- Contributed by
- Wymondham Learning Centre
- People in story:
- John Wood
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 11 April 2005
John in 1939 with sister Dorothy and younger brother Peter
This story was submitted to the BBC People’s War site by Wymondham Learning Centre on behalf of the author who fully understand the site's terms and conditions.
World War 2 was bad enough, but it was not all bad. First of all I was lucky enough to have parents who prepared for the future. They could see many of the shortages that the war would bring, so my father bought in a half size billiards table, a dart board, a set of carpet bowls, skittles various board games, and , for the great outdoors, three bicycles. I had a younger brother and an older sister.
Winter 1939: I was eleven years old, and I had never seen snow! So Mother Nature made up for that omission by sending the backlog all in one night! We awoke to drifts of ten feet or more. It took up to three weeks to get the traffic moving again. A rare easterly wind was the culprit.
Our food ration was one egg, two ounces of butter, four ounces of bacon, two ounces of cheese etc. — per week, of course and per person.
In the blackout it was necessary to avoid making life too easy for German bombers. Things got pretty dangerous on the roads and took its toll on the tram system, too. In darkness and thick fog, a tram drove into the rear of a stationary one, which was setting down passengers. The driver of the tram in the rear was unfortunately killed. I learned to drive in the blackout, on the promenade, with no street lamps. All good training, I suppose. The blackout was generally strictly obeyed. Any small breach would result in a cry - “Put that light out!”
We had a Morrison shelter in our kitchen. It was built of steel and was meant to give the occupants protection from falling masonry, should the house be hit. The nearest bombs to us fell about half a mile away, on a golf course. The resultant “new” bunkers were not appreciated. In the same raid, other bombs fell on one of the railway stations, destroying the station signal box. There was no damage to our house. Blackpool got off very lightly, considering. A land-mine did drop on Fleetwood Mussel beds, covering Fleetwood with mussels.
My father built a fire engine out of wood salvaged from the sea shore. The contraption was equipped with a stirrup pump, a ladder, a length of hose and several buckets. We were all shown how to extinguish an incendiary bomb without causing it to explode. Two or three pieces of the beach wood looked different to the rest and it turned out to be Bird’s Eye Maple. It made two splendid fireside chairs.
We had a car, but petrol was rationed or not available for private use. When it was available, it was known as “pool” — a mix of all the well known brands.
From where we lived, we could see, one night, an orange glow in the sky. Just like a false dawn. It was Liverpool in flames. This was a sharp reminder of what could happen to us.
Wartime buses were always full at commuter times. They were all double-deckers at that time. To avoid the thick haze of smoke upstairs (99% of men — or so it seemed — smoked cigarettes) I used my pushbike to get to school. This proved to quicker than the bus. Result? 12 miles daily cycling, a stout heart and a good pair of lungs.
Saturday mornings were spent shopping for food — on my bike! I was issued with £2 and told to remember the change. Ration books were then checked and I was on my way. I soon learned that middle-aged housewives in a queue at the butchers were not very civilised! Talk about push comes to shove.
I had my first flight in an aircraft in 1945. It was a De Havilland Dragon Rapide. Seven people, including the pilot, was a full load. It was a bi-plane with two engines. As far as I could see, it had no landing flaps. Blackpool being where it was, a stiff westerly wind was blowing. As we came into land, the pilot had to keep the plane’s starboard wing down, and it seemed to me as if the wing would touch the ground before the wheels. Squires Gate runways were always rather windy. Another day — another plane. Avro-Ansons, much used for any flying involving low speed, were frequently seen at cliff top height, presumably training pilots to do just that. On this occasion they seemed to assume that the usual westerly was blowing — it was not! The undertow from the cliffs was there undoing. Result? A fine belly flop in the surf. Luckily the tide was halfway out.
There was a very rare occurrence about 1943. I was walking along the prom on an evening stroll. I said to my dad, “Look! Can you see every wave breaking?” There were no lights, remember! The sea had been calm for several days and this had let phosphorous surface and each small wave displayed a glow. A sight never to be forgotten.
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