When and where, were you born?
5 Feb 1934 in Sheffield
Tell me about your parents? What did your father do?
My father was the Chief Public Health inspector for Wath-upon-Dearne Urban District Council from Jan 1935 until he retired about 1980. During the Second World War he was also the Emergency Officer dealing with all war time building emergencies etc. He was also Billeting Officer for Evacuees from London and southern England. “Leslie” is a short story all on his own.
Did your father serve (in the armed forces) in the First World War? No.
Extra Info. If you go onto www.streetmap.co.uk and search on “Wathupon-Dearne” you will see a village in south Yorkshire, now part of Rotherham Borough. The road coloured red running from North to South past the School is the A639 named Sandygate, i.e. a Roman road. To the West of that road is an area called Newhill (mainly houses built by the Wath-upon-Dearne U.D. Council), and to the East is Far Field and Far Field Lane. This is an area which was mainly the local farm owned by the parents / grand-parents of my friend John whose home further down Sandygate ( on the map coloured yellow ) where two or three houses had a small paddock behind with a driveway down to High Street.
Did you have brothers and sisters? And if so, where in the pecking order did you come?
I was the first born child. I have a younger brother who was spoilt rotten, and expected me to give up my share of selling our parent’s retirement bungalow at 10, Chestnut Avenue, and No. 10 was right opposite the top of Holly Grove at Wath-upon-Dearne, so that he and his wife who lived in London could use it as a holiday home. I went along with my father’s instructions on his will. So the bungalow was sold and the proceeds divided between the two of us, and that didn’t suit him either.
Did you have a happy childhood?
I guess so. From about 7 years old I started to be friends with John, a farmers son who lived at Sandygate Farm. I was also involved with Trinity Methodist Church (situated in Church Street and is opposite the Town Hall it has a tower and a cross on the map) The Sunday School and later the Youth Club I attended were both located in the Sunday School which fronted onto Chapel Street which runs south from Church Street. A more detailed “Streetmap” map will show street names.
When John and I were about 10 or 12 years old we used to help with harvesting, stooking sheaves of wheat or oats etc. to dry, then loading them onto horse drawn wagons to carry them from the fields near Golden Smithies Lane up to the barns at Far Field Farm. By the time John and I were nearer 19 years old, we drove to the Royal Smithfield Show in London to help recommend a Combine Harvester for John’s dad Norman to purchase. Norman followed our advice, and John still uses the same make of Combine Harvester.
At the age of 13 I was playing cricket with John and a friend in the paddock, when John’s Grandfather came out of his house with his ‘phone in his hand and told me I “had to go home straight away.” There was an urgency about that message which made me hurry home up the hill.
When I got home, mum was lying on the settee in our living room with a bowl of blood on the floor by her side. Shortly, the Medical Officer of Health (with whom Dad worked ) and who was also our G.P. came in, quickly examined mum, then phoned for an ambulance. As mum was put on a stretcher, the Doctor said to mum, “Just keep breathing!”
That same Saturday, the teenagers and Leaders of the Trinity Methodist Youth Club were travelling by train from Wath-upon-Dearne to Robin Hood’s Bay on the coast in north Yorkshire. In that age without mobile phones, some how the Youth Club Leaders heard that mum was in hospital and sent a Telegram to Dad to get my brother and I to Robin Hood’s Bay where they would look after us.
Note that:- my father’s colleague at the Town Hall was the Engineer & Surveyor, who was also the Leader of the Youth Club at Trinity Methodist Church.
What was it like growing up where you did?
I was into “nature study” which meant for me a net on a cane and a jam jar on a string handle. There were two main areas of water, the canal or Pottery Pond. The line of the canal can still be made out by me on the map as it wends it’s way westward from Golden Smithies Lane just south of Manvers, picks up a broken green line round two bends, then runs between the houses at Barnsley Road, West Melton and the houses nearer the wetlands named “Manvers” after the large coal mine in that area and “Old Moor” and “Bolton Ings” still holding onto the broken green line.
What were your interests as a child? (Flying? Sport? Music? For e.g.)
While my voice was still that of a youthful boy soprano, I trained in singing with John’s Aunt, who also trained another boy and a girl in my class in the 3rd Form at the Grammar School (conveniently sited on the present School site fronting onto Sandygate and south of Festival Road (named after the 1951 Festival of Britain.)
For working hard to pass the Entrance Exam to attend the Grammar School, my parents gave me a bicycle – the first “sit-up-and-beg” bike to be sold by the Barnsley British Cooperative Society in their Barnsley cycle shop. So from the age of 11, I did a lot of cycling, not only to Far Field Farm to meet up with John, but also westwards over to Hoyland Common where I could meet my Grand-parents and aunts, uncles and cousins.
By then my maternal grandfather was not a fit man. After his death, his son my Uncle Eric went to see his mum in their Old Person’s Council Bungalow. He obviously hadn’t come soon enough! “Little Grandma” had moved the small kitchen table round by 90 degrees and put two legs into the bath. Then she had put a “bent cane” chair onto the sloping table so that “Little Grandma” could reach up and was painting the bathroom ceiling. At the age of 84 “Little Grandma” got her photo into the “Sheffield Star” newspaper for winning First Prize for having the best Old Pensioner’s garden in Hoyland Nether U.D. Council area. Grandma was really extra happy, because my Grandad Wilkinson as a Councillor on that Council and as County Councillor for that area on the West Riding County Council, and all his fellow councillors did not know that “Little Grandma Walker’s” nearby neighbour’s garden which won Second Prize in that completion was another garden which “Little Grandma” had also tended for her friend and neighbour.
Can you remember the build-up to war?
Not that it made any imprint on me.
Can you remember the outbreak of war?
Too well, even though I was only aged 5. We were on a fortnight’s holiday in Bournemouth where Dad took me out on a raft (although I couldn’t swim) with a paddle. Half-way through our holiday, Neville Chamberlain, having thought he could sort out Hitler, declared war and said we had to go straight home.
So we started off from Bournemouth going North over Salisbury Plain, with the whole of the British Army driving south on the same road. As cars didn’t drive as fast then, (there were no seat belts until after 1960) and I stood up on the back seat of Dad’s car watching lorries and tanks all driving south.
Can you recall the Battle of Britain?
Not really. We had a Lysander (two seat, single-engined mono plane crash land on the cricket pitch of the Grammar School field opposite our house.
Did any of your family join the Armed Forces?
No. My uncles were either in the steel works in Sheffield or down the local collieries, except Uncle Winston who had a lorry to deliver coal to miner’s homes. So he was included as part of the colliery.
Where did they serve?
Did any of your family join the Home Guard?
No. Dad was exempt from that.
Was it a shock to the system?
No – I suppose at my age it was too far away.
Did you ever worry about what might happen to you?
Tell me about the camaraderie in your community etc?
As a small child I had a 3 wheeled cycle, to which Dad attached a short trailer. On the trailer he put our two fire guards which took the form of Admiral Nelson’s ship, H.M.S Victory. How could we lose?
What were your day-to-day living conditions like?
Like most days before or since the war, except that some foods were rationed. With his two jobs (for one salary) Dad had little time for extras, but he did rent an allotment garden about 100 yards walk from our house, and did well with his potatoes. His peas at an Allotment Garden show looked good and Dad won a prize, but the pea pods they didn’t open had lots of grubs, so Dad got lucky.
In the two weeks before each Christmas, Dad was able to take my brother and I to Sunday School in his car, because after Sunday School, Dad had to drive around the various Allotment Gardens to cut open and inspect all the carcasses of pigs which had been slaughtered. This was both Saturday and Sunday afternoons the weekend before Christmas. A few days before Christmas, the timber gate to our back garden was opened, and someone walked in, around to our back door, put a white paper parcel on our doormat, knocked on the back door, then walked out of the back garden. On the mat by the back door, inside the white paper parcel was a juicy joint of pork. Of course, Dad was forbidden to accept any gifts in relation to his work; but if you don’t know who delivered the pork, you can’t give it back. And it was a legal requirement that no one should waste food. So we had to eat and enjoy the pork. Clearly given to Dad for the extra work he did so that others could keep a pig for Christmas. Fed on potato peelings and waste food.
Can you describe to me a typical day-in-the-life on the home front?
No! The footpath coming home from Park Road School from Stump Cross Road to Sandygate was a muddy swamp in wintertime. Luckily for Mum’s, they only took us to school after the Summer holidays, and after that we were left to get on with it!
What was the food like?
Mostly like before the war – except for powdered dried egg!!! That was ‘orrible! So Dad built a hen house inside his timber garage, with enough space for the bonnet of his Morris 8 to tuck under the hen house. Then Dad had a plank with timber pieces across to help the hens get into their roost, and we had enough eggs.
Did you ever go hungry?
Did you get enough to drink?
No problem during the war. Our local Council had it’s own water supply from a borehole to the north of the town.
Can you remember any particularly funny incidents?
Only looking after Leslie, one of the Evacuees from London. He ran away from his first lodgings, because he didn’t like the lady. The second lady tried to lock him inside the house and back yard, so he climbed over the wall and ran north out of Wath-upon-Dearne across the valley of the River Dearne, then he got thirsty and went to one of the first houses of the row he came to.
It must be he felt safe because of the big circular badge on the wall by the front door where he asked for a drink of water. It read, “West Riding Constabulary” – so a few minutes later and Dad brought Leslie back to our house. My brother moved into my bed for a while and Leslie had my brother’s bed. Trying to get Leslie into pyjamas was a nightmare, because he really didn’t want to take his trousers off. Absolutely he would not take his socks off, even though our Air Raid Shelter was in the food cellar underneath our sitting room. Dad had two lengths of telephone pole with a timber beam across the top to give extra support to the joists of the sitting room floor, which was above that cellar. Then Dad built two bunks between the telephone poles and the brick wall. There was a chair for Mum and another for Mrs. Nicholson next door, who sometimes came round for a chat because we were much warmer than in their Anderson shelter, as we had an electric fire in the cellar.
Can you remember any particularly tragic incidents?
What was the worst thing that happened to you?
A bit after the start of the war, when I was about age 7. On the Thursday before Christmas, Dad’s sister took me to John Walsh’s high class emporium in Sheffield, where Father Christmas gave me a present. Then Aunty took me to the sitting room outside the restaurant which entertained the guests with a string orchestra. Aunty was a spinster and unused to children. She did not bother to look to see what it was that Father Christmas gave me and that I unwrapped. In fact I had set up the Red Indian heads on their swivel stand, and had loaded the steel rod with it’s rubber sucker into the pistol. Regrettably my first shot was a bit wide of the mark – it whizzed across in front of a lady nearby who was perusing The Times through her pince nez spectacles, but missing both her glasses and “The Thunderer” – at which point Aunty came to life, and we shot out of Walsh’s like a rocket and took the first electric tram back from Sheffield to Rotherham, then the electric tram from Rotherham to Swinton, and then the double-deck bus from the “Woodman Inn” at Swinton to Sandygate at Wath-upon-Dearne. And I had no lunch!
How did you cope with fear?
What was there to fear?
How did you cope with the loss of friends and colleagues?
We didn’t loose anyone that I knew, but we gained extra school children who were evacuated to Wath-upon-Dearne.
Where were you when the war ended?
By then I was still at home, but had passed the scholarship exam to attend the Grammar School which was just across the road from our home. My friend John used to cycle up the hill and put his bike in the garage just after Dad had taken his car out.
What can you remember about it?
The Council gave Dad £25 to spend on Fireworks to be set off at a big bonfire with one or two whole trees on it that was built on the Recreation Grounds alongside Station Road, to celebrate Victory in Europe Day – that was 1945. It was another while before the war was finally over.
What was the general reaction?
The end of the war was a great relief – probably more for many of the grown-ups who had children in the forces and on active service.
Do you often think about the war?
Not too often, but Dad bought me a book about 1947 entitled “The War’s Best Photographs!” So I have a realistic record of what happened.