- Contributed by
- People in story:
- W. J. HART
- Location of story:
- ELBURTON, PLYMOUTH
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 10 January 2006
Mr Hart is willing to have his story entered on to the People's War website and has agreed to abide by the House Rules.
I joined Plymstock School in 1939 prior to war being declared. A Mr Jones was the headmaster. In those days Plymstock School came under Devon Couty Council before Plymouth City boundary was extended. We sat in desks where our note books were kept, different from today's pupils who move around from one classroom to another, carrying all their equipment with them.
I remember being at home with my parents when Prime Minster Neville Chamberlain declared Britain was at war with Germany.
In the garden we dug out an elongated trench lined it and covered the top with a depth of soil. This was to be our air raid shelter which in the future quite a few hours would be spent during the air raids.
We also walked to Plympton to the Council Offices to obtain a stirrup pump, the type the Government recommended for use against incendiary bomb fires.
I was at school and in the play ground during the break between lessons when we heard France had capitulated to the Germans.
At the school one classroom was used by the Civil Defence personnel and the sports hall was utilised so the children never got to make use of it during the war.
With the fall of France and the evacuation of the troops some soldiers were billeted in the then wooden hut used by sports people as a changing room, in the King Geore V playing fields, Elburton.
When the invasion threat by the Germans to Britain was at its height, the soldiers dug a slit tranch at the bottom of our garden. The object was to guard a bridge over the railway line to Yealmpton. The bridge was situated in Haye Road near the King George V playing fields.
The playing fields were also utilised for the storage of older type military vehicles. Presumably most of the modern vehicles were left behind in France when it was over run by the Germany army.
I can remember coming home from school one day and seeing all the vapour trails in the sky during the Battle of Britain episode.
To get to school we used to walk from home at Elburton via Dunstone Woods and return the same way. The open space now situated adjacent to Dundstone Woods was ploughed and planted in potatoes.
If children lived less than three miles from a school they were not entitled to transport by bus to school
The Western National Bus Service from Elburton to Plymouth was about an hourly service with a driver and conductor who issued various priced tickets which were held on a container and when issued had a hole punched in them via a punch machine strapped to the conductor's chest. All bus staff were required to wear peaked caps as part of their uniform.
Plymouth Corporation buses were painted battleship grey and the Western National acquired some wartime issue buses equipped with wooden seats, which I believe were made in Wolverhampton. They had an Indian chief motif on the radiator with the name of Guy attached to the radiator.
My first recollection of seeing a German aircraft was one that came in and dropped bombs in the Cattedown area.
During the Blitz the sirens would sound and we would then move down to the air raid shelter, taking an Aladin oil heater with us for warmth.
It was a while after the sirens had sounded before the sound of German aircraft coming in from the East could be heard. The engines were running out of syncronisation, presumably to confuse the anti aircraft gun sites around Plymouth. A battery of about six anti aircraft guns were located at the top of Colesdown Hill, Billacombe and we could clearly see the muzzle of flashes when they fired. Anti aircraft guns were also sited on the high ground in the Staddiscombe area. Later a searchlight was sited in the Hazledean House area. It sood on ground that is now being quarried. The house was used to billet the soldiers.
One night during the Blitz we heard the whistle of a bomb coming down that exploded near the railway line at the bottom of Stag lane, situated off Elburton Road. Next day we went to the crater and picked up bomb casing fragments for souveniers and after each night of the Blitz we picked up the tail fins of incendiary bombs and pieces of anti aircraft shell casing fragments.
When the oil tanks at Turnchapel had been bombed we were told the school was closed that day, presumably for use by the Civil Defence personnel so we went as far as we could to have a look at the tanks on fire. After each night when a raid had finished and the sirens had sounded the all clear we could look towards Plymouth and the sky would be a bright glow from the reflection of all the buildings on fire.
One night a German aircraft was overhead and none of the anti aircraft guns were firing which seemed strange. Next we could hear the sound of machinegun fire, it was a night fighter stalking the bomber. The bomber caught fire and I believe it crashed in the N.N.W area of Plymouth. By day it was possible to see lots of barrage balloons over Plymouth.
After the Blitz the anti aircraft defences were strengthened with rocket firing batteries being installed in the Staddiscombe area.
At Jennycliff where the cafe is now siutated a gun battery was installed, presumably to protect the Sound from any German ships that might enter the Sound. This area was closed to the public during the war.
At Elburton one could hear the sound of Sunderland flying boats taking off in the Sound when they went on an anti submarine patrol.
At school Air Raid shelters were installed, one for the girls and one for the boys - no hankyy panky in those days!
The school grounds were dug up for growing vegetables and the children encouraged to help in the growing and the weeding.
In the year leading up to D Day the children helped to make camouflage netting for covering echicles. This activity was carried out in what was the wood working room at the school. It involved tying the various strips of cloth to the netting which was mounted on a frame.
On the railway to Yealmpton we could see goods trains taking tanker trucks that contained the gas used to inflate the barrage balloons for Plymouth. The balloon depot was situated at Colleton Cross between Yealmpton and Noss Mayo. The railway was reopened for about six years for passenger traffic, presumably to help the passenger transport system for the area.
In the final year at school I rose to the dizzy heights of becoming a prefect and deputy head boy and left school at the age of 15.
After leaving school in 1943 I learnt a trade at a premises in Vauxhall Street a six year apprenticeship starting at five shillings old money a week with a two and sixpenny rise each year.
At the Morton Gate School Vauxhall Street it was utilised to serve meals to the general public. This was a Government organised operation due to the Blitz.
I can remember the Tin Pan Alley shopping complex situated next to the old market quite a novelty and certainly would not have fitted in the present day Mackay plan for Plymouth. In the market were various firms, one was Woolworths who sold their products at the price of old three pence.
Come 1946 I was called up for National Service at 18 years old, going first to Northampton then to Catterick Camp where, during the winter of 1946-47 we had a hard winter with heavy snow and freezing conditions. The primitive barrack rooms had no heating due to a coal shortage - oh happy days!
In the village of Elburton we had Mr Truscott the blacksmith, Mr and Mrs Rose who ran a grocery and post office shop which is now the Co-op shop, Mr Body the butcher who had an abbatoir situated in the lower part of the village. The blacksmith's shop is now a place selling flowers.
When the bus arrived at Elburton it came down Stentaway road, negotiated the sharp corner near the blacksmithk's shop where the conductor would guide the bus which was then reversing, using his whistle down to a spot opposite what is now the post office, also avoiding the granite monument which was situated there. The monument has now been moved to a spot near the Elburton Village Hall. The fare to Plymouth was five pence old money.
During the war Elburton had its own policeman, he lived in premises near the blacksmith's forge.
Prior to the war we lived at Devonport. My brother and myself attended Paradise Road School which was burnt down during the Blitz. At the school Empire day was celebrated. The classes used to walk to the Mount Wise Swimming Pools for their swimming lessons, no mean feat seeing the pools were open air and the water not heated. There were no indoor swimming pools in Plymouth prior to the war.
Adjacent to Paradise Road School was the Southern Railway line we used to stand on the foot bridge over the line satching the tains and the shunting activities taking place to sort out the goods wagons. Devonport Station was blitzed losing its roof.
We belonged to the cubs while at Devonport and joined the scouts when we moved to Elburton. We were helping to establish a scout hut at the Stag lane area when the war started and it was never completed when the war ended.
At Devonport we went to a cinema located at the top of Fore street. I think it was called the Electric more effectively known as "the flea pit". There we watched cowboy films starring Hopalong Cassidy and Buck Jones. Some lads tried to sneak in without paying via the fire exit door but the door keeper was six to their half a dozen. This cinema was a victim of the blitz.
Prior to starting my apprenticeship I joined the Army Cadet force for a while. They held their parades and lectures at the Martin Gate Scbool.
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