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The Lathams of Duke Street, OldTrafford

by Frank Latham

Contributed by 
Frank Latham
People in story: 
Arthur and Winifred May Latham
Location of story: 
Old Trafford, Stretford
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A3296810
Contributed on: 
18 November 2004

The Lathams of Duke Street, Old Trafford, Stretford.

I was born in 1935 and at the beginning of WWII was 4 years old. By the time of the Blitz I was 5 and going to Saint Hilda’s CofE school. There are a number of very clear memories that I have of that period.

My mother, father and sister lived at 5, Duke Street, Old Trafford, a street of terraced houses thought at the time to be about 100 years old, the rent was about 16/- a week and my fathers pay about £2-10-0d a week.

Clearly the family was not well off, but that was only half the story. My mother, Winifred May Latham (nee Wicks) had developed what the doctors at the time said was an extreme form of Osteoarthritis, and by the time I was born she was in a wheelchair. My sister, Freda, was 9 when I was born. My father was a miller and grinder in an engineering factory until the great depression when he was out of work for five years. In order to both earn a living and look after my mother and sister he scraped together £250 to buy an Insurance Agents round with the Wesleyan and General Insurance Society. This meant that he worked nearly every night and all day Saturday. There was no home help, nursing nor any financial assistance from the government.

Dad made our clothes, and mended our shoes. Mum knitted everything that could be knitted, unravelling clothes that we had outgrown and re-using the wool.
We were a very happy family.

During the blitz of Christmas 1940, Saint Hilda’s School, Old Trafford Public Baths and all the large houses on Stretford Road, were demolished by landmines. My Dad was livid, mainly because Freda had left a new pair of pumps at the school. Two blocks of houses at the other end of Duke Street were also bombed out. In one house on Hullard Street there was a Christmas party in progress, 25 people were said to have died.

My father had a friend who lived in Worsley, on the west side of Manchester. This gentleman had a bungalow that he was not using, and offered this to my Dad so that he could move us all to a safer place. So, with my Dad pushing Mum in her wheelchair, me on her knee for most of the way and Freda walking alongside, we walked to Worsley, a distance of about six miles as the crow flys, arriving very late in the evening. That night a bomb fell in the field at the back of the bungalow, at which point my Dad said “Bugger this, we’re going home”,and the next day we did, on foot.
On the return trip we took what I believe was the direct route home which took us through the middle o f Trafford Park Industrial Estate and I distinctly remember Police and Firemen helping my Dad to lift the wheelchair over fire hoses that were spread all across the road. Dad was told that the area was dangerous and that we were not allowed to be there, but it was clear to everybody that our little party had no other option, and the Police must have turned a blind eye.
When we got back to 5, Duke Street, all the windows had been blown out, the only glass that was unaffected were the decorations on the little Christmas tree which stood on the living room table.

At the time of Dunkirk, my Dad took me to Stretford Road Senior Boy’s School, to take “comforts” to the troops that were billeted there following their escape.

One other wartime memory, from about 2 years later, was that all the children in the street used to knockabout as a street gang, aged form 3 to 13 years old. On one occasion one of the gang found a white hand grenade (I know now that a white hand grenade was a practise one, and therefore completely harmless.), and without telling our parents, we all trooped round to East Union Street Police Station. Now in those days Police Stations had quite high front desks, and none of us was tall enough to see over it. So the lad who had found the grenade called out,”Hey! Mister we found this on the croft.”and promptly chucked it over the top of the desk. Policemen have rarely been seen to move so fast.

One day during the period after the blitz, but while German aircraft were still about, a two engined bomber flew over Duke Street in daylight, at right angles to the line of the street. From our living room window, at the back of the house my mother and I could clearly see the crew through the glass nose section of the plane. We later heard that this aircraft emptied its guns along Talbot Road, Stretford and was brought down in the area of Dumham Massey.

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