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A Child's Point of View

by Barnsley Archives and Local Studies

Contributed by 
Barnsley Archives and Local Studies
People in story: 
Gerald Bradbury
Location of story: 
Sheffield, Yorkshire
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
17 May 2005

"This story was submitted to the People's War site by the Barnsley Archives and Local Studies Department on behalf of Gerald Bradbury and has been added to the site with his/her permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions."
Mr Bradbury wrote these memories for some school classes.

It must have been Christmas 1942. A wartime Christmas. The year has seen Pearl Harbour and the entry of America into the war. The Japanese had invaded Burma and the North African Campaign had just commenced.

However this meant very little to me at the age of 10. The only major disaster to me was when my mother persuaded me to give my pedal car to a collection of aluminium in order to build a Spitfire.

At times I had been frightened, we’d spent cold nights in the Anderson Shelter or perhaps more often sitting on the cellar steps waiting for the all clear to sound. But of course, there was always the excitement of going out the next morning and collecting the shrapnel that had dropped from the skies as a result of the anti-aircraft barrage put up by the ack ack guns.

Our village had not changed much since the beginning of the war. The first evidence was when a convoy of army lorries snaked through the main street and established a searchlight battery on the edge of the village.

However, one day our Sunday School rooms were commandeered to house a battalion of soldiers.

Mother took pity on these young soldiers and in spite of the fact that we were living on very meagre rations, she managed to have four or five of these young men visit us every Sunday night and have supper with us. Actually I never really understood whether it was my mother’s cooking or the fact that I had a very attractive 17 year old sister that brought them so regularly.

This particular Christmas, five of the soldiers had come to our house on the Sunday evening. Mother had done the usual baking plus Spam, Mock Crab and Banana sandwiches. Not real banana, mashed parsnip with banana flavouring.

That night I was playing with my Christmas toys. In spite of it being wartime, some toys were still available, most of them related to the army or airforce. I had spread my toys out on the large table in the middle of the living room, army trucks and tanks on one side, aircraft lined up on the other, soldiers hidden behind a wall of sandbags and in the middle was my best Christmas present.

It was a sort of Bailey Bridge made up of a number of parts, wires led from the bridge to a battery box. Underneath the bridge was a small container into which you loaded six of those little red caps that normally went into toy pistols. You can guess the rest — as the tank crossed the bridge you pressed a switch on the battery box and up went the whole lot — I loved it.

I wasn’t the only one who loved it! As soon as those five soldiers saw it, I was pushed out of the way and they went into battle — aeroplanes took off carrying sandbags — these were dropped as bombs with all the appropriate noises — soldiers were machine gunned — tanks opened fire and my bridge was blown up twenty times.

I just sat in a corner feeling so deprived at not being able to play with my Christmas toys. The soldiers were not billeted at the Sunday School rooms for very long before they were posted to other parts of the world and I’ve often wondered what happened to them and how they went on when they were in the middle of a battle with real bullets and bombs flying about them.

At the beginning of the war the front gardens of most houses had iron railings around them. Schools, parks and other important buildings were surrounded by ornamental gates and railings. Very soon these all began to disappear as workmen came and cut them all down. I asked one of the workmen why they were taking them away and he told me that they were going to factories to be melted down and made into weapons for the war. After the war was over, many of the railings were not replaced and if you look around, you can often see where they have been.

Scap metal of every kind was being collected for the war effort and soon it was my turn to help. One of my special toys was a beautiful streamlined pedal car. It was given to me by my Grandad. It was second hand, but to me it was a real treasure. No one else in our street had a racing car. They had pedal cars but not a racing car. It was my pride and joy. Then one day posters appeared in our town ‘HELP MAKE A SPITFIRE Aluminium wanted. Pans, Scrap, Anything’. Yes you’ve guessed what happened. My Mum said” Gerald, you are too big for that pedal car and as it is made of aluminium I think that you should help the war effort by sending it to make a Spitfire”. My heart fell into my boots, but after a while I realised that even little boys had to make sacrifices in wartime. I felt sad for a long time after that.

During the war I lived in a small town near to Sheffield where factories produced iron and steel. The iron and steel was then turned into guns, tanks, bombs and many other things to be used to fight the Germans. Because of this Sheffield became a target for enemy bombers and as a child of eight or nine I was often frightened when we heard the German bombers coming over. Soon the night air was filled with the sound of distant explosions as the bombs rained down on Sheffield followed by the crisp barking of the ack ack guns as they tried to shoot down the enemy planes.

We were often warned that the German aircraft were coming by the sound of a wailing siren or the intermittent sound of the pit buzzer. In peacetime the pit buzzer was used to let workmen know that it was time to go to work. When we heard the siren, usually in the middle of the night, we had to get up, put our coats on over our pyjamas and go out into the back garden where we sheltered in an Anderson Shelter.

The Anderson Shelter was made out of corrugated iron and I well remember the day when the council lorry delivered all these sheets of iron. I couldn’t wait to help my dad dig a great big hole in the ground so that we could make a tunnel shape with the curved iron sheets. The flat sheets were put up at each end with a space at one end for access. Everything fastened together with large nuts and bolts. Then we had the job of throwing all the soil that we had dug out of the hole on to the top of the shelter. Finally we had to put a pile of sandbags in front of the door to protect us from flying debris. This shelter was supposed to be our refuge everytime there was an air raid. It was so damp and miserable inside that we only used it about three times.

Dad had a better idea of keeping us safe and more comfortable. We had a cellar underneath out house so Dad brought some wooden pit props home from work and strengthened the roof of the cellar so that during air raids we could shelter in the cellar, surrounded by pit props and Dad’s coal allocation from the pit. It was only a little bit better than the Anderson shelter but fortunately we didn’t have to spend too many nights down in the “coil iol”.

When we were at school and the air raid siren sounded, our class had to pick up our gas masks, line up in twos and march out of the school, across the road to waste land where underground shelters had been made. These were dark, smelly things that frightened us more than the German bombers. Mind you, it wasn’t very pleasant to be separated from your mum and dad at such times.

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This story has been placed in the following categories.

Air Raids and Other Bombing Category
Childhood and Evacuation Category
Sheffield and South Yorkshire Category
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