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Childhood Reflections

by Madge Shepherd

Contributed by 
Madge Shepherd
People in story: 
Marjorie Shepherd (nee Dixon) and family
Location of story: 
Kingston upon HULL
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
31 December 2003

At the start of WW2, I was 5 years old. I lived with my family in Alexandra Road on Newland Avenue in Kingston upon Hull, East Yorkshire. I had 2 elder sisters aged 7 and 10 and a baby sister just 1 month old. As my father was registered blind, he did not have to go into the forces but he became a Fire Watcher. These were men who went out during the Air Raids and checked for fires started by Incendiary Bombs. My mother went to work on the night shift at a factory called Ideal Boilers and Radiators making bombs and shells. I can still remember the smell of the metal which was on her hat and overall when she came home. My first memory of the start of WW2 was having to walk to a centre in Chanterlands Avenue, HULL, with my family to collect our Gas Masks which had to be carried everywhere we went. My 2 sisters and I were given ordinary black ones but children under 5 yrs were given what they called a Mickey Mouse mask. I thought it was grotesque with a long red flap instead of a nose. This made a noise and flapped when it was breathed out of. - So that the child did not get frightened!! My baby sister was given something that looked like a fully enclosed carrycot. The air had to be pumped into this all the time the baby was inside.
One day when I went to school at Sidmouth Street Infants, we all lined up in the playground and our mothers came with us into the town centre. After putting me on to another bus to Scarborough my mother left me with the other children from my class. My elder sisters had been taken to different places. Joyce was evacuated to Airmyn near Goole and Brenda to Holym near Withernsea. Nobody had explained to me what was happening. I suppose at 5 years old I was too young to understand. I remember the bus stopping and someone giving each of us a carrier full of groceries. There were biscuits on the top and I was pleased that these were all mine. At first it seemed like an adventure, but later on when everyone had been taken to a church hall and my friends were all leaving, I started feeling very tired and sad. All I wanted to do was to go home — but no one took me. My friend Peter and I were left alone until a very kind lady came and said we would be going home with her to no. 36 Raleigh Street. Her name was Mrs Knott and she lived with her daughter Trixie who was a hairdresser. She used to take me to her shop sometimes, which was fun. The school we went to was so full that sometimes we had to have our lessons in the yard. We could not go onto the beach because of the rolls of barbed wire, which had been put there to stop anyone coming in from the sea. After about a year Mum brought us all home. She couldn’t stand being without us any longer. I remember clinging to Mrs Knotts’ apron because I did not want to leave her. My aunt Jean told me years later that she had also wanted me to stay and she had asked my mum and dad if she could adopt me.
Whilst we had been away Mum, Dad and my baby sister had moved from a terraced house in Alexandra Road, Newland Avenue to 10th Avenue on the North Hull Estate. As mum couldn’t settle in the house, we moved back to a house at the corner of our old terrace in Alexandra Road and it was here that we felt the full force of the war.
One night we were awakened by the Air raid Warning Sirens and had to go to the shelter in the middle of the terrace. I can still remember that feeling of being taken outside when we were half asleep. The shelter had a thick grey curtain at its entrance and bunks inside. We took our own pillows and blankets. I was always put up onto the top bunk, which was very near to the ceiling. There were thick black wires fastened to the brickwork on the ceiling and small lights fastened in by a metal guard wires to stop anyone burning themselves on them. It was exciting to me to be here with all the grown-ups instead of being asleep in our own beds. When the All clear sounded we weren’t allowed to go back home because a bomb had dropped at the back of us and hadn’t exploded. I think we might have been injured if it did go off when we were at home. It was strange to me to be walking out in the pitch-blackness. When we arrived at the church hall we had been sent to, we found the room full of mattresses lying side by side.
After we were all given soup from a massive big pot, the children were all put to bed, laying one’s head next to someone else’s’ feet. On waking we were given tea with bread and jam. Later in the morning we were all allowed home. A few nights after that the same thing happened again, this time the bomb was nearer, at the other corner of the terrace.
For the 3rd time in 2 weeks the sirens went again. This time we went to the shelter but Mum stayed behind under the stairs (this was the safest part of the house) because my baby sister had the measles and Mum didn’t want to take her out into the cold night. As soon as the air-raid warden found out however, he went to our house and made her come out. As she got to the door of the shelter she turned round and saw what she described as a `ball of flame on a basket’. It was a landmine and it fell on the other side of the road, flattening 3 terraces and killing everyone in them. It was very frightening for everyone to be walking up the street that was littered with glass and items from people’s houses. The night was black and the smell in the air was indescribable. The grown ups didn’t talk to each other. They were all in shock that this awful thing had happened to so many people.
This time we couldn’t go back to our house. The blast from the mine had broken all the windows at the back of the house. The door was off its hinges and the roof had caved in. We had a bird in a cage near the front window and that was nowhere to be seen. The door- knocker had somehow been wrenched off, pushed through the letterbox; travelling down the long hallway and ending up round the corner on the sideboard in the kitchen. (We found the birdcage later on the inside the piano behind the front board). Someone was definitely looking after us that night!
When we left the church hall the next day we stayed for a while with one of the teachers from our school, after which my sister and I went to stay with my grandmother. It was hard to find room for the six of us at one place.
We then moved to a house in Edgecumbe Street on Newland Avenue opposite to where my Gran & Grandad lived. Mum’s cousin also lived down there and she had asked the landlord if we could have the house.
Life then settled down into a routine. A big shelter had been built down the centre of our street, (although later on we had an Anderson shelter built in our back yard). People used to collect shrapnel from the ground after a raid. My dad had just come into the shelter one night when there was a loud bang on the wall. He found the end of a shell, which we kept for a while. People used to collect parts of shells etc. which were called Shrapnell. The children used to be very proud to have found these.
Wide strips of sticky paper were put across every ones windows to save the glass from shattering if they were broken. Heavy black material was made into blinds for the windows and doors to stop the light getting out. Before any door was opened the light in the room had to be switched out. If a light did show, the Air raid Warden would soon shout “Put that light out” to remind us. There were no street lights and when we went anywhere after dark we would all have torches to show us the way. We swung them in front of us so they just lit up a little of the path.
Men came and took away the railings from around our houses to make bombs and `help the war effort’ It was strange being able to walk through everyone’s front when we went to the shop at the corner of our street. My friend’s father got him to dig out the lead that was left in the holes in order to make toy aeroplanes, soldiers and army vehicles which he would sell for Christmas.
If the Air-raid Sirens went before midnight, we would not have to go to school until after lunch. I think all of us children (not realising the seriousness of the situation) hoped for that. Everywhere we went we had to pass empty spaces full of rubble, where houses had once stood and families had lived. They all had the same damp decaying smell that I can still recall to this day.
One day we went to school and the teacher asked for any one who had been `bombed out’ to come forward; we were all given a present from the American Army. I chose a big box with strips of different coloured plastercine. There were also wooden blocks with farmyard animals carved into them. I can still remember the lovely feeling it gave me to stamp out a plastercine. Farmyard.
We were given ration books for almost everything except vegetables and even then we had to queue to get what we needed. In Newland Avenue a `municipal shop was opened which sold Meat Pie, Potato and Gravy for only a small amount of money. We used to take a big basin sometimes and get it filled. To me it smelled great and tasted good too. We had to queue for our bread rations with BU's. It was worth the wait for the shop to open to smell the freshly baked bread. We would sometimes be able to get cakes as well. At the greengrocers the word quickly got around when a box of bananas had been delivered. We were only allowed 1lb each though. - Sometimes my sister went into the queue so we had 2lb! Mum used to cut the bananas up in custard so we would all get a taste. On a Thursday, we would each be given 6p for our pocket money and would take our ration books to the sweet shop. A `D' was worth 2oz and an `E' 1/4lb. This was our ration for a week. When the coupons were gone we used to buy liquorish in a root which we chewed or black and shiny like coal.
I remember going to the shops one morning when I was 11 and seeing one of our neighbours running out of her house shouting to the whole world. “The war is over, it’s really finished”. When I got to the shops it felt like Christmas. Everyone was laughing and talking together. Some were even crying and hugging each other. I couldn’t wait to get home to tell my mum.
Lots of the women in our street rallied round to organise a celebration party - a Peace Party it was called, in the middle of the street. They all seemed to have jobs to do. Some came round with a collection box to pick up money and ration coupons to buy everything that was needed. Some were busy baking, some organising games. Our piano was taken out of our front room window and put at one end of the tables. Someone put another at the other end. Each child had a paper hat and a fancy dress made out of crepe paper. Much later, when the little ones had been put happily to bed, the older children were allowed to dance round the bonfire, which had also been organised. `Grown ups' who had been out for a celebratory drink, joined in and everyone was very happy. My mum won a competition for the best-dressed window in the street.
I wasn’t old enough to think deeply about the consequences of the war to everyone involved either in the fighting, the air-raids or the horrible atrocities that happened to so many thousands of people, even living with the aftermath and suffering mentally or physically, I just pray that nothing like that will ever happen again.

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Message 1 - Childhood Reflections

Posted on: 03 January 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Madge

Your most welcome story deserves a wider audience. Unfortunately you have posted it to the General Home Front Research Desk where it will only be seen by voluntary WW2 Rearchers like myself and a few others. A Research Desk is where you can ask questions about WW2 or search for long lost comrades, relatives, or friends; in sum, where you 'Ask a Question'.

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This story has been placed in the following categories.

The Blitz Category
Childhood and Evacuation Category
Rationing Category
Humber Category
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