the district to deter low-flying enemy aircraft, was struck by lightning and in flames slowly drifted to the ground just ahead of me. I ran the rest of the way home!
During this summer our air-raid shelter was built. It had three rows of bricks with a flat reinforced concrete roof.* It had a blast wall, ventilation, four bunk beds, electric lighting and heating. Very strong and quite cosy in a way and certainly an improvement on the Anderson shelters which were prone to flooding.
* See previous photograph. It remained in the garden until c.2007 when new owners had it dismantled during the building of an extension to the house. Evidently it took the builders a week to demolish it. After the war Father used it as a workshop and with some difficulty inserted a window.
But we were not to use it for a while since a housekeeper problem arose and Aunt Nellie was not available. So my brother and I were sent to live with two neighbouring family friends, the Wardells and the Andrews, who with five young children* had evacuated themselves to the country. They shared a Queen Anne style house called The Old Vicarage at Faceby, a small village in the foothills of the Cleveland Hills.
This was my first experience of “the country”. Here there were playmates in abundance and countryside in which to roam. We were made welcome at the village shop and at the church where the Harvest Festival is well-remembered. I attended the village school at Carlton-in-Cleveland a mile away. This school had three classes in one large schoolroom which I thought rather strange. We were taken there by car each morning by Mr Andrews whom I believed continued to work for ICI. Mr Wardell had joined the army. We had a packed lunch at school followed by a long walk home. While the stay at Faceby was enjoyed I don’t remember learning much at the school apart from that learnt on nature walks. We used slates with chalk which I thought rather primitive compared to Hartburn where we had used pencil and paper.
There was a near-by military post, probably a listening post for enemy aircraft. Each day a Westland Lysander aircraft would drop a bag of supplies to this outpost. The first time we saw the drop we thought it was a bomb so we rushed indoors. A few days later this aeroplane made a forced landing in a field adjacent to the road along which we walked home from school and caused some excitement.
*Sheila (7 ) David (4) and Margaret Wardell (2) – formerly of Raby Road.
Muriel (8) and Christine Andrews (1) – formerly of Fairfield Road.
1941 to 1942
We returned home from Faceby in November, a new housekeeper having joined us, and I went back to Hartburn School.
The next months were the period of the London Blitz and there were also a number of night air-raids in the north-east of England necessitating our using the air-raid shelter. By now people had become more used to the war and didn’t rush to shelter when the air-raid siren sounded. But if this were followed by the sound of bombs (one bang) or anti-aircraft gunfire (two bangs) we moved to the shelter. On several occasions I remember being wakened in the night by Father and the air-raid sirens* and then, hearing gunfire, taken to the shelter. Watching the searchlights from outside the shelter also provided some interest. By this time we had acquired “siren suits”. These were like a track suit and helped keep us warm in the shelter at night. An air raid tended to last not much more than an hour.
There was an occasion when there was a good deal of gunfire from an anti-aircraft post about two miles away and the occasional sound of bombs dropping. While in the shelter to take my mind off the noise I practised the three times table with my father. On another occasion bombs were dropped in a field near the school and a year later when I had moved to a junior school in the town there was a night air-raid and next morning we saw bomb damage near the school. The head teacher told us to keep well away but he was a bit late as we had examined the damage at close hand on our way to school. An exception to the night raids was a daytime surprise attack on Middlesbrough Railway Station in August 1942 which caused an air-raid alert in Stockton.
*Stockton had several sirens which wailed both together and separately creating quite a noise. The alert was a rise and fall in the sound frequency, the all-clear a continuous sound at the same frequency.
There were four other notable events in this period. First, our father re-married and we became a family again. No more housekeeper problems but the housemaid remained for a year or so until she was old enough to start war work. In the days before washing machines the washing and drying of clothes, usually done on Mondays, was hard and time-consuming work for the mother of a family. A cleaning lady then came to help.
Second, the supply of petrol for private motoring which had been rationed from the outbreak of war was banned from June 1942. Before this I remember a trip by car visiting several farms in the Cleveland area to collect eggs. The wartime egg ration was one per week so additional eggs were welcome and “laid down”. This expression was current at that time for storing eggs in sodium silicate solution (called waterglass) in a large earthenware jar. Unlike today, hens did not lay eggs all the year round. On this trip we had a picnic on Egton Moor and I remember my parents looking at the tall radio masts in the distance on the coast near Fylingdales and wondering what was their purpose. They were in fact radar masts but at that time radar was a military secret.
In June we were taken to Fleetwood for an early summer holiday and upon our return the car, a Hillman Minx, was laid up in our garage “for the duration”. This was a common expression at the time meaning until the end of the war. Father then cycled to work or went by bus but later was able to obtain a lift from a near neighbour who because of the nature of his work had permission to run a car.
Three evacuees from Poland visited our house. They were a Dr and Mrs Barsikowski and a sister. I remember listening spellbound to their account of how they escaped from Poland in 1939. Evidently, they had driven in their car from Poland to Rumania and thence via Switzerland to Paris, where they sold their car before arriving in England. Dr Barsikowski was an industrial chemist and found ready employment with ICI Billingham.
As one grew older one was able to take an interest in the progress of the war which governed everyone’s lives. The radio and morning and evening newspapers kept us well-informed.
The fourth remembered event was in November 1942 when we were taken outside on a Sunday morning to hear the church bells which had been silenced since the outbreak of the war and were only to be rung to warn of an invasion by German forces. On that Sunday the Government requested church bells to be rung throughout the land to celebrate the victory of El Alamein.
Although many schools closed for several weeks upon the outbreak of war, the more vulnerable schools had to have air-raid shelters built before they could re-open. But after 1940 primary school education was not much affected by the war. The younger male teachers had been called to war service and replaced by temporary staff most of whom were married women who had been teachers until marriage, when the pre-war procedure was they had to resign. Because of the disciplined way of life during the war it meant that with class sizes of 50 the quality of education remained sound. But unlike today there were no extra-curricula activities.
My school from the age of 7 was Holy Trinity School, a boys’ only school located in the town centre, just over a mile away. We travelled by bus. The fare was a scholar’s return, cost 1d. (ie less than 1/2p.) Discipline at this school was strict but fair. Air-raid shelters had been built in the playground which had to be extended into the churchyard to provide space. There were occasional air-raid practices but I don’t remember there being any daytime air-raids.
Once one had reached the age of 8 or 9 one was allowed to write with ink rather than pencil. The pens used were dipping pens into inkwells. Fountain pens were expensive and in short supply and biros and gel pens had yet to be invented.
Going home for lunch continued to be a problem since this meant a ten minute bus ride from the town centre and back again. Thus the introduction of school lunches in 1942 was welcomed by the boys and no doubt by mothers who were relieved of the burden of providing them. At Holy Trinity School lunches were formal affairs held in two sittings. They were preceded by a sung grace and staff sat with the boys and engaged in polite conversation. After the earlier sitting the boys were free to wander around the town or take a walk along the River Tees quayside although these excursions were eventually stopped.
Across the river one could see shipbuilders at work building landing craft and hear the distinctive sounds of welding and riveting. These landing craft were subsequently used in the Normandy invasion.
Food was in short supply and most foods were strictly rationed. Exceptions were bread, fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and poultry. Bread, vegetables and fish were readily available. Fruit was in short supply and seasonal. Unlike today intensive poultry farming was not practised. Thus poultry was rarely available.
The butter and preserves rations, for example, allowed for only a thin spreading of butter and marmalade on one’s breakfast toast. The milk ration for a family of four was 1 1/2 pints a day so one could only have a small amount on one’s porridge or breakfast cereal of which there were few varieties. The small bacon ration meant that unrationed kippers and smoked haddock became a regular breakfast feature but children tend not to enjoy smoked fish. So breakfast, an important meal in those days, was sometimes unsatisfactory although we did not leave the table hungry.
Although school lunches became available in 1942 they had little variety. A typical meal would be a small slice of meat, mashed potatoes and a slice of beetroot, followed by semolina pudding. A preferred alternative was beef stew and vegetables followed by prunes and custard. As we were hungry complaints were non-existent and everything was eaten up. The cost of these lunches was 5d.(old pence, ie 2p). Today in 2014 the cost is £2.00, a hundred times the war-time price. However, the price then was subsidised by the Government. In fact the prices of most foods during the war were controlled and subsidised by the Government to prevent inflation in a time of shortage.
Traditional Sunday lunches continued but with only a small slice of meat. There was no such thing as evening dinner. The last meal of the day was tea, usually comprising bread, thinly-spread margarine and jam, usually home-made, plus a scone and a slice of cake.
Occasionally, for a treat, there might be a little cheese or beans-on-toast. There was always plenty of bread – the National Loaf (darker than today’s white bread) – for bread was not rationed during the war but there was little to put on it.
The sweet ration at 2 ounces (56 grams) per week and later 3 ounces did not go very far. Easter Eggs and Advent Calendars were not manufactured. The small sweet ration and the non-availability of ice cream for several years probably hit children hardest of all. Children’s birthday parties continued but were low key affairs. Birthday cakes were mostly not iced because of difficulty in obtaining icing sugar. Guy Fawkes night passed unobserved because evening bonfires were illegal and fireworks unobtainable. Halloween was a non-event.
There were occasional highlights as far as food was concerned. We were fortunate from Father’s re-marriage in acquiring several relatives who were farmers. Each year there would be a trip round these farms collecting eggs, culminating in a substantial farmhouse tea. When petrol became unobtainable visits were by bus and train. Another highlight was the arrival each year of the Christmas goose from one of these farms*.
*Waterbeck Farm, Clay Bank, Great Broughton
Not only did this provide a welcome variety to the monotonous food, the goose fat for several weeks after Christmas provided tasty bread and dripping.
Another highlight was that later in the war, believed 1944, the Canadian Government gave an apple to all UK children. Crates of apples were sent to the schools where they were distributed.
There were no supermarkets in those days. The procedure for obtaining groceries and meat was that one had to register at one grocery shop and one butcher’s shop. It was not permitted to shop elsewhere for rationed foods unless one was away from home when a special procedure applied. Having ordered one’s groceries or meat they were usually delivered. With the school leaving age being 14 there was an ample supply of delivery boys. Bread, milk and fish were delivered either by horse and cart or a delivery-boy on a bicycle.
Although we did not realise it at the time, the feeding of a family must have been a major concern of one’s parents who perhaps more than their children had to endure a monotonous diet. There were, though, plenty of vegetables, mostly home-grown, and unrationed fish and chips from the many fish and chip shops where one had to queue in unpleasant smoky surroundings.
Long queues are something else not easily forgotten. Service tended to be slow and demand high and taking one’s turn became part of everyday life. We queued at stalls in Stockton market, we queued for buses, for fish, the cinema and at the doctor’s surgery. But I welcomed the erection of queue barriers for buses in Stockton High Street in 1942. Until the erection of queue barriers there had been an unpleasant free-for-all for the bus home. The discipline of queuing remains ingrained in the national character and was commented upon by a European I met in 2001.
Events and activities
The absence of interesting activities is something else remembered. It was never easy to travel beyond the immediate locality. The lack of places to visit was another problem since many attractions were “closed for the duration”. In the almost six years of war we did manage one trip to York by train, two visits to Darlington by train to roller skate in the park and another to Durham by bus.
All the east and south coast beaches were closed so trips to the seaside even by bus or train were pointless. Few people took summer holidays and indeed the Government asked the people not to travel on what were limited and overcrowded steam trains. To compensate, Stockton Corporation arranged special events in the parks during the summer holidays. However, with there being no longer a threat of invasion, there was an occasion when the Government allowed access to specific beaches on a day in the summer of 1944. We took the train to Saltburn, passed through a guarded barbed-wire entrance to the beach, and spent a happy day there.
My family were fortunate in having grandparents who lived on the west coast. So we had summer holidays, travelling on overcrowded trains from Stockton via Manchester to Fleetwood. The west coast resorts, for example Blackpool, were crowded and queues everywhere. There were enormous queues for the Isle of Man steamers which sailed from Fleetwood and large crowds to see Italian prisoner-of-war who were awaiting shipment there.
We also managed to have summer holidays in some years with an Aunt’s family who had a farm near Windsor.* We travelled by train from Thornaby** via Darlington to Kings Cross, took the Underground to Paddington where we caught a train to Slough and then Windsor. In 1941 the Circle Line had been closed by bombing so we had to travel by the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines, an interesting experience for a 7 year old. We also paid one visit to my paternal grandparents who lived in Harborne, Birmingham. While we were there we visited relatives in Sutton Coldfield and Solihull, travelling by bus.
People did not have much spare time since work was 5 1/2 days per week and Father’s annual holiday was cut back to two weeks. Saturday afternoons and Sundays were mostly devoted to household tasks and vegetable gardening. Lawns and flower beds had been dug***up and allotment holdings greatly increased to grow much-needed vegetables in the “Dig for Victory” campaign.
*Boveney Court Farm, Boveney, Windsor.
**Stockton had two stations, Stockton and Thornaby, on two separate lines.
***Although we already had a large vegetable garden half of the back lawn and the whole front garden were dug up to provide additional ground mostly for potato growing. Later on Father built a lean-to greenhouse for tomato growing.
Preservation of fruit by bottling was common practice as was jam and marmalade making for which a special ration of sugar was made available. Preservation of vegetables was more difficult and we experimented rather unsuccessfully salting runner beans. Refrigerators and deep freezers were non-existent.
Stockton’s winters are remembered as being gloomy and cold. One reason for this was that Double Summertime was in force. This meant that in winter the mornings were dark and the unpleasantness of waiting at a bus stop in short trousers on cold winter mornings is not forgotten. One could not get warm even before one left the house. In those days there was no central heating and coal fires had to be lit each morning to provide warmth. During the holidays it was my job to light the fire. This meant first cleaning out the ash and clinker from the previous day’s fire which had gone out overnight and taking them to the dustbin before collecting several shovelfuls of coal from the coal house or outside reserve pile, then laying it in the fire grate and lighting a gas poker to start the fire. What is particularly remembered is having to chip coal from a frozen heap.
The absence of street and shop lighting was another cause of a gloomy Stockton. The strictly enforced “black-out”, which meant no lighting could be displayed, was particularly noticeable after school in the winter waiting in Stockton High Street for a bus home. With melting snow in fading daylight the gloomy picture is complete. However, one benefit of the black-out was occasional brilliant winter skies, ideal for young astronomers. Double Summertime also meant light summer evenings which were some compensation for the dark winter mornings.
Another cause of gloom was that people looked increasingly drab as the war years progressed. This was because new clothes were severely rationed and “make-do-and-mend” became a watchword. The darning of socks and the mending of clothes was a regular evening occupation of one’s mother.
There was no television. Radio programmes were of limited interest and thus children tended to provide their own entertainment. Fortunately, a large variety of indoor card and board games were available. Unlike today, football was not played by children because plastic balls had yet to be invented and leather balls were heavy and difficult to obtain. The professional leagues had closed down during the war although friendly matches were played on Saturday afternoons. There was no floodlighting.
Cricket was more popular than today and two boys with neighbouring children could while away the hours at this activity playing in the street where there was no traffic. Local league amateur cricket continued throughout the war but with eight ball overs.
There was little in the shops to interest children. The manufacture of toys had ceased upon the outbreak of war and the supply of children’s books was limited. The libraries and second-hand markets flourished and in this manner we acquired a second-hand Trix-Twin gauge 00 model railway.* It was laid out on a wooden board constructed from T & G timber bought by Father at the beginning of the war for emergency use to board-up possible bomb-damaged windows.
*Trix was a German company with a UK agent which manufactured British railway companies’ model rolling stock. Its model railway system was considered to be the market leader in the 1930s because of the facility to control two trains on the same track at the same time.
Once one was old enough to ride a bicycle one was more easily able to visit school friends* and our third grandmother** (from Father’s re-marriage), a kindly lady who lived a few miles away. Also to go on cycle rides around the district. This widened one’s horizons. Because of the almost complete absence of traffic one could cycle around the immediate district and countryside in perfect safety.
Periodically, we went to the public swimming baths. There were modern baths at Thornaby and at Billingham, where we had swimming lessons, and an older one in Stockton in a poorer part of the town. Each Christmas we were taken to a pantomime at a Stockton theatre and we visited the cinema when children’s films for example, Bambi, Pinocchio, Wizard of Oz, etc. were being shown.
There were no organised sports or other activities for children. So one was always on the lookout for new activities. By chance, I got to know a local railway signalman who during several visits to his signalbox, Hartburn Junction, instructed me in the fascinating craft of railway block signalling. (Today, thanks to computer simulated systems, I am once again able to indulge in this activity.) Piano playing and lessons were another activity. But returning home in the blackout after an evening lesson was a strain. One rarely ventured out after dark.
After our neighbours, the Harts, had returned from Windermere in late 1941 each Tuesday my brother and I went to their house for tea. On Wednesdays Kathleen came to our house for tea. Periodically, I would accompany her to the Sunday service at St Peter’s Church and attend Lent classes there with her. St. Peter’s Church annual garden party held in a large Hartburn garden was an event much enjoyed.
*eg Donald Glenwright who lived on the Darlington Road at Hartburn.
**Mrs B Dale, who lived at 19 Victoria Avenue, Norton.
1943 to 1945
As one grew older one was able to take an interest in the war which governed everyone’s lives. On several occasions from our bedroom window we watched streams of Lancaster bombers passing overhead, probably from RAF Croft Spar or Middleton St. George, having taken off into a north-east wind.
We often saw formations of aircraft, mostly Spitfires and Hurricanes. New aircraft appeared later in the war for example the Lockheed Lightning, a long-range fighter and bomber escort.
On another occasion I happened to be absent from school on 6 June 1944 and can recollect listening with great excitement to the radio announcement of the D-Day landings in Normandy. Later that summer, flying bomb evacuees arrived from London. One came to live next-door with the Hart family. Her cockney accent caused some initial amusement. One day, her brother who was serving in the Merchant Navy came to see her and brought some bananas. We had not seen bananas for five years.
And so in 1945 the war gradually came to an end. The street lights, gas lit in those days, were switched on again and we all came out to see them. We listened spellbound to the radio announcements of the surrender of the German armed forces. VE* Day and the next day were public holidays and were celebrated by raising flags and a subsequent street party with fireworks, the Government having authorised their manufacture. VJ Day* was similarly celebrated later that summer.
There was certainly great relief at the lifting of the blackout. Not only was travel at night now much easier the nightly duty of ensuring all household windows were completely curtained or shuttered was no longer necessary. There was also relief at not having to carry gas-masks to school each day.
About the time of the end of the war a limited petrol ration was made available for private motoring. So Father’s car was made serviceable but tyres were a problem. We set off for a picnic along empty roads to Scugdale, a picturesque valley in the foothills of the Cleveland Hills. But we experienced two punctures which Father had to deal with.
VE = Victory in Europe and VJ = Victory over Japan.
In those days tyres had inner tubes which were easier to mend than today’s tubeless tyres but were more vulnerable to punctures.
Unfortunately the end of the war did not mean the end of rationing which continued well into the 1950s. In fact, matters became worse. In July 1946, because of the need to feed a starving Europe, bread was rationed until 1948. Also, following the exceptionally cold winter of 1947 which almost brought the railways and industry to a halt, potatoes were rationed for a year.
The years following the end of the war, were known as the Years of Austerity. But they were not as bad as has been widely reported. We had interesting family summer holidays* and outings and although food rationing continued the availability and variety of food gradually improved after 1947. Clothes rationing was removed in 1949 and the petrol ration gradually increased. I moved on to secondary education at a boarding school in Redcar in September 1945 and was able to travel there by car. A month later a new sister arrived.
By comparison with children today we certainly suffered 12 years of deprivation. On the other hand everyone had very little and there was no envy. Also, because of the war-time diet, we were a healthy lot and asthma, for example, was virtually unknown. Compared with children in the more vulnerable parts of England and in Europe we had a relatively uneventful war, for which we must be thankful.
*Filey 1946, Aberdovey 1947, Shanklin 1948, Cromer 1949, St.Anne’s 1950. In the immediate years after the end of the war holidays had to be taken in the U.K. Foreign travel was hardly possible in a war-torn Europe. From the late 1940s foreign travel became possible but there were strict foreign currency exchange controls. This meant one was allowed only a small allocation of foreign currency. These restrictions which were gradually eased lasted until 1979.