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Schooldays and Munitions Work - Two Sisters

by The Stratford upon Avon Society

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
The Stratford upon Avon Society
People in story: 
Freda Kitcher and Lillian Welch and Freda's husband, Norman Kitcher
Location of story: 
Staffordshire
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A5080312
Contributed on: 
15 August 2005

45 - Two sisters talk about their experiences as youngsters in the War:

(Freda Kitcher:) "I went to school at Leek in Staffordshire,enjoyed it reasonably, and after I went to college, but by then the war was over. And I left school the year the war ended. (During my schooldays)there were some alerts, and we had an air raid shelter in the grounds, that we had to go in from time to time with our gasmasks, and classes in my memory didn’t carry on in the air raid shelters, everybody said their little poems and sang songs and things, and I don’t know that it went on very long, but we had a lot of extra children in the school ‘cos of evacuation. And things like school uniform carried on, but probably for the first time in history in that school, people wore second hand things and didn’t wear the right colour socks, and made whatever they could out of whatever they could, because of clothing coupons. I dont really know where the evacuees came from, probably from Coventry, Birmingham, but they probably came from several places.

I never remember being short of food I can remember that one would have liked more of what you were enjoyed, but we were on a smallholding, and kept hens and we had the odd egg and things like that, we were all right weren’t we?

My father, he was doing the smallholding for most of the war wasn’t he. And he was in the Observer Corps, in one of the fields.
On VE Day I went to a dance at Teen School with Jean; everybody was very pleased. It wasn’t exactly a knees up in Trafalgar Square in Teen was it Lillian? Teen, just outside the Potteries.

Probably it was true, that everybody expected things to get instantly better, but it didn’t of course for a long time.
But most of the men at that dance would have been from a convalescent home for service people in their blue, their bright blue uniforms."

(Freda's sister Lillian Welch now talks:) "Oh I was at school in Cheshire before the war. Ten years before you see, yes. We hadn’t thought about the war then.
After I left school I looked after pinks mostly, on the smallholding, then when
the war came, we moved into Staffordshire where Freda’s talking about and we didn’t do very well there and I went into Leek to a factory there making gloves and that. And then the war came, and one of the girls said to me, my father says if you will come with me, not unless, we can go down to munition works and he’ll let me go if you come with me, so we went. And there we were for the rest of the war.

Indeed, I wasn’t in one of those,(where you couldn't wear jewelry or wear nail varnish) it was brass and copper, non ferrous metal factory.
No, we did all sorts of things on the lathes. My first shock was, we had mornings, noons and nights you see. Six till two, two till ten, ten till six. And my first shock was really that on Sunday afternoon I had got to go to work! I had never worked on Sunday, you know, strict Methodist weren’t we. And I remember the feeling when I was there, that it was out of order really that I should be there, yes, yes.

We had got these bonnet things you see, and you know after a few months we kept leaving them off you know.

It was difficult to get shampoos and hair perms, but you … Your supervisor would come round and she’d say why haven’t you got your hat on? When all the others wear theirs, I will! And she’d go to another one, and she’d say you see you’ve got such a lot of hair, and this girl said, to my surprize, it’s better than having very little which the woman had got you see, you didn’t stand on ceremony. One girl did get scalped, yes.

We didn’t make bombs or anything like that, no, they were made for aircraft. You know the powder works, where everybody turned green. Bradwell Green, yes Bradwell Green, yes, that was a nasty place to go to - that was very unpleasant, yes, nobody wanted to go there, but it was very good money if you went there.

After the War I stayed on afterwards for 19 years didn’t I?
I wasn’t on lathe work then, at the end of the war I went into the office, progress and that sort of thing."

(Norman Kitcher now talks:) "Yes, I went to school there, in Edmonton, independent school and then on to work. I went to work for an insurance company, but it was the beginning of the war, and so the blitz came and we were evacuated to the wilds of Wiltshire, Devizes, which was quite a change. But people were getting …, gentlemen and other gentlemen besides …, they were getting called up and I was doing so many other jobs, I decided I would go and join up myself which I did.

I used to enjoy cycling in those days. I cycled to Bristol and joined up in the RAF.
It was one way of getting away really. As I say I cycled a lot in that area of Wiltshire, and used to go quite a way actually, and one day I went to Bristol and found that they wanted people in the Air Force, so I joined up.
In fact my mom and dad were lucky in getting away in ’39, just prior to the war down to the south coast, so they were safe.

My job, I was trained in Wiltshire strangely enough, and my job eventually was wireless operator, and almost immediately I was called up to go overseas, and on July 31st 1940 we were on a big convoy leaving Scotland for the Middle East, and it took quite a time to get to my posting, which was many, many thousand miles away because it went all the way round the Cape of Good Hope and into Durban, and then up to Port Tufik.

I liked the stop off in Durban very much, yes. I was given a run out into The Valley of a Thousand Hills there which I enjoyed very much, thanks to a wonderful South African family, and then aboard ship again. Luckily that particular ship was the Mauritania, which was vastly better than the first ship I had been on, and in Tufik we were herded onto trains, and then right up the Nile to Khartoum eventually, from there across the desert.

The lorries were going up to Kufra Oasis, and eventually ended up, I was told, eventually for use of the LRDG, Long Range Desert Group in Libya.. in Sudan, and then Libya. There’s a very large oasis, which eventually became British territory after the Italians were evicted by the Free French in actual fact. They came up from south, from Lake Chad area and there was a bit of a battle I think a couple of months before I got there, so I spent Christmas there, and my two friends and myself had to put up a radio station which we did, and used once, but, at that time the Germans were then heading for Cairo again, so we were virtually behind our own lines, so we had to go back, we couldn’t go back by North Africa, otherwise it would have been rather difficult, so we went back the same way as we came, across the desert back to Waddi Halfa and down the Nile to Cairo.

We went by train, two trains, a paddle steamer being an old barge, possibly a camel barge, with all my friends, and eventually got back to …, I can’t remember the name now, had to get a train back down to Cairo again and eventually stationed at Heliopolis, I should think for about four months, posted to Malta after that. I spent quite a …, well I spent a week or two hospitalised in Jerusalem while I was there, again that was different too.

There we were lucky enough to have a pastor who was very helpful and would take us out when we were recovering, to a lot of the old sights of the Bible, very interesting visits we made, including Bethlehem.

Palestine was quite different, under the British Mandate. Going back, we went to one or two strange places, up almost to Haifa I think, and it took us two or three weeks to get back to Cairo again by train and lorry. Very interesting.

Then I was posted to Malta, and I should have gone by air, but in the end I was sent, again by lorry to Alexandria and caught a fast naval vessel, a mine laying cruiser which went very fast to Malta, but instead of mines it carried food for the relief of Malta’s food storage.

The siege was going on the; pretty awful for the Maltese. Food was rationed quite considerably, it was alright but it was meagre really.

I was there for three years I should think it was, but I wasn’t there for the George Cross celebrations.

Of all these places I think the hospital in the grounds on the Mount of Olives was the most beautiful, because it was so peaceful, quiet and, well, it was quite a thing with the nurse, the people there; the British sisters ran the hospital, they were marvellous."

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